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Long story short, our breastfeeding journey was really difficult from the beginning. Other than actually giving birth to baby Jacob, it is by far the hardest thing I’ve dealt with. This is a long post, but I am hopeful that it is helpful for someone. Recently I had someone reach out to me on behalf of a friend who was struggling with nursing. She asked my advice on some things and told me that the reason she reached out was because I had been so open about sharing our story. That meant the world to me. And that’s why I keep sharing…
Back in the late summer of 2020, during World Breastfeeding Week, I typed up our breastfeeding story to date. At the time, we were just shy of 4 months postpartum. I meant to post it on the blog soon after but, well, never got around to it. So here we are.
As I write this, we are now at 9 months postpartum and I quite honestly cannot believe how fast the time has gone. Soon our little Jacob will be turning 1… It brings tears to my eyes because I am not ready for him to grow up. I already miss that tiny sleepy little newborn and that wide-eyed little 4-month-old and that adventurous 6-month-old.
I’m sure it’s hormone-related but sheesh. This kid brings me to tears almost daily with his cute, sweet, happy self. But I digress. Let’s get back to the subject at hand.
I should also preface this story with the fact that all of this took place right as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting. Our little one was born in April and things just got more and more crazy in our state and world after that. Read my Third Trimester Recap post here if you want more scoop on that.
Why I Share Our Story
Long story short, our breastfeeding journey was really difficult from the beginning. Other than actually giving birth to baby Jacob, it is by far the hardest thing I’ve dealt with.
It was physically and emotionally exhausting. We finally came out the other side triumphant, but it was not without a lot of work and a lot of struggle. And even after all the big work was over, there was a lot of emotional work that I had to keep doing, even today.
This is a long post, but I am hopeful that it is helpful for someone. Recently I had someone reach out to me on behalf of a friend who was struggling with nursing. She asked my advice on some things and told me that the reason she reached out was because I had been so open about sharing our story. That meant the world to me. And that’s why I keep sharing…
God Had Other Plans for My Breastfeeding Journey
I never imagined I’d have issues breastfeeding. I also never imagined I’d have a traumatic birth experience either, but that’s a different story. I did so much prep for pregnancy, labor, and birth, but pretty much nothing for breastfeeding. I was well aware there could be issues and I had an IBCLC lined up, just in case. But, I also just assumed that it would work. My mom never had any issues and I was certain I wouldn’t either.
Boy did God have other plans for me. I still have had so much to reflect on in regards to this journey. At first, it was so busy and chaotic that I did not have the time or energy to really sit down and explore everything that happened and grasp the deeper meanings and lessons behind the experiences. But as I continued to heal physically and emotionally, things became more and more clear.
I really think He used this experience (as He did my pregnancy, labor, and birth) to teach me some deep lessons. One of those lessons being to not give up — to persevere to the end. If it’s important, then DO THE WORK.
And work we did…
Breastfeeding Struggles From the Start
We were not able to breastfeed from the start. Our little one struggled to nurse right out of the womb. I blame part of our struggles during those first few days on the very traumatic labor and birth. It was a hard labor for both of us and we were both pretty out of it after he arrived due to the painkillers I was given.
The biggest issues we had were:
- His inability to get a good latch
- A small mouth
- A weak suck
- A flat tongue (due to a tie) that wouldn’t curve around the nipple so he wasn’t able to transfer much.
- A high palate
The nurse started us on the nipple shield right away, much to my disappointment. But frankly, I was so out of it at the time that I didn’t have the energy to put up a fight.
The shield helped a tiny bit, but not much. We also had to start supplementing since he wasn’t getting anything from me and he had some blood sugar issues at birth. Thankfully I was able to pump a TON of colostrum right away (over 120ml!), plus we were able to use donor milk instead of formula.
The IBCLC at the hospital told us that he didn’t have a lip/tongue tie and that he would “get it” at some point. We kept trying and trying and my heart kept breaking a little more each time we were not successful. I started feeling stressed and anxious at a time when I should have been focusing on healing and enjoying this beautiful new human.
We actually stayed at the hospital for an extra day just to get a little extra support before we headed home. The nurses and lactation consultants we worked with were so kind and caring. But they just couldn’t seem to help us.
Once we went home, things didn’t get better. I reached out to the IBCLC at our pediatrician’s office and got in with her right away. She also told us that lip/tongue tie was not an issue (she was the 3rd person to tell us this). So we just focused on trying to get Jacob’s latch better and strengthen his suck.
