breastfeeding advice and challenges

No Breastfeeding Journey is Alike

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In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to highlight some special mamas’ breastfeeding journeys. No two journeys are alike. Some lasted days, others lasted into toddler-hood. Some had a choice, some journeys were chosen for them. My hope is that these stories will offer you some comfort in knowing there is no right answer. Sometimes, there isn’t even a choice. Wherever your breastfeeding journey takes you, it is uniquely yours. ♥

A Near-Death Experience Made Breastfeeding More Special

My breastfeeding journeys with both of my children were different and each came with their own challenges and triumphs, but both were immensely rewarding and valuable to me. I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to breastfeed when I was younger, but once I matured and became more informed, it was pivotal to me.

Neither journey started off perfect, but we persevered and pushed through while getting to know what we needed from each other! I sought consultation from an IBCLC (International Board of Lactation Consultants) with both of them, each for different reasons, and the consultations certainly made an impact in our success.

With Sadie, I had quite a bit of an oversupply with accompanying overactive let-down , and this was very hard for the both of us in the beginning, as my letdown was very overwhelming and difficult for her in the earlier weeks. After consulting with the IBCLC, she recommended some approaches that she thought would work best for us – these included pumping first thing in the morning as well as block feeding (nursing on one side per feeding as opposed to both sides per feeding). This helped so much and became the norm for us!

We got into a horrific car accident when Sadie was about 6 months old, and I suffered quite a many injuries that changed the appearance of breastfeeding for us but did not discourage it – it in fact made it even more important and special to me! I had a broken back, a broken rib, and a lacerated liver among other physical and emotional injuries.

In order to continue nursing, since I was not permitted to pick up Sadie’s weight, my husband and family members had to place Sadie onto a Boppy on my lap each time we fed. Being able to still share that bond with her was special and healing to me during that time even more so.

Due to pumping, I was also able to donate thousands of ounces of milk to other Mommas and babes in need through Human Milk 4 Human Babies, which made the process even more rewarding!

With Christopher, we had different struggles in the beginning. I ended up delivering Christopher in an emergency caesarean due to cord prolapse after a forced, unnecessary induction process against my wishes. This obviously came along with a great amount of trauma physically and emotionally.

I feel as though I didn’t receive as much LC attention while in the postpartum unit with my second child, possibly due to their assumption that I already knew what I was doing.

Christopher also had a slight tie that went un-diagnosed at the start, so that may have added into our struggles, we’ll never know for sure! Ties are unfortunately subjectively diagnosed, so there isn’t always a clear cut answer.

Since I had an oversupply with Sadie, I wasn’t entirely aware as to what a “normal” supply looked like and felt worried as to whether my supply with him was “enough”. I sought IBCLC consultation again, and the IBCLC assured me that all was well and calmed my worries. Christopher and I went on to nurse successfully despite bumps in the road, and we are currently in the process of weaning after nursing for just over 2 years.

What motivated you to choose extended breastfeeding?

I nursed/nurse both of my children for two years, and Christopher and I are in the midst of weaning currently after just over two years of nursing. I don’t love the term “extended breastfeeding”, but that is what they call it! The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least two years of age! Neither of my children thrilled over bottles, and we thankfully didn’t have too much of a need for them, as I either stayed home or was able to mold my work schedule to compliment their needs. Christopher was able to take bottles of my pumped milk while with our nanny, paced feeding, as needed.

I unfortunately did supplement with Christopher very briefly, only a handful of bottles of formula in the very beginning, and I will probably always regret it! I am not a strong proponent for scheduling feedings outside of the necessary feeding schedule in the immediate newborn stage. I typically believe in following their lead and allowing them to nurse freely whenever they root or show longing, etc. That’s what we are made for, and it is a supply and demand process!

With that being said, I was able to do this thankfully due to having the ability to be a SAHM predominantly, only working PT hours when working. I wouldn’t say my supply “dropped” as much as it simply regulated to the supply and demand, the demand changed as they changed sleeping and feeding habits, got older, etc.

Did you have a supportive spouse/partner for your breastfeeding journey? Do you think this is essential for breastfeeding success or extended breastfeeding? What advice would you give to someone who is facing an unsupportive partner or criticism from family?

It is SO essential to breastfeeding success, especially extended breastfeeding success! I had a WORLD of support in the beginning of my journey from my spouse, family, and friends alike that certainly positively influenced our success. However, unfortunately, as our year nursing came to a close, so did that support. Everyone had, and has, very strong opinions about “extended breastfeeding”. Insert my above statement about the WHO recommendation! In my case, I am a very stubborn and persistent individual, so this was simply fuel to my fire. Unfortunately, this lack of support is often the nail in the coffin for many others. Nursing comes with so many benefits for the baby as well as the entire family, even surpassing health into physical, emotional, intellectual, and more!

