Breastfeeding – When it Doesn’t Work the Way You Thought it Would
Our New Baby Has Finally Arrived!
So here she is! Our Baby Girl has finally arrived! After 5 hospital visits, 2 scheduled inductions and 4 hours of labor we finally got to meet her!
I apologize for not writing sooner, the last couple of weeks being pregnant with Baby Girl were miserable. The acid reflux was horrible, I was so uncomfortable that I had to sleep in the recliner, and having briefly mentioned above, we made several trips to the hospital before she arrived. And then afterwards, it has taken me several weeks to heal and recover, it has been a struggle to breastfeed, we again have had several trips to the doctors and the hospital for Baby Girl, and also I’ve had to learn how to take care of two kids and a dog now! So much has changed and has been going on for me! Some expected and some unexpected.
This blog has been mostly focused on a healthy diet and recipes. But I would like to take a step outside of my normal focus for a moment. This has really been brought on by my recent experiences in fighting for a healthy lifestyle for Baby Girl. I had been struggling to successfully breastfeed for several weeks. Breastfeeding is probably the best source of nutrients and antibodies to help fight infections and allergies for your baby. Now I understand that there are some women out there that can be very mean when it comes to using bottles and formula, where you almost feel inferior or like a failure because you can’t or choose not to breastfeed your baby. I believe that “Fed is best.” You do whatever it takes for your baby to be healthy and happy. If that means that you have to supplement with formula (which I had to do with my son), then do it. If you physically do not have a supply to breastfeed your baby, by all means use formula (or there are even people that donate or sell their own breastmilk to benefit others). You do what is best for you and your family. But I would like to share my experiences and my struggles to try to give Baby Girl the best healthy choice that I could. This post is going to be very long, but I hope it helps that one person out there who is struggling just like I did.
My Struggles with Breastfeeding
For those of you reading, especially expectant and new mothers, I don’t want you to become frightened or worried that your breastfeeding experience will be the same as mine. There are mothers that I know that haven’t had any trouble breastfeeding and get their babies to latch correctly immediately and have a wonderful breastfeeding relationship from the beginning. But I do know, that there are some mothers out there who have struggled and are searching high and low for help. Some of you may not have gotten the help you needed in time, that was my experience with my son. From Day One in the hospital, I knew that his latch was not correct and it was a physical issue with how his mouth was formed. But I could not get the help or resources I needed to have it taken care of until it was too late and I had lost my supply. I still tear up to this day thinking about it. And I still get angry knowing that that did not have to be the case.
When my daughter arrived, I initially thought that she latched on a lot better than my son did. I thought, “Thank goodness! This one won’t be nearly as much trouble!” I was wrong. I first struggled with her lethargy. She is probably the hardest baby to wake up from sleep. It got to the point where I had to completely undress her and rub a cold, damp cloth on her to get her to wake up. If I was lucky, I would have a dirty diaper to change as well and that helped wake her up too! My Girl would clamp her mouth shut and it was extremely difficult to get any food into her. The following morning after delivery, both of our vitals looked good and we were both released to go home. I continued to struggle to feed her over the weekend and by Monday (Memorial Day, so we hadn’t even been able to see her Pediatrician yet) she had only had one wet diaper within 24 hours. We took her to the ER and found out that her blood sugar was extremely low and she was borderline with her jaundice. At this point, this was the one and only time that we had to supplement with formula for Baby Girl, to see if we could bring up her blood sugar levels quickly. Since that worked, she didn’t have to get an IV. The hospital admitted her and kept us overnight to observe her blood sugar levels and bilirubin.
