What are the biggest complications facing a breastfeeding mama? From what I’ve gathered, they are:
- Pain while feeding
- Baby not gaining weight
- Supply too low
If you’re a new mom, chances are you’ve faced one or more of these things. I suffered through all of them. It seems like every mom I met during the first few weeks of my baby’s life nodded with sympathy and understanding when I explained my breastfeeding woes. Many of them had given up on breastfeeding earlier than they wanted to. Some had soldiered on but talked about how much it hurt and how they were so thankful when their babies finally weaned.
That was not the experience I wanted. And I did everything in my power to make sure that was not the experience I would have.
I know how heartbreaking it can be to struggle with breastfeeding. I know how lonely and frustrating it is. But, I also know how rewarding it is to make it to the other side. If you’re considering giving up on breastfeeding, give me one post, one chance, to convince you to push through just a little bit longer. If anything, I want to give you hope. Tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let you know you’re not alone.
Before we get started, I want to say this: whatever you decide to do, the important thing is that your baby is fed and happy! If you chose not to breastfeed, don’t feel guilty. You know what is best for your baby. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about that! This post is simply meant to share my personal experience with the hope of letting all the mamas out there struggling with breastfeeding know you’re not alone!
In The Hospital
The first time my baby latched on in the hospital, it hurt. I expected as much. I also expected to have some problems because one of my nipples was inverted. This meant that from the start, we met with a lactation consultant right there in the postpartum unit.
She gave me a nipple shield, helped me learn how to hold my baby better, and sent me on my way, even though my nipples were bleeding (even the not inverted one) and I the amount of pain I was experiencing was slowly increasing.
This is when, right then in that moment, my breastfeeding journey could have taken a very different route. If I had gotten more information, I might not have had as many problems.
Now, I don’t blame the lactation consultant. She asked if I needed anything else. I told her “no.” I was in a rush to get home and I assumed I would just “pick up” on breastfeeding after a few more days.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
The Problems Start
I was very wrong. After a few more days, my nipples were raw! I had started using the nipple shield on both sides and I was still bleeding!
While all of this was going on, my baby had stopped pooping. She was 5-6 days old, and supposed to be pooping 5-6 times a day according to the little chart they sent home with me.
So, I called the pediatrician and scheduled an appointment to have her checked out and meet with the lactation consultant. At the time, I didn’t realize that both problems were somehow linked.
When we went to the doctor the next day, we discovered that my daughter had lost weight. Yes, babies are supposed to lose weight in the beginning. But, at this point, she should have been past that.
A lot of women decide to stop breastfeeding because they have supply problems. They’re told they don’t produce enough milk to feed their babies. While this may be true, it’s not necessarily the whole truth.
Yes, some women cannot make enough milk for their babies. Most of us, though (myself included), have the ability, we just don’t know how to make it happen.
That day at the doctor, we did a weight check. We weighed Norah before I fed her and again after one side and then again after the other. She gained 0.3oz from one side and 0oz from the other. That’s right Nothing. Zilch. NA-DA. My left side wasn’t giving her anything!
I cried. Oh man, did I cry! I was convinced that breastfeeding was over for us. How was I ever going to fix this? It seemed like such a monumental task!
Tip #2: If someone says you can’t breastfeed because you don’t produce enough milk, get a second opinion. Chances are, you can. You just need a little help to get started.
Getting my supply up
Here’s what I had to do to get my supply up:
Feed baby five minutes on the left side, ten minutes on the right. THEN, I had to feed her 1oz of milk through a finger tube. THEN, I had to pump for 15 minutes.
Every 2 ½ hours! I did this song and dance every 2 ½ hours day and night, night and day.
When I started, I was barely getting an ounce per pumping session. Sometimes, I only got a half and ounce. This meant that we had to supplement with formula a couple times. That was hard for me, but I did what I had to do for my baby and I don’t regret it.
I was also taking herbal supplements that were supposed to increase milk supply.
It seemed like such a huge, burdensome thing I was undertaking. Formula would have been so much easier. I considered it a lot during that first week. And oh man, did I cry during this time! I cried while I was feeding her. I cried while I was pumping. I cried and cried. It was too much.
That’s why I decided to change my plan of attack the second week of trying to increase my supply. I cut out the breastfeeding part of it all together. My husband or I fed Norah with the finger tube, and I pumped for 15 minutes. It was still a lot. Especially at 1, 3, and 5 o’clock in the morning. But, I kept with it.
And, I did see progress eventually! I went from pumping barely an ounce, to getting between 3-4 ounces each time.
Tip #3: It’ll be hard at first, but push through. Change up your pumping schedule if you need to. Find something that works for you. Remember, it’s not forever. And it’s so worth it!
