In honor of International Breastfeeding Week, my dear friend from my Mommy Group, Shelley, is here guest blogging to share her amazing journey/struggles with breastfeeding. Shelley is such an amazing mother and all-around great person and I’m so happy she chose my blog to act as the platform for her amazing story. If you are a new mom struggling with breastfeeding, please read – there are some great resources at the end as well. Without further ado, here is Shelley:
My Breastfeeding Journey
By Shelley C.
Ahh, breastfeeding… sweet, sweet breastfeeding. It’s almost taboo how no one really warns you what lies ahead between you, your soon to be poor, raw nipples, and your little paraná with what feels like razor-sharp teeth chomping down on you.
I remember being pregnant and listening to stories from my mom about her breastfeeding journey, and she had absolutely no troubles. Zero, zip, nada. Not one. So, naturally, I assumed baby pops out, latches like a champ (latch: a term I had no idea I would hear over and over again for the first few months), and the rest is history. Well, not for me. In fact, my breastfeeding experience was quite the opposite. A rough, confusing, extremely painful and emotional journey intertwined with anger, frustration, and doubt. It turns out I wasn’t alone amongst my breastfeeding struggles, and I thankfully was (eventually) able to create a beautiful, positive, blissful breastfeeding relationship between my son and me, who is turning one at the end of the month.
I remember how magical it was after my C-section when they finally brought Tanner to me in the recovery room. They placed him on my chest for skin-to-skin contact and he pecked his way over to my boobies right away. It was amazing to see this tiny little creature have such natural instinct for his mom and his food supply. He latched right on, and no one ever showed concern that something could eventually prevent a struggle.
The hospital I delivered at had a couple lactation consultants on staff who would stop by and check in on you at least once during your stay, because they wanted you to succeed breastfeeding. Mine was named Cari & I remember her popping into our hospital room on day 3 because I was absolutely exhausted. My family and my in-laws were all in our tiny room, and I already felt overwhelmed amongst the chaos. Everyone was so excited to meet and hold Tanner the days following his birth, and inside I remember thinking “Do I ever get to hold my baby?!” I remember how uncomfortable it was that no one excused themselves from my room when Cari was clearly there to observe my boobs, and I knew my nipples hurt so bad I just wanted to lay around topless all day and have her wave a magic wand around to get the pain gone (and for everyone to give me some privacy). Ya, most your dignity goes out the window during childbirth, but there’s still something about whipping your boobs out in front of your dad and mother-in-law that’s just weird & awkward. Cari didn’t have a magic wand, but we did have the bedside curtain to close, and that’s as good as we were going to get for now. I had my mom with me (she’s a nurse and we’re super close, so her seeing my boobs was no biggie) and Cari had Tanner latch on to feed, and watched him nurse. I told her how excruciating it was and had been since his first few latches, but she said his latch looked great, and the pain should only last a couple weeks. A couple weeks?! Ah!! How will I ever survive?! If only I knew that pain would continue for three.more.months. Yep, three.
After Cari came by, the pediatrician came in to do a weigh in. It’s normal for newborns to lose a pound or so from their birth weight, so Tanner’s weight was okay, but he had orange pee crystals, so that was the first red flag he wasn’t getting enough fluids. Instead of someone trying to help me breastfeed further, or call Cari back in, they said the only option was to add formula to some of his feedings. Being a health conscious, I was irritated & confused, but they were the doctors and recommending what’s best for my baby…right? They ensured me they had organic formula and “not everyone can make enough milk.” Are any pro breastfeeders or LC’s losing it right now? Are flames coming out of your ears? Are you throwing things at the computer screen?? I started to hate myself for not being able to naturally provide for my son, and blamed myself (and the breast augmentation surgery I had when I was 22, which turned out to be totally unrelated.)
[Note: I believe ALL moms are wonderful, whether you chose to breastfeed or to not. This is simply my personal journey with breastfeeding & always wanting to breastfeed. I fully support every mom's decision to provide for their baby in ways that work for them & their circumstances.]
After meeting with Cari again, she said lose the formula and stick with breastfeeding, because babies only need colostrum the first week anyway, and a teeny, tiny amount.
I would cringe every time he would feed
Around week two and a half post partum I was completely sobbing to my mom (thank god for her; she took every single day of her work vacation days & flew out to help us for three weeks; she was my therapist, our house keeper, our chef, our nanny, my go-to – thank you so much, Mom!!) about how badly it hurt every time still Tanner fed. My nipples were literally cracked, bleeding, blistered and scabby. I would cringe every time he would feed, and any new mom knows newborns’ cluster feeding “schedule” (aka 24/7) is NO JOKE, but something just wasn’t right! We Googled how long new mom breastfed nipples should hurt, and every article and source said max two weeks, or to contact an LC (lactation consultant aka breastfeeding guardian angels) if pain was still present. I felt embarrassed and frustrated I had to reach out for help, and figured since my mom didn’t have problems, that neither would I. This was also right around the time we had Tanner’s follow-up pediatrician visit, and he was in a super low percentile and labeled as “failing to thrive.” Which meant my boobs were failing to thrive. More formula was sent home with me to “bulk him up; you’re hurting his brain growth!” with the phrase “some people just can’t produce enough milk.” Great.
