If there is anything I have learned in my 6 years of parenting it’s that there is no “one size fits all.” Our oldest was bottle (formula fed), disposable diapered, and wearing him? Maybe on a rare occasion with the cheapest brand carrier you can buy! haha This progressed into our youngest (now 2) being exclusively breastfed, cloth diapered full-time, and worn constantly. I still wear him often! The “one size DOESN’T fit all” is most definitely also true when it comes to breastfeeding! I had 3 VERY different experiences!
With our oldest son I had EVERY intention to breastfeed. I also had every intention to have a natural birth, but after 11 hours of unmedicated labor (4 of those hours in the hard “transition phase”) his head “disappeared.” It turns out his umbilical cord was less than 5 inches long, and it “bungeed” him into a forward facing position – in the side of my pelvis. At the time they didn’t know why he was suddenly in this very unideal position, but they knew my body was NOT happy as my labor changed directions and “got stuck.” After realizing we couldn’t get him to move they called in the anesthesiologist for a spinal because I was C-Section bound. I was CRUSHED. The one thing I had left was the hope of breastfeeding. I felt like it was my last chance to “bond” with my new baby because they didn’t even let me hold him FOR AN HOUR after the c-section. I finally did and nursed him for the first time and was excited to start our new journey as a family. Things didn’t go as planned, though. Not only did a nurse FORCE a bottle on my new baby because he was “too sleepy” to nurse and they HAVE to nurse every x hours. There also wasn’t a lactation consultant in site to help me address my concerns – like why did nursing hurt so much?? In fact, I NEVER had access to one. They just didn’t have them there! The most “help” I got was from a nurse lecturing me about only using the same position over and over again. I tried other positions, but I didn’t know what I was doing!! I tried to talk to the pediatricians after being in excruciating pain – first from the c-section and also from the breastfeeding. All they would do was ask me questions: has your milk come in? How often was he nursing? etc. My answer was usually “I don’t know.” I THOUGHT my milk was in – it sure felt like it! I tried to nurse him every x hours and pump when I was in too much pain. I was in such a fog and in so much pain! I would pump for an hour and get less than an ounce. Something just wasn’t right! At the 2 week mark he was getting as many bottles as he was getting time at the breast. I called everybody I could think of crying, begging for support, but nobody else had experienced this and didn’t know what to say. The most advice I got was “well, if it hurts that much then stop. It would be better to give him formula all the time than be in pain so much you can’t take care of him.” That is the truth I embraced and often regretted it. I was prepared for weeks of “drying up,” when my reality was I dried up in less than 2 days. I really WASN’T producing any milk. I may have been before I gave in to the bottles to help compensate for the pain. I’ll honestly never know. So began our formula feeding relationship and what I felt was my last hope at anything “natural” in my first parenting attempt.
I was DETERMINED to breastfeed the 2nd time around, so I did a lot more research, connected with other breastfeeding moms, and connected with my local La Leche League BEFORE I had our 2nd baby, our daughter. I made it known I did NOT want her to have ANY bottles in the hospital or pacifier. We were also in a different state, so I had different doctors and a different hospital. Lactation Consultants were readily available I was told! Yay! Our daughter was born at 36 weeks, 4 days (due to some complications I was having. I’m sure there is a medical term for it but basically my heart would race, my blood pressure would drop, and I’d either get really dizzy or pass out.) She was a petite 5lbs 12oz. It was a repeat C-Section. I knew this from the beginning, though. I wasn’t given a choice unfortunately. This experience was TOTALLY different, though. It felt like a birth – not just a surgery. I got to hold her immediately, and they took her to our room, so as soon as I was back in there I could have that more direct contact with her. I nursed her, and they took her to the nursery for vitals. They didn’t bring her back. She had low blood sugar, so I was told she had to stay in the Special Care Nursery to be monitored. They brought me an electric pump and told me I wouldn’t be able to nurse her until they could get her blood sugar under control and was told to pump every 3 hours. Did this really just happen? I was so worried this was going to be another failed attempt at breastfeeding, and the pump was hurting me SO badly. The good news is – there was help! I had a wonderful lactation consultant! Obviously, she wasn’t there overnight, but I asked to see one the next day because of the pump hurting me. We discovered I needed a different size flange, and the problem was solved! She also went down to the Special Care Nursery with me and DEMANDED they let me nurse my daughter. They said they couldn’t because “they wouldn’t know how much she ate,” which was necessary to monitor the blood sugar. Well, I did get to nurse her, and they used a little scale to figure out how much she ate. After that, I didn’t buy that excuse anymore! They still insisted on giving her a bottle after every nursing session, but at least I was getting to nurse her, and I had someone helping me with her latch, position, etc.! I had no idea when getting baby to latch you should have them lead with the chin. I had definitely been doing it ALL WRONG with our first. I was always trying to get him to latch with the top of his mouth first and then his chin last. He couldn’t get the proper latch that way! Yikes!
The next 2 months of breastfeeding our daughter were grueling. She had gotten into such a routine of nurse than bottle that she would fuss after nursing for a bottle. I was in a routine rut of nurse, bottle, pump, nurse, bottle, pump while also caring for a 20 month old! I was taking Fenugreek, drinking Mom’s Milk Tea, etc. to increase my supply. Plus, I had thrush once during that and had to sanitize EVERYTHING. Wow, it was painful! The LLL Leader really helped talk me through it! It paid off, though! At 2 months we had it down! She started struggling with weight, though. She just wasn’t gaining well, and starting off so small it was frowned upon. It turns out all that worrying about increasing my supply caused an OVERsupply, and she wasn’t getting enough of the fatty hind milk she needed to grow well! I knew it was time to let my body work properly and I stopped all supplements and just exclusively nursed to get my supply where it needed to be. It worked! She started growing well after that! Sure, she was always small, but that’s genetics! I had one more “hiccup” with my breastfeeding experience with her – mastitis. I thought thrush was painful! It was the day after my husband left for bootcamp for 4 months! I was alone and in pain! Again, the LLL was an invaluable source! They explained to nurse more frequently on that side despite the pain, and it did clear up rather quickly! Phew! After that we continued to have a happy nursing relationship until she self-weaned at 18 months.
