In honor of National Breastfeeding Month in the US, I reached out to mom friends and asked them to share their breastfeeding stories. A difficult birth and not having adequate support can really affect breastfeeding outcomes. Here is Barbara's breastfeeding story.
Content warning: difficult birth
My breastfeeding journey was more like a battle that started with the birth of my son. Thirty hours of labor and a 9lb 13oz baby boy. A near postpartum hemorrhage. A bi-manual compression of my uterus. Memories of the on-call OB calling for blood are still fresh, even though it’s been almost 8 years now.
Next I remember laying in the bed, still in stirrups, wondering why I wasn’t hearing my son cry. Then I remember my husband eventually showing him to me, all bundled up like a little baby burrito, and feeling jealous I wasn’t the first one to hold my baby.
After that, things get fuzzy. I remember them telling me they were taking him to the nursery. I remember being moved to a wheel chair and being told someone would come to get me to roll me over to postpartum. I must have dozed off because I woke to my sister-in-law in my room, saying she’d found me and “oh, let me go get a nurse!”
Apparently, I’d been forgotten in my room.
At this point, I still hadn’t held my baby. I hadn’t counted his fingers and toes. I hadn’t smelled his head and nibbled his sweet little cheeks. I hadn’t been able to FEED him. Maybe they gave him a bottle in the nursery. I don’t really know.
My 3 day hospital stay was hard- being shamed by the night nurse who asked “if I wanted to cover up” after walking in on me topless, struggling to feed my baby; being told by the lactation consultant, “Well honey, he could suck the wallpaper off these walls! That’s your problem right there.” There was no advice, follow-up, nada- just commiseration and the information that my nipples would eventually “toughen up”.
As you can probably imagine, breastfeeding wasn’t off to a great start. My nipples had started to blister before even leaving the hospital and those blisters quickly turned to scabs at home. I can distinctly remember sitting in my glider, my son in my arms, googling on my phone why it hurt so much to breastfeed. I finally realized that crying from the pain of nursing wasn’t normal. I realized that taking extra pain pills to make it through a nursing session wasn’t normal.
I made an appointment with my OB and was told my experience was normal. He was gaining weight appropriately and the “latch looked great”. I told them about the pain I was in but they didn’t seem to really care. I felt so defeated. At this point, I was in a constant state of dread- I DREADED my baby waking up because I knew he would want to eat and it hurt. so. bad. I made the decision to start pumping exclusively rather than to continue breastfeeding. Unbeknownst to me, I was also suffering from the beginnings of postpartum depression. It was a decision I struggled with- a lot.
I started with a hand pump- my friend had given me her old one and it seemed like the least scary option. To be honest, I was pretty intimidated by the idea of attaching my oh-so-sensitive nipples to an electric pump! I would sit in our tiny upstairs bathroom and use my hand pump for about 30 minutes AFTER feeding my son. You know the struggle: spend at least 30 minutes feeding baby, pump for at least 30 minutes, and then if you’re lucky, you’ll get about an hour of sleep before waking up to do it all over again. I once spilled ALL of the breastmilk I’d pumped and just cried and cried there in the bathroom floor. Oh, the life of a new mom!
I don’t remember how long it took to work up the courage to try the electric pump but I finally did. It was much easier and eventually, I seemed to be making enough milk to keep up with my little man. I had a setback dealing with mastitis but things seemed to be working.
Then I went back to my OB for my routine 6-week visit. Because I was still experiencing postpartum bleeding, he advised I go on birth control so I was prescribed a mini-pill to control my “dysfunctional bleeding”. While I was assured it wouldn’t have an effect on my milk supply, I believe it did. I soon began producing less breastmilk when I pumped and after a call back to my OB, I was prescribed another medication to help boost my milk supply. I don’t remember the name of it now but it did work for a little while before I found myself struggling to keep up, yet again.
After 4 months of exclusive pumping, I decided to switch to formula.
It wasn’t until I was speaking with mom-friend at a playdate two years later that I first heard of lip tie in babies. We were talking about our breastfeeding journeys and after I shared my experience, she mentioned it seemed like maybe he had a lip tie. “Does he have a space between his teeth?” He did. A light-bulb went off. Way back when my son was brand new, I remember finding a blog article about lip and tongue ties. I had told my OB I thought he was lip-tied. I was assured they don’t exist. I KNEW something was wrong but I was ignored.
I’ll save you all the details but yeah, my son has a lip and tongue tie. Looking back now, as a breastfeeding educator and doula, I see the many opportunities at which I was failed. There were obvious signs that something wasn’t right in our dyad but I wasn’t heard.
I wasn’t heard as a woman.
I wasn’t heard as a new mom.
My pain wasn’t taken seriously.
But you know the saddest part? This happens to women every single day. Their pain isn’t taken seriously. THEY aren’t taken seriously.
So, my advice for all new parents to be??
Speak UP! Only YOU can advocate for yourselves and your child. Listen to that little voice in your head- to your instinct!
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, see a breastfeeding expert! Unfortunately, this is rarely your own care provider and it’s even less likely to be your child’s pediatrician. Before you even deliver, find the name and number of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (I.B.C.L.C.) in your area. THEY are the breastfeeding experts and can help with all aspects of breastfeeding. Trust me- they’re worth their weight in LIQUID GOLD!
Take a deep breath and realize it’s ok to be where you are. And don’t forget that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing- you CAN breast or chest feed AND offer formula! Every bit counts.
Despite the struggles, I consider my story a happy one.
My son has grown into a cool little dude- you can see him hamming it up in the pic up above. And my experience birthing and feeding him helped lead me toward becoming a doula and breastfeeding educator and for that, I’ll always be grateful. I’ve loved working alongside clients as they make this journey themselves.
In that same pic, I’m nursing my daughter, Lola. We breastfed until she weaned herself at around 17 months. She was also born with a lip and tongue tie, along with a few other issues we had to work through, but WE MADE IT.
So what was the difference? KNOWLEDGEABLE SUPPORT! I was able to be seen by an IBCLC when my daughter was just 3 days old and again, for a second opinion, just a week or so later. I was then referred to a pediatric dentist that could properly correct and revise the ties and I had access to follow-up breastfeeding support, as well. I had the help I needed. I had my village.
Doula Barb is the founder of birth | Fort Worth and Waco Placenta. She works as a professional doula, childbirth educator, placenta encapsulation specialist and breastfeeding educator serving the Fort Worth and Waco areas. When she’s not with a client or chasing her kiddos, you can find her out paddle boarding, reading and/or drinking wine with good friends. You can also follow her on Instagram.