The outside pressure
The outside pressure from everyone else around was irritating too because they just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand my struggles because they all bottle fed or didn’t have breastfeeding issues to be able to offer advice. The bottle feeders always said “just give him a bottle, it’s easier.” Actually, it’s not because my husband travels for work and sanitizing bottles, pumping milk, and warming milk all hours of the night is way more overwhelming. P.S. – Don’t ever say that to a new breastfeeding mom who’s hormones are raging out of control. Ever. I was also the first in my circle of friends to have a baby, so didn’t have any modern mama to turn to for help. Lucky, my husband was very supportive of my breastfeeding desire because he attended the classes with me while I was pregnant and learned about all the health benefits. He had testicular cancer as a child, so his ears perked up when exclusive breastfeeders lower their children’s risk for childhood cancer and can help set them up on a healthier path. There’s something so attractive feeling like your husband’s got your back; that you’re a team; that you’re supported.
After we got home from the pediatrician appointment, my mom found Cari’s card and I called her for advice. She dropped everything she was doing and came for a private lactation appointment at my house. She cringed at my nipples and decided to test out my brand new, ridiculously expensive breast pump to see if I could pump anything. We got a drop. Like literally one drop. After 20 minutes of pumping. Devastating. So she had me get in the shower and try to massage my boobs as hard as I could under the hottest water I could tolerate. Turned out almost every single one of my milk ducts was clogged, and I would’ve woken up with mastitis the next morning if she hadn’t massaged the clogs out. Yes, you heard that right; she literally squashed the life out of my boobs for me while I was naked in the shower to get my milk to come in. We tried the pump again and still only got a few drops. Are you kidding me?!? She said it would take time, and that my milk would continue to come in…
I just knew in my gut, something was off
A couple days later, I still never felt my boobs feel full, and I still hadn’t experienced a letdown. I just knew in my gut something was still off, so we found the schedule for the local breastfeeding support group. My mom packed Tanner and I into the car (I actually had to get dressed?!), and came with me to my first breastfeeding support group session. An LC and about twenty other new moms and babies were there, all having problems nursing, all looking for support. I fell in love with that support group right then and there knowing I was no longer in this alone. They ended up being my outlet & some of my closest friends, and came at perfect timing because my mom had to fly back home a couple days later.
Monster list of tips to increase milk supply
Cari, Nicole, and Janet were the three LCs who ran the group. Each new mom would introduce herself, her baby, and discuss the issues she was having. All the moms were suffering from some sort of breastfeeding issue; nursing pain, latch issues, thrush, low supply, oversupply, over active letdowns, nursing twins, etc…When my turn came around I opened up about my issue, which ended up being classified as “low milk supply.” So after Cari observed Tanner’s latch, which was determined to be good, I was left with a monster list of tips to increase my milk supply…
- Pump after every nursing session to try to tell your body it needs to create more milk. (EVERY NURSING SESSION. I felt like a cow. I literally didn’t wear a shirt for weeks).
- Bake lactation cookies (thanks, mom!)
- Drink Gatorade for electrolytes; some women swear by the red or blue. (Who knows! At least it’s a change from water.)
- Drink 90oz of water per day. (Some days I thought I was drowning! PS – never drink all your ounces per day at once; that can be dangerous).
- Eat 2,000 calories full of healthy fats, protein, dairy, and fiber. (Because we totally have time to go grocery shopping and cook. Hopefully your better halves, parents, or friends can help you in the kitchen – it’s for the baby!)
- Start taking Goat’s Rue and More Milk Plus by Mother’s Love. Also used Dairy Diva. (You can find them at Whole Foods or online).
- Continue to nurse on demand. (If baby is ever sucking their hands the first few months, it’s probably not for comfort; it usually means they are hungry.)
- If baby still seems hungry after breastfeeding, supplement with an ounce or two of formula, then pump after for 10 minutes. (This was the most exhausting process!)
- Don’t exercise yet- you can lose what supply you do have burning too many calories too quickly. (Be gentle on yourself and your post-partum body. I started working out at 8 months post-baby because I felt confident with my supply, my eating habits, and my water intake. DO NOT DIET while trying to keep your supply up. I know many women who wanted to lose “those last 15 pounds” and they all lost their milk around 5 months because they were limiting their calories. If you’re eating healthy foods, you can still reach the calorie intake you need).
