Sometimes breastfeeding does go well and does come naturally!Read More
Trigger warning: anxiety attack
In honor of National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. Women can have a plethora of emotions associated with breastfeeding - it's not all butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes the negative emotions can be a sign of a perinatal mood disorder. Amy sent me her story of breastfeeding her oldest son through postpartum depression and anxiety.
My breastfeeding story includes such a wide range of emotions. I loved it. And I absolutely hated it. I breastfed my two babies (now 5 and 3) for 14 months each. It’s been two of the greatest accomplishments of my life. It was definitely easier the second time around having more confidence and wisdom, but I really struggled with my first baby.
I had a Caesarian birth with my first, and was in the hospital for 5 days since my baby had jaundice. My milk did not come in until day 6 postpartum. It was a long, tearful, and scary 6 days not being able to feed my crying, screaming baby. I was so lucky that he latched on right away. It felt like winning a gold medal! He was always ready to eat, but I had nothing to give him. I used an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) tube to help feed a small amount to formula to him while he was latched onto my breast. This ‘hamster feeding tube’ as I quickly nicknamed it was a life saver. It helped satisfy my baby without pulling him away from my breast. It felt like a huge victory!
On day 6 postpartum when my milk finally came in, I felt a wave of burning energy, heat, and anxiety flow through my body. It was very intense, scary, and I did not know what was happening. I felt like the ceiling was crashing down on me, and that there was not enough air in the room to properly breathe. I was literally gasping for air. I tried to take a shower to relax, but I felt like I was drowning standing up in the water. I had to open every window in my house, even though it was December and very cold outside. My body temperature was burning hot. I could not sleep, could not drink water, could not swallow any food, and I constantly felt like my heart was going to explode. I would feed my baby, and would feel so claustrophobic I would have to put him down the second he was done eating. It felt like I was constantly suffocating. And I was in so much pain from my c-section, that I wanted to claw the skin off my body. Now that it’s been 5 years, and I can look back at that time with 20/20 vision, I now know it was the start of my postpartum anxiety and depression.
I had so many triggers that would cause postpartum panic attacks, and unfortunately breastfeeding was one of them. However, I was so determined to breastfeed my baby, like it was the greatest mission of my life, that I silently struggled through these feelings, and learned how to pretend like everything was ok. I would breastfeed my baby and look at his face and love everything about those special moments. He was my miracle baby and I loved him so much. But then 10 seconds later, I would put him down and not want to hold him again, and felt the urge to run away. I would constantly ask myself what kind of mother am I to feel this way? How could I want this baby for so long, and then feel like I had to run away all the time? The guilt was tremendous and all consuming. I felt like I was truly an unfit mother. Then the freight train of emotions and thoughts truly began. I doubted my ability to care for my newborn, I doubted my marriage, I doubted every decision I made.
These panic attacks were consistent during the first 6 months postpartum, and I continued to breastfeed through them all. I then started to feel more joy breastfeeding, and less claustrophobic. I felt more connected to my baby, and the urge to run way was less. But my feelings shifted to more anger, rage and frustration. I was so mad that no one was helping me. That I asked for help from my OB, and I was completely overlooked and forgotten. I was mad at the moms that seemed to have it all figured out. I was mad at the sight of my breast pump. I was mad at my husband for not making me feel better, and for not understanding what I was going through. I was so alone, and so sad. Around 9 months postpartum I was convinced my husband and I were going to get a divorce. I could not stand to even look at him. And this was so unsettling because I truly loved (and still love today) my husband, and thought he was the greatest man alive. We were able to work through it, and after my son’s first birthday, I started to see a sliver of hope for myself, and my marriage.
I decided to wean my son when he was 14 months, and luckily we both had a smooth transition. My anger began to subside, and I gained more confidence in my ability to care for a small human. I felt like I was finally able to enjoy the small things I used to enjoy before, like simply going outside for a long walk. I was able to look at my son and see that he was thriving. He was a happy, outgoing, loving kid, and it was the reassurance that I needed that everything was going to be ok.
