Thank you for joining us as we’ve given mothers from all over the US a place to share their Nursing Tales. We heard from mommas whose nursing relationships changed from first to second child, mommas who faced and overcame nursing obstacles, mommas who milk shared and pumped and supplemented with formula, mommas who exclusively formula fed, and mommas who experienced challenges between first and second children, and I even shared my own tale.
When we began this series, I had no idea how widespread the response would be. I tried my best to address some of the big topics of breastfeeding and feeding in general, but because it’s such a personal issue, it is as multifaceted as the people who experience it. I divided the stories up and shared them in categories merely for organizations sake, but it’s important to realize that every person’s Nursing Tale is going to be as unique as they are and it is going to exist simultaneously among thousands of others happening at the same time. It is this fact that often makes a nursing mother feel ostracized instead of encouraged or makes a mom who formula feeds feel inadequate or shamed instead of loved and supported.
We like to place ourselves in comparison with those around us, even though those around us don’t have the same set of circumstances or the same body or baby as we do. That is why it is important to show support for all moms no matter how they feed. Because no matter how much praise you think breastfeeding moms receive or how much pressure you feel formula places on new moms, the truth is that both are happening at the same time. So, instead of blaming or criticizing or shaming, let’s love and support and encourage each other.
No matter how we feed our children, we are united by the love we have for our children. We are all mothers just trying to do our best.
Take time out today to reach out to a fellow momma, even if you don’t know them well (or at all) and tell them they are doing a fantastic job. That you see they are doing all they can to care for their child, and you’re inspired by the love they have for their baby. Because that’s what we all want to hear, right? That we aren’t screwing up our kid, that we are doing a great job, that our efforts are noticed and appreciated. That’s what all moms want. Let’s give that to each other, shall we?
Our journey is not something that came easy. My daughter had a huge hematoma on her skull from a 3 day labor which led to jaundice. In the hospital, she had a fantastic latch and nursed for over an hour the evening after she was born. We were required to have her bilirubin levels checked the day after she went home, and they just kept getting higher. By day two at home she wouldn’t wake to nurse and was extremely lethargic. In between this time, my milk came in. It was terrible; I was leaking everywhere, and she would only nurse for a couple minutes at a time. We ended up at the emergency room, and she had the only formula she’s had in her life that day, two ounces in order to get something into her tiny body. We were required to nurse at least every two hours despite my daughter actually sleeping for 4 hour stretches. Also, we had to go to the hospital every day for blood checks for the baby. After 5 days of intense nursing and no sleep, we were able to stop the blood tests. Somehow, in the midst of all of this, our latch became extremely painful, and we were struggling. I had to turn to a LC and used a nipple shield for the first month of my daughter’s life.
When Emma was 6 weeks old, I went back to work full time. I had pumped a bit before going back but didn’t have a huge freezer stash. It was very rough at first. I was and still am pumping just enough for the next day. We breastfeed on demand at home, so I rarely pump because she is definitely a boob baby. At first, I took three breaks throughout the workday to pump. Now I pump on my way to work and take one break plus my lunch to pump. Our office is very small and congested, so in order to have a place where I can relax, I pump in my car. People laugh and make comments, but for me, I need the privacy of being somewhere else to think about my daughter and pump. We’ve been boobin’ for 7 months, and it isn’t always easy, but it’s so, so worth it!
Jack had breathing issues from birth, and although nursing was rocky from the beginning, I was determined to make it happen. Jack wanted to nurse so badly, but he had an issue with his breathe, suck, swallow sequence, and it was coupled with a shallow latch. He would gag and gargle while nursing and gasp for breath after every few swallows. I spoke with lactation consultants and attended a La Leche League meeting, and Jack and I made great progress with his latch. Unfortunately, at three months, it was obvious Jack was going to have to have surgery to address his severe laryngomalacia and a hemangioma on his voice box.