Jacob was also very sensitive emotionally and he would escalate from calm to out of control upset in seconds. He often would meltdown when I would bring him to my breast, pushing me away and screaming.
This tore my heart to pieces.
I was such a mess emotionally. I was stressed and anxious and sad and so disheartened most days. Sometimes we’d have somewhat successful feedings, but it was rare. When we did, they would last forever (45 min to an hour).
Also, during this time, we were so focused on Jacob’s struggles that we didn’t pay much attention to me and my milk supply. So my milk came in but didn’t stabilize. No one talked to me about a pumping strategy to get my milk in and stable. So I just limped along, pumping a little here and there and relying primarily on donor milk from our milk bank (which was INSANELY expensive at $18 per 4oz).
I really felt like giving up. I began to think that bottle feeding would just have to be our norm. I was even willing to go the formula route after getting some recommendations for a high-quality, super clean formula from Europe. We actually did end up having to use a tiny bit of formula for a short time while my milk was stabilizing. We also found a new private donor for milk because we could not afford to keep getting milk from the milk bank.
We were supposed to practice nursing as much as possible (even if it was just for comfort), but to be honest, it was all so stressful that sometimes we’d go several days without nursing. My heart was so sensitive and broken at that point that the thought of having him meltdown and shove me away when I tried to offer him my breast was more than I could take. So sometimes I didn’t even offer…
Feeling Completely Defeated
I felt completely overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated. Every day I’d feel like giving up. My husband was so amazing through all of it and he kept encouraging me to push forward. He constantly reminded me of how important breastfeeding was to me and kept telling me that if it truly was that important, then I had to keep going.
I was so worn out and I also felt disconnected from Jacob. I didn’t feel like we were bonding the way we were supposed to. Nothing about this experience was going how I envisioned it. I was so sad that my vision and expectations were just not coming to fruition. It’s hard enough adjusting to being a new mom without having to deal with all of this other stuff too.
Even though we had been told there were no lip/tongue tie issues, I knew something had to be wrong in that department. There was something inhibiting Jacob from being able to nurse properly. Babies are designed to nurse! In a perfect world, things just click from the beginning. But in many cases, like what I was experiencing, there were roadblocks that had to be removed. We started with a pediatric chiropractor when he was one week old and that did seem to help with both his nursing ability and his emotional stability. But we still were struggling.
Getting More Breastfeeding Help
At 3 weeks into our journey I knew I needed another opinion. I reached out to a well-respected, extremely educated, and experienced IBCLC and got in to see her right away. She totally changed the course of our journey and I will forever be grateful to her. If you need an IBCLC in the Denver area, I highly recommend Shannon Gill of Roots to Wings Lactation. Words can’t even express the gratitude I have for her.
We had a 2.5 hour consult the first time we saw Shannon and we covered everything under the sun. She did a full oral exam on Jacob (she has had extensive training in oral restrictions, on top of her IBCLC training). She said he most definitely had lip and tongue tie issues and that was certainly playing a big role in his inability to nurse well. We started on some exercises to help his oral function but she said that getting the ties fixed was really going to be the thing that made all the difference.
We also worked on a plan to help get my milk established and stable, which involved renting a hospital-grade pump and pumping every 2-3 hours around the clock. It took about 3 weeks to get my milk supply in a good place. During that time, we were slowly able to move away from donor milk and formula and just bottle feed what I was producing. We were also able to start moving away from needing the nipple shield as much, which I was thrilled about. I honestly thought we were going to need it forever.
Finally Making Progress, But Still Feeling Overwhelmed
I felt like we were finally making solid progress forward, although, I felt like a slave to my pump. It really caused me a lot of stress and anxiety to be tied to such a schedule, especially having to wake up a couple of times per night to pump. I don’t respond well to a breast pump, so pumping sessions lasted FOREVER (30-45 minutes) because I wouldn’t get a letdown until 12-15 minutes into pumping, and even then, my flow was very slow. Plus, it seemed like during the day, all I did was feed Jacob, get him settled/napping, pump, clean up, and then start the process over again.
We also had multiple practitioner appointments each week (sometimes one, sometimes as many as four). There was no time for me to nap or rest. It was just go, go, go. And then you have all of the washing and sanitizing of the bottles and pump parts on top of it.
