This post has been requested by many. Many are looking for answers and hope in the midst of their breastfeeding struggles. But it took me a little while to decide to write it because I feel so ill-equipped. I have had three children and three COMPLETELY different birthing/nursing experiences. Each have been filled with struggles of there own, making me feel like I have yet to really figure it out.
But then I pondered it some more and realized that maybe that is exactly why I should write this today. I’m here with the truth that every child is different and no matter how much advice you get in advance, the best thing to learn is that you need to be open to learn and grow as you go.
So my purpose here, today, is to share what has happened to me, lay out the lessons I’ve learned, and give some encouragement where I can.
I don’t want to go into the details of my actual births because this post is about nursing, but check out this LINK if you would like those stories.
- Heidi – my eldest came 1.5 weeks early. We were able to do skin-to-skin right away and I thought this was going to be a breeze. Within 72 hours I knew I was mistaken…it took almost two months to reach the point of nursing without horrific pain! I lost my milk supply at 6 months with Heidi because I was pregnant with Daniel.
- Daniel – my second little one was 2.5 weeks LATE. We were also able to do skin-to-skin right away with him but I didn’t view that as the golden ticket this time. Sure enough, it was a brutal start but, thankfully, I had learned a thing or two and was able to get the pain under control in about 3 weeks! I also lost my supply at 6 months with Daniel…I will touch on that more later.
- Charlie – my youngest was C-sectioned out 2 weeks early and headed straight to the NICU…and stayed there for 2 weeks. I was able to pump that entire time, so thankfully I was ready to start nursing when he came home. I had a plan and although I wasn’t truly experiencing comfort until a month after his birth, it was only 2 weeks into our nursing journey. He is now almost 8 months old and we are still going strong!
As I mentioned, I had to stop nursing and switch to formula for several months with my first two. One thing I have learned is that a breastfeeding journey is so much more complicated and personal than a formula-fed journey. That is not saying that a nursing mom is more personally connected to her baby. I simply mean that learning to use this portion of our body while simultaneously teaching this new little person is tough…really tough.
So much of yourself goes into it. There is often a good bit of pain and sacrifice at the get-go. It is much more difficult to share night feeds (not to mention that it often takes longer for those night feeds to go away!). What the mother is eating is determining what nutrition the baby is getting. It is truly so much easier to look inward if there is an issue with nursing and blame yourself by feeling that your body has failed you. Been there, done that!
I have now ridden this rollercoaster three times and have learned a thing or two…
It’s a BEAR…but trust that there are solutions!
Before getting into the story, I want to share a mindset shift I had a while back. When I started having struggles in my nursing journey, it would get me so confused. I mean, it is literally what that portion of our body is designed to do! Mothers have been doing it from the beginning of time. Why is it so hard?
But the more I thought about it, I realized we are coming off of a several generation span of “formula babies”. Most of our parents don’t have the knowledge or tips to pass along that would make this easier. But the good news is, our daughters will have that resource, Lord-willing! And they will also have our sympathy… haha
My first time around
When I was pregnant with Heidi, I was very diligent to research the dickens out of breastfeeding. So when she arrived, I knew how important it was to be particular about her latch from the very get-go. The nurse said she had it right. The lactation consultant said she had it right. And it sure looked like all of the pictures had described it should. But before Heidi turned three full days old, I had NO doubt in my mind that something was wrong!
I remember on the third day that they came by to test her hearing (something they require before exiting the hospital). The “tester” said that she needed to be very still for about 20 minutes and that she either needed to be asleep or nursing to make that happen. Heidi was not looking like she was going to fall asleep in the immediate future so she suggested I nurse.
As always, I tickled her chin and waited for her to open her mouth nice and wide. I quickly moved her head in place and secured a nice deep latch…and then my toes literally curled. Yes, by 72 hours in, every time I nursed her it was like lightening was hitting every nerve in my body…excruciating pain. Oh, so very discouraging!
While staying in the hospital, I routinely asked for the lactation consultant on call to check what was wrong. Time and time again they would say, “her latch is perfect! Just give it time.”
Once we got home, it did not improve. I became bruised and bloody. I couldn’t even let my t-shirt rest on my chest because of the cracks and raw skin. In those first 2-3 weeks we went through several “cluster feeding phases” where Heidi would want to nurse every 15-30 minutes and I would often just spend the nursing session in tears. Tears because of the pain and because it seemed like this nightmare would never end.
Throughout this time I was trying to research, going to lactation appointments, trying, in vain, to figure out how to get relief. All the while, Heidi was growing at a tremendous rate and showing none of the normal signs of a bad latch. I began considering the idea that maybe I was not cut out for this.
Then a miracle entered my life. Let me just take this moment to say, if you find yourself in a situation such as this, I would HIGHLY suggest searching out the nearest member of the La Leche League and inviting her over for a chat!
My mom is the one that mentioned to me that one of her neighbors was a La Leche League member and that maybe I should give her a call. When she came over she did not examine the latch. She stuck her finger inside of Heidi’s mouth and waited for her to begin sucking. Then the issue became VERY apparent. She asked if I have a heavy letdown and I said that I felt like I did since it would often make Heidi cough and have to catch her breath.