Weight gain: The issue at hand
The moment of truth came about a week into the supply increasing fiasco. We went back to the doctor for a weigh. AND, Norah had gained!! She was still under what they wanted her to be at, but it was something!
So, along with the change in my routine, I began to consider other routes to making breastfeeding a better experience for me and my baby.
The heart of the matter was this: the pain. The pain was a sign that she wasn’t latching correctly. Since she wasn’t latching correctly, she wasn’t transferring milk well. Not transferring milk well meant she wasn’t getting enough and 1) she was losing weight and 2) my supply was dropping.
So, now that my supply was up and her weight was better, it was time to address the big problem.
Tip #4: Take it one day-one thing-at a time. Celebrate every single victory before moving on to the next battle.
Ties and Buckles and Latches- Oh my!
Getting baby to latch correctly is so important for being successful with breastfeeding! And, my baby wasn’t latching correctly. Yes, it looked okay. She had the nice “K” shape, open mouth, etc. But she had dimples when she fed.
What did that mean? That meant she was puckering. She was tensing while she fed. Why? Because she had to work extra hard to get the milk out because her mouth wasn’t capable of moving the right way.
Initially, my lactation consultant thought she had “buckles.” She explained these to me as being tension points on the sides of her mouth. Like ties ( which occur when the tissue that connects the tongue/ lips to the rest of the mouth is too tight and restricting baby’s ability to move their mouth correctly), buckles need to be released by a pediatric dentist.
Thankfully, there is a pediatric dentist about an hour and half away from where we live that does tie work. I called to get an appointment and was told the next open appointment was a month away!
I cried. Again.
Thankfully, the woman on the phone was sweet and assured me that someone would cancel an appointment and she would call me the second they did.
And a week later, I got the call. I was at the pediatrician’s office for another weigh-in (we were going at least once a week to make sure that Norah was gaining well), and the nurse practitioner and lactation consultant both cheered with me. They were just as invested in my journey as I was.
Tip #5 Surround yourself with people who support you. It’s amazing how much that encouragement can help to keep you going.
The dentist has no idea how much I owe him!
When we took Norah to get her mouth looked at, the dentist did find that she had a lip tie. It took about 20 minutes and $380 to fix. (Yes, $380 up front is a lot of money. BUT, it’s a lot cheaper than the estimated $1200-1700 it costs for a year of formula.)
That same day, I breastfed my daughter for the first time in about two weeks. It was amazing! It didn’t hurt, and she ate SO MUCH. I had honestly never seen her eat like that before.
We decided to try exclusively breastfeeding for a weekend to see how it would go. We went back to the pediatrician’s office the next day for a starting weight and three days later we returned for the moment of truth.
SHE GAINED 10 OUNCES!! TEN!! That’s three times the amount she was supposed to gain in three days.
At the time, I was still having a little pain. One of my nipples started to bleed a little bit again, and the other was sore. I didn’t stop, though. The pain never reached an unbearable level, and I had a special secret salve that my lactation consultant recommended (more info on that HERE) that helped so much.
Why was I still having pain? Because Norah was still getting used to her new mouth! She was learning how to move it correctly, so of course it was going to take a little time.
A week later, I was completely pain free!
Tip #6: Learn about ties. Get your baby’s mouth looked at. And once you do, be patient!
It’s been over a month since we got Norah’s lip tie released, and breastfeeding is like second nature now. No pain, no fussing, no problems with weight. It’s amazing.
I feel so free now! I can go anywhere and not worry about if Norah’s going to get hungry. If she does, I’ll just feed her! I don’t have to worry about bottles or formula or any of that. And the connection I have with her is amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even a full night of sleep!
Yes, breastfeeding is hard. And, there are still times I wish I could just hand her to my husband and do whatever I want for however long I want and not have to worry about it. But, when I’m sitting there with her, holding her close and sharing that moment with her, I feel so happy and complete.
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, know that you’re not alone. There is hope! If you want to keep fighting, fight! It’ll be hard but it will be worth it!
And, if you just can’t do it, you can’t keep fighting, don’t feel bad! I had this thought so many times: I’m spending more time pumping and going through all of this crap than actually loving on my daughter. I’m missing out on enjoying this time of her life because I’m so stressed about breastfeeding!
The dentist was my last hope. If that hadn’t have worked, I would have given up. So, I get it. I’ve met women who sincerely couldn’t breastfeed. Their bodies just would not allow them to. I’ve met other moms who elected not to. Either way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them as mothers. They love their babies and they are doing what they need to to keep them healthy. There is no shame in that!Whatever you decide, it’s your journey with your baby. Do what is best for both of you. Either way, you have my 100% support!!