Today my son is 5 years old, and just started kindergarten. I look back over these past years, and it truly feels like the longest, shortest time. I am thankful that I was able to breastfeed him, and I feel so proud for finding a deep strength from within to overcome all the obstacles along the way. It ignited a deep love and understanding within me for all women, in all situations. We are all so different, and everyone has a story of struggle and triumph. And everyone’s story matters. The beautiful gift about being a woman, and now being a mom, is that I can hopefully help other moms with unconditional love and support. We all need each other.
Amy's experience (and huge challenges) having her own two children ignited her passion for supporting moms during the vulnerable postpartum transition. She suffered severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her first child. It was this difficult experience that shifted her path from working in the corporate world to helping moms throughout their postpartum recovery. She is a certified Placenta Encapsulator, Postpartum Doula, and owner of Mama Peace. She specializes in helping moms struggling with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Amy volunteers with The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA) on the Board of Directors, and as a Postpartum Doula. Amy lives in Austin, Texas.
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In honor of National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. We all know that breastfeeding can vary from one mother to another, but siblings can also have two very different journeys. Here is Holly's breastfeeding journey.
Holly's Breastfeeding Journey: Two Kids, Two Stories
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. I grew up with my mom telling stories of breastfeeding both me and my older sister. She joked about weaning me at nearly 3 years old because I would have been happy to continue nursing well into elementary school. She talked about joining La Leche League and the friendships she formed through the meetings. I was 20 years old when my sister had her first baby and I watched as she dove right into breastfeeding; I watched again as she nursed the two children that followed behind. I watched my friends start having and nursing children of their own. Breastfeeding was natural, it was easy, and it was something I never questioned I would do.
I was 29 when my first child was born. His complicated birth ended with meconium inhalation and a collapsed lung. The first days of his life were a blur of NICU visits, tubes and wires, fear and worry. I was encouraged by the nurses and doctors to pump my breastmilk and bring it to the hospital so they could feed it to him through his NG tube instead of formula. I was given charts and syringes, told to keep a close eye on my output. But I was going to breastfeed; I was going to make it happen. We couldn’t hold him or touch him overly much, but I was going to get that baby on the breast as soon as I possibly could.
I still remember the day my son’s NG tube was removed and we were able to try a latch for the first time. I was so nervous, worried that we had already faced setbacks that couldn’t be overcome. I was determined, though, and the hospital’s lactation consultant came up to help walk us through the process. She was kind, though a bit impatient, but we were able to get a latch! I was over the moon! My baby and I had taken the first steps on our journey of breastfeeding and I couldn’t have been happier. My husband snapped a few pictures and I am so glad he did; they are photos I will cherish forever.
But it wasn’t like I thought it would be. My son would latch, but he fell asleep at the breast quickly without feeding for more than a couple of minutes. I was instructed by the LC that I had to wake him up, swap breasts, don’t let him stay on there for more than five or ten minutes. I was poked at, repositioned, talked at. My baby had fingers put into his mouth, his body moved around, his ears rubbed, and became agitated. I felt frustrated and defeated. The LC left with instructions to call her back if we needed her. The nurse came with a bottle of formula and I handed my baby off to my husband to feed. I cried.
My son was discharged and came home on his fifth day of life. I felt afraid and overwhelmed. I tried to remember all the things the LC had told me at the hospital. I tried getting my son to latch again and nurse. He screamed and fought. So I would pump and give him a bottle. After a week or so I called and made an appointment with the hospital LC. Brought my baby to her and asked what I was doing wrong. She had a laundry list. My nipples were flat, I was holding him wrong, I wasn’t waking him often enough to feed, I wasn’t keeping better track of my output when I pumped or how much he was eating. I felt like a failure. Why wasn’t I able to do this? Literally every mom I knew was able to breastfeed. Why was this so damn hard for me?? My appointment ended and the LC suggested I come down to her office to rent a hospital-grade breast pump. I ran away to my car and cried on the way home.
