How My Daughter and I Found Success in Breastfeeding

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Me and little Sugarpie, doing what is natural, but doesn’t come so naturally. This is our happy ending, but the road was anything but smooth.

Reading this fantastic blog post recently inspired me  to (finally) write my breastfeeding story. So many write their birth stories (and so will I, eventually), but I feel a much stronger need to share how Sugarpie and I came to have such a successful nursing relationship. Partly because it is just such a wonderful thing, and partly because of the difficulty we had in arriving at the place where we find ourselves now. I hope that someone out there reading this who might be struggling too can find some comfort in our story. It is long and peppered with references to my nipples. You are forewarned.

While pregnant, I always knew that we would do our best to breastfeed. I say “do our best” because I had heard so many horror stories of bleeding nipples, mastitis, searing pain, and switching to formula. Who was I to think that I could actually succeed? I am small-breasted, with what I always thought of as weird boobies. So why would mine work when so many I know didn’t breastfeed?

I was already a victim of the idea that our society perpetuates of “breastfeeding if you can.” It isn’t the norm, and isn’t supported and embraced WHOLEHEARTEDLY by most hospitals. We all know what a grip big business (and formula is big business) has on our health care industry — but I digress. (Read this article from Best for Babes about nursing “booby traps.“)

I think it is important for new mothers to expect a little challenge, a little pain. No one wants to be blind-sided with obstacles while trying to do something that seems like it should be magical and natural and automatic. This creates frustration and feelings of failure. So I am glad that I knew to expect that it would be hard work. But the moral of the story was, more often than not, that breastfeeding didn’t happen, that it wasn’t possible.

My first mistake was that I didn’t take a breastfeeding class. I thought that the lactation consultant in the hospital would be enough. I was wrong.

So…

The moment my Georgia was born, we had skin-to-skin contact. We were making our first attempt at nursing within a half hour. She latched on and started nursing. Seemed like a good start.

Through that night, the pain started (and so did the hormonal depression) and she would nurse either for 30 seconds before falling asleep, or she would nurse for 90 minutes. The next day, as I was experiencing more pain and wondering if anything at all was being transferred, I anxiously awaited the help of the staff lactation consultant. I waited about 5 hours for her. It was busy, and she was only one woman.

Bonding…oh the waves of love!

When she finally arrived, she inspected my blistered nipples, declared that Sugarpie’s latch wasn’t good, and gave me a nipple shield. She showed me a couple of techniques to get more boob in baby’s mouth, and told me to get The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (that was, after all, how she learned 30 years ago). She told me to try some more skin to skin contact, then she hurried off to the other desperate new mothers in the ward. She spent about 10 minutes with us.

I was reeling. She left me alone with my baby. We had no idea what we were doing! So much depended on these first hours and I felt like I was already failing my new baby. My husband asked everyone to give us some time alone, and Sugarpie and I napped with our chests bare, snuggling together. Something happened chemically as a response to this contact with her because at this point, I became overwhelmed with emotion, overwhelmed with love for her, overwhelmed with the responsibility of this tiny life, overwhelmed with fear that something would happen to her, overwhelmed with missing having her in my body.

But mostly, it was the love.

I wanted so desperately to provide her with her mother’s milk. We kept at it. I was amazed when I saw a bit of colostrum on the nipple shield. There was hope, but there was still pain.

My milk came in on the third night, our first night home from the hospital. Georgia was inconsolable and I was engorged. She tried to nurse and seemed unsatisfied. Looking back, I’ve heard that the first night home is usually pretty horrendous. I’ve heard that when your milk comes in, babies sometimes react this way. I’ve heard that newborns are gassy beyond rational expectations. But I didn’t know that night.

The nurse in the hospital mentioned that if Sugarpie’s latch wasn’t right, I should pump so that my supply wouldn’t be affected. Thank GOODNESS she told me that. But no one told me to get a hospital grade pump. I wish I had known from the beginning. I had a beautiful Medela Pump-n-Style Advanced that a family member generously handed down to me, but I didn’t know that these were great for a supply that is already established. I needed to establish mine.

She was born on a Monday. By that Friday Sugarpie had lost almost 20% of her birth weight (down to 5 lbs 15 oz). The doctor was concerned and told us to pump and supplement her feedings with what we pumped because she wasn’t getting the milk out of my breast (again with the latch!). The lactation consultant that we saw gave me some techniques for holding, latching, keeping her awake, etc. She told me that her mouth was so small that she would have to grow into a good latch. What? How long would I have to wait?

Here she was “stripped down to the diaper” as the lactation consultant recommended to wake her so she would nurse. This was the middle of winter! Yes, I felt guilty about this too.

Would we make it?

That night I broke down. Hubs went to bed and I was left alone to do my turn. The Christmas tree was lit and I was facing a long, lonely night. I hated it. I was depressed, I was sleep deprived, and I felt like I couldn’t feed my baby. I wasn’t making enough milk and even if I were, she couldn’t get it effectively. Waking her was nearly as impossible as keeping myself awake. I was nodding off while attempting to nurse and it scared me.

