When I was pregnant, I was so confident, or perhaps I should say cocky. I hardly did any preparation for the birthing process, I just KNEW that I could do it and for the most part I was right. I had an unmedicated home birth and while it was painful for sure, I never reached a point where I wished I had drugs. Perhaps I was too in the moment to notice or perhaps the time that has elapsed has made me forget, but despite a loooooong five hours of pushing, I felt everything up until my son was actually born went good.
Preparing for birth had me reading a couple books full of birth stories by Peggy Vincent and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. When it came time to prepare for breastfeeding, I did even less. I did nothing.
I assumed that breastfeeding would come naturally and easy to me. When I pictured my birth in my head, I was holding my son immediately, we were breastfeeding in bed, and everything was great. If you read my birth story blog post, you know that is not what happened. We ended up in the NICU where they wouldn’t allow me to try to breastfeed because they wanted to be able to measure how much milk he was getting. So I had to pump for the first few days and bottle feed him. Pumping was awful, I was already getting very little sleep because I insisted on staying at the hospital. The NICU rooms did not have doors, they had curtains, which meant that all the light and sounds from the hallway filtered in undampened. Nurses were in and out every few hours through the night and I had alarms set every three hours to pump. By the time I got up off the couch, pumped for 20-30 minutes, filled out a label on the milk bag, found a nurse to give it to, asked for a bag of previously pumped milk, got the baby up, bottle fed him, went the bathroom, and got laid back down, I only had an hour and a half left until my next alarm. I would sit there in the middle of the night, pumping and wanting to cry because I was barely making enough to fill the bottles with how much they wanted him to be eating. By the third day, they said I could try and breastfeed him once per day but still wanted to measure in bottles all the other times. They sent in a lactation consultant to help me, one of four that I would work with, and after an hour of trying could not get a latch. I was devastated and convinced it was a direct result of not being allowed to breastfeed immediately for for those first three days. The next day a different consultant came, still no latch, and she told me I had to use a nipple shield. It worked for a short while and I was able to feed my son for a few minutes. She told me I might have to use a nipple shield every time and may never be able to feed him without it. The next day, yet another consultant, this time actually letting me try more sans shield but again with no luck. She was kind enough to tell me that some women just can’t do it and that I should probably just stick to bottle feeding and pumping. To say I was beyond devastated at this point was an understatement. On the last day, I saw the fourth and final consultant that the hospital provided who reiterated that I would probably have to just always use a shield or avoid breastfeeding at all. I could not believe how these lactation consultants acted. They were supposed to HELP me but it felt like all they did was tell me I couldn’t do it and crushed my spirit. I knew at this point, that no matter how much preparing I had done in terms of breastfeeding, it would have done me no good with the set of cards I was dealing with. We finally went home and if you can imagine, my breastfeeding journey took an even worse turn.
Our first night home, I tried to feed. Nothing. I tried it with a shield. Nothing. I tried every position I could think of. Nothing. So I turned back to the pump. It got to a point where I had no longer even the desire to try. Even at home, by the time I was done pumping, getting up the baby, feeding him, and getting him back to bed, by the time I got back to bed myself I had hardly any time to sleep. I was barely pumping enough to keep up with what he needed and by the third day home, I was behind. As I stood in my kitchen, alone, in the middle of the night, having to put formula in a bottle because I was unable to provide him with what was needed, I cried and cried for what seemed like hours.
This was supposed to be natural. This was supposed to be easy. This was not supposed to be happening to me. After a week of crying myself to sleep every night, frustrated and angry, I had my postpartum follow up with my doula. She asked me if I went to a chiropractor, and as it turned out, I had a postpartum adjustment scheduled for the next day. She told me to take Wyatt and tell the chiropractor the trouble I was having. I was not expecting much, but the next day we were off to the chiropractor. I told her he wouldn’t latch and that we really had not been able to breastfeed for more than two minutes since he was born. She felt around in his mouth, said something about the plates in his mouth being out of alignment and how that can happen after the birthing process and being squeezed out of such a tight space. She adjusted it in seconds and said we should be good to go. As soon as we got to the car, I tried to feed him and he latched immediately. It was amazing. I’m kind of convinced she’s a witch, the good kind, of course. We never had any issue latching or feeding after that (besides an unfortunate thrush issue, but that’s another story).
Still I was angry. How did no one at the hospital check for this? How did I talk to FOUR DIFFERENT BREASTFEEDING PROFESSIONALS and not a SINGLE ONE offered this up as a possible solution? I could have avoided so much pain, anger, isolations, tears, and overwhelming sadness. I could have breastfed immediately. I have no doubt that this was a huge factor in my postpartum depression. Even after the issue was fixed, it was hard to escape the spiral I was already going down as a result.
I urge you to not be like me and to actually prepare for breastfeeding if that is something you want to do. Do not think that the advice of a medical professional is the end all, be all. Get different opinions if you are not getting the care or results you want. Just because four different lactations consultants told me there was nothing to be done didn’t make it true. It just took me finding the right opinion from the right person to get my problem fixed. I was lucky to have an amazing doula and midwife team to turn to when the hospital failed me.
There are so many resources to turn to. If I had done any amount of reading (I brought Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding with me to the hospital, but never opened it), joined any breastfeeding group, literally done anything, I may have already known that this could be an issue and perhaps could have fixed it sooner.
I hope that none of you had to go through something like this, but if you did, you’re not alone. If you’re currently going through it, know there are options, they just may not be the ones presented to you.
Yours in business and motherhood,