I have been a lactation consultant for almost 5 years now! It was not until I had my first baby that I truly understood the ins and outs of breastfeeding. Prior to experiencing breastfeeding myself, I feel like I was able to help moms with the “basics of breastfeeding”. I would assess latch and teach them the things that I had learned from my training and other colleagues. But I did not feel that I was well-equipped to truly help moms prepare for and endure the early days of breastfeeding! Helping moms with this piece is now one of my biggest passions in my career. I wanted to share a brief version of my breastfeeding experience today in hopes that it will help someone feel more “normal” about where they are at in their breastfeeding journey.
Because of my background and involvement in breastfeeding education prior to giving birth, I always planned on breastfeeding. I really didn’t put a ton of thought into it prior to giving birth. I bought the necessary items that made me feel prepared and thought it would just work out. Looking back, I was very naive about the whole thing!
Emma was born at 39 weeks after almost 24 hours of labor. So when she was placed skin to skin after birth and the nursing staff was encouraging me to try breastfeeding for the first time, I barely had the strength and energy to hold her on my chest let alone think about all of the breastfeeding positions and signs of proper latch. Despite feeling unprepared when I first started feeding, Emma seemed to latch well and was getting plenty of colostrum the first couple of days in the hospital. I had great nurses and lactation consultants who were eager to help me succeed.
Fast forward to her first pediatrician appointment about 48 hours after discharge from the hospital—Emma’s weight was stable with her discharge weight but was not increasing like it should. I had another consult with a lactation consultant who told me everything looked great with latch and to just keep feeding frequently and her weight should be up at the next visit. At this point, Emma started cluster feeding aka feeding every 20-30 minutes AROUND THE CLOCK! The girl never slept which meant I didn’t either. The sleep deprivation was worth it to me to see her weight increase at our next pediatrician appointment later that week. When we went to the next appointment, I was a hot mess from lack of sleep, but I was confident she had gained weight because of the frequent feedings. When the nurse placed her on the scale and her weight barely increased from the previous visit, I immediately started crying. At this point, our pediatrician calmly told me that she was going to check closer to make sure that nothing was physically wrong with her such as heart problems and then call the lactation consultant again. Thankfully, Emma was very healthy and had no issues with her heart. The lactation consultant assessed Emma’s mouth and reported that she may have a posterior tongue tie. The pediatrician looked but wasn’t sure that could be causing her poor weight gain. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go home again and try frequent feedings and see what happened.
By our next appointment, Emma’s weight was back to her birth weight but still not where it needed to be. In addition, I was exhausted, had nipple pain and sores (sorry TMI) and felt like my supply was quickly decreasing. Our pediatrician helped us get set up with an appointment with a pediatric dentist to determine if she needed a tongue tie release. (If you aren’t familiar with tongue ties, I will do a whole post on them later). When I called to make an appointment, I was sobbing on the phone, so they got us in the next day.
I had no clue what to expect at this appointment. The staff at the office was so supportive and helpful. The dentist quickly assessed my tiny, two-week-old baby’s mouth and confirmed that she did have a tongue tie. Then, we went to the procedure room where I held Emma on my chest with the help of the two dental assistants. My husband sat across from us and watched the whole thing. The procedure was so fast but felt like it took forever! I could see smoke coming form Emma’s mouth which made me feel so bad.
As soon as we were done, the staff brought us into a small office and told me to try breastfeeding. I could instantly feel a difference. For the first time in two weeks and hundreds of feeding sessions, it didn’t hurt when I fed her. Her mouth opened way bigger than it had been. I finally felt like we were going to succeed at breastfeeding. It was such a relief!
We had to do a lot of mouth exercises for several days after the procedure which weren’t fun but felt like nothing compared to the last two weeks of breastfeeding issues. I remember feeling like I had won a million dollars when Emma slept for a 3 hour stretch the first time! I also remember how amazing it was to see her weight increase at our next appointment!
After the initial struggles of our breastfeeding journey, I was able to breastfeed Emma until 16 months. The rest of our breastfeeding path felt like such a gift since we started off on such a rough path. It was still hard but totally worth it. I will share more about the rest of our journey in a later post.
The moral of the story--everyone has a different experience with breastfeeding! Even as a certified lactation consultant, I had major struggles! Whenever I help new moms breastfeed now, I make sure to tell them how hard it can be and to expect the unexpected. The more prepared and educated you can be before starting breastfeeding can be helpful, but it is also really important to find a supportive network of healthcare professionals and loved ones to help you!
If you are struggling with breastfeeding or preparing for breastfeeding, reach out to me! I love talking to other moms about breastfeeding and helping with their success! Thanks for taking the time to read about my journey 😊