Adventures in Breastfeeding

Disclaimer: I am about to talk about my boobs. I’m not really the type of person who ever thought she’d be sharing this online, but breastfeeding is hard and I want to share my experiences, especially with those who might be struggling in their own way. Please feel free to share your stories, too. I think it’s really important to talk about struggles, because often people try to silence mothers who dare to express any frustration or difficulty.  Difficult experiences are still as valid as the happy, positive ones, and getting support is important.  I hope it goes without saying that I have been incredibly grateful to be able to breastfeed at all.

From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I knew that I’d want to breastfeed. There are health benefits for both mother and baby, and that was and remains my number one reason, but on top of that, it’s also free. For some reason, despite being told by several people how difficult breastfeeding was, I expected the biggest hurdle to be establishing a good milk supply. I had no idea that a good supply would actually be the least of my problems. I had so many friends and acquaintances that weren’t able to breastfeed due to supply issues, so the concern was at the forefront of my mind–I didn’t understand the variety of problems that could come with breastfeeding and really thought, for some reason, that it wouldn’t be difficult.

As you’ve likely guessed by this point, I was very wrong. Here’s where the boob-talk comes in.

I’ve had an inverted nipple for as long as I can remember. This was a slight concern when I was pregnant, but for some reason, I thought the issue would magically correct itself when Amelia was born. I was a little too optimistic, because… yeah, it didn’t. Moments after Amelia was born, I tried getting her to latch to no avail. I was whisked into my room in the obstetrics unit of the Moncton Hospital, and before I knew it, a nurse was in the room trying to get her to latch. I was both physically and mentally exhausted from labour, but I knew my baby had to eat, so we tried–but my inverted nipple had other plans. The nurse left the room and came back a few minutes later carrying a nipple shield. And, with that tool in hand, Amelia successfully latched, and our nursing relationship began.

If I any illusions of simplicity remained at this point, they were shattered pretty quickly. The shield and I developed a love-hate relationship pretty quickly–and I understood when fellow nursing mothers looked on with sympathetic familiarity when I brought the shield out for a feed. It seems it’s a common tool, and while it’s useful, it’s easy for the baby to form a dependency on it, and can cause problems of its own.

I had follow-up appointments at the breastfeeding clinic–twice in the first week–and discovered that Amelia wasn’t gaining any weight, at first. When my milk came in, I had a huge oversupply, to the point that I was informed I could likely feed twins with what I had, but Amelia just wasn’t getting to it. So, we tried a few things. I had been trying to wean off the shield, but because my oversupply had been filling it up, Amelia had just been sipping on the excess. Thus, when I tried to nurse her without the shield, she wasn’t trying hard enough to extract the milk, and, because of that, she ended up losing weight. We were back on the shield, and until she gained again, we were checked in at the clinic every two days. After a month, she got back to her birth weight, at last, and we only had to visit every two weeks. I kept with the shield, because it was working well, even though I had to pump daily to maintain my supply.

She gained reasonably well for a couple of months–about the minimum of what would be expected, but still steadily gaining. One day, one of the lactation consultants told me that, given my supply, she should be gaining more. So, we decided to supplement, and tried giving her 1-2 oz. of pumped milk a day. This was when she was around 11 weeks old, and supplementation was a nightmare.

Amelia, though she had accepted a bottle up until she was about 8 weeks old, suddenly decided it was no longer a viable way to receive food. And, she decided she hated it more than anything in the world. I tried a few days of giving her a supplement in a bottle before I went to buy new bottles that, in theory, would work better. On top of it, Amelia had decided to stop nursing on my left side the night prior, and would only drink from that side if she was too sleepy to know the difference. So, when Amelia vocally rejected the bottle, I found myself dialling the breastfeeding clinic while blinking tears out of my eyes. “My daughter won’t nurse from my left side and won’t take a supplement,” I cried into the voicemail. “It’s not going very well.” They saw me later on that day and got me back on the right track.

Now, Amelia’s latch is strong enough that she should, in theory, have no trouble getting enough milk without the shield. Except, as of now, she cries every time I try to nurse her without the shield. It’s an ongoing challenge and, most days, ends up being both mentally and physically draining. At 16 weeks of age, she’s currently going through a phase which involves her comfort nursing all day–something she’s never done before. It’s been an ongoing struggle for the two of us, so I’m glad she takes comfort from it.

That’s not to say I hate nursing–not at all. It hasn’t been all pleasant. In fact, some days, it isn’t pleasant at all. But, as tired as I am, I like waking up in the middle of the night for a cuddle and a feed. Some nights, I miss her as soon as I put her to bed. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to feed her in this way, despite the challenges, and despite wanting to pull my hair out on some days. It’s gotten easier since we started, so I’m hoping it gets to a point that it becomes almost entirely positive, soon.

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