- Try power pumping - (keep your pump hooked up to you for an hour. Pump ten minutes on, ten minutes off, for 60 minutes. Obviously try to time when baby doesn’t need to breastfeed).
- Try to get some sleep (seriously?)
- Your milk is “best” from about 11pm until you wake up, so pump before the last feeding of the evening, the middle of the night feeding, and the first feeding of the morning to boost your supply the most. Your supply is worst from around 4pm-10pm, so pump to stimulate then. (Eek…this mom thing is definitely a full time job!)
- Drink More Milk Tea (Sold at Target or Whole Foods. You literally have to drink like a gallon a day, so pre-make a big batch and mix with honey or lemon because it’s GROSS. PS – From the herbs & tea, your sweat and body will start to give off an herby smell, be ready for that ;)
- Try Milky (an herbal blend of milk boosters; it tastes way better than the tea but I’m not sure if it really helps or not).
I tried all of these things for months. It became my life. I was literally obsessed with the fact that I wasn’t going to give up. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. When I would have to supplement I felt so guilty, like I had failed. And I was becoming mentally and physically exhausted. At night it was the most brutal; Tanner would nurse for literally an hour, then I’d have to supplement, then I’d pump for ten minutes. By the time I was done with that cycle, I had to start it over. My husband was also traveling for work 2-3 weeks out of the month, and that started when Tanner was two weeks old, so the bottle & pump cleaning was a nightmare and so hard to keep up with. When my in-laws would come over to see Tanner, I would secretly wish they were cleaning & doing my laundry instead! I was super grateful they brought me meals a couple times, I would’ve probably starved to death when Kyle was gone.
About two months in of these crazy supply tricks, I was still going nowhere. We’d weigh Tanner before and after feedings at class and he was still only getting an ounce after nursing for nearly an hour. And on top of that, my nipples were still totally scabbed, so I was now referred to the nipple shield. The nipple shield is a soft piece of plastic that goes on top of your nipple so the baby’s mouth sucks on that instead of direct contact with your skin, causing less pain and allowing the scabs to heal (like putting a bottle nipple over yours). It helped a little, but Tanner had gotten so used to using it, that he was soon refusing to nurse without it. Ugh, a new battle. Once my boobs felt a little better, It took me two full weeks to completely wean him of using the shield. And then the scabs returned…
We were creeping up on three months post partum (still supplement after some feedings, still dealing with scabs, still pumping after each feeding to stimulate a supply increase, taking goat’s rue and more milk plus three times a day and eating BF cookies like it was my job) when a speech therapist came to our support group to observe infants for the first time. She was there to look for upper lip and tongue-tie issues. I had overheard chitter chatter about this mysterious tongue tie thing from a mom I got close with in support group; her baby, Charlie, had just had both her upper lip and tongue tie removed with a laser. But, no one had ever mentioned that diagnosis to me, so I just thought it was some rare thing.
My Hail Mary
The next group meeting, the speech therapist was there again to observe. I introduced myself and told her that everyone says Tanner has a great latch, but my nipples were still raw going on three months post partum, and I’m still only able to get about an ounce per feeding, so I was still having to supplement. I told her she was literally my Hail Mary, and asked her to observe tanner’s nursing. She watched him eat for thirty minutes and…wait for it…said she was pretty sure he had both upper lip and tongue tie. (There’s a fancy frenulum name for it). Ummm..wait, frenulum what??
As frustrated as I was that it took three months for someone to throw this new diagnosis at me that could be causing my low supply and soreness issues, I was actually excited that there could be a reason for all the madness and my low supply wasn’t going unexplained. Charlie’s mom, Stephanie, referred me to the dentist she went to that specialized in tongue and upper lip tie removal via laser (which is considered to be far more accurate at removing these ties than it being snipped, and is supposed to heal quicker as well). I called the office that day and they scheduled Tanner an appointment the next morning.
When I got to the dentist, I was really nervous and didn’t know what to expect. The one thing I did know right off the bat was that the staff was incredibly warm and friendly, and the office was decorated so cute for fall, smelling and looking like home. I had great vibes from the moment I walked in and was greeted by the receptionists. They took us in like we were their family. (And this was South Florida!) Once we were called back, we met the dentist and other staff, and they were all incredibly friendly as well. They took one look in Tanner’s mouth and said he had one of the thickest, longest upper lip ties and tongue tie they had ever seen, and couldn’t believe I was even still nursing. After they explained everything thoroughly they asked if I wanted to move forward with the procedure. They went over everything in full detail until I felt full informed; like how lip & tongue tie can lead to tooth decay, speech issues, latch issues, and other problems later on in life. And that is cost $1000, which is due upfront, but insurance may cover it partially. The answer was obvious to me – YES. PLEASE HELP US! When children get older, they have to be sedated and have sutures to close the removal of the ties, but when they’re infants, laser is fast, virtually pain free, and the recovery is only a few days. Tanner just made the cut by a week. After three months, they have to be monitored in an outside facility. They put Tanner in the most funny, teeny tiny glasses I’ve ever seen to protect his eyes. I gave him lots of love and snugs, then I left the room so I didn’t have to watch. They preformed the laser on both ties then and there. I was sent home with recovery instructions, and they had him latch immediately after the procedure to see if I could feel a difference. I’m not sure if I was so desperate for an improvement, or if I really felt an immediate change in his lap, but I was convinced I could. (Update: our insurance is 80/20 so they covered 80%, which was incredible! Although, it ended up being priceless to me).
