A Breastfeeding Journey

By Tina B.

My name is Tina and I am married and I have four beautiful children.  I share my testimony because I am so deeply committed to breast feeding and with each baby, I have experienced four unique breast feeding relationships.  My first born (Kristina), now 12 years old, self weaned at 19 months but a year later my second daughter (Kathryn) was born and I was elated to breast feed again.  Kathryn was what I called, “my down to business nurser” as she took what she needed from me, no more and no less.  I ignored the glances which people gave me in public and I tuned out the rude remarks by friends and family about my “extended” breast feeding relationship with my second daughter who nursed well past her third birthday.

When I became pregnant with my third child (Nathan), I was still nursing Kathryn but as my pregnancy progressed, breast feeding became painful.  I would have gladly nursed my toddler through the remainder of my pregnancy and even beyond but at 3 years and 5 months, I weaned my daughter with love.  I was sad to let go of that relationship but with another baby on the horizon, I knew I would breast feed again.  Once Nathan was born, he had suck issues from the start.  Because of my positive breast feeding experiences with my first two babies, I was confident that my son’s inadequate suck would improve.  The first few weeks were difficult but the first two months following his birth were a nightmare.  My son wasn’t gaining weight and our pediatrician was encouraging me to supplement with formula, but I was determined to breast feed my baby.  Le Leche League is a wonderful support group for breast feeding mothers in the community so I reached out to LLL for help.  The leader watched me nurse my son, said everything looked okay and sent me on my way.  Yet, my son was not gaining weight and I still naively believed that I could make it work.

The leader with LLL put me in touch with a lactation specialist and four weeks after Nathan was born, I was told by the specialist that my milk supply was dangerously low due to Nathan’s weak sucking.  She instructed me to double pump every 2 hours for 20 minutes around the clock (I set my clock during the night as well) and to begin taking herbal supplements such as Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle.  The first two months of Nathan’s life are still a blur because I was so sleep deprived.  My life was consumed with pumping as I became a slave to my hospital grade breast pump.   Every session yielded me less than a fourth of an ounce from both sides.  In a 24 hour period, I was lucky if I got a full ounce so I began collecting my milk and freezing it since the little bit I pumped was not nearly enough to sustain Nathan’s growing appetite.  I was desperate to increase my milk supply yet devastated that I had to supplement with formula as I wanted to breast feed my baby so badly.  After two months of round the clock double pumping, my milk supply never increased.  At the end of each 24 hour period, I was freezing what little milk I had pumped in hopes that I would collect enough to give my baby “full bottles” of expressed breast milk at some point in the future.

One day I decided to defrost several bags of my frozen milk only to discover that all of my milk smelled and tasted bad.  The lactation specialist at that time explained to me that human breast milk contains an enzyme called Lipase and when too much Lipase is present, the breast milk will take on a spoiled smell and taste upon chilling and the longer it is chilled, such as when it’s frozen, the more prominent the bad smell and taste becomes.  I was truly devastated to find all that the milk, what little I had pumped in two months was “bad.”  While my lactation specialist reassured that my milk was still good to feed Nathan, the smell and taste was just too awful to even consider giving it to him so I threw all of it away.  My heart is still broken over the fact that I was unable to breast feed my third child, as at that time, he was to be my last baby and in a way, I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t ever have to go through anything like that again.

But four years after the birth of  Nathan, I found myself pregnant again (surprise, surprise).  The painful memories of all that I endured with my son haunted me throughout my next pregnancy and even though I said out loud that it wouldn’t matter if I could breastfeed again, deep in my heart, I wanted to breast feed my next baby.

My little girl, my fourth and LAST baby (Faith) is now almost a year old.  Breast feeding her has not been without challenges.  I believe that because of all I went through with my son, I was somewhat emotionally prepared for the unknowns I encountered since her birth.  The baby scale I had purchased for my son came in handy once Faith was born because I began weighing her from the moment she was brought home from the hospital.  However, when I saw that the scale did not indicate weight gain, I felt in my heart something was wrong even though our pediatrician was not concerned.  Even at Faith’s two week check up, she had not regained her birth weight and I knew from experience that my milk supply would be in jeopardy if I did not act quickly.  My wonderful husband, who has supported and encouraged me throughout my breast feeding problems, located a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) at a hospital that is 3 ½ hours from our home.  The first appointment was made when Faith was 3 ½ weeks old.  She was weighed before and after a feeding session and was only taking about 2.7 oz from both breasts.

The lactation consultant devised a plan which included double pumping after every nursing session, to switch nurse my baby (nurse her 3 times on each breast), and begin taking an herbal supplement called Goat’s Rue.  And I cried when my consultant told me that Faith needed to be supplemented.  It was like reliving those early days with Nathan.  I didn’t want to use formula but I knew it was necessary until I could increase my milk supply even more.   Heartbroken over the prospect of having to use a bottle with an artificial nipple, I was shown how to use a Supplemental Nursing System, or SNS instead.  An SNS consists of a collection bottle with a cap which has a long thin flexible tube attached.  The collection bottle is filled with breast milk or formula (or both), the tube is taped to the top of your nipple and you nurse your baby.  The baby is breast feeding (taking milk from the breast) while pulling the supplement through the tube and any baby with a suck issue is also learning to suck more effectively at the breast.  I supplemented Faith using the SNS only after I switch nursed her a total of 3 times on each breast to ensure that she took as much milk from me as possible BEFORE introducing the supplement.  I saw my lactation consultant two more times after that first appointment only to find that Faith still was not taking enough milk from me.  It was after the third appointment when she was about 6 weeks old that it was suggested by my consultant that Faith’s mouth be evaluated by a pediatric speech therapist.  So, four months later, a speech therapist evaluated  Faith’s mouth only to tell me that everything checked out okay except her lingual frenulum (area under her tongue) was tight (didn’t require surgery) and that with age and time, it would stretch making it possible for her to breast feed more effectively.

Despite every effort on my part to tape it securely to my breast, I stopped using the SNS sometime after Faith turned 8 months old because she was becoming increasingly aware that something else was in her mouth and she would play with and pull the tube out repeatedly.  Reluctantly, I introduced a bottle but she is now learning to drink from a sippy cup.  I love breast feeding my daughter and I believe that she enjoys it as well, as I have taught her how to “ask” for mommy’s milk by tapping me on my breast.  My breast feeding relationship with her has had many challenges but somehow I persevered and got over every hurdle.  I thank God every day that my body continues to produce milk and I will gladly breast feed my precious Faith for as long as she wants it.  It’s our special time together.

I enjoyed recalling my breast feeding relationships and putting them down on paper.  I cannot believe it’s been almost a year since my little Faith was born.  Her birthday is April 28.  What a journey the past year has been  but I got through it and I’m still actively breast feeding!  I spoke with my lactation consultant last week and she has reassured me that my supply is sufficient and that pumping is no longer necessary.  I am grateful and extremely thankful that your company offered me the pump I needed to maintain my milk supply to continue breast feeding my baby.

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