I think many people assume that I am some sort of professional breastfeeder and that I have had two smooth and wonderful breastfed babies. This is not true. It has been incredibly challenging on many levels. And this my friends, is the very reason why I wanted to start Milk-friendly in the first place. To hopefully support moms to be more confident in their breastfeeding experience.
Although I'm all for breastfeeding, I have learned the hard way that it's not as easy to figure out all on your own. With my first baby, Coral, I went into breastfeeding with the idea that it will be very simple, because it's natural, right? My mom had breastfed 4 children (2 being twins) with great ease. Even at the breastfeeding classes we went to, I sat there like pshht this will be a cinch and I'll breastfeed that baby till their 2 and it will be amazing. My was I wrong.
The first few weeks seemed fine to me. But looking back, I am pretty sure I didn't let him nurse until he was definitely finished. I naively went by the clock instead of reading the signs that he was finished and didn't burp him enough. He fell asleep at the breast a lot. Probably around 3 weeks, when babies tend to "wake up" he started to be fussy at the breast. He would suck, suck, suck then cry, cry, cry. Over and over again. At this point, he was an all-around inconsolable baby and I really didn't know how to solve the problem. I had Brian's Mom and my Mom for support, but Brian's mom hadn't breastfed for very long and my mom never had any problems breastfeeding the four of her children.
At the point of exhaustion, I had no idea what was wrong or what to do. I had a baby who was crying all.of.the.time and would suck and cry every time I tried to nurse. We finally got a pump and when I put that thing to the breast, I got maybe a 1/2 an ounce (which later, I learned is normal as you begin pumping, the baby is much more efficient at getting the milk out than the pump). I put the breastmilk that I had pumped in a bottle and once that impatient and frustrated baby got his milk quickly from a free-flowing bottle, he refused to try and get the milk from the breast on his own. Again, looking back, I am pretty sure I had a slow let down and this made him angry. If I had tried pumping or hand compressing before he was ready to eat, then he might have been happier when the milk was flowing.
Without him nursing regularly, I struggled to pump enough milk to feed him. Determined to get him back on the breast, I ended up buying a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) and tried to figure out how to use it on my own- not a pretty sight. The milk I had so diligently pumped ended up on the floor, down the baby's neck, pretty much anywhere besides his mouth. We both were very unhappy campers. (please note: with proper direction from a lactation consultant or lactation nurse, the SNS can be really great. I just had no idea how to properly use it! Also, here's a video)
I tried Fenugreek to keep my supply going, but honestly, at this point it was already so low, and without regular pumping everyday at the same time, I just could not catch up. We had a few pumping moms that we found through our birth center who graciously donated us some of their spare breastmilk. We were and are so thankful for angels like this! (Please if you happen to have extra milk, reach out and see if there's a mom who'd give anything for your milk.) I remember, we were on one of our trips to Hawaii when Coral was 2 months old, I ran out of donor milk and we had to give him formula. I felt like the biggest failure. How could something you wanted so badly and knew how beneficial it would be for you and baby just wasn't working as nature says it does? But you know what? I had to just let go. I had to accept that I tried my best with what I had. I had to take the burden off my shoulders and just feed my baby and move on. But I also decided that with the next baby, I would seek help before there was a problem or reason to.
So then there was Sky.
We did not want to make the same mistake of not getting the help and support before there was a problem. At about one week old we called our lactation consultant (she was amazing as ever) and I honestly thought everything was ok. I did notice that his feedings were getting longer and longer and he was falling asleep all the time at the breast. Yes, I had some discomfort but I just naturally pushed out a back-labor posterior baby and some breast pain was really no big thang. The lactation consultant watched us breastfeeding and very quickly, she was picking up on all the clues. Feedings getting longer, baby falling asleep every feeding, chin trembling, fussing at the end of feeding as if not full. Her final look in his mouth and under his tongue showed that he had a posterior tongue-tie.