Could this mean he was finally getting more milk from me?
After each time Tanner nursed for a week I had to rub under his upper lip and under his tongue. They have you do this because the mouth is the fastest healing place on our body, so they don’t want the ties to grow back. You have to keep disrupting the tissue growth. That was by far the saddest and most painful part to watch after the removals, because he was in a lot of pain when I rubbed them (obviously, ouch!). I had to give him Tylenol the first two days for discomfort, but after a week, he was completely pain-free, and the wounds were healing greatly. I was so relieved because we were flying to California the next week to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was actually able to supplement with the tiny amount of milk I was collecting from pumping after feedings that week, rather than formula. And he was only taking about one ounce. Could this mean he was finally getting more milk from me? Could this really have been the culprit for my supply issues all along?
We got to California for vacation a girl I went to high school with (who was also nursing her son the same age as Tanner) dropped of bags of donor milk for me to supplement with in case I was still having issues. When I was supplementing with organic formula, Tanner wasn’t pooping and would wake up screaming all night from gas pain. (I had been SO fortunate with breastfeeding mamas around me. At first I was using a mix of organic formula & donor milk from a friend of the family in Florida, but didn’t want to risk bringing the frozen stash I had in case it thawed & went bad). I was in awe how generous other mamas were. Once you’re a breastfeeding mom you have this instant bond with other breastfeeding mamas.
I don’t know if the California Gods were with me, if it was finally getting to relax with my family & holiday cheer, or if it was just the perfect timing (2 weeks) after Tanner’s tongue tie procedure, but my milk came in the second day I was home. I could cry just writing this and reliving that day. I woke up and my boobs were HUGE. Like full for the first time EVER. He nursed like “normal” that day & I was literally in shock when he wasn’t crying for more milk after nursing. And he was feeding for an efficient half hour rather than dragging feedings on for an hour+. I continued to pump after feedings that week just to be safe, but after a week of that, I no longer had to anymore. My supply issues were finally over. I couldn’t believe it…His tongue-tie was fixed. It was his latch all along. Three of the longest months of my life were finally behind me.
I feel like it’s my mini calling to help other moms suffering from low supply issues or supply issues related to tongue-tie now. It robbed me of enjoying the first three months with Tanner because I was so focused on being able to breastfeed and all the struggles along our way, that it was literally my 24/7 job.
I’m actually thrilled to announce that eleven months later I am still exclusively breastfeeding, and even happier to report I have just donated around 80 ounces of my beloved freezer stash I had at home (from the whole time I was pumping during my Thanksgiving & Christmas visits) to a mama in the area who was unable to breastfeed due to IGT. Talk about my breastfeeding journey coming full circle! If you have breast milk you won’t be using, please don’t toss it! There are so many moms looking for donors, and you can pay it forward here - https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=180419095335971&tsid=0.2959478737320751&source=typeahead
Use my journey as an outlet to educate yourself, find support and gather advice
If you’re reading this and struggling with low supply, I hope you can use my journey as an outlet to educate yourself, find support in me, and gather advice. Most of all I hope you know you are doing the best you can. You are an incredible mama.
Turns out, there are many different reasons for low milk supply. For example, IGT, chronic low supply, thyroid issues, hereditary issues, breast reduction surgeries, etc. This was my personal experience with low supply related to upper lip and tongue-tie. If you need more support, there are some wonderful groups on Facebook:
General Breastfeeding Support:
What is Tongue Tie?
If you are struggling from low supply and want to continue breastfeeding rather than switch to formula, first and foremost, find a lactation consultant in your area. Go to a breast-feeding support group. Actually, find a few LCs and go to a couple support groups. 1. You’ll need all the love and encouragement you can get. You are not in this alone, and there are other mamas struggling just like you. 2. You’ll sometimes need a second (or even a third) opinion to really pinpoint your issue like I did.
To find an LC near you, visit the following:
Breastfeeding is hard. Being a mom is hard. But they are both two of the most rewarding experiences I have ever experienced. Happy International Breastfeeding Week, and I’m sending all the positive milk- making vibes possible to you!