By A Loving Mom
In my family – babies are breastfed. It’s pretty simple. I have two older sisters – who have given birth to nine children between them (one has three, one has six. Unlike me, neither dealt with infertility!) After giving birth – baby is put to breast – and that’s that. There are no visits to lactation consultants .. there are no tears .. there is no supplementing with formula .. there is just the “simple” act of breastfeeding and away we go.
And so – when I was pregnant – I fully expected to breastfeed my child. It was a given. I would never feed my child formula – such a thing was just not done in my world. My two sisters, breastfeeding champions the both of them, in fact looked down on formula feeders .. thought of them as lazy or less giving to their child.. an opinion I had grown to share since I KNEW I would breastfeed my lucky little baby…
Yeah. Well. Then my baby was born with a condition called “ANKYLOGLOSSIA” or “tongue-tie”. Basically – it’s a condition that results in a short frenulum – that tiny piece of tissue under your tongue that sort of anchors your tongue to the floor of your mouth. My son’s extended all the way to the tip of his tongue. And prevented him from being able to extend his tongue past the tip of his teeth. Breastfeeding and tongue tie don’t go so well together. The baby’s tongue is an important component of successful breastfeeding and successful latch. I knew none of this. I had never heard of tongue tie – had no idea what was around the corner…
The day that my son was born via planned C-section (he was frank breech and lassoed in place by his cord, so could not turn or be turned) – my husband was great, he was very successful in urging everyone to HURRY UP so that our baby could be at my breast within one hour of my C-section – that was the magic number I had been told – under an hour!! – for successful latch. I had him at the boob within 59 minutes of his birth. And – he latched on – and started sucking. It was so cool. And I was so happy. The midwife who had come to my C-section as a support person was thrilled – she said it’s rare for C-section babies to latch on so easily – and left shortly thereafter.
My C-section was on a Monday. By Wednesday – my nipples were raw and starting to bleed. By Thursday – they were forming black scabs and nursing had become very painful. I saw the hospital lactation consultants every day. It wasn’t until my last day in the hospital that one of them suggested that my son was tongue tied – and that it was having a negative impact on our attempts to breastfeed.
Well I don’t mess around. We left the hospital on a Thursday – had his first out of hospital pediatrician visit that Friday morning – got the name of an ear, nose & throat specialist – and had him in HIS office Friday afternoon – at which time the tongue tie was corrected. Basically, they clipped the frenulum – so that he would have greater freedom of movement. He was just four days old. My little baby. But we did it in an attempt to save our breastfeeding relationship – and also because from what we read about tongue-tie – breastfeeding was not the only issue. Speech impediments – and physical discomfort can also result from tongue-tie. So having it corrected seemed like a good idea all around (and I still think it was.)
By Saturday – breastfeeding was still very painful – moving rapidly toward excruciating – and I started making calls. I called the Breastfeeding Center in my town .. I called the County Breastfeeding Helpline .. finally I got a call back. It was suggested to me that I be seen at the Breastfeeding Center – and that I get a prescription for something called All Purpose Nipple Ointment. I got the ointment later that day and started using it – and made an appointment at the breastfeeding center for the following Monday.
Oh – I should mention too that on that Saturday, at five days old, my son was NOT interested in nursing. He was very, very sleepy, somewhat jaundiced, and probably in a little pain from having the frenulum clipped the day before. My milk had sort of come in – but wasn’t terribly impressive.
I was getting very worried – but never thought I’d run into a problem that couldn’t be fixed.
Unfortunately – things continued to go downhill. After several visits to lactation consultants, my breasts were a mess – there were chunks of flesh missing from my nipples – and my son began losing weight. I was told to start supplementing by his pediatrician (and by the LC’s at this point) – and at his two week appointment – to take him off the breast. This was beyond upsetting to me. But I was told that the damage to my breasts was so severe that to continue letting him nurse could mean permanent damage. And so I started pumping – against the advice of the doctor who told me that too would prevent healing. But I knew that if I were to have any chance of getting him back on the breast – I had to keep milk flowing.
I was so angry. Angry at the universe. I didn’t understand why this was all going so wrong. I felt that my child DESERVED breastmilk – and deserved to nurse at my breast. And yet it wasn’t possible for us. But at least by pumping I could continue to give him my milk.
In the interim, at 16 days old, my little guy was admitted to Children’s Hospital. Even though we were solely bottlefeeding breastmilk and supplementing with formula – he wasn’t gaining weight. His little system had become “depressed” when he wasn’t getting enough milk from me – my supply was very low for a while and the extreme pain I’d experienced while putting him to the breast had affected letdown. Finally, within four days – he started to gain weight in leaps and bounds. And during our stay at Children’s – I kept pumping. In a lonely, ugly “lactation room” – exhausted and frightened – I kept pumping. And pumping. And pumping. Up to 10 times a day initially, for 30 minutes at a time, to try and establish a full supply.
It would later turn out I was allergic to the ointment I’d been prescribed (but no one figured that out until I’d been using it for several weeks and it had done more damage to my boobs on top of the damage my son had done. In fact the midwife I saw at eight weeks was so concerned by how bad my breasts looked she called a breast cancer surgeon to consult — and he is the one who flagged my allergy to an ingredient in the ointment.) By the time the allergy was diagnosed – I had been earlier misdiagnosed with mastitis – taken antibiotics that gave us both thrush … a few weeks later come down with REAL mastitis – was sick as a dog – more antibiotics – and more thrush. Plus the severe inflammation from the allergy. Um, it was not easy to keep pumping through all of this – to say the least!!
Once I stopped using the ointment for good – I also did a two week course of diflucan (that I had to beg my midwife for a prescription for, she was REALLY leery of it) and it knocked out the thrush (finally!) – and for the first time since my son was born – at around 10 weeks of age – the last sore healed over (and left a nice purple keloid scar on my nipple as a souvenir) and I could finally pump without pain.
I headed back to work when my son was 12 weeks old. I rented a hospital grade pump before then – and used that pump at home – and my Ameda Purely Yours at work. I was not able to put him back on my breast. Had I not had to go back to work – I likely would have tried with the help of an LC.
I pumped and fed my son breastmilk in bottles every day until he was six months old.
He got one to two bottles of formula a day as well. At six months – I decided to hang up the horns. Exclusively pumping (meaning, no nursing at the breast) is an arduous task – I describe it as all the work of breastfeeding with none of the beauty of putting a baby to your breast – plus all the work of formula feeding – washing bottles, storing milk, sterilizing nipples.. It was very, very time consuming – and took time away from my son during those early months of his life. There were times when I questioned if I was making the right decision by continuing to pump. But I wasn’t ready to stop until he hit six months. And even then, I found it emotionally difficult to no longer be providing him with breastmilk. Had we been nursing – I like to think we would have continued well past a year. I don’t know. It will always make me sad that is not part of our story.
I learned a lot from my experience. I learned that breastfeeding CAN go terribly wrong – that it can be really hard – and that doesn’t work out for everybody, even those who really, really want it to. And that judging people who don’t breastfeed is stupid – because you NEVER know somebody’s reasons. (And my sisters, the breastfeeding champs, have learned this too. And changed THEIR attitudes as well.)
My son is now nine months old – and very healthy – and the love of my life. I’d walk on hot coals for him, and I am very proud that I pumped and fed him breastmilk for the first six months of his life.
The mom who wrote this story has asked to remain anonomous. She is local to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has managed to win a few impressive awards in her professsional career … but her proudest accomplishment by far is the day to day mothering of her much loved and long awaited baby boy.