Breastfeeding takes time or why hanging in there pays off...

When I first decided to breastfeed my child, I was just starting my pregnancy and knew close to nothing about breastfeeding. My mom wasn’t really able to breastfeed us (in retrospect probably because of the lack of support offered at the time) but I did know of friends who successfully managed to breastfeed for extended periods of time. The only thing I knew was that it was probably best for my child’s health. At first I thought that if I breastfed for three months it would be great. I really thought I would be heading back to work then and would not be able to continue on nursing my child.

During my pregnancy I delved into books, studies and blogs to learn more about the whole thing. I discovered the politics of breastfeeding, found out that nursing was also about taking a stand and that I was probably in for some seriously controversial moments. I also discovered that there are many significant benefits for both the child and the mom.

Breastfeeding has been proven to reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. That is not something I was willing to overlook, being familiar with the toll breast cancer can take on a woman and her family... So the more I read, the more I became convinced breastfeeding was the way to go. Thank God for me, I am a pretty stubborn person because little did I know what a battle it was going to be for me and Liam but today, after close to 6 months, I can say it is a wonderful experience for both of us and I do not regret my decision one bit.

Liam’s birth turned out pretty different from what I was hoping for and instead of giving birth in the comfort of my home, I gave birth in an operating room at the local hospital. Just after my c-section, I was wheeled into a recovery room and handed my beautiful little one for some skin to skin time and to give breastfeeding a try. Now Liam had a pretty rough time coming into the world and his head was probably very sore from being stuck in my pelvis for so long (he was born with a real cone-head!). The nurse who attended to us then was probably not aware of that fact and my doula had to leave us to help my husband out (she drove him back home so he could pick up some essentials for us). This nurse grabbed my baby’s head and started shoving him onto my breast quite violently. (I had flattish nipples at the time so it was difficult for him to properly latch-on) He did not like that a bit and started screaming his lungs out. The trial was a failure. Liam refused to feed that night. The night nurse did manage to get him to latch-on early morning the next day with a much gentler technique. The nurses we had after that were pretty rough and the latching remained a problem, so my midwife told us to try a nipple shield to help draw out my nipples. It worked: Liam got his first real feeds that way. I was pumping away when he was not on my breast but after the c-section I probably had a late onset of real milk. Meanwhile Liam became jaundiced (this is very common in newborns) and the threats began. I was told I would have to supplement him in order to be allowed to return home because his weight loss was slightly on the lower side of the charts. We supplemented with donor milk (BC Women’s hospital is great for that). I was exhausted from my 18 hours of labour and recovering from the c-section. My hormones took me on a roller-coaster of emotions. I was hoping that once home we would be able to slowly wean him off the supplements.

We both tried very hard to get rid of the nipple shield (they are great to help draw out the nipples but the baby does not get as much milk that way) but to no avail, so the vicious circle began, baby was not getting as much milk as he needed and my production began to decrease and the supplements to increase. I was so tired I could not muster the energy to pump as much as I should have.

My mom left and my in-laws arrived to spend a whole month with us. Things changed a bit around the house. I went from nursing freely anywhere to nursing in my room and went from being catered to by my mom to catering to my in-laws’s needs. I was full of guilt, grief and anger regarding my birth. Milk production continued to decrease and we had to start supplementing with formula. Since my in-laws were here, they started giving the bottles of supplement. My mother in-law wanted to be supportive but kept telling me that I probably did not have enough milk and that I should not feel bad about it because she was not able to breastfeed her kids for that reason. I did not reply to her that it was a common myth that mothers don’t have enough milk... We took them out on visits and more and more bottles of formula were involved as I did not feel very comfortable to breastfeed with my nipple shield during our outings. Liam then went on a “breast strike”: he refused the breast for close to two days. I was an emotional wreck. I finally found the courage to talk to my husband about it and he was very helpful. He talked to his parents and got me to call our wonderful doula for help. She spent close to three hours with us and got me to try a SNS, a supplementing nursing system, a little bottle with little tubes you attach to your breast. With this little system, I could give the supplement at the breast, thus triggering my milk production back up.