I was suffering, I was frustrated, I was in extreme physical and emotional pain and I was failing her.

After 5 days of continuous nursing-pumping-supplementing breast milk, we proudly presented Georgia for her weigh-in, expecting big results. She had gained one ounce. She should have gained 5. I was crushed and broke down in the exam room.

The doctor, who is very pro-breastfeeding, gravely said that we needed to start supplementing with formula. Sugarpie needed 2 oz of milk one way or another, every 2 hours, around the clock. We did this for a week, it was terribly difficult. We had to wake her, which took forever, nurse her for 20 minutes, pump for 12, then bottle-fed her with what I pumped plus formula to equal two ounces. By the time one cycle was finished, it was time to start another.

No, I did not sleep.

Our goal was to gain 7 oz in 7 days. Sugarpie threw up the formula, she had such a hard time digesting it. It made me feel so bad for her little tummy. But we stuck to the program out of sheer desperation. At the time I was grateful that we had formula, but now I think that having been able to boost my supply sooner (again, wish I had known to get a hospital-grade pump) would have helped me avoid it.

I would see that some of my peers were nursing successfully and though I was happy for them, I kept thinking, “What’s wrong with me?!”

At our next weigh-in, she gained 13 oz!! Whoa, too much? Hubs looked at the scale and thought it was wrong. We were so proud of our little baby! She had surpassed her birth weight, and we could go back to 8 feedings a day.

I kept working on my supply. There were many moments where everyone was telling me that it was ok to switch to formula. I know they meant well, but to me, it felt like I was being told to give up, that I had gone too far and my daughter was suffering for my stubborness.

As much pressure as many women say they feel TO breastfeed, there is just as much out there to give in to formula feeding. We just can’t win.

I was taking fenugreek, blessed thistle, eating lactation cookies, drinking lactation tea and pumping, pumping, pumping. I was forging ahead with a blind tenacity fueled by sleep-deprived delirium. Every day I was producing almost ONE MORE OUNCE. That tiny bit of improvement was enough to keep me going.

I was running on fumes, but I was running.

As determined as I was, I still thought in the back of my mind, that it would not happen for me and my baby. I really didn’t think it would.

But I was running. And I kept running. Pump by pump, hour by hour, ounce by ounce. I kept going.

My nipples were cracked and bleeding and every latch caused toe-curling pain. But I kept going.

The bottles were calling, the temptation to sleep was great. But I kept going.

“You don’t have to do this. It’s ok.” But I kept going.

We slowly phased out the formula, and I kept going.

Sugarpie seemed insatiable. Was she getting enough? But I kept going.

I was in pain, but I decided to toss the shield, forget the bottles, and JUST NURSE. We needed practice, and we kept going.

And then I got the best advice that made the biggest difference from a family member who is a semi-retired lactation consultant, Debbie Aaronson. She gave me an hour on the phone, even though she was on vacation.

She said, “Try to enjoy this time with your baby. Lay in bed with her and try nursing in different ways. Forget sitting up straight and how her body should be angled just right. If you are uncomfortable, your milk won’t flow. ENJOY HER. Let her find her way. Nursing shouldn’t be a chore. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look perfect.”

That was my lightbulb moment. Soon we were side-nursing in bed. We kept going.

Soon I was able to stop pumping as much. We kept going.

We were enjoying each other! She would break her latch smiling, and it was ok! It was magic. I was a blessing and a miracle. We made it.

And we keep on going.

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18 responses »

  1. Pingback: doing what is natural, but doesn’t come so naturally @mylifeitalian « Do Bianchi

  2. Tracie, I wish I had known you were going through this at that time. I dont know if I could have helped, but i sure would have tried to reassure you. It is one of the most vulnerable times for a mother. Recovery from birth (either way you end up there either naturally or Csecetion) and the major change in hormones and the pain from nursing and the exhaustion from a new routine and the emotional catapult of falling in love instantaneously with your baby. After 3 babies I can tell you I know how you feel; each baby is unique but the experience is very similar for each one.
    I haven’t seen you in years, but we keep up through FB and I get to read more about your experiences through your beautiful legacy/blog. I think you’ve done such an amazing job. Your words and pictures inspire me to be a better mother. And I’m certain that miss sugarpie knows she’s one lucky girl. It’s true – try to relax, don’t be so hard on yourself. And enjoy each and every experience, even the difficult ones. Those days will pass and you’ll soon wish you could have them back.
    Thank you for honestly sharing your beautiful stories. Your friend, AZ

