Were you shocked to discover that breastfeeding isn’t always as easy as it looks? Or are you a mom-to-be that really hasn’t given it much thought? I had thought that because breastfeeding is “normal” that it just couldn’t be that difficult. I. Was. Wrong. This post is my attempt to share, not just my experiences, but what I’ve learned. My hope is that something I write will someday help another mama. Although I’ve learned many, many things, below are the most important ones.
If You Think Something is Wrong, Trust Yourself
With my first baby, I KNEW something was wrong. She appeared to be latched on well (as far as I could see), but I was horribly engorged and she was losing weight quickly. By the end of the first week I had called lactation consultants, nurses, the doctor’s office… they all said, “You’re just a new mom. Don’t worry so much. You’re over-reacting.” I didn’t know how to handle that. They were the “experts,” and I was “just” a mom. By the time my baby was ten days old, she was obviously far below her birth weight. I called the doctor’s office and insisted that somebody see me. They finally agreed and we went in.
The doctor weighed her, looked at her chart to see what her birth weight had been and gasped. I clearly had plenty of milk and our baby appeared to be nursing well. Neither of us could figure out what the problem was, but she agreed that whatever it was, it was life-threatening. She decided to try to bottle-feed her as a last-ditch effort before admitting my ten-day-old baby to the hospital for dehydration. When she offered the bottle, we both saw the problem instantly. My baby was flattening her tongue against the roof of her mouth. The only milk she was getting was what dribbled in! The doctor forced her tongue down with the bottle nipple and she downed almost the entire bottle (that is a TON for a newborn!). From that moment on, she latched on perfectly.
Never, never, never let a doctor, nurse or lactation consultant dismiss your concerns. NEVER. My baby could have died because I was considered an over-reacting first-time-mom. If you end up being wrong and everything is fine, who cares?! The real danger is in allowing people to dismiss your concerns when they are valid.
If You Need Help, Ask Many Different Sources
As with my first baby, my second baby wasn’t nursing correctly. I thought that breastfeeding the second baby would be a piece of cake! It wasn’t. Every baby is different and this particular baby couldn’t latch-on. I knew what she should be doing, but I just couldn’t get her to do it! She wouldn’t open her mouth wide enough and her latch was very shallow. I followed all of the “normal” advice and used all of the “tricks”, but nothing helped. Within a week I was bleeding on both sides and just the thought of nursing made me burst into tears. I have had two large babies with no drugs, so I consider myself to be pretty tough. This HURT!
When all of the advice I was getting clearly wasn’t helping, I finally asked my midwife what I should do. She gave me the number of a lactation consultant. I wasn’t very optimistic, but I texted her. I described exactly what was happening (shallow latch, mouth not opening wide, clicking sounds, dimpling cheek) and she said it sounded like either a tongue tie or an upper lip tie. Huh?! She sent me a link with photos, which made it very clear that our baby had an upper lip tie! We took her to the dentist that she recommended and he confirmed a very tight upper lip tie AND a moderate tongue tie! We had both clipped right away, and later that week we went to see a different lactation consultant who has quite a bit of experience in helping with breastfeeding after a lip or tongue tie is clipped.
It took four different people to get us to the point of being able to breastfeed. We are now working with an osteopath recommended by the same lactation consultant who recommended the dentist. After just one appointment, our baby is able to open her mouth wider and nurse longer! Babykins has some issues with muscle and joint tightness, like torticollis, that will take several visits to fix. I’ll be writing a post about our experiences with osteopathy in a few weeks. Without all of these people helping us, I would almost certainly be pumping and bottle-feeding right now. We also received tons of help from my parents and encouragement and prayers from many different people.
I hope that I haven’t scared any of you ladies out there who haven’t had a baby, yet! Please don’t think that it’s always as crazy as my experiences have been. Many, many women never have the slightest problem and I’m very glad of that. However, if I had known how difficult it COULD be, I would have been more prepared. If you are expecting your first baby, here are some ways that you can prepare.
- Ask your doctor, midwife, family and friends for some good lactation consultants in the area. Choose one or two that sound good and have their numbers handy for after the baby is born. You could even meet with a lactation consultant before the baby comes and ask her if she will make a “house-call” once your baby arrives!
- Learn what to expect before your baby is born, either from a lactation consultant or from a book or website. Know the signs of a “poor latch” and other problems (I will be posting about breastfeeding problems on my site next month).
- Have a breast pump available in case of an emergency (like I had with my first baby). Although there are pumps for hundreds of dollars, a $10 hand pump from a local store is perfectly fine. I know that many “experts” warn against using a bottle in the early days to prevent nipple confusion, but using a bottle is what helped us to figure out what was wrong with my first baby. With my second, I had to pump and bottle-feed for 24 hours to allow myself to heal.
- Buy some nursing “sleep” bras, if you can. They are stretchy, so they won’t constrict and are less likely to cause plugged ducts. You may be sore those first two weeks, so being as comfortable as possible is important.
- Remember that even if nothing is “wrong”, this is new for both you and your baby. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s always easy. If you see breastfeeding as something you and baby are learning together, it will help to give you perspective when you need it.
- Above all, be ready and willing to seek help at the first sign of a problem. If you are in pain or the baby isn’t getting enough milk, be persistent about asking for help from every possible source until you find the answer. It may take time to find a good solution, so don’t delay!
Nourishing a baby from your own body is a beautiful thing and the close bond between a mama and her baby is so precious. It is so important for us ladies to encourage one another during those early days, but it is also important to have compassion for those women who have been unable to breastfeed. If we share our experiences and encourage each other, maybe more women will have the knowledge and support they need to succeed!
Was breastfeeding easy for you, or did you face challenges you weren’t expecting? What do you wish you had known before you started?
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