As promised, I’m going to share my story with you. It’s a bit if an uphill journey, but, thank God, we eventually reached the top. There were many times along the way when I felt completely defeated and almost put on the brakes, but if you’ve ever tried to drive up a steep hill, you know that putting on the breaks means you will start going back down the hill. I definitely didn’t want to have to regain all that ground, so with the help of some key people, we kept trucking, and Logan and I now enjoy a good breastfeeding relationship.
Obviously, our journey started when he was born. Due to a very long, hard labor and some extenuating circumstances, we were both left completely exhausted and falling asleep any time we attempted nursing. So it took a while for Logan to latch at all. When he did, I really struggled getting him in a comfortable position… either the latch was uncomfortable or my wrists felt like they were breaking. The hospital lactation consultants weren’t really any help either. They just seemed to want to “do it for me” rather than talk me through it or help me adjust things myself. They checked for a tongue tie and said that his mouth looked fine, so we just need to figure out a comfortable position. We had read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding when I was pregnant, so I knew that breastfeeding was supposed to be comfortable when done properly, but it just wasn’t. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what. I had been told by friends that “the first 2 weeks are excruciating, but then you get used to it.” Even though I knew it shouldn’t be that way, I just thought that maybe it was one of those things where the way it’s “supposed to be” doesn’t actually happen in real life.
We went home and I continued to struggle getting comfortable. A week (the maximum time the nurses and hospital midwives said it would take for my breasts to get used to nursing) came and went… still painful. The second week (how long my friends said it would take) came and went with even more pain. At this point I was developing large fissures in my nipple that would bleed and make me cry every time Logan nursed (I went for over 40 hours of labor without crying, so that’s saying something!).
A former NICU nurse at my church reached out to me, like she does all the new mothers at church, and offered her services to help with breastfeeding. She also checked for a tongue tie and proper suck and again said that we need to find a comfortable position. She did note that he didn’t open his mouth very wide, so I needed to keep “relatching” until he opened his mouth wider. Well my little guy doesn’t like the whole “off and on” thing, so if I tried more than a few times, he would just give up on that meal. So we just kept pushing on through the pain. I did start pumping on the side that was so damaged and giving it to him in a bottle. It didn’t take long for me to realize how prejudiced I had been about pumping mothers! I had always assumed it was a cop out because they didn’t want to take the time and effort to actually breastfeed. I soon found out that breastfeeding was WAY more convenient and pumping, cleaning pump parts and bottles, trying to plan which side he ate from so I wouldn’t have to bring my pump when I left the house, etc. was a major inconvenience and so annoying.
At Logan’s checkup I mentioned the nursing issues and was told, “He’s gaining fine, so it doesn’t really matter if he’s latching right or not.” Right! Tell that to my sore breasts! Again, they checked for a tongue tie, and said everything is fine, don’t worry about it. 😡
At this point, I knew I should contact a lactation consultant, but my pride was in the way. “This is supposed to be the most natural thing a mother can do, I should not be struggling with this!” I felt weak somehow if I asked for help. I reached out to my birthing class instructor and she said to get a lactation consultant. Not what I wanted to hear. She connected me with another former student who had gone through nursing difficulties and pumped/bottle feed for 2 months, then went back to nursing. Part of me wanted so bad to do that and give my body a break, but I knew that nipple confusion was a real issue with some babies (especially at this age), and I didn’t want to risk ruining that relationship. Besides that, I felt like I was a quitter if I didn’t stick with it, and I DON’T QUIT! 🙄 (Plus, as I said before, pumping is a pain in the butt!)
Finally, when he was 5 weeks old, I was sitting in the car in the mall parking lot trying to nurse, and I broke down and called the lactation consultant my birthing instructor had directed me to. She was very expensive, but seemed very knowledgeable, and I was desperate! So I set up an appointment. She came to my house and spent 2.5 hours with us working on his latch and trying new “holds” to try to get me comfortable and him in the proper position to open his mouth wider. Again, no tongue tie diagnosed. “He just needs to get his head back farther so he can get that mouth open.” But, no matter how hard I tried or how closely I followed her instructions, it just wasn’t working. I called her back that night in tears because I was in so much pain. after treating a bacterial infection caused by the nipple damage with little relief, my midwife told me that “the only reason a baby WON’T nurse properly is if it CAN’T.” That simple realization changed my mindset completely. I had been beating myself up and getting terribly upset at my little infant son for “being so lazy” when all the whole he was doing his absolute best but couldn’t make it happen. I head no idea he was struggling physically. She suggested craniosacral therapy (CST) and chiropractic. I wasn’t really familiar with the first, but am I ever glad she pointed us in that direction!
We met the CST and shared our story. She watched his movements and let him suck on her finger to feel how his tongue was moving when he sucked, and immediately she knew… he had a tongue tie! In the other 4 people’s defense, it was a posterior tongue tie that not many people are trained to spot. That was the source of all the discomfort… for both of us!
Well, long story short, after several weeks of therapy to help loosen up some of the tissues, his tie was too tight for therapy alone to correct. So he did have to get that revised (bad day for both of us!). Some people notice an immediate difference after getting a tongue tie revision. We didn’t. We started to see some improvement around the 6-8 week mark when it fully healed, but nursing wasn’t comfortable until he was over 5 months old.
Since then we’ve had a few ups and downs (nursing strike due to an ear infection, teething, learning to readjust positions every time he has a growth spurt), but both the lactation consultant and the CST have been there and helped us out every step of the way, which is why I highly recommend a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) anytime you are having nursing trouble. Without her, I don’t know where we would be in our nursing relationship.
So I share all this, not for pity or to make nursing sounds like a horror story. MOST people do not have this many struggles (both my IBCLC and the CST said that multiple times). I tell you this to encourage you that no matter what the circumstance or difficulty, press on. I know it’s incredibly hard when it’s not working out the way you hoped. But the rewards are so worth it! My favorite part of breastfeeding isn’t that I’m giving him the best nourishment I can. In fact, if I’m honest, it still weirds me out a little that he is eating from me. My favorite part is the interaction and the side of him that nobody else gets the privilege of knowing. That sweet face when he falls asleep nursing then lets go and presses his lips tightly together in a half smile as if to say, “I am so satisfied. That was a great meal!” Or when he giggles with a mouth full of milk because I accidentally tickled him when I moved my hand. Or when he let’s go and smiles at me with milk spilling out the sides of his lips just to let me know how much he appreciates being able to nurse. Nobody else in the world gets to experience that with him. It’s so sweet and special…and worth every hard day along the way!