Jo Ann's Breastfeeding Journey
My breastfeeding journey had a very rough start but I am proud to say that I nursed my first until she was 3.5 yrs old and am 3 months into nursing my second baby. I’ve never written out my story and am doing so in hopes that this encourages other moms to reach out for help and know that it is worth it.
My daughter was born on a Monday morning, a full term, healthy baby, and while I had trouble latching her initially, I had some nurses help. She had a posterior tongue tie that was clipped when she was a day old. All the nursing the previous 24 hrs had led to lipstick-shaped nipples and a lot of initial pain when latching. We were discharged Tuesday night and followed up with pediatricians and LCs Wed-Fridue to her low weight. By Friday, my milk had still not come in and I only saw drops of colostrum. We had supplemented with formula earlier that day at the doctors, and then she had stopped nursing, being harder to wake than normal. That night she vomited and was still lethargic so we called and spoke with a nurse who informed us to take her to the Pediatric ER where she was admitted. That night is still a blur to me, but I remember during a critical point where we thought she might not make it was also the first time someone asked me if I needed to use a breast pump.
Somehow during the chaos, someone asked me if I was breastfeeding and needed to pump. As a first time mom, I didn’t realize I was supposed to pump when I had supplemented earlier that day so it had been a long stretch since I had breastfed. That’s how I started my pumping journey during that 3 day stay in the PICU. I’m not sure when I first saw a LC (Labor Day Weekend meant less availability), but when I first started pumping that day, I averaged 10mls per pumping session for both breasts.
A lot of stress combined with a baby who was not efficient at the breast due to her tongue/lip tie plus the almost 12 hour period where I didn’t nurse or pump led to a very low supply.
After being discharged, we embarked on a triple feeding (nurse, pump, supplement). My sister and my mom helped us manage the triple feeding schedule through the first month. Even with the extra help, I still had a lot of stress and remember being very upset if I went longer than 2 hours between pumping sessions or if my husband “overfed” our baby so she wasn’t interested in nursing before I needed to pump. In hindsight, I do see my craziness – a few minutes difference was not going to kill my supply and it is better to not be stressed about sticking to a strict schedule. This was mostly due to my lack of understanding of how our bodies produce milk.
We were told that OT might help her get stronger, so we had our first appointment at 4 weeks old where she transferred around 15 mls total from nursing both sides. We were given instructions on how to do lip and cheek exercises, which she hated, so those brought tears for everyone.
At 5 weeks old, I finally made it out to the UF Breastfeeding support group and how I wish I had connected with them or LLL earlier in my journey. Better late than never! Through the support of LCs and fellow moms, I found the ability to persevere with the exercises, the triple feeding, milk blisters, clogged ducts, power pumping, and all the other challenges that come with breastfeeding.
By 4 months, she was strong enough to transfer enough milk during nursing sessions and my supply was enough for her that I was able to wean off the pump.
My goal at the time was just to make it to 1 year, we ended up going for 3.5 years and only stopped because she caught the flu and I was 6 months pregnant.
Some helpful things that I learned through that first experience:
1. Ask for help!
2. Pump when you supplement with formula
3. Supplementing with formula/other breastmilk DOES NOT mean you are a failure
With my second baby, things went a lot smoother, although not completely problem free. I had hopes of tandem nursing and not having to worry about my supply too much if my toddler was still interested in nursing. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned (do they ever?).
He was also born with a posterior tongue tie that we decided not to clip because his latch seemed to okay and while there was some nipple pain, it was not unbearable (no cracking/bleeding). However this time around, I had hemorrhaged twice in the few hours after birth, so my body was working hard to recover and to produce milk during the first week.
During the first few days, my milk was not fully in, although due to the 3.5 years of breastfeeding, my body was producing more milk in the first week. Bilirubin levels were higher than desired, and he was losing weight or at least not gaining. We also did transfer weighs to evaluate his tongue tie and he transferred around 20 ml at a few days old.
Following the advice of our pediatrician and LC, we proceeded to supplement with formula to make sure he was strong enough to nurse and I proceeded to pump. The first try was to have my toddler help nurse and increase my supply, but she latched once, and decided she didn’t like the taste anymore. So it was back to the electric pump.
I was able to produce enough for him that we only needed to supplement with formula for a day or two. Initially there was some fear that we would end up triple feeding for a long time again, but I knew that if that’s what we needed to do, we could do it. However, at a week old, he was gaining enough weight and started to refuse his bottle after nursing. We also did a daily weight check at home to make sure there was no weight loss when we switched to exclusively nursing. We are 3.5 months into our nursing journey and I hope this will continue for as long as he needs.
While the pandemic has limited interactions in person with support groups, LLL has continued to have online meetings (most of them which I have slept through) and support is still available! I am so thankful for the support of others that helped me during my breastfeeding journey and thankful that I know where support can be found.