I kept trying, albeit half-heartedly. My husband tried to help, bless his sweet heart, but his suggestions were absorbed by my wounded pride and turned into criticisms by my heartache. I sought out advice from my sister who had successfully breastfed three babies at that point, but it was no help; she was unable to teach me what came so naturally to her. My mom told me she didn’t remember anything from her breastfeeding days; the decades had wiped away every details save the general experience of having done it. I felt like I didn’t have any support. I languished. I stopped trying.
I resigned myself to pumping.
And so it went for months. I pumped five, six, times a day, every single day. I sobbed every session. After the first couple of months I began to experience horrible pain in both of my breasts, a feeling like a thousand fire ants were stinging them from the inside, every time I pumped. I talked to people about it and got sympathetic (albeit confused) replies instead of answers. I suffered through a bout of mastitis so bad, I felt like I would pass out if something happened to graze my breast. I took antibiotics and was told by the doctor I would have to dump my milk while I was on them. So I did, dumping ounce after precious ounce of milk down my kitchen sink while I wept bitter tears and fed my son formula. The mastitis went away. I kept on pumping.
When my son was about four months old my best friend had a baby, her third child. I would go over to her house with my baby to visit, dragging along my pump and bottles. I watched her nurse her newborn while I fed my infant his bottle. I hated her for doing what I could not.
A couple of weeks later my sister had a baby, her fourth child. I visited her in the hospital post-cesarean, nursing her child, so happy and in love with yet another successful breastfeeding relationship begun. I hated her for getting off to the good start I did not have.
I decided to try breastfeeding again. My son had not been offered the breast in over three and half months but I thought, “I can do this. I WILL do this.” I caught him as he was waking from a nap, still a little sleepy, right about the time he would get a bottle. Instead, I freed my breast from my shirt and coaxed him to latch. He did. He nursed for a solid ten minutes on one side; I swapped him to the other and he nursed for another twenty. I snapped a picture with my phone and texted it to my husband. I was enraptured. It was pure magic.
We had two days of breastfeeding before mastitis hit me again like a truck. I was crushed. I pulled out the pump only to discover it was toast, the motor dead and its days of pumping done. I was also done. Done with trying to nurse, done with pumping, done with everything having to do with my breasts as a source of food. I called my sister and wept; she said she would pump for me so my son could keep having breastmilk, she had more than enough, was pumping anyway, it was no trouble. I went to the store and bought a cabbage, stuck its leaves into my bra. My milk dried up in two days. I threw the pump in the trash and dusted my hands of the whole thing. I grieved. HARD.
Two and a half years later I was pregnant with my second child. I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding again. I wanted to have everything go as smoothly as possible during the birth, determined to get off to the best possible start without the delays and setbacks I had before. When my second son was born, he went immediately on my chest. I watched for cues and offered the breast within an hour of his entrance into the world. He latched. He suckled. It worked. The hospital LC came to visit during my recovery--- different hospital, different LC than with my first--- and proclaimed us perfect. She gave no tips or tricks because she said none were needed. I was elated.
We got home and I spent the first two weeks in a topless haze of milky boobs and a nursing baby. I learned my nipples were not only flat but slightly inverted, something not brought to my attention the first time around. I got a nipple shield that seemed to help. Things were going well. My son has his two week checkup at the pediatrician and I was told he’d lost too much weight. He set me up with the office’s lactation nurse for a consultation. She was very kind, very soft and gentle. She listened to my story and my fears, gave me good advice and reassured me. We kept trying.
My baby was about a month old when I began feeling pain again. Both breasts, every time I nursed. That horrible needling pressure and the stinging, crawling sensation that I’d felt before when pumping for my first. It began happening when I was not nursing. Sometimes the pain was so bad, it would wake me in the middle of the night, tears pouring down my face, as I screamed into my pillow and beat my fists on the bed while I waited for the pain to stop. I was in agony.