    • you are too kind Adriana!! i have definitely arrived at the point where i REALLY enjoy her and enjoy being a mother. she is just so much fun! i wish i had known that in the thick of those first couple of weeks. i wish that someone would have told me “you will make it.” but now i know, for next time! it should be easier, mentally. i’m sure the physical hardships of beginning nursing will still be there, but i will have more confidence and have the clarity of experience. thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Oh my! I have tears for u.. Both for knowing the pain that u went through trying to get the BF thing going and the Joy that u r feeling now that y’all got it! Girl, I had the same prob bleeding, sleepless nights/days, no weight gain.. but yes! God did make boobs for a reason and I am so glad that my Zozo and I finally got it right. It was the best experience I ever had. I would totally do every minute of it again to get to experience the sweet moments Zoe and I had. The smiles when milk was rolling out of her mouth and the excitement when I got home from work cause she knew it was”us” time. Warms my heart. Thanks for sharing, U should totally be a IBCLC! U have so much passion. We want to help everyone have our great experience. I think I will use your Aunt’s advice with my patients. 🙂 so happy for u. What a lucky girl and beautiful picture of you 2 nursing. I wish I had taken one of me and Zo…

    • thanks lisa! and yes, boobies are baby food. they work! and we should all know that rather than getting all caught up in the doubt/insecurity/”choice” that all of the institutional barriers intentionally or unintentionally create. and the milky smiles are the best! i am really thinking about that as a career change after we’re done having babies. i’ll have to come to you for advice! i’ll have to tell debbie that you’re using her wisdom too…it’s nice having women around to help when most of our moms (in our generation) formula fed and maybe can’t offer the instructional support that we need (though they’re great for emotional support!)

      it really is a special thing, i wish more people got to experience it.

      thanks for commenting!

  4. Tracie, Your post made me cry!

    When I had my first son, it came so naturally I didn’t know what the fuss was over. He latched on and did not stop. We had no issues. It wasn’t until my second child that I realized the pain of NOT being able to breastfeed. I was very ill during and directly after this pregnancy. When I delivered, everyone assumed I would not be able to breastfeed my child. They shoved a bottle in his mouth almost instantly… I was devastated! I felt like a failure, but I didn’t speak up. I admit I even felt betrayed by my family and my own body. Still, after we were home I secretly tried to feed him only to find no success. Soon, I had to return to medications and it would not have been best for him.

    I always felt I missed out on something very important. Yet, everyone around me was brushing it off as “no big deal”, “not everyone breastfeeds”, and “it is overrated.” But, it was a HUGE deal to me. I don’t know if it was because I knew what I was missing out on from having breastfed my firstborn, but I always felt that our special moment had passed.

    I am so proud of you for your dedication to reaching this success! But that is not what made me cry…

    “She would break her latch smiling, and it was ok! It was magic. I was a blessing and a miracle.”

    I remember that feeling… Thank you for reminding me!

    • Julie, thanks for such a thoughtful comment! i can’t believe your boys are so big, i remember holding both of them as tiny babies. the presumption of the hospital staff in your case was pretty despicable. there’s a big movement out there to combat these types of practices (bloomberg’s initiative in NY, and banning free formula sample bags, for example).

      at least you got to experience it with one! your guys are lucky to have you as a mommy 🙂

    • Julie, I feel like I need to send you a BIG HUG. It can’t have been easy to have secretly try do something that was meant to be proud and beautiful. I’m sure and I hope that you find something extra special with your son that will replace that unfortunate time. 🙂

      • Thanks for the “hug”, Lauren…and for the well wishes!

        There were many special times with my sons since then. They are 16 and 17 now and have grown into sweet, handsome individuals in my slightly biased opinion. While nothing can take the place of that special bonding period, I felt lucky to find that there were many opportunities to enjoy motherhood throughout the years.

  5. Pingback: D-MER « Sugarpie

  6. Oh, this brings back so many memories! Thanks for posting your breastfeeding story. We had a similar start to breastfeeding, but it took me 3 months to reach a full supply and stop the formula supplements. I posted our breastfeeding journey here: http://veganmama.com/my-breastfeeding-story-0-4-months/

    I too wish I had known to get a hospital grade pump in the first few weeks. I think it took us longer to establish supply because we didn’t figure out there was a problem until she was already 2 weeks old. It’s posts like these that I think will help other new mamas figure this stuff out.

    My daughter is now 7 months old (today!) and things are so, so, so much easier!

    • thanks for the comment, kim! that is very similar to our story. i respected our dr because she really exhausted all options before having us use formula. that being said, there should have been more support in the hospital to begin with!

      k, off to read your story now!

      tracie p http://mylittlesugarpie.com

      ________________________________

  7. Pingback: Letter for My Sugarpie, 1 Year! « Sugarpie

  8. My word T, I feel silly for the complaints I made over my BF experience. I was blessed with too much milk and what sounds to be fewer blisters. I never knew how tough it was but I too have pushed through and it seems to be getting better. Phoenix will be 2 months tomorrow. BRAVO for persevering and being so adamant that mothers milk is best. God would not have given it to us had he not intended for it to be done. Gosh, I’m still feeling a bit weepy after reading that page (damn hormones). Loves to your side x

    • don’t feel silly! each of our struggles is unique and difficult, and there are always people out there who experienced more difficulty, than we did. i thought i had it tough until i talked to a couple of other moms. the most important thing is that you hung in there and made it work! breastfeeding does require effort, that’s the bottom line. congrats on your journey, now sit back and enjoy your special relationship with your little man!

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