If you’re looking forward to reading about a sweet, positive breastfeeding journey, this isn’t it. Maybe they exist, but I wouldn’t know. What I do know is what I wish I would have known in the first few days and weeks of my breastfeeding experience. Sometimes, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally, sometimes it’s really, really hard.
The first hours and weeks and even months of breastfeeding, for me, brought so many issues. Trouble latching was the immediate piece of our puzzle and pain. A lip tie was diagnosed and revised while we were in the hospital, and a tongue-tie was ruled out, things I knew nothing about at the time. Recovery lip stretches and nipple shields were recommended, and we were sent home to care for a brand new human being!
We were back every day for 10 days though, to check bilirubin levels that wouldn’t go down. In fact, my son was almost readmitted for this reason. We were also frequent fliers at a local support group and lactation consultant meetings that first week where they let me know that our healthy, 9 pound 8 oz, baby wasn’t gaining any weight.
Still, I pressed on. Our first few weeks together were full of hour-long nursing sessions followed by a crying, still hungry, baby. Our lactation consultant was essential during these days and equipped us with a plan. This meant that my precious, fleeting, maternity leave days were filled with an ongoing pattern of nursing, pumping, supplementing both formula and pumped milk, washing parts, and starting over again. Then mastitis hit. If I thought I had been in pain before, nursing and pumping through mastitis was a new low. Looking back, the clues were all there, but at the moment I had no idea what I was doing.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but was really only about three weeks, we were advised to have him re-evaluated by a pediatric dentist. He confirmed that my son’s lip tie had not been revised correctly and he did have a tongue-tie that needed revision after all. I have since learned that it is extremely common for these to be misdiagnosed by doctors.
What I thought would be immediate relief was not. Weeks of heartbreaking tongue and lip stretches followed the quick procedure. We continued to supplement, I continued to have pain, but he was gaining weight! Slowly, my own confidence grew, breastfeeding became muscle memory, the pain subsided. I remember high fiving my husband 8 weeks in because I felt like I had finally figured out what I was doing, and I was finally not in pain!
I’m not sure when I think back to those days, how or why I kept trying, but I’m glad that I did. I know that the constant support from my husband and family were absolutely crucial. People feeding ME, letting me rest, washing pump parts and bottles, supporting me mentally and emotionally, it would not have been possible without that support. And I’m so thankful for that support because, after the first two crazy months, the next 12 were some of the most positive and empowering of my life.
I didn’t know anything about tongue and lip ties before having my son, and since, I have heard countless moms experience the same concerns. Some struggling for several months before realizing that something needed to be revised. If you are experiencing pain when breastfeeding past the first few days and weeks, your baby has a poor or noisy latch, isn’t gaining weight, or doesn’t seem content even after nursing, reach out to a lactation consultant or local support group. It’s possible that a tongue or lip tie could be the culprit.
Things I learned along our messy, breastfeeding journey:
•Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. The hospitalist who worked with us was unwilling to perform a tongue-tie revision in the hospital despite our pediatrician and a lactation consultant advising that it be done. I wish I would have been confident enough to advocate for my family at the time and I know I will be able to in the future if needed
•I had friends tell me to give breastfeeding two weeks, I’m glad I gave it much longer. It might not be awesome in those first two weeks or even longer in my experience. You’re learning an entirely new skill and so is your baby! Give it some time.
•Breastfeeding isn’t always beautiful and natural and easy, sometimes it’s messy and emotional and hard at first, in fact I’ve heard more stories like mine. Any nursing or pumping is breastfeeding in my book. Maybe you can only produce half and you supplement the other half, perhaps it’s only for a few months, maybe you have to exclusively pump. No journey looks the same.
•And last but not least, my go-to advice for new moms. Hear me when I say this. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I’m a huge advocate for breastfeeding. I know how great it is for both mom and baby, but it’s not worth your mental health, your sanity, your happiness, or your relationship with your baby. Give it a fair chance, but know when it’s crossed the line of being a healthy option for YOU!