Here was the problem, my little newborn had almost immediately identified that my letdown was a heavy one. Instead of draping her tongue over her bottom gums, as would normally happen, she pulled her tongue back and clamped down with her gums to control the flow! Amazing! Painful, but amazing!
With some simple exercises I was able to re-train Heidi to nurse properly while adjusting my nursing position to help with the flow. After several weeks of healing, we finally reached a good place.
I have attached a link to a very helpful video when learning to establish a latch. It does demonstrate how to do it so there is partial nudity (LINK)
This story might sound discouraging or intimidating but I share it to offer hope. There are so many who have had or will have very difficult experiences with nursing. Moments in which you will seriously consider giving up. Asking yourself, “is it really worth it?” Trust me, it is. It truly is.
You might have to do some serious digging and researching, but I can almost guarantee you that the answer is out there! If you stumbled across this post because you are in the midst of it right now…there is hope for your breastfeeding journey, mama!
As a side note on figuring out the pain…when you start to nurse for the first time, you WILL be sore. It is often said that breastfeeding shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and once your body becomes accustomed to it that is true. But don’t get too worried if you are a little sore for a few days.
If the discomfort lasts for than a week or turns into actual pain, do not hesitate to find help! The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find healing. By the time I found the answer, my skin had A LOT of healing to do but it was really hard because my baby still had to nurse on that same skin every 2-3 hours! The sooner you can jump on a solution, the better!
It’s worth it!
So that last section was really heavy. I realize that it is possible I might have scared a couple of y’all. But now listen to the other side…no matter the struggle and sacrifice that you may face on your breastfeeding journey, it is SOOOOO worth it!
There are lots of websites that can give you so much information on the benefits of nursing, but here are some of the highlights:
- Build baby’s gut health – When a baby is getting ready to enter the world, their gut is in a neutral state. They are almost instantly surrounded by toxins that try to bring their gut into the red. Their two main opportunities to build up good gut flora is by picking up from the mom through the birth canal and nursing!
- Build baby’s immune system – This truly goes hand-in-hand with my last point because the gut contains over 80% of the immune system, so the health of your gut determines the health of your immune system.
- Heal health issues – Seeing a pattern? YOU truly are your baby’s best shot at a healthy infancy and future! If you are feeding YOUR body well, it will be passed right along to the baby. But that’s not all! If you make sure to kiss your baby several times a day (not usually something we need to be reminded of 😀), your body will pick up on whatever germs they have been exposed to. Within four hours, your body will have created antibodies to exactly what your baby is facing and will be giving it to them through your milk! *mind blown*
I’ve got a story for this one, too.
Daniel, my oldest boy, had severe eczema starting at 2 months old (LINK). But that isn’t the story I’m going to be sharing right now because we went through a lot of doctors and medicine before finding the true solution was through nutrition. By the time we began to make that discovery, my milk had dried up and we had to do some hard-core, gut-healing, diets…on a one-year-old. Let me tell you, it is definitely ideal to be able to tackle this during the nursing stage.
So, when my second son was born, and started showing signs of eczema too, I quickly developed a plan! I pulled out the big inflammatory groups – dairy, gluten, sugar, and processed food. From there I was going to meticulously start removing one food group a week until I started seeing improvement and we could identify his agitator.
Through a miraculous series of events I was able to find out that his sensitivity is coconut, almost right out of the gate! So, step one was removing EVERYTHING coconut from my diet and my contact. This sounds simple, but I would challenge you to take a moment to look at the ingredients of some of your favorite natural body care products…coconut oil is a wonderful thing and it is EVERYWHERE!! But seriously, it was such a small sacrifice when I began to see his skin drastically improve!
Now, step two…heal MY gut so that I could heal Charlie’s! I have and will continue to post on drastic changes I have made to our diet so that we can heal from the inside out. But over the past few months, since we removed coconut and starting filling my diet with gut-healing foods that are getting passed along to Charlie, his eczema is now 95% gone!
YOU can be the healer of your baby! Start NOW to heal yourself so that you have something to pass along through your miraculous milk!
Don’t take your supply for granted…but don’t DEPEND on the “normal” solutions
Heidi’s supply story
This is a tough one for me. This time can still not enter my mind without a feeling of guilt and a lump in the pit of my stomach.
I knew NOTHING about losing milk supply when I was nursing my oldest. I naively thought, “as long as you keep nursing, the milk KEEPS coming!” Not so.
I also, without foundation, believed, “as long as you keep nursing, the babies STOP coming!” Not true either.
Without even realizing it, I became pregnant with Daniel when Heidi was just 3.5 months and didn’t even know it until my milk dried up when she was 6 months! The tough part was that, when you don’t know that losing your milk is an option, you completely miss the signs…and when I finally found out what was happening, it broke my heart!