The surgery went well, and Jack responded like a champ, but breastfeeding was a challenge at first. Jack was hooked up to machines to help him breathe, and I was unable to feed him for the first 12 hours. He was miserable. I knew we had a long road ahead, and our first try at breastfeeding was a disaster. I could barely move without setting off all the alarms from Jack’s breathing tubes and monitors, and Jack was so frustrated and in so much pain when he swallowed. He would scream and cry when we tried to feed for more than a few seconds. I remember the first successful feed at the hospital so clearly. After all the stress and tears and frustration, I knew everything was going to be alright. I was finally able to comfort Jack, and he was finally able to peacefully feed. I cannot express how relieved I was. This photo is from that very moment, and I tear up every time I see it. It’s been almost 5 months since surgery, and Jack is thriving! We are still breastfeeding, and I plan to continue as long as my body is producing. I love the bond it fosters between Jack and I. I know there will be a day our journey is over, but for now, I’ll hold my sweet boy close for as long as I can.
The nurses in the hospital pretty much handed me a nipple shield immediately with my daughter, mostly to make life easier, not necessarily because we needed it. I think they really meant well but didn’t know enough to help me further. By the time I saw a lactation consultant, my daughter was happily nursing with the shield, and the LC certainly wasn’t about to disrupt a brand-new mom’s bliss that her child was nursing. I worried about having to keep it clean, tote it everywhere, and go through the trouble of putting it on properly before I could latch my daughter. I used a nursing cover all the time since I had to completely expose myself to get it in place. For my less-than-graceful self, that was a recipe for an embarrassing disaster. I totally flashed a (male) friend while out at a restaurant when I tried to slide my daughter under the nursing cover, and she caught a corner and pushed it aside. Whoops!
We finally kicked the shield at around 4 months, after many unsuccessfully attempts, lots of frustration, and tears. Then I brought her to work with me one day and forgot the shield at home (45 minutes away). I was a worried, nervous wreck, but little girl needed to eat. So I offered, and without a moment’s hesitation, she latched and happily nursed that time, and every time from then on. There was a brief nursing strike, around 7 months, when I thought it was all over. That only lasted a day, but boy did that day feel like an eternity! We made it to around 13.5 months before my supply was just done, and so was she.
My journey with my son has been different. I thought it would be perfect this time around. I knew what I was doing, and he was going to be a pro latcher from the get-go! Alas, he wanted nothing to do with it in the beginning, preferring to sleep. I fed him expressed colostrum off a spoon while we were in the hospital and finally got him latched a handful of times before we were discharged. We continued to struggle for another 3 or 4 days once we were home, even pulling out that awful old nipple shield again, desperate for some success. Luckily, he wanted nothing to do with that either. By a week old, he was nursing regularly and gaining weight like a rock star.
My nursing relationship with him has been one of absolute bonding and closeness. Where my daughter nursed solely for the calories, he adores nursing for so much more. I love staring at him as he drifts off to sleep at night, snuggled close, his chubby body curled into mine with a mouthful of boob. I have also had the joy of donating milk to other moms, thanks to an abundant supply this time around.
Knowing I am not only helping my own child grow and thrive on this miracle substance, but others as well, brings me such a feeling of accomplishment and completeness. I have donated over 1,000oz so far to 2 different babies and have at least another 500 ready to go. His first birthday just came and went (already!), and my supply is decreasing, but I know we will continue on this journey as long as we are both happy to do so.
He’s my last, and I know once it’s over, the challenges from both will be a distant memory. The happiness and closeness we have shared will be what I miss the most- what I am sure I will long for some days, as many a former-breastfeeding mama will confirm. What it all boils down to is this: we did it. Despite our challenges or setbacks, WE DID IT!
From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. It wasn’t even something that my husband and I talked about because we both just felt it was best for our family. I didn’t have any specific goals in mind when I started breastfeeding. I didn’t ever think I would be nursing a toddler; that’s for sure. Looking back, I wish I had educated myself more about potential problems rather than trying to deal with them at 3am, desperately Googling with one hand while trying to hold a baby in the other.
My daughter was born after a very long and difficult labor at home. She latched on fairly quickly, but I had a hard time getting her to latch correctly (bottom lip flanged out) for quite some time. (In retrospect, I should have connected with an IBCLC from the get-go.) One problem I had early on was getting my daughter to stay latched. It turned out that I had an over-active letdown, which made it hard for my daughter to latch. As it turns out, there are nursing positions that can help with that specific issue!