I started feeling again like my body was broken, that maybe I just wasn’t meant to nurse a child. So I turned to the internet. Good old Dr. Google, haha. After poring through several articles on thrush and determining that just didn’t fit my symptoms, I stumbled across a link through the La Leche League website which referenced Raynaud’s Syndrome, a vasoconstrictive disorder that affects the extremities. The blood vessels spasm and tighten, cutting off the flow of blood and causing extreme pain; when they relax, the blood comes flooding back to the area and the pain fades away. The article I read mentioned this particular phenomenon occurring in the breasts and nipples, causing pain like the type I was feeling. It’s often misdiagnosed as thrush because the feeling is so similar, but unlike the fungal infection, Raynaud’s of the breast could not be treated by medications like diflucan. The article said to check for signs of nipple blanching---when the vessels contract, the color drains away---followed by a purplish then reddish flush. It said the condition is exacerbated by cold temperatures and could be prevented by keeping warm and covered while nursing.
I cried, this time tears of relief. I felt like finally, FINALLY I had an answer as to what was going on with my body. So I kept nursing my son. I kept myself warm and made sure to cover my breasts quickly after each session. It didn’t always work, but the pain was greatly reduced. I felt free; I felt redeemed.
For nearly eight months I fed my son with my breasts. No bottles, no pumped milk, no supplementation. Just him and me. I still grieved for the loss I felt not breastfeeding my first child. Sometimes I would look at my nursing baby and feel sadness for not having bonded the same way with his older brother. The loss is still sharp sometimes, even almost seven years later, but that’s okay. My youngest nursed for 33 months, weaning himself when he felt ready to do so. It was gentle and bittersweet. Those 33 months were magic, even with the fear and the pain and the frustration and everything, I was able to feed my baby with my body as I always wanted to do and I was triumphant in that success.
Breastfeeding is not always easy. I had created this expectation of natural and instinctual simplicity by observing the women closest to me when I should have been talking to them. I wish I had talked to more women, heard more stories, been able to follow more journies, been exposed to a more diverse set of experiences. I wish I’d given myself and my son more grace, more time to figure out what we were doing. I wish I had people in my life tell me that it was hard, but that hard was okay.
My nursing days are far behind me now but I still share my story with those who wish to listen. Because I don’t want them to learn the way that I did that breastfeeding IS hard. But hard is okay.
Holly is mother to two boys and lives outside of Fort Worth, TX. She is the owner and creator of Ginger Jay, a small business specializing in natural products for everyday living. Ginger Jay is committed to using the power of nature to create effective products free from harsh chemicals, designed for everyday living. You can visit Ginger Jay's website or find them on Facebook.
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In honor of National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. As with all new skills, there is a learning curve with breastfeeding. Sometimes our paths don't start as easily as we thought they would. Here is Allie's breastfeeding story.
I’ll start off with a little back story. 13 years ago, I was 17 years old trying to nurse my daughter. I had no help. I didn’t read any books, and the internet was fairly new to me. She wouldn’t latch. No matter how hard I tried, she wouldn’t do it. There were no nipple shields then either. It sounds like I was living in the dark ages, and I felt like I was. 17 year old me decided pumping would be better than nothing. Also, 17 year old me had no concept of keeping a schedule for pumping. I got mastitis. Twice. I listened to the doctors who told me I needed to stop breastfeeding. So I did. Breastfeeding lasted all of 6 weeks for me, back in 2003. Almost 30 year old me is really proud of that 17 year old girl. She didn’t have to even try, but she did. Good for her!
Continue with me on my journey, to 2014. I’m older, wiser! I’m pregnant with my second child and ready to totally rock this breastfeeding thing! I bought books, I read articles on the internet. I bought nipple shields for my difficult flat nipples! Everything was going to work out this time! Right?
Wrong. Well, partially wrong. See, I watched so many women in my life just effortlessly nurse their babies. It seemed to just come natural to them. It looked seamless and easy. The truth is, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It is natural by definition, but it certainly isn’t easy.
