When my son was born and they placed his body on mine, I was pleased to see him rooting. After soaking in his newness and crying tears of relief and joy, I decided to try to get him to latch. I was only a little disappointed when he failed to really latch in the delivery room. “Some babies need more time,” I thought. I knew once we were settled into our Mother & Baby Room we’d get the hang of it. My baby just needed a little more time.
Then he was taken from us (more on that some other time) and I went into pure panic mode. First, “what is happening with my baby?” Second, “I need to be with him. I need to hold him.” And third, “he hasn’t eaten. He needs to eat.” Little did I know it would be 13 days until we *really* breastfed successfully.
My labor and delivery was nothing like I imagined. After it was all said and done, I knew breastfeeding was the one thing left that I had that could go my way… but of course I was wrong about that, too.
While in the ICN, S had an anterior and posterior tongue tie correction, but although I met with lactation daily, we still couldn’t breastfeed. On good days he would lay there with my nipple in his mouth and just sit there. On the worst days he’d arch his back and cry until his lip quivered. Those times I would hand him over to his dad who would be ready with a bottle, and I would cry and cry over the fact that I couldn’t even feed my baby.
Those first few days were spent pumping with tears in my eyes. Nothing would accumulate in the bottles, so we’d sit with tiny syringes to suck up whatever colostrum made its way to the surface. We supplemented with donor breast milk, and though I was grateful, I was also very aware of what this pasteurized milk was costing us by the ounce. I knew we couldn’t keep that up forever and I was so afraid I’d never produce enough and we’d have to go to plan C: formula.
I know formula isn’t the worst thing, and I’m not saying this to shame other moms. I know babies thrive on formula, but for me, choosing formula was like throwing in the towel on my last remaining birth plan and I wasn’t ready to give that up if I didn’t absolutely have to.
I remember the day my mature milk came in. I was pumping while my husband and mother in law tended to S in the ICN. I looked down, and the tiny bottle was filling up. “Oh my god. What do I do?” I sent for John and I think we both breathed a sign of relief when we labeled that bottle and triumphantly marched it into the unit for storage. Our baby’s next feeding was taken care of 100% by yours truly.
We made it out of the hell hole that was the Intermediate Care Nursery, and I continued to pump at home. It was a full time job, and it took 3 of us to make it work in those early days. I’d pump, my Mother-in-Law would wash and sterilize the pieces, and my husband would feed S the bottle. When I think about how exhausted we were from this process, I have a much greater respect for those who pump exclusively or even part time in order to feed their baby.
Because I was afraid he’d grow accustomed to a rubber nipple, we decided to switch to an SNS (supplemental nursing system) and finger feeding. This decision was 2 fold: avoid nipple confusion and help him build strength in his tongue needed to breastfeed.
We saw 3 more lactation consultants in the next few days. I was determined to move him to the breast! I wanted nothing more. Ultimately, it took ANOTHER tongue tie and a lip tie correction and a nipple shield until our first real successful feed at the breast.
The shield irritated me to no end. I had a very handsy baby who would literally rip it off of my nipple whilst simultaneously screaming because he was hungry and impatient.
A few days after the final correction, I threw the shield in a fit of utter disappointment and anger. My husband walked up to me and firmly said, “do it without the shield!”
I put a “C hold” on my breast and when S opened his tiny little mouth, I brought him to it. He. Latched!! He latched and gulped for a good twelve minutes. I was so happy that I cried. When he finished, he readily took the other breast and I beamed. We were doing it!
Now, weeks into this journey, we’re breastfeeding like champs. We get better every day. Just this weekend, we attended a wedding and I breastfed during “La Marcha”, or the wedding march, where everyone makes a bridge with their arms and the entire guest list takes turns snaking underneath. We got so many “atta-girls” and knowing smiles from other mamas. I am so incredibly grateful for the support we received. Even as a doula and childbirth educator, I was not prepared for how difficult breastfeeding can be.
Without the support of my village, my husband, and my mother-in-law, we wouldn’t be breastfeeding today. I can tell you that for certain. It took sheer determination on my part, a great support system, the advice of amazing lactation specialists, and medical intervention to get us here… but we’re here and that’s what I try to remember when he wakes me up to eat during the night. 😉