Breastfeeding Might Suck And Your Baby Might Not


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This was the moment we became a family. We were so excited and had no idea how significantly our lives were about to change.

I spent nine pregnant months reading articles about breastfeeding which had me strongly convinced that it would be a beautiful, healthy bonding experience for both mother and baby.  In my career as a pediatric nurse, I’d helped many moms and babies breastfeed and never noticed any real difficulties.  I had no reason to doubt that the articles were all true.

And then I had a baby.

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I remember the first time I tried to nurse Isaac.  I had to wait two incredibly long hours after my C-Section to hold him.  When he was finally in my arms, I immediately began throwing up and had to hand him off to someone else.  After receiving a clean gown and some anti-nausea meds, I finally managed to hold him long enough to attempt to breastfeed.  I brought him to my boob, waited for the magic to start, and nothing happened.  He was sleepy and had no interest in attempting to latch.  It was the beginning of a stressful and frustrating journey for both of us.

As the day of his birth progressed and I continued trying to breastfeed, we were getting nowhere fast.  At each feed, Isaac would struggle to latch on, quickly lose interest, and start letting out blood curdling screams.  We soon discovered that if Rich (my husband) dropped small amounts of formula onto my boob while Isaac was latched on, between high pitched screams, he would continue to suck.  Each feed took at least 45 minutes and required that my husband spent the entire time crouched over my shoulder.  We did this every feed, every two to three hours.  It was terrible for everyone.

Every medical professional who walked into the room seemed to offer a different reason for why we were struggling with breastfeeding.  Having to sift through the differing opinions only made things more difficult.

Things only worsened when we got home.  Isaac was not gaining weight so we started supplementing him with formula and pumped breast milk.  I would spend 45 minutes trying to feed him (he’d spend most of that time screaming), then give him a bottle, pump milk, wash pump and bottle parts, and then start the entire cycle over again.  Nearly every moment of my day was consumed by the grueling cycle.

After two-and-a-half weeks of this craziness, we were finally connected to a local breastfeeding resource center.  We were evaluated by a wonderful lactation consultant who discovered that, although he was rhythmically sucking, Isaac was not extracting milk from my breast.  The poor kid was screaming at each feed because he was hungry and frustrated.   Seeing my complete exhaustion, she recommended that I take a break from breastfeeding, bottle feed Isaac, and keep up my supply by pumping.

For the next six weeks, I continued to pump, and would daily attempt to breastfeed Isaac.  I was plagued by chronic clogged ducts and multiple bouts of mastitis.  We had Isaacs mouth evaluated and his tongue-tie corrected.  I had been told by several people that around 6 weeks babies just “figure things out” and all of your breastfeeding issues will magically go away.  I was desperately hoping that would be the case for us, but sadly, it wasn’t.

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Sitting on the couch with my baby, a bottle, and/or breast pump (or sometimes all three) was pretty much all I did for the first six weeks.

When Isaac was two months old, I went back to the breastfeeding center for a follow up appointment.  Isaac was again evaluated and was still unable to extract milk from my breast. He was latched and rhythmically sucking, but nothing was coming out.  At that moment, our breastfeeding journey came to an end.  I made the decision to try and exclusively pump for Isaac and was able to do so for ten months.  I never made quite enough milk and we supplemented with formula.  Isaac was an 80% breastfed baby via the bottle.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

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If you are reading this and are an expectant first-time mother who is planning on breastfeeding, I am sorry if I am scaring you.  That really is not my intention.  But you should know ahead of time that breastfeeding may not be magical, beautiful, or easy.  In the beginning, it may be more stressful than bonding; more difficult that natural.  And that’s okay.  You and your baby will work through it together and discover what will work best for everyone.

When I was pregnant with Ellie (my second baby), given what I went through with Isaac, I was very anxious about breastfeeding.  Two months before she was born, I scheduled a prenatal appointment at the same breastfeeding resource center  I’d visited with Isaac.  I sat with the consultant and discussed what happened in the past, and together we crafted a plan that would provide me with the support I needed in those important first few weeks after Ellie’s arrival.

Ellie was also delivered via C-section, but this time she stayed with me in the OR rather than being whisked away like Isaac. I was able to hold her as soon as I was brought to recovery.  As soon as I was settled, in the midst of terrible nausea and vomiting, I attempted to breastfeed Ellie.  I experienced what never happened with Isaac; Ellie latched on and began to eat.  There was no drama and no pain; she just latched on and ate.  Having struggled so badly with Isaac, I almost couldn’t believe it.  I was thrilled. Nearly nine months later, I’m still breastfeeding Ellie.  We’ve never had a single problem and it’s been a very redemptive experience for which I am very thankful.

This was the moment I realized Ellie had latched on and was sucking away. I couldn't believe it was really happening. Photo by Juliana Laury Photography

This was the moment I realized Ellie had latched on and was sucking away. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. Photo by Juliana Laury Photography

I threw up just before this photo was taken but didn't stop feeding Ellie. Motherhood has sure taught me how to multitask. Photo by Juliana Laury Photography

I threw up just before this photo was taken but didn’t stop feeding Ellie. Motherhood has sure taught me how to multitask. Photo by Juliana Laury Photography

Feeding Ellie the day she was born.

Feeding Ellie the day she was born.

If you are having a baby and are planning to breastfeed, I strongly suggest finding support before you have your baby.  Find a local lactation consultant you trust,  support groups you can attend, and friends who’ve been down this road before.  As moms, we are really all in this together.  The more we are able to support and carry one another, the more we will all succeed in our unique journeys of motherhood.