So, when it was time for baby #3 I felt like a pro! I mean, I had some hiccups with my last experience, but I made it! 18 months even! I didn’t even get my cycle back until I was 15 months postpartum – another AWESOME benefit of breastfeeding (though this isn’t always everyone’s experience!). Not to mention I dropped the baby weight after my daughter very quickly! So our younger two kids were spaced a little further than our older 2 by eight months. My experience with our 3rd started out the same – early C-Section due to fainting. My body was at risk, and he was ready at 37 weeks. Even though it was (another) C-Section I, again, had a fairly pleasant experience (after the initial fainting on the operating table until they could stabilize my blood pressure – scary!). I got to hold him right away, he was waiting in my room for me, etc. There was one slight problem. He latched once but wouldn’t suckle. At all. In fact, he had NO suck reflex whatsoever. They were baffled. He was also “grunting.” It was a cute little noise but it apparently meant he wasn’t “transitioning” to being here yet. After an episode of apnea he was taken to NICU to be monitored. I couldn’t believe this was happening again. I had the greatest nurse ever, though, and she was encouraging me, got me a pump, and she and my husband kept me in positive spirits. One major difference was – they had no intent to give him a bottle! Not just because he didn’t have a suck reflex yet but because they were very knowledgable and supportive of breastfeeding. A baby doesn’t need to nurse for the first 24 hours. They don’t need anything substantial for the first 48 hours (hence the gold that is those first drops of colostrum. I went in the next morning to see him, and he latched right away and nursed! He never went back! He never had another apnea episode either and was able to go home a couple days later! We have had a beautiful nursing relationship. Sure, I had thrush once (ugh) and mastitis three times (OUCH!), but otherwise everything went well. In fact, he is now 25 months and is still nursing a couple of times during the day (mostly for naps) and at bed time. Yes, even with a full set of teeth you CAN nurse without pain, though he does have a habit of biting down when he falls asleep, so I make sure to unlatch him before he does that!! I didn’t get my cycle back with him until he was 20 months! 20 months!! Woo hoo!!
So sometimes nursing relationships improve over time, but sometimes not. One factor remains – all babies are different. Some won’t latch well and need more work, some will latch great from the start. Ours just happened to progress that way. There are definitely a few things I wish I had known when I started off my journey:
• When you write a birth plan everyone will know and respect your wishes. This was very far from the truth. You doctor may know your birth plan – the nurses may know your name. Seriously. If you don’t want your baby to have a bottle or pacifier (if you want a good start I highly suggest this) then TELL EVERYONE. Even if you feel like you already told that person – tell them again! I can’t tell you how many times they took our oldest away for some test or measurement or something random and brought him back with a pacifier after I told them to stop. KEEP TELLING THEM. And the nurse forcing a bottle because “he was too sleepy?” I obviously didn’t trust my instinct when I accepted this as OK. It’s NOT OK! Your baby doesn’t NEED a bottle because they didn’t nurse within the past 3 hours. When in doubt ask for a lactation consultant or ask your husband to be your advocate. After our first negative experience my husband was the best advocate I could ever ask for!
• If a baby has low blood sugar they can’t breastfeed until it’s stable. This is VERY far from the truth, and when our daughter’s pediatrician heard they took her to the Special Care Nursery and refused to let me nurse she was livid! The BEST thing for a baby with low blood sugar is mom’s colostrum and lots of skin to skin contact with mom.
• They can’t determine how much a baby is getting if you breastfeed. This is an excuse to “sound good.” If they REALLY need to know how much a baby is getting they can weigh the baby on a scale prior to the feeding and immediately after with a highly sensitive scale.
• If a baby isn’t growing well you must not be producing enough milk. This was obviously far from the truth because in my case I was producing TOO MUCH milk, which is why she wasn’t growing well because she was only getting the thin fore milk and not the fatty hind milk.
• Breastfed babies don’t spit up. I was actually taken aback when our youngest started having issues with reflux. Our older had reflux and spit up A LOT. It seemed to be more common with formula fed babies. In our boys’ cases, though, it’s genetics. All the males in my husband’s side of the family have some sort of reflux to varying degrees. The difference? Breastfed babies don’t spit up AS MUCH (it digests more quickly), and it doesn’t smell nearly as awful! (Same goes for the exclusively breastfed babies’ diapers!)
• If you couldn’t do it once you can never do it. Although I wasn’t successful the first time around and even got off to a rough start the 2nd time around, it was definitely not impossible! Do thorough research, connect with other breastfeeding moms and your local La Leche League. I know I am more than willing to offer any advice and support because I had quite different experiences and was able to learn from them! In turn, I can help others learn from MY experiences so they don’t have to, and that makes the struggles, ups and downs, etc. TOTALLY worth it!
Emilee is an Army wife and homeschooling mom to 3 children ages 6, 4, and 2. She blogs about parenting, parenting special needs children, homeschooling, cloth diapering, natural and eco-friendly living, military life, business, reviews and giveaways, and more on her website Pea of Sweetness http://peaofsweetness.com