Heidi was growing like a weed when we took her to her 4 month wellness appointment. But at some point in the following month or so, she started getting a little bit fussier. It became harder for her to get to sleep and she often wouldn’t sleep very long. Looking back, I can see that she had lost some of her chubbiness.
Without knowing I should put a question about supply on the table, there were so many explanations I kept coming up with…teething, sleep regression, growth spurt, etc.
But when we showed up for her 6 month wellness, she had LOST weight.
About a week before she turned 6 months, I found out I was pregnant. When I mentioned that to the doctor he immediately suggested that it might have caused me to lose some of my supply…and then suddenly it was all making sense. Suddenly all I could think was that I had been literally starving my precious little girl. It broke me.
Of course, once I started supplementing with formula, she plumped back up and, thankfully, had no long term effects.
Daniel’s supply story
The second time around I was VERY proactive in watching out for symptoms of supply issues. In fact, I was so consumed with it, I literally worried my worst fear into fruition.
A couple weeks before Daniel turned 6 months, I started seeing some things that concerned me. So, I bumped my appointment up and sure enough, his growth had slowed a bit. Thankfully, he had not lost weight or and continued to grow, but the arc wasn’t holding steady and, combined with the other symptoms, we knew what was going on.
I knew I wasn’t pregnant. I was following EVERY lactation suggestion out there! Drinking over a gallon of water a day. Doing everything I knew to do…but my body still failed me. Or at least, that is how it felt at the time.
Now I have a different theory.
Which leads me into my third story…
Charlie’s supply story
I will refer you back to my post on my 12-pound birth story for more details, but Charlie had a rough start. Blood sugar issues…C-section 2 weeks early…in the NICU for 2 weeks…late start on nursing…just rough.
But I feel like the difficulty at the start made me so completely determined to give him the best shot I could “from this day forward”. To rebuild his gut, get his eczema under control, form his immune system, and continue nursing him for as long as possible! But then I had to face the fact that I had, thus far, been unable to nurse my kids past 6 months. I knew that if I wanted to truly heal him, I would need more time.
I can’t guarantee that I know for sure what happened with Daniel’s supply. But with the continued research I have done into supply issues, it seems as though stress and worry can play a BIG role. So, I knew I had to turn it over to the Lord. If healing my gut and taking captive my thoughts (to keep worry under control) did not keep my supply strong, than I needed to let it go and trust that God is in control.
Every day I had to stop worrying about the future and a bunch of what ifs. To quote my daughter’s favorite movie (Frozen 2), I simply had to do “the next right thing”. I had to choose to eat in a way that was healing me and Charlie TODAY. Take captive my thoughts with the truth of Christ TODAY. Take my thoughts off of my regrets concerning the past and re-focus on TODAY.
Again, I can’t promise that this was the answer…but Charlie’s eczema is just about gone, he is growing like a weed, has yet to get sick in any way, and my milk is still going strong! Praise the Lord!
And the point is…
All that to say, it is important to know that your supply is not guaranteed. What you eat, how you think, how you live your life, can all effect it. This is NOT to fill you with fear, but instead to make you aware and intentional. Being the sole nutrition source for our little sweeties require us to be proactive and careful.
Also, if you ever believe you might be noticing symptoms, ask for an extra doctors appointment to check his/her weight and relieve your mind. If you believe you are losing supply and want to try some things to get it back, think outside of the box. Go beyond the average suggestions found on Google. Listen to your mommy heart.
And, finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: gut health, gut health, gut health! I have been eating nothing but gut-healing foods pretty much since Charlie came home and I can’t help but think that it has made a difference in my body’s ability to maintain a supply. A healthy gut solves pretty much every health issue anyway, right?
Check out this post for more info on healing your gut (LINK).
Your breastfeeding hopes crumble? It’s NOT the end of the world!
We’ve already covered this, but just to sum up…to truly give your baby the best start you can consists of three parts:
- Heal YOUR gut
- Have a natural, drug-free birth
- Nurse for at least a year
If you combine those three together, I would say you have the ideal scenario for a healthy baby.
With all the reminders that we have of the benefits of those three things, it can be rather intimidating. If we don’t reach even one of those goals we start coming down on ourselves, feeling guilty, struggling with major disappointment, fearful that our child is not going to be okay. Am I right?
But let me be a reminder to you. Despite all of the research I have done into those three listed topics, I have yet to have an ideal situation!
I didn’t have a healthy gut with Heidi or Daniel. Both Heidi and Daniel were only able to nurse for 6 months. I used an epidural with Heidi. And Charlie was born via C-section.
And trust me when I say that the reminder I just shared gives me hope!
DESPITE only being able to nurse Daniel for 6 months, I was able to heal his gut and eczema after that. If your nursing journey isn’t going the way you hoped, it will be okay! You are a wonderful mommy!
DESPITE a very “unnatural” birth and NICU stay, Charlie is now able to drink my gut-healing milk multiple times a day and is now eczema-free. If your birth plan had to be chucked into the trash, it will be okay! You are a wonderful mommy!
No matter what YOUR story looks like, it will be okay! Start today. Do the next right thing!