I spent more time with my baby and less time catering to everyone else in the house. I got in warm baths with Liam so he could find the time and skill to learn to feed with my flattish nipples. Things got better, we got rid of the nipple shield and the supplements slowly began to decrease as my milk production increased. My spirits rose back up. My in-laws left and we were back to just being the three of us.

We went for the 2 months visit with the paediatrician. She told me I would never be able to exclusively breastfeed. God was I ever angry after that appointment! I started pumping like crazy, power-pumping when I had 5 minutes to myself and started galactagogues to help, Momma’s tea and the Lactastim plant tincture from Gaia Garden mainly. At this point I was mainly feeding from my left breast, Liam still having a real hard time with my right breast. I encountered a number of problems linked to bad latch-ons, including really sore and bleeding nipples, blisters and blocked milk ducts. I got hit by a bad episode of mastitis. It was time for me to get the right breast back to work, so I booked an appointment with the lactation clinic at the hospital and after two appointments Liam managed to feed on both sides and the supplements finally disappeared altogether by the time he was three and a half months. I was so happy to tell the paediatrician at our four months visit!

By the time we headed to France for the holidays, I was exclusively breastfeeding and so happy about it! Liam and I had battled hard to learn how to properly breastfeed and I was really proud of both of us. Strangely enough, although everyone in our family kept saying it was wonderful that I was “still” breastfeeding Liam, I kept hearing that, really, by now, I should wean him. Of course, like most breastfed babies, Liam would still wake up at night for at least two feeds, all the contrary of his cousin, who is completely bottle-fed and sleeps though the night. So everyone was basically telling us that if we wanted a good night’s sleep we should just switch to bottles. My grandmother was straightforward enough to tell me that I had made my point, that I was in fact able to breastfeed when everyone thought I wouldn’t be able to but now that Liam was slowly starting on solids it was time for me to wean because when he would have teeth there was no way I would be able to continue nursing him. My sister in-law was quite defensive and kept giving me all the reasons why she did not breastfeed and why for her next kid she would definitely stick to bottles. Most people made it sound like I was making a really huge sacrifice to breastfeed Liam when altogether it is far more convenient to breastfeed than to tote around bottles, sterilizers and expensive formula!

Once more, my husband was great: he kept telling everyone that the World Health Organization actually recommends to breastfeed for two years. I cannot emphasize how important it has been for me to have a supportive husband who is completely on board with the idea of extended breastfeeding.

We were all exhausted from travelling all around the country to see family and relatives and I got hit by another episode of mastitis, this time a lot tougher than my fist episode. There came another round of “see, all the reason for you to wean Liam now that you’re sick”, and “don’t feed on the infected breast” blah blah blah... Once more, we had to supplement, the sheer exhaustion having caused my production to sink yet again. Thankfully, this time I did not give in, and got back on my pump. By the time we took the plane back home to BC, Liam was fully breastfeeding again and I had learned my lesson: there is absolutely no need to listen to anyone else than yourself when it comes to such a personal choice as the way you want to feed your child.

Even if the books and lactation activists will tell you that breastfeeding is easy and painless and that you should proudly nurse in public, we all know it’s not that easy. Some of us need more time to learn the tricks of the trade. Some of us need more support to carry on when things are hard and when doubts become too strong. But there is support out there, there are some amazing women available on websites, in the La Leche League support groups or at your local lactation clinics. Midwives, doulas and lactation consultants can be called for help. With time, you will even manage to nurse in public with comfort and confidence!

And all those efforts are really worth it. Today I look at my kid happily feeding, giving me huge smiles when I pull up my shirt to nurse him and I know I was right to persist in my attempts. Most importantly, he is a very healthy child and I know all the benefits of breast milk will pay on the long run.

So if you are having trouble but really want to breastfeed, hang in there and get help quickly! I know now that things would probably been a lot easier if I had called for help earlier. Solutions exist to most common breastfeeding issues and it sometimes only takes a couple of appointments to correct any problem. And do not ever believe all the BS about formula being just as good as breast milk. Science has proven it once and for all, nothing beats the boobs!



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