Like most people (I think) I assumed breastfeeding would be easy. I didn’t do any research on it ahead of time because it didn’t occur to me that it was something to research. My impression of breastfeeding was that you put the baby at your breast when she’s hungry and she does her thing. I think most people never know whether or not they will be able to breastfeed successfully until they can or they cannot. I have yet to speak with a single mother who didn’t have some sort of issue while trying to breastfeed. Of course, no one thought to mention how difficult breastfeeding was for them until I began to voice my own struggles. I’ve decided to post every day this week about our breastfeeding journey. Maybe it will help someone some day.
The day Isabel was born we had a terrible time latching. When she did latch it HURT. The nurses in the hospital reassured me, explaining that if it hurt, it meant I was latching the baby correctly and that I would toughen up over time. When she nursed it hurt slightly less, but she would nurse for very long periods of time. Once in the hospital she was awake and nursing for three hours. I had to take her off because the pain was just too much. She became frantic wanting to be back on the breast. I couldn’t stand any more nipple pain and asked the nurses what I should do. They suggested formula supplementation.
I didn’t get used to the difficult and painful latch and I didn’t toughen up. For the first week we would be lucky if we got her to latch once in a day. When she did the pain was awful. When my milk came in I started trying to pump when she wouldn’t latch. The most I ever got was 3 ounces from a 2-hour pumping session. My pumping output steadily decreased in the weeks that followed. I was lucky to get 0.25 ounces in a single session. When we couldn’t latch and didn’t have any breast milk handy, we fed the baby formula in a bottle. I did some internet research and found out that a lot of people seemed to think breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to hurt.
At Isabel’s first week check-up I told the doctor I was having problems breastfeeding and he gave me a referral for a local lactation consultant. Otherwise, Isabel was doing great; she was growing and her weight was right about where it should have been. I saw the LC the next day about the baby not latching but OF COURSE Isabel latched perfectly while we were there. The LC said to switch breasts when I noticed the baby stop swallowing at the first breast and to come back if we had any more problems. I had trouble identifying Isabel’s swallows. It didn’t seem to me that she was swallowing at all.
Eventually I could get the baby to latch just about every time we tried. I also tried to pump when I could but the baby was pretty demanding. When I had “time” to pump I much preferred trying to sleep or get something else done. At this time we were still giving bottles of formula when my nipples hurt too badly or when I had too much anxiety about trying to breastfeed her. I developed a habit of gritting my teeth and clenching my jaw while nursing and while thinking about nursing.
I spent a lot of time online trying to figure out what I should do but only got more confused. The only thing that people consistently insisted upon was putting the baby to breast whenever she wanted and not giving in to bottle-feeding. Bottle feeding meant sabotaging my milk supply, and I certainly didn’t want to do that!
When Isabel was three weeks old I decided to go ahead and try exclusive breastfeeding. I was up for six days straight. All day and all night. She did not want to be off of the breast. I was shrieked in pain when she latched and sobbed while she fed. When the pain wasn’t horrific, there was a weird pinching happening at the corners of the baby’s mouth that was incredibly uncomfortable. My nipples consistently came out of the baby’s mouth misshapen. You could almost say I spent the entire week crying; if it wasn’t from pain it was from not understanding why we were having such a hard time. On day 7 John said enough was enough and told me to go to sleep. I slept all day while he formula-fed the baby.
We went to the doctor the following week and Isabel had lost enough weight that the doctor sternly told us that we needed to supplement with formula. I was devastated. Had I been starving my baby by trying to breastfeed? We went back to giving her many bottles and breastfeeding very little. I went to my first La Leche League meeting that night where I talked and talked and talked about my issues. I got contact info for an out-of-town LC and contact info for a pediatric dentist. I expressed concern about my milk supply. The girls there suggested pumping 8-10 times daily. They also told me about tongue and lip ties and assured me that if it was hurting so badly, then something was wrong.
I saw the LC again two days later on Isabel’s one-month birthday. I told her I was concerned about my supply because of the lack of output while pumping. She said to go ahead and try “more frequent” feedings, feeding the baby 20 minutes on each side and supplementing with formula afterward. I got her to check my pumps; she said they were working and the suction was good. She also told me that I might just be one of those people for whom pumping doesn’t work. (I had no idea such people existed.) I asked her to check Isabel for tongue and lip ties. She said while Isabel’s tongue was “short,” she didn’t notice any tie. She did say that Isabel had a substantial lip tie but that nothing could be done about it and that it shouldn’t really be causing any issues anyway. She watched us breastfeed and told me that outwardly it looked like we were latched well. She said she didn’t know why I was in so much pain and that the issue must be something going on “inside” the latch. She said she would do some research on her own and get back to me. When she said that I knew I’d never hear from her. Running pretty short on hope, I began to very seriously consider giving up.