Let’s talk about breastfeeding. I know, this is no longer just a DIY design blog, but I haven't really broached many other intimate subjects on life and motherhood. So I think it's just better to jump right into this matter. But, if this is something that doesn't interest you, I understand if you just look at the pictures of the baby.
I decided to write about breastfeeding in the hope that this post could help other mama's out there. I know when I was researching, there were one or two personal stories that I clung to with all my might. They were my hope and drive.
In my opinion, breastfeeding is one of the most giving and intimate actions a mother can take. I still feel pretty emotional about this issue. I know there are differing views and opinions and I am not here to judge, especially after my experience... But this is near to my heart and after talking to so many women with the same issue, I knew I had to write about mine and Max's experience.
Here we are with a newborn Max
Max was born at home and we had a beautiful textbook, as my midwife would say, home birth. It was incredible, amazing, painful, empowering and everything that I had imagined and more. One day I'll share that story, but not today.
I always knew that I was going to breastfeed. My mother nursed all of her babies, as did most of my aunts, cousins and my sisters. I believe that breastfeeding is the formula made specifically and perfectly for your baby. When Max was born he took to nursing right away, but seemed to tire and quickly fall asleep after latching on. He also had a very light suck and I never experienced the soreness and tenderness that I'd heard many mothers speak of. I just thought that I might be lucky.
Max was born with a substantially recessed chin and a high palate, as my midwives commented soon after he was born, but I didn't really give it a second thought nor believed that it would influence his nursing. He also had a small ridge at the base of his skull, but the pediatrician assured us it was nothing to worry about, as it would subside as he grew.
When we went for his first week check up, Max weighed three ounces under his birth weight, which was totally normal. However, my midwives scheduled a follow up just to make sure he was gaining weight normally.
Over the next week and a half, Max continued to nurse, but he wanted to eat every 25 minutes and would be at the breast for what felt like 45 minutes to an hour. I wasn't getting much sleep, but thought that this was a normal newborn schedule. My mom did comment a few times that he didn't look like he was fattening up, but I just figured that he wasn't gaining as fast as my sister's baby boy, who had been born three weeks before. Still, Max continued to want to nurse every half hour and would fall asleep at the breast. He was a good baby, but didn't seem to sleep very deeply.
My mom and I went to Max's follow up appointment at two and a half weeks. He hadn't gained a single ounce. My midwife looked at me and said, we need to start talking about supplementing. He's not gaining weight.
I tried to stay calm at the office, but all I could think was that I had been starving my almost three week old baby. She looked at our nursing technique and showed me how to watch for sucks and swallows, and determined that Max was a passive nurser, and I possibly wasn't making enough milk. We needed to call a lactation consultant and get Max additional milk right away.
As soon as we made it out the door, I burst into tears. I had been starving my baby! I had no idea he wasn't sucking hard enough or not swallowing very frequently. I didn't want to give him formula. What were we going to do?! I felt like a failure as a mother and as a woman. I was devastated. I had been entrusted with this tiny baby's well being and I had failed.
I got home and immediately called a lactation consultant. We set up an appointment for a few days later, as her schedule allowed, and she told me to start pumping right away. She said to nurse Max, offer him a bottle of breast milk or formula if I wasn't producing enough, and then pump for 15 minutes. I was to repeat this process every two hours.
By the time I was off the phone, my two other sisters with breast feeding babies had come to offer their support. One tried to nurse Max and agreed that his suck was very light and he seemed to quickly fall asleep from fatigue. My oldest sister had been pumping, even though her baby was still six weeks old, and brought some pumped milk. She later told me that she just had a feeling that she should start pumping. I still thank God for putting that message on her heart. From then on she was on a pumping schedule as well. She would provide the additional milk that Max needed until my supply increased. I honestly will forever be in her debt for putting her life on hold and helping feed my baby. I am and was absolutely blessed to have my husband’s and family's support through this whole process.
I started pumping right away and to our great relief, Max took to the bottle immediately. Luckily, he never experienced nipple confusion either. That first time we offered him a bottle, his little eyes popped open and he gulped down over three ounces. He had been hungry!
The first time I pumped I only got half an ounce. I was so sad. No wonder the baby was so hungry. My supply had almost dried up. A few days later, when I met with the lactation consultant, my supply hadn't yet increased. She assured me that babies were resilient and Max would be ok. She also said that he had a tongue tie and that his recessed chin and high palate were also contributing factors to his nursing issues. It felt like he had every possible scenario against him. Still, with my sisters extra milk and the addition of the bottle feedings, Max started to sleep deeper and became more animated and alert. He seemed more calm and content. I didn't think he was a fussy baby before, but in comparison, he was an absolutely different boy!