It was A LOT of work every day. Honestly, I look back on that period of time and it’s just one big hazy blur. Both hubby and I talk about how we literally felt like zombies. I’m really thankful that I took the time to write so much of this down as it was happening, otherwise I would have forgotten many details.
I’m also so very thankful that hubby took over all of the washing and sterilizing of the bottles and pump parts. I could not have managed that on top of everything else. He was so amazing throughout this entire journey. While I hate what COVID did to our world, I am very thankful that it did afford him the opportunity to work from home and be here around the clock during these first months. If I had been all alone while he was away at an office, I’m not sure what I would have done.
Moving Forward With the Lip and Tongue Tie Surgeries
Shannon had told us that she felt the ties were the primary reason we were struggling with nursing. She also recommended a really experienced pediatric dentist who could do a proper revision. But it still took us a month to decide to move forward with the tongue and lip tie revisions. We had been getting some conflicting info from people we respected and were just not certain how to proceed, even though Shannon has told us all she had. It took us some time to process things and decide to move forward.
Finally, at 6 weeks postpartum, we scheduled a consult with the pediatric dentist and he confirmed what Shannon has said. He even pointed out just how severe his upper lip tie was and how it was inhibiting breastfeeding in a big way.
We really liked this dentist (and trusted him) so one week later, at week 7, we had the revisions done. Shout out to Dr. James Bienemen for taking such good care of us and helping totally change the course of our journey. I would highly recommend his practice to anyone who is in need of lip or tongue tie revision services.
Also during that time, we started working with a Craniosacral Therapist and that was a BIG help, especially since Jacob had been experiencing so much emotional discomfort during all of this. We were still seeing the pediatric chiropractor as well. Another shout out to Well Beings Chiropractic. If you’re in Denver and need a chiropractor, I highly recommend their practice.
A Total Game Changer
The lip and tongue tie revisions that we had done at week 7 were a total game-changer for us. Right away we were able to nurse more effectively. It wasn’t perfect and there was still a lot of rehab that had to be done (4-6 weeks), but I was shocked at how much he could open his mouth once the ties were released. By week 8, just one week after the revisions, we had decided to take the leap and move from exclusively pumping to exclusively breastfeeding.
This decision was not without a lot of fear. I was so afraid that he wouldn’t be able to transfer enough to sustain him. I was afraid that I wouldn’t produce enough for him (even though my milk was well-established and I had actually become an overproducer). We had become so accustomed to our bottle-feeding routine that I wasn’t sure how to handle yet another transition. I was really scared. But I did it. With the support of my hubby, family, and Shannon, we took the plunge and never looked back.
A Side Note: Struggling with Daily Pain
One thing I haven’t mentioned in my story up until now was the breast pain and issues that I struggled with almost daily for the first 4-5 months.
My first pump (the one I had zero guidance on) had done serious damage to my nipples and areola. I didn’t know anything about selecting the right flange size or finding the optimal suction settings. My nipples were cracked, had blisters, and were so unbelievably sore. Anything that touched them felt like I was having sandpaper dragged against them. It was horrible.
After a lot of trial and error and guidance from Shannon, we were able to get these issues resolved. We finally got me into the right flange size, added some silicone inserts for more comfort, and found the ideal suction settings for my needs. The nipple pain and damage slowly healed, although it never fully healed until we made the transition to exclusively breastfeeding.
Also during that time, I dealt with clogged ducts and serious engorgement almost daily. The clogged ducts were quite often excruciating. The engorgement was terrible. The pumping was making me an overproducer and even though I was pumping regularly, nothing drains your breast, as well as a baby, does.
There were a few instances where I felt like I was going to have to go to the hospital because my breasts hurt so bad. One time I actually reached out to family and friends asking for prayers because I was in such agony. I was doing everything I could to make life livable, but it was honestly hell for many weeks.
Feeling Like Giving Up… Again…
I was in tears daily. I again felt like giving up daily. I was miserable. I ended up developing PTSD from the physical pain of the experience that has lasted my entire breastfeeding journey. It has lessened with time, but the trauma is still there. The only thing that will fully heal it is just more time.
Once we made the switch to exclusively breastfeeding, I was still dealing with a lot of engorgement and clogged ducts initially because I was an overproducer. It took another two months or so for my body to adjust things down to Jacob’s needs.
