My path to breastfeeding my son for 15 months was… complicated. In almost every sense of the word. We struggled with a lip and tongue tie, reflux, oversupply (which caused a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance and more than a few upset tummies), dysphoric milk ejection reflex (aka D-MER- which is a little-known condition that can range from annoying to devastating for the mother- my experience was sort of in the middle), lactose intolerance, vasospasms caused by a bad latch, cracked and bleeding nipples, and probably more that I can’t remember through the haze of exhaustion. It definitely felt anything but “natural.”
This is actually why I have a sort of difficult time talking about my love of breastfeeding. I am SO glad we stuck through the tough times, and I truly cherished my breastfeeding relationship with my son so much. There are many, many well-documented benefits to breastfeeding. But I am also firmly Team #FedisBest. It was so difficult for us that it could have easily been the thing that tipped the scales on my mental state. Turns out, it wasn’t- that job was reserved for chronic sleep deprivation! However, I am a believer in keeping tabs on the holistic health of the family. If you are quite literally out of your mind because of something that is in and of itself a good or neutral act (like breastfeeding)(like co-sleeping)(like insert individual parenting goal you are aspiring to here) then it might not be right for your family.
That being said, breastfeeding was worth working through for us, and I’m happy we did. I want to share the biggest factors that allowed us to continue and be successful through all of the ups and downs.
- A support system. I saw an amazing lactation consultant, Amy Hammant, that diagnosed Jackson with lip and tongue ties, helped me learn to correct his latch, gave him a before and after feeding weigh to reassure me that he was getting enough milk, and encouraged me that this could work for us. I then took Jackson to an oral surgeon family friend who reassured me that, although Jackson did have ties, they were not severe. The knowledge of his ties, and then the second opinion on the severity of his ties allowed me to be aware of the challenges and ultimately we worked through this issue and corrected his ability to latch properly without surgery. My pediatrician also agreed with his assessment. Many babies with ties can benefit from revision, and it will be one of the first things I ask about in the hospital with the next baby (if my baby has a tie, and if so, how quickly we can have it revised.) The older a baby is when diagnosed with ties, the more complicated and painful the procedure can be for them. So while I’d be very motivated to correct a tie in a newborn, I would personally try to work through it without revision as the child gets older. Every mother’s choice on this may look different depending on their own feelings and their doctor’s advice. My husband was ultra supportive of breastfeeding and helped as much as he could. He encouraged me to pump so that he could help. He held my hand and reminded me to breathe when I was struggling with D-MER and would get an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and panic upon letdown. He reminded me how great breastfeeding is for Jackson. I called La Leche League leaders several times for encouragement and advice, especially while dealing with painful vasospasms. I talked with friends who had breastfed who all gave me encouragement and advice. Lactation consultant, oral surgeon, pediatrician, LLL leaders, husband, friends…. I quite literally leaned on my village during our breastfeeding struggles, and the support was invaluable.
- Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO). This. Stuff. Is. Gold. Let me say that again. Gold. This is a safe, medicated cream for breastfeeding mothers created by Dr. Jack Newman. This is for when lanolin is just not cutting it for your poor injured nipples! This cream is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammation and pain-relieving. It is made of the hair of unicorns and the tears of lactation fairies. After trying every other remedy for healing cracks and injuries, I tried this and was healed and pain-free within 24 hours. Next time around, I will request and go home from the hospital with this prescription in case I need it. You need to get this particular cream from a compounding pharmacy, which is a pharmacy which will actually create and mix your prescription cream for you in-house. I recommend Googling your nearest compounding pharmacy and having the prescription sent there. Side note: we mainly cloth diapered for the first couple years, which made diaper rashes a rarity in our household. However, during one particularly nasty round of teething, Jackson got a pretty severe diaper rash. I used the APNO on his little bottom and it was cleared up the next day.
- Good advice. The best advice that was given to me is the same advice I now give. “Don’t quit on a bad day.” Now, it takes a little discernment to differentiate between “bad day(s)” and “this is not working overall for me, my baby and my family over a period of time.” This is a decision only you can make. But on my bad days, I would tell myself, “This is a bad day. Don’t think about tomorrow. Just don’t give up today.” It was an encouraging mantra that helped me take my decision to breastfeed day by day and ultimately to the other side of our many hurdles, and successful breastfeeding for over a year.
- No pressure. I did not receive pressure to drop my goal to formula feed or to continue breastfeeding against my wishes. I was able to make this choice on my own, for both me and my child. I felt empowered to sacrifice through the tough times because it was of my own will, and not because I was guilted into it. The best thing you can do for a mother is to empower her to make the best decision for herself and her child.
Because of these four things, I was able to breastfeed exclusively for six months (without introducing formula or solids). By the time I’d gone back to work around 9 weeks postpartum, we had corrected his latch issues from the ties which eliminated the injuries and vasospasms (thank goodness!) My oversupply corrected and I had cut dairy out, which helped with Jackson’s reflux. We also put him on Zantac which made a WORLD of difference for his reflux. My D-MER continued the entire 15 months, but got less intense over time. Breastfeeding Jackson became something that I enjoyed, a way for us to bond, cuddle and spend time together, and I loved knowing he was receiving the health benefits. When my cycle returned almost exactly at the six month mark, my supply dipped very low and I could not pump enough for even one bottle at work, and my freezer stash was quickly gone. I started supplementing one bottle a day of this organic formula after six months along with introducing solid foods. Jackson self-weaned at 15 months and it was definitely the right time for all of us. I share my breastfeeding journey if only to show you what it can look like and offer some solidarity and encouragement to those who are also struggling. I hope it helps!
Do you have any other suggestions or experience to add? What helped you make it through your breatfeeding struggles?