Posted in Amelia, Amelia on parenting angst, Blog, Breastfeeding, Featured, Mother

Breast-feeding woes, part I

A friend of mine just had a baby a few weeks ago; among the requisite topics a quasi-veteran motherbrings up with a brand new mother are 1) sleep and 2) breast feeding, which, along with poop, are pretty much all you think about for the first few months. On the topic of breast feeding, she was telling me about having to use a nipple shield, which she felt some anxiety over. Now, anxiety is basically my middle name, and that was especially true around breast feeding. There was just something about this one thing that REALLY aggravated my already grandiose perfectionist tendencies. In my mind, I had decided formula–while totally and completely fine for other moms–was not an option. (Note: I don’t say that to knock anyone or their choices or circumstances; I’m saying it to illustrate how bat sh*t crazy I became about it.) For me, it was breast milk or bust (no pun intended) and I would do everything in my power to make sure that happened.

From the get-go, breast feeding was hard. E was born two and a half weeks early–not officially premature, but a little extra time on the inside wouldn’t have hurt–and also had a pretty recessed chin, like many babies. I had a lovely, short, natural childbirth (Note: “lovely” + “natural” = “short.” It could have been different had labor gone beyond the nice 7 hours that it was.) When she was placed on my stomach and given several opportunities to nurse, she seemed like she wasn’t quite sure how to put it all together. She couldn’t latch on.

My milk came in pretty quickly and there was a lot of it. At the hospital’s birth center, they have a lactation consultant on staff who comes around and checks in on you. She gave me a hospital grade pump to use (which we ended up renting for a few weeks–I recommend this if you’re having troubles) and one of the nurses showed us how to put pumped milk in a syringe, tape it to my pinky, and let E “nurse” like this. After a few times of this, the nurse gave me a nipple shield to wear, and eventually E figured out how to feed that way. The lactation consultant also told me to pump for 2-3 minutes until I got a let-down, and then put E on the breast, so she wouldn’t have to wait until the milk arrived to eat–avoiding all that sucking for naught.

The hospital gave us a chart to fill out, to keep track of breast feeding (which we were supposed to do every two hours, regardless of when the previous feeding ended), as well as how many wet and/or poopy diapers she was having. Being a good little perfectionist, I or my husband diligently filled them out. For like weeks. The hard part was, she would start to eat, and then fall asleep midway through, so then when you’re supposed to offer the breast every two hours, if she’s been asleep at it for the last hour and a half, you pretty much wind up sitting on your butt all day long.

That went on for awhile–the long days of sitting and nursing. I watched a lot of TV and read a lot of novels and mommy blogs (the latter thanks to my “push present” of an iPod Touch–which I *highly* recommend having; the portability is key.) This was all fine with me; she was eating and sleeping and growing. The nipple shield enabled us to have a pretty easy nursing relationship. I would fret about it from time to time–when to get off it and how–but I didn’t really know how to tell when it was time to ditch it. We would try to nurse without it, here and there, but it was hard to say if she was ready (and my nerps were ready to take it). That’s the thing about being a new parent–you have NO idea if you’re Doing It Right.

Then a few things started to go wrong. Firstly, E started to do this thing where she would be nursing but then rear her head back and shake it from side to side. I had no clue what this meant. Initially, I had an over-abundant supply of milk, but because she would fall asleep at the wheel so much and wouldn’t end up eating more than a few ounces at a time, my supply started to dwindle. However, I didn’t realize this. All I knew was that she was doing this weird thing and then one day she went on a nursing strike and barely nursed at all. It was horrible; I was so anguished and beside myself because I felt like I was failing at the fundamental thing that mothers are supposed to be able to do. (Never mind that I had a freezer FULL of milk I had pumped [oversupply relief tactic]. See aforementioned remarks about perfectionism and “bat sh*t crazy.”) I went to a support group and was informed that this rearing-back behavior was E trying to get more milk to let down (babies also might pound you with their tiny fists) and I probably had low milk supply. I think E went on strike because she wasn’t getting much out of me. It was suggested that I try taking fenugreek, which is an herb that can increase milk supply in some women.

Another thing that happened during this time was that I got a plugged duct. I’m sure this contributed to the dip in supply. My breast felt full and hard, even though E had been nursing on it. I went to, a most excellent resource for all things breast feeding, and read up on what to do about a plugged duct. Turns out that they are a risk of nipple shield use. At this point in our nursing career, the shield was cramping E’s style. When I would take it off, I’d have four little reverse holes on my nerp from her sucking so hard. So I did the things it suggested–heating pad, hot shower, soaping up a comb and running it down the plugged area (weird, I know)–and then I just let E nurse, sans shield. And what do you know? Without the shield, 1) nursing took less time, and 2) she sucked the duct open.

Thankfully, the fenugreek worked a treat and soon we were back on track. That is, until I went back to work several months later. More on how I became Crazy Agonizing Pumping Lady later.

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  1. Thank you so much for writing this post
    I am in the same boat you were in. My daughter has a recessed chin and has the tendency to curl her tongue up when she nurses which makes breastfeeding nearly impossible. I have tried the nipple shield but I find it to be messy and frustrating to use. So far I have been pumping every 3-4 hours and bottle feeding my baby. But I would love to be able to breastfeed. My daughter is 8 weeks now and I am scared she won’t be able to breastfeed anymore since she’s older.
    How long did it take for your baby to learn?

    • I’m so sorry to hear you are struggling–I know how heartbreakingly tough it is and my heart goes out to you.

      It took my daughter a few weeks for everything to click, but it did. Working with a lactation consultant helped (actually I wound up working with more than one…), as did taking fenugreek. Have you tried doing the “reset” thing, where you do skin-to-skin for a couple hours and just see what happens? Also, you may have seen this, but here are some good tips on encouraging breast feeding:

      Love your babe, love yourself, and all will be well, no matter what. You are a good mom.

      I sincerely wish you all the best and send good juju your way. 🙂 Let me know how it goes.

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