I always knew I wanted to be a mother and when I got pregnant with my first daughter, I was thrilled. It was a hard pregnancy, fraught with morning sickness and blood pressure problems, but my beautiful girl was born perfectly healthy. I named her Ariana and she was perfect in every way, except one. She would not latch.
I really wanted to breastfeed. I have food allergies and breastfeeding is one of the best ways of preventing food allergies in your children. I didn’t know much about breastfeeding and Ariana was born on a holiday weekend, so the hospital’s lactation consultant was not there. When latching problems presented, a nurse gave me a nipple shield. I continued to use a nipple shield, each time I breastfed my daughter, for the next year.
Yes, I used a nipple shield for a year. It was annoying and often frustrating. No matter how hard I tried, my daughter preferred the nipple shield to my bare breast. I wanted her to have the breastmilk, so I persevered. She nursed exclusively for six months and I weaned her at thirteen months. She is now a healthy five-year-old and I don’t regret the difficult times I spent nursing her one bit. However, when I got pregnant with my second daughter, I vowed I would nurse her without a shield, somehow.
My second pregnancy was worse than my first. I had morning sickness, heartburn, and severe asthma problems. At fifteen weeks gestation, I developed appendicitis and had to have emergency surgery. Despite all this, Lorien was born beautiful and healthy, completely naturally, on her due date. I immediately started nursing her after birth and for the first two days she did very well. Then, we came home and the problems started.
My milk took forever to come in and my supply was very low. Nursing was uncomfortable. Lorien would only nurse if I lied down, which made nursing outside the home impossible. We began supplementing with formula after each nursing session, and, after a week, a lactation consultant realized the problem. Lorien was “tongue-tied.”
“Tongue-tie” or tight frenulum is a rare mouth defect that prevents the baby from latching effectively. A small flap of skin under the tongue prevents the tongue from moving as much as is necessary for a baby to nurse. A simple procedure, called a frenotomy, removes this flap of skin, allowing for proper tongue movement. Lorien had this procedure at ten days old. I attempted to nurse her an hour later and she latched properly for the first time. I was so happy and relieved. My baby could nurse! I just burst into tears. We are going to be okay now, I thought.
But, it wasn’t that simple.
I still had very low supply.
I still had to supplement.
I felt lost and hopeless. I wanted my baby to have breastmilk, but how would I ever get my body to produce enough for her to not need formula? Well, this is how I did it:
I started meeting with my lactation consultant EVERY week. I needed the support. She guided me and encouraged me through the toughest stages. I wasn’t nursing for the first time, but I hadn’t had supply issues with my first baby. This time was different and it was very much like starting from the beginning. My lactation consultant gave me some suggestions:
Nurse as often as your baby wants.
Supplement with as much formula as your baby will take after nursing, but don’t replace nursing with formula.
Pump as often a possible after nursing to stimulate your breasts. (After all, you are never truly empty.)
Give your baby supplemental feedings while you pump to save time.
Use any extra milk that you pump to supplement as well.
So, eight or so times a day, I would nurse Lorien. Then, I would hook up a double breast pump (using a pump bustier to hold everything in place). While the pump stimulated milk production, I would give Lorien her formula supplement.
In the beginning, Lorien would take four to eight ounces of formula after each nursing. I pumped and supplemented every daytime feeding. At night, I nursed and supplemented with prepared bottles in the fridge, but skipped pumping if I was too tired. Also, I couldn’t pump if we had a feeding outside the house.
I averaged at least four pumping sessions a day in the early weeks. It was hard. Feeding took forever, sometimes as much as an hour from start to finish. My whole day seemed like nurse, pump, wash bottles, repeat. It felt interminable at times, making the visits from my lactation consultant even more important. She reminded me why I put myself through it. She reminded me of all the benefits I was giving my baby. She reminded me that it would get better. She told me over and over: it won’t last forever.
As time went on, I noticed that Lorien started taking less formula. I also noticed I was getting more milk from the pump (even though every pumping session was after a nursing session). You see, all the pumping was signaling my body that more milk was needed. After three months, Lorien’s pediatrician told me I could try stopping the formula. The test would be Lorien’s weight gain. If it remained constant while she drank only breastmilk, then the formula was no longer necessary. We closely monitored Lorien’s weight gain over several more weeks. Success! She gained weight normally without any formula.
Before she reached four months of age, Lorien was completely breastfed. I continued to pump a couple times a day. I froze the pumped milk and used it later when my husband or another family member wanted to feed her. I made more milk than I ever thought was possible. My personal best: ten ounces of pumped milk! (That was after nursing a full feed.)
Lorien is twenty months old now. She still nurses. I know that she will wean soon, maybe in a month, maybe longer. It is very bittersweet. I love nursing her. After all I went through to make sure she could have breastmilk, it’s hard to think about not nursing anymore. I know she will always be my baby, but for all these months, we have had this special bond. We will never have a bond like this again. One day, she won’t want to nurse anymore, and that’s fine. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
I hope reading my story gave you some comfort and hope. If you are struggling with nursing, please call a lactaction consultant, or a friend who breastfeeds, or your pediatrician, or even your mom. Support is so important. Surround yourself with well-informed, supportive people, take a deep breath, and remember that these hard times won’t last forever.