When I learned I was pregnant, there were many choices I knew I would have to make. Choices regarding my prenatal care, the way I would give birth, and how I would care for my baby. A lot of these decisions were overwhelming and required me to do research, talk to other moms, watch documentaries, and read as many books as I could. Yet there was one choice that was very easy for me: I was going to breastfeed my baby.
My beautiful baby boy, Teth Adam, was born under bright lights in an operating room. After almost four days of slow labor, he was transverse and I had to have a C-Section. This was not the birth I had planned. I wanted to make sure nothing else would deviate from all the choices I had so carefully made in the previous ten months. Despite the insistence of some of the nurses, I would not allow them to give my son formula while I was in recovery.
Six hours after he was born, I held him in my arms for the first time. With help from my husband, I eagerly removed my hospital robe to have skin to skin contact. I held Teth close to my chest and he immediately found my breast and latched on. It was wonderful. This is how it was supposed to be, instinctual, easy, natural. Except it hurt. A lot. So much that I would hold my breath every time my baby boy tried to latch on and I’d hold my breath again when he’d stop eating. The pain would only worsen the longer he nursed and I dreaded feeding him.
I was heart broken and terrified. I couldn’t handle another major disappointment, another failure. The nurses weren’t helpful as they kept insisting I supplement with formula, especially since Teth had started losing weight. I continued to refuse because I was determined to breastfeed. I requested to see a Lactation Consultant (LC) but none were available. I was told to attend their breastfeeding class the next morning, so I did. The woman who taught the class, not an LC, told me his latch was perfect and perhaps I just wasn’t holding him correctly. She taught me “the football hold” and said to apply ice to my nipples before and after every feeding to help with the pain.
At this point, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn’t read anything about breastfeeding. I didn’t know there were different ways besides the cradle hold to feed your child. I didn’t even know it was called “the cradle hold.” I didn’t know what a “good latch” looked like. I didn’t know what an LC was. I was completely lost and I wasn’t getting the help I needed at the hospital. Luckily, I was already following a group of wonderful moms on Twitter (it was with their help that I knew to ask for an LC). After my tweets about the breastfeeding class, they immediately told me I should see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
The morning that I was to be discharged from the hospital, social services came to visit. They were concerned about me refusing formula because of how much weight my son had lost. He was born weighing 8 pounds 6 ounces and was now 7 pounds 10 ounces (this was more than the “normal” ten percent weight loss). After explaining everything to them, they assured me an IBCLC would see me before I left.
A few hours later, an IBCLC came and she was shocked and saddened by what I told her, especially the ill advice I had been given the previous three days. She quickly diagnosed my son as having a tongue tie (I had no idea what this meant at the time) and told me that, until I got it clipped, I might need to pump and feed him some other way.
A tongue tie is essentially a short, thick membrane connecting the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. It was explained to me that breastfeeding difficulties arise when a tongue tie is present due to the inability to move the tongue in a normal way and therefore attach and suck properly. Sore nipples and poor infant weight gain are commom consequences. The procedure to correct it is called a frenectomy where they remove the obstructing tissue.
After going over all of our options, she helped me rent a hospital grade breast pump and buy a supplemental nursing system (SNS) through my insurance. An SNS is a feeding tube attached to a bottle that contains either formula or breast milk for feeding at the breast or your finger.
She had to teach me how to do everything since I had no idea how to use the pump or store the milk. I was overwhelmed and crying the entire time. I was just supposed to put my son to my breast and that was it. Now I was dealing with machines and tubes. I had to time how long I pumped and measure how much he drank. I had to count his wet and dirty diapers. It was all too much.
By the time we got home later that day, I felt like a robot. Pumping every two hours and keeping a log of absolutely everything. I became detached from my baby. I didn’t want to feed him if I couldn’t do it directly from my breast. My husband took care of every feeding for the next few days. I couldn’t even look at him while he fed Teth. Even now I am still unable to describe the emotional anguish I felt. I wanted to get his tongue tie clipped to allow us to have the breastfeeding relationship I wanted. Given the horrible experience we had at the hospital, my husband insisted I get a second opinion.
Once again with the help of my Twitter friends, I found a breastfeeding support group. It was the first time I left the house alone with my son. He was ten days old. The IBCLC who led the group, Susan Berger, immediately confirmed that my son did in fact have a tongue tie. She gave me the name of an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) whom she highly recommended for the clipping. In the meantime, she encouraged me to feed him from my breast in the class. That’s when I realized that it didn’t hurt as much on my left breast as it did on my right. Susan recommended some bottles I could try since I had expressed my feelings of detachment with the SNS and a nipple shield for my right breast. The idea was that I would offer my left breast first, try the shield on the right, then supplement with pumped milk in a bottle if he was still hungry.
This would still be a lot of work, but for the first time I felt hopeful. Being out of the house alone with my son, I felt connected to him in a way I hadn’t yet. I quickly went to a big box store and happily bought the bottles. By the time I got home and resumed my pumping schedule, though, I felt defeated again. I couldn’t believe not even two hours earlier I thought I could make this work. I wanted to quit. No more pumping. No nipple shields. No SNS. I would just feed him formula in a bottle. It felt good to allow myself to think about giving up. Once I said this out loud though, I knew I was going to have to fight that much harder to successfully breastfeed my baby.
I made the appointment with the ENT. Teth was exactly two weeks old the day his tongue tie was clipped. I held him close to my heart, my husband helped keep his head steady, and the doctor performed the frenectomy. My poor baby boy was crying uncontrollably when the ENT finished. I already had instructions to put him on my right breast immediately after the procedure (since that’s the one that hurt the most).
I held my breath, offered him my breast, and suddenly the one who was crying was me. It didn’t hurt! I couldn’t believe it. We stayed there for a while as Teth continued to nurse happily for quite some time. Three days later, I returned to the breastfeeding support group. Susan weighed him before and after nursing and the amount of milk he was taking in had tripled from our last visit a week before.
Teth is almost ten months old and we are still going strong. The obstacles I faced have allowed me to be prouder in my ability to feed him from my breast. I nurse him on demand, anytime, anywhere, regardless of people’s indifference, rude comments, or weird looks (though the rare encouraging smile or nod is always reassuring). My baby more than doubled his birth weight at five months and is now a strong and healthy 25 pounds. My goal is to breastfeed him for as long as it’s mutually desired.
If I hadn’t had the love and support of my husband or reached out to friends online, I would’ve missed out on the most rewarding part of being a mom. I can see the love my son has for me when he gazes at me from my breast. I am his nourishment, his comfort, his unwavering source of love. I knew that breastfeeding my baby was the best thing I could do for him. I am so thankful that I sought help, asked questions, and dug deep within myself so that I could do this for him. I’m reminded every time he eats, every time he reaches a developmental milestone, every time I’m told how big he is, that I did the right thing and all that I went through was worth it.
Looking back, it’s interesting to me that I so easily decided on breastfeeding from the very beginning. I didn’t know any nursing moms personally and I was not breastfed either. I do wish, however, that I hadn’t relied on my mother’s instinct alone because, as it turns out, breastfeeding isn’t always easy. I urge any mom who sees this to please do their homework. Take a class, find a support group, meet with your local La Leche League organization.
As moms–and more importantly, as women–we should support each other. We all have our own stories, our own hardships, our own unique circumstances. Let’s stop judging each other and instead offer a compassionate ear. Whether you’ve never breastfed because you chose not to or couldn’t, or breastfed for a day, three months, or six years, I support you in doing what is best for you and your child. This is my story. I did what I felt was right for me and my son. I hope I have your support as well.
With love and light, Yami.