When we made the switch, we stopped using the pump immediately because we didn’t want to have my body continuing to overproduce. I was only pumping on the occasions when I absolutely needed some relief. If I could limp through the engorgement until our next nursing session, I would. I have never been able to hand express despite having tried for a couple of months and getting help from my IBCLC. I later found out that my mom was unable to hand express too and that some women simply do not respond to pumps or hand expression.
The process of down-regulating my supply was stressful and painful at times, but I knew it had to get better. We had come so, so, so far already that I couldn’t give up now. The IBCLC at our Pediatrician’s office assured me that my body would down-regulate and that I had to just be patient and trust the process.
So I did, the best I could anyway…
Hormone Shifts and Major Improvement
Around 5 months postpartum, I could tell my hormones were shifting. I actually thought I was going to start my period again based on my symptoms, but never did. Even as I write this at almost 9 months, my period has not started back.
I was also having a lot of emotional turmoil, which in hindsight I recognize as being postpartum anxiety. Everything was making me feel anxious and neurotic. I really thought about giving up nursing at that point because Jacob started going through his initial biting phase and I didn’t think I could take it anymore.
But I still persevered and pushed through. After that, I quickly reached 6 months postpartum and my hormones shifted more. At that point, my breasts started feeling worlds better. What was left of my overproduction and engorgement issues ended and I stopped having as many clogs.
Six months postpartum was a really big milestone for us because I never thought we’d make it to that point. But also because of the shifts, I felt in my breasts and it gave me the confidence that we could reach our next goal of one year. My boobs finally felt comfortable and I wasn’t as stressed out about clogs like I was before.
From Then to Now. Wow.
We are now at exactly 9 months into our breastfeeding journey and are doing great. There have been ups and downs in our journey since then. Jacob and I are constantly learning from each other. There’s always something new that we have to work through. There’s always something new to celebrate too.
My initial goal was to get to 6 months because I really didn’t think we could. But we did. And now my goal is to get to a year. From there we will just keep on trucking until it is no longer mutually beneficial for us to continue.
As I type this, I’m crying. The experience has been so hard on my mind, body, and soul. But I can say with certainty that it’s been so worth it. The freedom I have felt being able to breastfeed on demand has been so liberating.
No more washing and sterilizing bottles.
No more being a slave to a rigorous pumping schedule.
No more freezing and thawing breastmilk.
No more prepping bottles and then forgetting to bring one on your errand and having a melting down baby and no way to feed him. That. Was. Horrible.
We also finally got to the point where all of the practitioner appointments were over with so our weeks were much more relaxed and calm. I could rest or nap when I needed to or just spend the day on the couch nursing and watching TV. I could feed my bubba whenever I needed to. I felt like I could FINALLY relax and enjoy being a new mom. I felt like now I could finally start healing…
There Are No Fast Fixes
All of these struggles I shared took 4+ solid months of hard work, patience, trust, and unexpected expense to resolve. There were no quick and easy fixes to any of it. Even after the ties were released, there was still rehab that had to happen in order to teach Jacob how to use his mouth properly. But we did it together. As a team. Mama and baby. And hubby and family cheering us on and supporting us however they could.
Whenever I start to feel down about things, I have to remind myself of how far we have come.
How we persevered.
How I didn’t give up, even when I wanted to so badly.
It has given me a new understanding of what being a mother is like — having to weigh the options, fight the battles, learn how to nurture and care for a tiny human.
I now fully understand why so many women give up on nursing. And I respect that decision wholeheartedly. It’s HARD. And even harder if you don’t have a good support system around you.
I also have a whole new appreciation for mamas who choose to exclusively pump. That is HARD WORK! If that were my only option, I truly don’t think I could have done it long term. I think I would have just chosen formula and moved on. The pain and misery the breast pump gave me are forever etched in my brain.
I have a perspective now that I would have never, ever had if I had not gone through all of this. As hard as it was, I have learned to be grateful for all the pain and challenge.
Because it’s made me stronger.
Where We Go From Here
Like I mentioned above, I plan on continuing to nurse for as long as we can. Getting to 6 months was huge and now getting to one year is even bigger! From there, who knows how long we will go.
And hopefully, God will allow me to help other women with their breastfeeding journeys in some way. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but I hope I’m able to use my experiences to improve other mama’s lives.
Thank you for reading our story. I know it was long and it means the world to me that you took the time to get all the way to the end. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below. Or email me here. I’d love to hear from you.