Rhodes was born on November 20, 2014, at home in our bed. The whole experience was empowering. There was nothing I felt I couldn’t do, until I tried to latch him. Then all of the memories of trying to latch my daughter came back to me. It was hard, it wasn’t happening. Over the next few days I remember feeling so defeated. How could this happen again? I was so ready this time! Turns out, little tiny newborn mouths are super difficult to work with, especially in combination with flat nipples. I couldn’t even get the hang of a shield. In a moment of sheer desperation and exhaustion I fixed him 1 ounce of formula. I relaxed, he relaxed. I decided if nothing else, I could pump. My husband and I slept in shifts. What little colostrum I could pump, I did. I’d pour it into a bottle, hand it to my husband and then sleep for another hour or two until I had to wake up and pump again. We weren’t getting ahead of him. Sometimes it was a rush job. I would pump just enough to satiate him, hand over the bottle and pump some more. Finally my milk came in and I got a bottle ahead of him! I formulated a plan to start exclusively pumping. I knew it wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t really what I wanted. His well-being was my number one priority. I told myself I would do it for a year. I could do anything I set my mind to. I wouldn’t get mastitis because I knew what I was doing this time. He took a bottle like a champ. At least once a day, I would try to get him to latch, either with a shield, or without. No dice. This lasted for a week. At the time, it felt like an eternity.
I had my husband drive us to Target when Rhodes was about a week old. We stayed in the car and I asked him to buy every shield that Target sold. The brand I was using wasn’t working for me. Through some internet sleuthing I found that not all shields are created equal. I still hadn’t given up. Rhodes was hungry and I didn’t have a bottle with me in the Target parking lot. I opened up one of the new shields (I didn’t sterilize it! Gasp!) and tried it. HE LATCHED! HE STAYED LATCHED. He was doing it!
We were doing it! I cried. I was convinced it was a fluke. It wasn’t. That shield saved my breastfeeding relationship with my son. I had 5 of them on hand, at all times. I had a whole drying and cleaning system for them. They were next to me on the couch, in my bed. Everywhere I was, there was a nipple shield nearby. When Rhodes got bigger, I started trying to wean him from the shield. It didn’t take long before he was nursing without it and I felt like I had won the biggest award of my life.
Rhodes is now 20 months old, and he still nurses every day with no end in sight. There are days when I feel like he’s going to twist my nipple off. There are days when he’s bitten me hard. There are days I hate breastfeeding. But the majority of days I look at him snuggled up to me, and I am so proud and happy we have come this far. We did it together.
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Since this year's World Breastfeeding Week theme is about sharing your experience, I thought I'd kick off the week by posting my story nursing E. To say it was difficult would be an understatement. I had been warned that breastfeeding was hard, but I didn't think it would be this hard.
E was born 3.5 weeks early at a hospital. I had an amazing labor and delivery experience (yes, I just called my labor experience amazing) and was able to bring E into this world naturally without any medical intervention. It was the best possible start for our nursing relationship. Somewhere after that things went awry.
Being naturally well endowed in the boob area, there was some initial difficulty in getting E to latch correctly. With the help of my fantastic doula Jamie , I was able to establish a good latch and E drank and fell asleep. A few hours later we moved to a postpartum room and I thought I was feeding E correctly. He had not had his first wet or soiled diaper, but the nurses assured me that this was not unusual. We woke every few hours to feed. E would feed and fall asleep.
A hospital lactation consultant came to the room the following morning and took a look at his chart. She then told me, "If you don't supplement your baby with formula he will not survive." She didn't explain what was going on at all. I told her I didn't want that and I would continue to wake him every few hours and feed him. She left the room very abruptly. She never asked to see him feed or offered help with my latch - just told me I was going to kill my baby. As a first time mom, I was petrified. My milk hadn't come in yet and I did not want to cause nipple confusion by introducing a bottle of formula.