After much debate, we scheduled a frenotomy, the clipping of the skin beneath the tongue. Basically his frenulum was too short and his palate too high to press the nipple against the roof of his mouth, which is how breast feeding works.
The frenotomy was traumatic, but only took about five minutes. There is nothing worse than hearing your baby scream while you wait helplessly in the next room. In hindsight, I'm not sure I would do this again, but I know it's helped a lot of people.
After the procedure, I kept waiting for Max to suck harder, and a few times I felt like he might be, but at our two week follow up appointment the doctor told me that the skin under his tongue had reattached and we would most likely need to repeat the procedure. I knew that I couldn't do that to Max. It hadn't helped and I needed to find another way to aid him in nursing.
I kept to my new pumping schedule, which was hard and isolating, but I knew that I wanted to breast feed. It was exhausting and discouraging, and by the time I got done with the pattern, it was time to start the whole process again. I even woke up every two hours at night to nurse, bottle feed and pump. My husband and I were exhausted and emotional, but dedicated to making it work.
Max was much a happier baby with the additional milk and was quickly gaining weight. I tracked everything in a journal and kept track of how long he nursed, how much he took from the bottle and how much I produced from pumping. At the beginning he would eat four to five ounces from the bottle, which a ton for a newborn, but he was hungry. The lactation consultant advised me that he was probably just catching up and would start to taper off as I produced more milk.
After about two weeks, my milk production made it to an ounce, but Max would still quickly fall asleep at the breast. I was making more milk, but he wasn't sucking hard enough to get any of it. I also couldn't feel a letdown, which made it difficult to tell if he was getting anything at all.
By this time he was three months old and our life consisted of nursing, bottle feeding and pumping. Every two hours. I was discouraged and considered stopping and going to formula so many times. But something kept driving me to keep at it. If only for the comfort he seemed to get from being at the breast. I would look at my sisters, nursing their babes with ease, and feel absolutely disheartened that Max and I would never get there. Still, at about five weeks of pumping, my supply was increasing and I started to take over Max's bottle feedings with my own supply. It was something.
When Max was about three months, we decided to try a neo natal chiropractor who specialized in cranial massage and nursing. We met with Dr. Ross three times in one week and he encouraged us, and advised that Max would be nursing in no time. He told us that the cranial ridge that Max had been born with was affecting how high his palate was, and in turn, affecting his suction when nursing. Still, I waited for that harder suck, and although it sometimes felt a bit stronger, the baby was still very passive. But he was growing and gaining weight and thriving. We just couldn't nurse on our own.
(I don't have many photos of us nursing, but my husband took these on a visit to Prescott last March when Max was three months old)
After about a month of visits, even the chiropractor started to wonder if the adjustments were going to help. That was most discouraging of all. Then, after one particular appointment where we discussed stopping the adjustments altogether, over a period of about a week, Max's suck suddenly felt stronger. He was now about five months old and I had resigned myself to being tied to the pump and bottle for the rest of his babyhood. We even took the pump to play dates and on road trips so I wouldn't miss a session. It was frustrating, but I really didn't know what else to do.
Little by little Max started sucking harder and taking less and less of the bottle, but my milk supply was out of control now. I would easily pump seven to nine ounces after he nursed. I just kept freezing it and keeping track in my journal. We actually ran out of room in our freezer and had to donate some to my sisters, but I was hoarding it in case something happened and we ran out of milk. I think I had over 500 ounces, all of which I later donated.
At about five and a half months, when Max started drinking less than half an ounce from the bottle, we stopped pumping and bottle feeding and started to nurse exclusively. It was the most joyful week I had experienced since his birth. We still went for monthly chiropractor "maintenance” appointments and after each one Max's latch felt stronger. Sometimes it almost hurt. It was the best feeling in the world.
It took me a month or so to taper off pumping and bring my supply down. Max would get frustrated because I had too much milk, but at about six and a half months, we had it down. We were old pros. Thank God! I had prayed so hard that this would happen and we were blessed that the Lord gave us the strength to push through all those months of frustration.
Now Max is off the charts for his age and weighs 25 pounds at nine months. He's huge. Huge! We get a couple comments a day.
He will no longer take a bottle, but that's okay. I think he deserves a break.
I hope that by sharing this very, very long story, I can encourage other mothers to keep at it and not give up. The benefits and bonding of breastfeeding have truly changed my life and helped Max be the happy boy that he is today. I know that we would have been okay no matter what path we took – breast milk or formula – but for us, nursing is all the more sweet because of how hard we worked to get here.