I started pumping and bottle feeding her breastmilk while working with the Lactation Consultant to see if we could improve our breastfeeding. I was given some methods to wake up Baby Girl (mentioned above) and was given a nipple shield to help her latch on to me. That seemed to help at the time and by Tuesday afternoon she was released from the hospital again. Later that week we finally had our newborn appointment with the Pediatrician and met with another Lactation Consultant. She was very encouraging and reassuring; she gave me instructions on how to hold Baby Girl while breastfeeding, using the nipple shield and even how long and often to pump and massage my breasts. Some old and some new information. We met with the Lactation Consultant again the following week. In this appointment Baby Girl finally did reach her birth weight! Woohoo! We had a weighted feeding and found out she is intaking about 1 – 1.5 oz per side and that I have an over-abundance of supply with a very forceful letdown. So the Lactation Consultant believed that the reason Baby Girl was pulling away and crying from me all the time was because she would get shot in the mouth with milk and was being overwhelmed when she was trying to breastfeed. Using a nipple from one of our bottles (since that was all we had with us), Baby Girl seemed to nurse better and have more control of what she was intaking. The Lactation Consultant also suggested for me to lean back and recline while breastfeeding Baby Girl to help her not get overwhelmed, but unfortunately I was never able to because Baby Girl would always pull away any time that I leaned back.
The turning point happened that weekend when both me and Baby Girl were at our wits end with each other. One night I was trying to feed her and all she did was pull away and scream and cry at me. But she would immediately take the bottle. I was frustrated, I was hurt, I was stressed out … and so was she. If I couldn’t get any better help soon, I was going to give up and just bottle feed. There was no point in stressing each other out while attempting to breastfeed, pump and then bottle feed as well. At this point, it was taking me between one to one and a half hours to feed Baby Girl and I was supposed to feed her every three hours. I never got anything done and I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed just thinking about having to feed her and take care of my son on my own. So I reached out to a support group on Facebook, asking if they could tell if there were any other issues going on that could be addressed. And a lot of the responses I got were that Baby Girl possibly had a lip and tongue tie that could be corrected. I knew that my son had them. Why didn’t I think that my daughter could have them too?!? Relief washed over me that there were other reasons outside of myself and my failure to breastfeed correctly.
What Are Lip Ties and Tongue Ties?
Lip and Tongue Ties are when a piece of skin (frenulum) connects the lip or tongue to the mouth where it restricts movement. Depending on the severity this can cause issues such as acid reflux, poor latch, sore and bleeding nipples, fussy and gassy baby, and falling asleep at the breast before actually being full. The two most common ways to correct a tie is by having it cut or laser surgery. Some parents choose not to have their babies corrected because the symptoms aren’t severe enough to inhibit breastfeeding. I was so blessed to have a friend recommend a doctor who can do laser surgeries to correct ties. He was so caring and tried to fit us in as soon as possible because Baby Girl was a newborn struggling to breastfeed. The Lactation Consultant called to check on us at the end of the week but just reiterated that it could take time for Baby Girl to learn to breastfeed and get bigger to not be overwhelmed by my flow. I was extremely disappointed and so glad that I had already started communicating with the doctor to have Baby Girl’s ties corrected. At the appointment, the doctor confirmed Baby Girl had both a lip tie and tongue tie at the first and lowest level of severity. We went ahead with the laser surgery. The doctor made sure that I understood that this was not a magical procedure and he couldn’t guarantee it would help our problems. I already knew what would happen if I didn’t go ahead with the surgery, I had already witnessed it with my son. I had to try and see if this would make a difference. Yes, she was given Tylenol; yes, she had a local anesthetic; yes, she cried and screamed the entire time. It was hard, but for me, she was already crying and screaming whenever I tried to breastfeed her. So if this could help us, it would be well worth it.
After Laser Surgery
I’ve heard that several mothers were able to get their babies to latch on immediately after they had their baby’s ties corrected. I had hoped that I would have had the same experience. Not so much. What did Baby Girl do? Cry and scream at the breast. Again. But she did take the bottle. I figured after having such a traumatic experience with surgery, she was probably just too worn out to try. I was given exercises to do with her lip and her tongue to keep them from reattaching while they were healing. Thankfully Baby Girl was not too upset whenever I did those. Her lip exercises only lasted ten days and her tongue for three weeks.
