when nursing takes longer…

Welcome to the February Carnival of Breastfeeding!  This month’s theme is overcoming obstacles.  Be sure to check out the other posts on this theme at the bottom of this post.

I’m a low supply mom. Due to some medical conditions, I don’t make enough milk for my children. Going through that with my first child as hard emotionally. It was a roller coaster ride as I tried anything I could that might marginally increase my milk supply with no results. However, I was determined to give my child as much breastmilk as I possibly could. Nursing your child gives them the best start in life.

I thought I was prepared for breastfeeding when my second child was born. Afterall, I had been through the feelings of failure. I thought I had accepted the fact that I was a low supply mom and moved on; the truth is, you never fully accept something like that and it periodically comes back, bubbling up with all of those emotions in full force. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that my daughter would bring her own issues to our nursing relationship.

When she was born, I thought I was prepared. I had our Lact-Aids ready and I reminded myself that I would provide as much breastmilk for her as I possibly could. I wasn’t prepared when she wasn’t able to latch on. Every time her mouth opened, her tongue would automatically come out, effectively pushing my nipple out. It made latching on impossible at first but the tips of my nipples did get chomped quite a bit as she tried. I couldn’t even wedge my finger in her mouth to finger feed her the first time. I had to spoon feed supplement into her mouth while waiting for an opportunity to get my finger in there. She was born on a Saturday, and it was a five days before we found a lactation consultant who could fit us in. My trusty pump came out of storage and I was an emotional wreck waiting for someone to help in those interim days. I had called two La Leche League leaders when she was an hour old and I realized the problem. One of them finally returned my call when my daughter was nine days old. Luckily we had already met with the lactation consultants by that time.

At our one week check up with the lactation consultants, I asked about some curious behavior my daughter was exhibiting when we nursed. She would arch her body and throw her head back. The lactation consultants didn’t know why she might do that but recommended that I not allow it, as it wasn’t good for optimal positioning. I should have ignored them at that point. It wouldn’t have been the first time we had experienced a bad lactation consultant. I trusted too much or was too desperate, and it ended up making nursing my daughter infinitely more difficult.

In the following weeks, my daughter went from latching on part of the time, with me finger feeding her when she wouldn’t latch on, to refusing the breast all together. She would arch her back at every feeding, screaming. I essentially had 30 seconds from her first hunger cue to even attempt to latch her on. I began keeping our Lact-Aids in a small cooler, as I didn’t have time to run to the fridge to grab one when she showed interest. No one we saw knew what was going on or could offer any insight. I was a wreck, between trying to get her to nurse, pumping, and taking care of our two year old son. I wasn’t giving up, even when it seemed that she was.

I decided that my local resources were worthless. If they couldn’t help me, I would try somewhere else. It occurred to me that the owner of Lact-Aid International, as someone who works with moms and babies with breastfeeding issues, might have some insight. I called her. She listened to our story. She listened to me cry. She didn’t tell me that if my now six week old baby still wasn’t getting breastfeeding that I should give up. Instead, she told me to make the breast a happy place and connected me with a woman who had nursed older adopted babies with success. Those few phone calls kept me going. Besides my husband, who knew nothing more about what was going on than I did, those few conversations were my full support.

I dressed my daughter in only a diaper, put her in the sling, and zipped us both up in a zippered sweatshirt while I went about my day, interacting with and taking care of my son. We did this for a few days and the skin to skin contact helped. My daughter started latching on more and wasn’t finger feeding quite as often, but we were still a long way to being a breastfeeding couple. I tried to concentrate on making the breast a happy place so that she would want to nurse. We had lots of skin to skin contact. We played games in the bathtub and snuggled. Yet, it still often felt like rejection when she wouldn’t latch on or when she was screaming.

I remember when she was around four months old, I commented to my husband, crying, that I didn’t know if she was ever going to get it. He made a comment that made me angry, and I decided that somehow, someday, we were going to make it. We tried to nurse, finger feeding when she wouldn’t latch on, I pumped, and I took care of my children.

When my daughter was five and half months old, I read that a high palate can affect breastfeeding. My daughter defnitely had a high palate and a weak suck. We went to the doctor, requesting a referral to see an occupational therapist. No one else had been able to help us, so I was trying not to get my hopes up too high. That was when we got the diagnosis: silent reflux.

Our new OT watched my daughter nurse and finger feed. She asked questions and said that without a doubt, she was certain we were dealing with silent reflux. No one had mentioned reflux as a possibility because my daughter rarely, if ever, spat up. She was swallowing her stomach acid over and over, irritating the lining of her throat, causing pain and screaming and her frequent need to eat (she never went more than 45-60 minutes at that point, including at night). The OT was amazed, saying that with any other parent, my daughter would have been labeled failure to thrive. Instead, because I was so in tune with her and had learned her many, many rules, she was a thriving child, ahead of all milestones.

We finally had a diagnosis and a tangible reason for our breastfeeding issues. We went back to the doctor to see about medicine to help her, only to hit a roadblock with our insurance company, who didn’t want to pay for the medicine prescribed until we had tried a medicine proven to be ineffective with infants exhibiting reflux symptoms. Somehow, during our wait, my daughter finally got it. I remember being so excited that she was finally latching on to nurse every single time….at almost six months old.

We weren’t totally past the struggles. She still had a weak suck, so I continued pumping in order to get her as much breastmilk as possible. For the next three months, she would also only nurse if I was lying down. I spent a lot of time lying down nursing her, while reading books to my son. At nine months, she would finally nurse with me sitting up. At eleven months, I felt that her suck was strong enough that I could quit pumping. We had made it.

My daughter was always a big comfort nurser. When she was a year old, she began differentitating through sign (Amercian Sign Language) whether she wanted to nurse mommy (for comfort without our Lact-Aids) or nurse pouch (for hunger and thirst with the Lact-Aids). She still nursed frequently, finally giving me one 3-hour stretch at night when she was about 18 months old. We were nursing though, and life was good.

I became pregnant with our third child when she was just over two years old. We nursed through my pregnancy and tandem nursed after our second son was born. When she was three years old, she decided that she was too big for the Lact-Aids to work and dropped nursing with them, instead only nursing for comfort. We practiced child-led-weaning and she weaned herself around age four, nursing for the last time at age four-and-a-half.

Our nursing relationship was a struggle at first, but I am so glad we stuck with it. Our time nursing together was priceless. My daughter is now almost five-and-a-half years old. I am currently nursing her two-and-a-half year old brother and expecting our fourth child. I wouldn’t give up those little eyes gazing at me as we nursed or the little hands that signed nurse mommy and nurse pouch. I wouldn’t give up hearing her hum as she nursed or her nursing acrobatics.

Other carnival participants (please check back, as these will be added to throughout the day):

  • Breastfeeding 1-2-3:  The Importance of a Babymoon
  • Hobo Mama: Supplemental feeding techniques for a breastfed baby 
  • The Milk Mama: How I got my bottle-guzzling, breast-phobic baby to love nursing 
  • Lucy and Ethel have a Toddler:  A rough start
  • Mama’s Herb Garden: Nine Things Your Nipples Wish You Knew About Them
  • Good Enough Mummy: Tongue Tied And Twisted
  • Whozat: A Rough Start
  • Maman A Droit: Clueless!
  • Jessica Montalino: Week 7 and Our Breastfeeding Experience
  • Breastfeeding Moms Unite: I’ll Be Brief