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I didn't prepare myself well for breastfeeding before my first daughter was born. I thought I did. I thought the 1 hour we spent in my birthing class going over the basics and buying a breastfeeding book would be all that I needed. Before her birth, I imagined that she would latch right on and we wouldn't have any problems.
That wonderful image didn't last long after the birth. My first daughter, Abigail Joy, was born on July 23, 2006. It was a very easy delivery with only 8 hours of labor. I tried breastfeeding within the first hour after her birth and she latched right on. I asked the nurse how her latch looked and she said it was fine, and just to work at it. By the end of the day though, it was clear that something was wrong. I had blood blisters and my nipples were extremely sore. By the middle of the next day, I had toe-curling pain every time she nursed and I couldn't help but to cry through it because of the pain. One nurse came in to check on me, took one look at my nipples and said "Oh my goodness, I have never seen a momís nipples look that bad before!" By then, I had blood blisters on both nipples, deep cracks and I was bleeding. She immediately sent in the lactation consultant who realized that Abigail had a tight frenulum (or tongue-tie).
I broke down and cried. I paged the nurse and asked for her to bring me some formula, I felt defeated and overwhelmed. I stopped breastfeeding altogether for about 36 hours. I spoke with the lactation consultant some more and we arranged to have Abigailís tongue clipped before we left the hospital. It was an easy and seemingly painless procedure. They had me latch her on to see if it improved, but I honestly didnít intend to continue breastfeeding at that point. We went home when she was 2 days old and the following morning, my milk came in. I had decided that now was a better time than ever to try breastfeeding again, so using a nipple shield I was given at the hospital, I latched her on and we were successful! I suddenly felt much better about breastfeeding and decided I wanted to give it another shot. After using the nipple shield only a few times, I decided it was a pain to use and gave up on that also. I remember many frustrating days and nights, spending 10 or 15 minutes trying to get her latched onto what looked like a bowling ball on my chest, only to feel intense pain as she started to nurse. We continued breastfeeding and supplementing until she was 2 weeks old. I was fortunate to have an oversupply, so my milk supply didnít suffer during this time, even though I didnít pump when I usually missed a feeding. However, I dealt with a lot of pain and engorgement to go with it. At 2 weeks old, I knew I couldnít continue doing this; my supply would suffer if I continued supplementing whenever I felt like it. So I talked with my husband and made the decision to switch to formula. It didnít take long for me to realize what a mistake it was. The first feeding after that, my husband was outside, so I had to give her a bottle. As I sat there, I thought ďWhat am I doing? This isnít natural!Ē I reversed my decision and decided that instead I was going to breastfeed and I put away all the bottles and formula we had in the house. My husband had walked out of the house just an hour earlier, to a wife who was determined to stop breastfeeding and walked back in, to find me sitting on the couch happily nursing our baby girl.
At 3.5 weeks old, I was still feeling miserable. I was in intense pain with every feeding. I found a hard lump which quickly turned into a red streak and a fever. I knew immediately I had mastitis and made an appointment the next day with my doctor. My parents had come to visit and my mom convinced me to go see the lactation consultant again to get things looked at. The lactation consultant seemed to immediately know what was wrong. She referred me to an occupational therapist where we started working on Abigailís tongue muscles. The way she explained it to me was that a baby practices sucking in the womb. When they are tongue-tied, their tongue has limited movement, so it builds into one big muscle. When they try to move it, itís like they are hitting a brick wall. Even after it was clipped, she didnít know how to use it correctly to nurse. So we started exercises to correct the muscles and build them up correctly. Things improved over the next few weeks and I finally felt like we were on the right track! My mom encouraged me and gave me some great advice. She told me to set a goal, and once I reached that point, to re-evaluate things and decide then if I wanted to keep going. I set that goal as 6 weeks, and by the time we reached 6 weeks, I couldnít imagine stopping breastfeeding!
I was still in pain when she was about 7-8 weeks old and met with our local La Leche League leader. She checked her latch and then suggested that we might have thrush. I considered the idea, but dismissed it, thinking the pain was still from Abbyís tongue-tie problems. The pain continued and when Abby was about 3 months old, I knew it was time to treat for thrush. Sure enough, after a few days of treating with gentian violet, we got rid of it. It did come back within about a week and I had to treat it again to get rid of it for good. After 4 long months, though, I was finally nursing pain-free and enjoying every moment!
I look back now and realize the one thing that got me through those early months, was knowing that I was giving her the best. Giving her a bottle just did not feel natural to me and the first time I tried it, I knew I could not do it. I canít explain why, but I suppose it was just my motherly instinct guiding me. Abigail is now 3 years old, and I would have never guessed, but she is still nursing! I initially aimed to nurse for a full year and realized as we approached that point, she was not ready to wean yet. I finally decided that I would like to let her wean herself when she is ready and continue to feel that way. I now have another daughter, 10 months, and am tandem nursing both girls. Breastfeeding went VERY smoothly with Anna, and I was grateful to have such a good experience the second time.
However, I feel I learned very valuable lessons by being forced to overcome the difficulties I faced with Abigail. It taught me how important my daughter is to me and that she is worth even months of pain, if it means that I can give her what I feel is best. It really put parenting into perspective for me and I feel it has set the tone for my entire parenting style. If I had to do it all over again, I would. It was worth everything I had to go through to get where we are today!
Andrea, mom to Abigail (8) Annabelle (5) and Alexis (2)
Thanks so much for sharing your story. It was very encouraging for me. I've been having a hard time lately and realized now that maybe I don't have a full supply, but if I can keep her nursing until she starts solids we can still be nursing when she's a toddler.