So began our long (at least long for me) journey to breastfeeding. I had to begin feedings by giving her a bottle so she wouldn’t be hangry and frustrated to start out with. Then I could switch her over to breastfeed using a bottle nipple. After a couple days I was able to get her to consistently breastfeed without starting with the bottle. After about a week I started introducing her to my breast. The first several times she pulled away immediately and started crying. Even though her hindrances had been removed I think she still associated my breast with pain and frustration. So I tried to be patient with her. After about a week and a half, Baby Girl started latching onto my breast! It was only about once a day, but that was a huge accomplishment for us! I started to alternate using the bottle nipple and my breast throughout the day. And finally by about two and a half weeks she was successfully breastfeeding the entire day!
A Word on Chiropractor Care
The doctor who had done Baby Girl’s laser surgery strongly encouraged me to take her to a chiropractor for body work. He had noticed that she was favoring one side when she turned her head. But generally chiropractor care is encouraged when doing a tie revision because once the tongue muscles are released usually there is a lot of tension in the body that needs to be released as well. I found it amazing how many muscles the tongue is connected to and can effect motor skills. Thankfully my personal chiropractor also does pediatric work. He confirmed that Baby Girl had several spots that needed adjusted including her neck, back and even her hips. Having her adjusted was so worth it! The difference, I think, has made breastfeeding so much easier and comfortable for the both of us. Baby Girl had been refusing to lay on me while breastfeeding, but after her adjustment she could which allowed me to not have to keep leaning over and hurting my back while breastfeeding. I couldn’t tell if she was favoring one breast over the other, but I could tell that she would have trouble getting a latch due to being uncomfortable with her position. That resolved after her adjustment also. It is amazing how much difference a calm, relaxed baby can make for a breastfeeding experience!
Brief Scare with Supply
Lastly I just want to mention my brief scare with my supply. Since my son’s ties were not corrected, I lost my supply by the time he was six months old. I had taken him to a eating and speech therapist who did a weighted feeding and told me that he wasn’t getting anything when I was breastfeeding him. I cried so hard that day. I was so hurt and angry. So when I started noticing that the amount of milk that I was able to pump for my Baby Girl had decreased significantly and that in the evening she would keep crying until I gave her an extra 2-4 oz of formula, I was afraid that I was losing my supply again. I went to the Lactation Consultant again to have another weighted feeding. I was so relieved to find out that Baby Girl had gained almost two pounds since her last appointment! When we did the weighted feeding, she took in 2 oz! And the Lactation Consultant said that her latch looked great! She was so pleased with the progress that we had made. I was so relieved and so happy! Since Baby Girl was successfully eating now, she wasn’t stimulating my breasts to create more milk without being emptied which had in the past caused me to be constantly engorged and pumping 4-5 oz after every feeding. I also realized that Baby Girl likes to eat a lot more in the evening because she sleeps longer at night (she did this on her own!). So it wasn’t that I didn’t have enough milk, but that she was preparing to sleep longer in the evening. I do end up supplementing with formula in the evening for this reason. I hope that my supply will adjust for this in time, but if it doesn’t I’m okay with using formula just at night.
I know this was a long and arduous post that is not at all typical for my blog. But I felt like this was really important to share. Healthy lifestyles for ourselves and our families come with many different challenges. It may take determination and self-advocacy for you to get the results that you want. But please know that it is possible. It may take time, frustration and tears but it will come.
I would love to hear about any of your breastfeeding struggles. I’ll also gladly take any encouragement and advice. We have certainly come a long way from the crying and screaming phase, but it still feels like a long road for me. Even though Baby Girl is almost six weeks old now, it feels like I’ve only begun breastfeeding her two weeks ago. I’m still sore and frustrated at times. But we’re going to make it through this!