I hope that your experience with breastfeeding is smooth and easy.  However, if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night with a screaming baby you can’t seem to feed, know that you are not alone.  So many moms before you have faced the same pains and struggles.  You aren’t failing nor are you a failure.  You’re just a new mom trying to do the best you can.  And you can’t give anything more than that.

*If you are new or expectant mom in the Montgomery or Bucks County area, I’d highly recommend contacting The Breastfeeding Resource Center.  They are wonderful and have offered our family so much support!

Almost nine months in and Ellie is still feeding like a little champ!

Almost nine months in and Ellie is still feeding like a little champ!

megebrock_linw
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11 Comments

Grace Worthington
Reply May 12, 2016

Megan, it's so good to see you telling your story. I had a difficult time feeding, largely due to being unwell myself after giving birth. It was a journey I never expected and I ended up having to express for as long as I could but became emotionally and physically drained and eventually made the heartbreaking decision to switch to formula. It was right for our family at the time but trying to reconcile myself to it then and now is an ongoing battle. I am praying during this pregnancy that feeding will be a much more positive road and I need to get organised with some support in advance for my own peace of mind! All mummies out there, I have a new found respect for the difficulties that can come with feeding your child. Whatever way you choose and whatever path might by 'chosen' for you by your circumstances, we're in this together. Be kind to each other, support each other, and remember your feeding journey does not define you or your child and who they will become, the love you have for them however during that journey very well might!

    megebrock_linw
    Reply May 12, 2016

    Sorry to hear you had such a hard time! It sounds like you did a great job!! You HAVE to do what works best for the whole picture- whatever that looks like. And you are so right- the love you have for your children is so much more important that anything you feed them. I hope you are feeling well and have an easier time with the new baby!!

Kati
Reply May 12, 2016

So similar to my own experience, it's crazy. Thanks for sharing, Meg!

    megebrock_linw
    Reply May 13, 2016

    Ugh- it's an experience I would not wish on anyone! Hope you are doing well!!

Crystal campbell
Reply May 13, 2016

Its comforting to read of someone else feeling like I did. I had no idea the first few months after giving birth would be so much harder on me than actual pregnancy because I was in so much pain trying to feed my girl who had an improper latch, but I didn't know it. Im military and gave birth oversees in a German hospital. Tricare promised that everyone spoke English in the hospital, but that was a lie. They could barely communicate with me throughout and after my traumatic birth and then I went home. Our post was so small we no breastfeeding resources for the military wives. I felt I'd made a mistake becoming a mom. I couldn't feed my baby, couldn't sleep, couldn't stand the pain of trying again every time she screamed, and I couldn't stand the screaming because it was a constant reminder to me that I was messing up. At 3 months my girl had barely gained weight, and I finally started supplementing with formula. Fast forward 2 yrs and baby number 2 latched perfectly. I made enough milk and like a mom with PTSD, I never even touched that ball and chain pump. Just fed on demand for 13 beautiful months!
I second getting a consult prior to birth.

    megebrock_linw
    Reply May 13, 2016

    Oh man Crystal- that sounds like you had a such a rough time! I can't even imagine how much tougher going through all that must have been when you couldn't communicate with those around. Military moms are definite rock stars! Thank you all for your service. Glad that things went better the second time around! If you ever pass through the northeast we have to connect! I'd love to see you! I was just thinking about our nights sitting on the dock in Liberia :)

Andrea
Reply May 13, 2016

Thank you for this. It's comforting to know that we are not alone in this journey. I had a unplanned C section 3 weeks ago but having the opposite problem. My girl is an amazing latcher, she came out looking to suck, she is just a natural. I on the other hand am having a hard time producing enough milk. I spend my days feeding and pumping trying to up my supply while supplementing with formula. Just started on prescription 2 days ago, praying it works. I visit the Vancouver breastfeeding clinic weekly and it has been a huge help!

    megebrock_linw
    Reply May 17, 2016

    It sounds like you are doing such a great job! That's wonderful that you have a breastfeeding clinic close by- it does make such a difference! I had to supplement with formula for Isaac's entire life and at 2 /1/2 he's an incredibly bright and spirited boy. Whatever happens- your baby obviously has a loving and caring Mama and that is far more important that what she eats :) Best of luck!!

Morgan
Reply May 14, 2016

Thank you so much for this honest post. I had a similar situation, but my babies were switched around. I nursed my son for 14 months without any difficulty. It was amazing. Then I had my second, a daughter, 1 month ago and it has been a struggle. She won't latch and lost over a pound in the first week. I had no idea because she was sucking, but not taking milk. There isn't any medical reason for why she can't latch, so there is no quick fix. I have tried everything and when we do nurse, it's miserable for both of us and we are both crying in the end. Plus I have a toddler that doesn't understand why I am spending an hour every 2 hours feeding, pumping and bottle feeding. I am currently(literally right now) pumping and feeding all bottles. I haven't completely given up and hope to try again when she is 6 weeks. But I have prepared myself for our breastfeeding journey to be done. Trying to remind myself that my daughter and her health is most important, but dang, it's difficult. Thank you for making me feel like I am not alone.

    megebrock_linw
    Reply May 17, 2016

    Oh my goodness- that sounds so tough!! I'm amazed that you are able to do all of that WITH a toddler!! You are doing an incredible job!! I hope you are able to find what works best for you and your whole family.

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