Nursing a newborn is so sweet. My favorite was when she would get ‘milk drunk’ and completely pass out! I remember one embarrassing and frustrating day when we decided to fly to visit my family. My daughter was only a few weeks old, and I was trying to nurse her on the plane. She refused to latch on, and I had milk spraying EVERYWHERE! I think the sweet woman sitting next to me was even more embarrassed than I was, though!
One issue that we consistently dealt with throughout infancy was getting my daughter to take a bottle. Although I was a stay at home mom, I wanted to have that option just in case the need arose. We tried about 8 different bottles, as well as many sippy cups before finally giving up. It just wasn’t happening, and I was getting very upset about having to get rid of pumped milk. I would pump and have my husband attempt a bottle with me out of the house. We attempted several times before the milk would be past its shelf date.
When she was about 6 months old, we began introducing solids, but she was pretty uninterested. She didn’t actually start eating a good amount of solids until she was about 10-11 months old, but she nursed like a newborn, especially through the night. It was physically exhausting for me. My husband desperately wanted to help, but she would just scream and scream. Once she began eating a little more table food, the night-wakings eased up a little, but she was still up about 3 times a night on average.
My daughter’s first birthday came and went, and she showed no signs of slowing down when it came to nursing. By that time, I had gotten connected with a few different mommy groups and learned about extended breastfeeding and letting a baby self-wean. Once I learned about the benefits of nursing into the toddler years, I committed to let her keep going until she decided to stop.
Nursing a toddler comes with its own set of challenges, especially once they become more verbal and physically active! There were many, many times when I would be shopping with my daughter, and she would insist on nursing right at that very moment. She would shove her hand down my shirt, and no amount of redirection would stop her! I usually had to try to find a semi-quiet spot to sit down and nurse because if I just nursed in the middle of the store, without fail, she would unlatch and look all around leaving me exposed. Whoops! She also practiced something that I call “gymnurstics.” This is a super-fun stage where a toddler likes to contort itself into whatever position they can while still staying attached. Some of my favorites include: foot in my face, standing, turning around, and playing with toys while nursing. One of my favorite things about nursing is how quickly it can calm a baby down. When her environment overwhelmed her, she was hurt, or just needed comfort; a quick nursing session is all it took. Breastfeeding goes so far beyond providing nutrition!
As her second birthday approached, she was still nursing around 8-10 times/24 hour period, including several times through the night. We decided it was time to night wean. It actually went very smoothly, and almost immediately after that process, she began to sleep through the night at long last!
When my daughter was 25 months old, I knew something was up, as all of a sudden nursing was extremely painful. I had to distract myself while I nursed her. Nothing had changed with her latch or nursing positions. I took a pregnancy test, and sure enough, it was positive! I still wanted to allow my daughter to self-wean, but it was very difficult to keep nursing when it was so incredibly painful. It was also becoming increasingly clear that my supply was rapidly dwindling. At that point, I decided to institute time limits for my own sanity. My daughter responded really well to that method, and after a couple of weeks, she was only nursing twice a day. Just a few days later, while going through our regular bedtime routine (which had always included nursing), she stopped asking to nurse. It was a little bittersweet. After all was said and done, she nursed for a total of 27 months.
Sometimes she talks about the “yummies” and that her baby sister will have them. As I near my third trimester, my colostrum has started to come in. I’m pretty sure she can tell, because she will occasionally ask to nurse. I know it is not uncommon for toddlers to start up nursing again when a new baby comes, but we will see. I don’t know how nursing will go with my new baby, but this time around, I definitely plan on reaching out for help early on if I’m encountering any problems at all!
I didn’t separate these final Nursing Tales into a category because I wanted it to authentically represent how several mommas can go through such different experiences all at the same time. They all handled their challenges differently and all had different outcomes, but they are all good moms. They all fed their babies with love and worked hard to provide for the best interest of their child’s health and happiness, and that is what matters.
Happy feeding, mommas, and tune in next Tuesday for my personal favorite nursing gear and to hear what series will be kicking off in October!