We had a choice: we could get it clipped (a frenotomy), or wait and see if it gets worse (or better). Many tongue ties stretch out over time and babies are able to adjust to it and still nurse fine. But, many other babies do not adjust, baby is not able to adequately move his or her tongue well enough to suck out the amount of milk he or she needs, mom is in a whole lot of nipple pain, milk supply goes down and it ends in having to formula feed. Our lactation consultant was very knowledgable on the subject, she had seen many cases and seen great results with the clipping. She even showed us an anthropologic study that explained that babies have had tongue ties all throughout history. From what I remember, midwives or healers of tribes would commonly grow out their pinky finger nail and sharpen it in the case that baby was born with a tongue tie, they would immediately clip it right after birth. With breastfeeding being the only means of survival, clipping or not clipping the tongue would mean life or death. This was even a common procedure in hospitals post birth, up until the introduction of formula and bottle feeding. Since there was an alternative to breastfeeding, and baby could easily gulp formula out of a bottle, there seemed to be no reason to go ahead with the clipping. It wasn't until recently, when mothers started fazing into more natural birth and breastfeeding, that midwives and lactation consultants started really noticing and bringing up tongue ties again. That's why it now seems to be occurring more, but in reality, it's always been there. (You can read more about tongue ties here.)
There was an EENT doctor very close to us that our lactation consultant worked with many times before. We decided to go for a consultation, she called, made the appointment and we were there meeting with the doctor that afternoon. He confirmed the posterior tongue tie and he really took his time to see if this is definitely the path we would like to take. He explained the procedure, that the babies are usually more upset about being held down than the actual clipping. He applies topical anesthesia under the tongue and the actual frenotomy takes seconds. It can be likened to an ear piercing, temporary pain, but is fine moments later. There is no need for stitches and babies are immediately given to mother to breastfeed.
Brian and I took some time to really think about our decision. We definitely wanted to give the baby the best chance to successfully breastfeed but we were worried about the effect of the procedure on the baby. I had a chance to talk with a patient of my midwife's who had a baby with a posterior tongue tie and went ahead with the procedure. She explained how the procedure was more stressful on her than the baby. Immediately following, the baby had a better latch and she continued breastfeeding comfortably and adequately.
After a day or so of marinating in the options, we decided to go for it. Our lactation consultant was so kind to be there for the procedure. She had homeopathic remedy tinctures made specifically for frenotomy procedures for both me and baby Sky. My mother-in-law was able to keep Coral busy while I sat in the waiting room as Brian and our lactation consultant were there with Sky. They went in, and I was called to come in after only a few minutes. Sky was crying a little bit, I put him to the breast and he latched on with a latch that was like he had a whole new mouth. His sucks were strong and by the sound of his gulps, I could tell that he was able to pull out a greater amount of milk than he had before. He was able to nurse strongly for a good ten minutes and he seemed full and satisfied (before the procedure, his nursing times were up to an hour, falling asleep from time to time.)
We continued taking our homeopathic remedy and his healing went really well. That week we also took him to his chiropractic appointment with a cranio-sacral doctor who specializes in babies. She was wonderful and works hand-in-hand with tongue-tie procedures. Sky graduated from the chiropractor's tongue tie program in about 6 weeks and that little guy has only had breastmilk till this day at over 2 years old. There have been a few bumps along the way, and there are a few things I will change with the next baby, but ultimately, we were very lucky to have the kind of success to make it to 2 years.
I really can't tell you enough, no matter how well you think breastfeeding is going, you can always reach out to someone to make sure it is going as smoothly as you think. You want to be able to catch something before milk supplies go down and it's too hard to turn it around, but that's not to say that you cannot turn it around either. There are many, many women who have kick-started their milk supplies with the help of galactagogues and lactation consultants. The first thing is to actually reach out and ask for help. There are La Leche League groups all over the world and you should utilize online forums to ask questions, look to other nursing moms you may know and most importantly, be confident. Be confident that you can provide what your baby (or babies) needs. It is truly a state of mind and that confidence can take you a long way.
I am always here to answer any questions or concerns who may have. I may not have the answer, but I will try my hardest to find someone that does. (maryam[at]milkfriendly.com)
My heart goes out to all the moms who've struggled with breastfeeding and no matter the situations, you should be so very proud of how far you've come. Even if you were only able to breastfeed your baby for one day, because I consider this a success :)