I kept doing what I thought was best, which was putting him to the breast. We were discharged from the hospital the next day and brought him home. A few days later we were back at the hospital for a bilirubin test. Because he was a late term preemie, we had to get retested even though his levels were normal. The test was followed by a weighed feeding, which I did not know about. E had lost almost 10% of his weight in the few days since his birth! The LC gave me a nipple shield and also showed me how to feed him expressed breastmilk with a cup. I was beside myself at the fact that my child was hungry and had lost so much weight.
We called Jamie on the way home and she came over later that day. She brought with her a general plan of action and some of her own expressed milk. In the meanwhile, my milk had come in and I was engorged and sore. My husband had rented a hospital grade pump for me and had just brought it home.
The three of us (with the help of some of Jamie's doula and lactation savvy friends) came up with a plan. I would nurse E every 1 to 2 hours, waking him up if necessary, and then I would pump milk using the rented pump. Meanwhile, my mom (who had arrived from out of state) or my husband would syringe feed E with either my or Jamie's expressed milk. We would do this after every feed. In case you have never been around a newborn or have forgotten their schedule, they eat every 2 hours. Their stomach is the size of a marble and empties frequently.
Thus began our routine for the longest few weeks of my life. I would nurse E, then pump while he received expressed breast milk by syringe. We did this after every feeding. Every two hours. All day and night. I wanted to give up. I was sleep deprived, hormonal, and felt betrayed by my body. At least twice I told my husband I wasn't doing it anymore and to go get formula from the store.
One breakdown was worse than the other. It happened two days before Christmas. D called every local lactation consultant he could get a hold of. Some weren't available, some never called him back. Finally one was available. She came to our house and she helped me so much more than the others I had seen. She showed me the side lying position which helped with the overnight feedings - this was a game changer for me! She showed me different holds and what would work for me and how to do them with my Boppy. She was an angel. What helped the most was her showing me how to nurse in my home with my things. This wasn't an office visit, this was my couch, my bed, my stuff.
Things got a little easier after that. E was putting on weight like a champ, about a pound in 10 days at one point. Right around his one month birthday, we cut down the amount of supplements from after every feed to 3 times a day. At about 5 weeks we were able to stop supplementing all together. He received only breastmilk (mine or Jamie's) this entire time.
It was as if someone flipped a light switch at 6 weeks. It just got incredibly easier. I felt comfortable enough to nurse E in public with a coverup. We hit another rough patch when I came down with a case of thrush. E seemed fine, but I was in a world of pain when we would nurse. We made our way through that with the help of gentian violet.
E is now almost 8 months old and loves solid food. He still drinks milk, but rarely from a bottle as he prefers to nurse. It saddens me to think that we may be in the twilight of our nursing relationship. I worked so very hard to get here that I don't want it to end. I also miss the time we have together since I work full time outside the home. I don't mind all the feedings, even the middle of the night ones (thanks to the side lying position). it gives a chance to love on my baby boy.
So there you have it. That's what we went through to get to where we are today. I could not have done it without the support of my doula Jamie, my mother, and my incredible husband who knew not to stop when I said when. Looking back, a lot could have been done differently. It was a learning experience. All I can take away from everything was what to do differently for number two. I still feel physically ill when I think back to how terrible the first few days of E's life were and I think I always will. Writing all this down and sharing it in such a public way has been extremely cathartic.
This entire experience has made me become a "lactivist". I am a huge proponent of breastfeeding support for moms, nursing in public, and extended breastfeeding. I'm pretty sure I've been unfriended by a few people on Facebook for all the pro-breastfeeding stuff I post. That being said, I still feel that breastfeeding is a choice that every woman must make for herself. A woman is not a terrible mother if she is unable to or chooses not to breastfeed her child. I may not agree with her decision, but I do not know her situation or reasoning. Who am I to judge and chastise?
Pardon any random capitalization or autocorrects, I wrote this on my phone while pumping. What's your breastfeeding story? Did it come to you naturally (lucky!!) or was it a challenge?