I received criticism for nursing past the first year. Criticism for nursing in public. Criticism for not often using bottles. Mommas know their babes, their needs, and what is best for Momma and baby both mentally and physically. Never allow, anyone, not even your partner or family members, to persuade or discourage you any different. This is YOUR journey, and it is unique to you. Everyone’s journey will look different, and that’s okay!

Melissa breastfed her children Sadie and Christopher until they were both two years old, following World Health Organization recommendations.

Free is for me!

I started breastfeeding for two reasons. Super healthy for both of us and it’s FREE! The beginning was so hard and I didn’t have a lot of help because most people I know did not breastfeed. I felt very unsupported and for the first 6-8 weeks I wanted to quit every day.

Organic Nipple Butter (transparent)

Someone once told me to never quit anything on a bad day. So I kept chugging along… and then one day it wasn’t so bad. The next day, even less. I breastfed my daughter for almost three and a half years. We did nurse on demand until 3 when we started slowly weaning. She obviously ate food and drank other things but she craved the closeness and one on one attention of nursing. It was more than just “mama milk” it was also a pain reliever for bumps, soothing for sadness, and her safe space in uncomfortably new situations. This is why I continued for so long and loved it. It was more than nourishment and it is a bond that only she and I will share.

One drawback was my husband didn’t get a feeding bond with her but he was able to find other ways to bond. They did a lot of skin to skin snuggles when she was small. As she got older, we got judged a lot for continuing to breastfeed so long. I swear every family member except a few had something uneducated to say… but her pediatrician was so happy every time we went in that she was still nursing. She’s growing so big, strong and intelligent. She is healthy – she’s had a few colds. Never an ear infection. I do think breastfeeding helped that. I cannot have any more children but if I could, I would breastfeed just as long again.

My husband was incredibly supportive. Even though he couldn’t help me breastfeed her – he was making dinners, getting me snacks and drinks, phone chargers, pillows – anything I needed. I think his support was instrumental in my daughter and I being able to go for as long as we did.

The best advice for someone who doesn’t have support – first and foremost – FIND SOME. Find a breastfeeding support group even if it’s just online. Find your people. Reach out to friends. I’ve had so many women I maybe didn’t even talk to in years ask me for advice since I’d been so open about breastfeeding and I was so willing to help anyone who asked anything. Reach out!!!! We all need to stick together… and one day someone may need to reach out to you.

Also, try educating friends and family on the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. Hell, say because it’s free! But don’t worry about their opinions. YOU do what’s best for YOU AND YOUR BABY. They do not matter. They just don’t. And the sooner you can accept that – the lighter your heart will be.

When she was young and I breastfed, no one had much to say. A few times in public some women gave me thumbs ups and said positive things. I never dealt with any negativity in public.

I had some people say that my daughter was “too old” to breastfeed because she could drink from a cup. Honestly I just ignored them. Some people changed their minds with education, and others are too stuck in their ways.

Anyone who keeps arguing has an uneducated bias against breastfeeding because their mind thinks breasts are just sexual. The more we all educate and normalize breastfeeding – the less negativity the next woman will feel.

Stephanie and her daughter’s first latch

When it didn’t get better, I chose pumping to save my sanity

Every mother-to-be has this ideal picture of what parenthood would be like including your new infant breastfeeding happily. I had this desire, as I imagine most mothers do, to breastfeed my baby. I even gave myself the goal of breastfeeding for the first year of his life. I had read how important it was for the baby and his immune system, so I wanted to do what was best for him. 

My story didn’t turn out that way. I was diagnosed with preeclampsia in my 35th week and had to be induced. I was in labor for 28 hours before they decided to do a C-section because my baby boy was determined to stay in. Part of my condition was due to my type 1 diabetes which caused Conor to be quite big even for a preemie, but he was also born with low blood sugar and needed a bottle before I was even out of the operating room. I started breastfeeding as soon as I came back to him but he wasn’t latching well. I was told that since he was premature, his tongue wasn’t fully out yet and he would have difficulty. The lactation specialist gave me a nipple shield and told me it would help him to latch.

Let me tell you, I clung to that nipple shield as my only hope of living out my dream. But Conor wasn’t getting enough nutrients and his blood sugars were the most important thing at that point, so we continued to give him a bottle while we tried to get him to nurse. He was mainly taking the bottle and I continued to pump in the hospital to start my flow. That is when Conor ended up in the NICU. He had to spend time under the bright lights to help his jaundice, which meant that he wasn’t able to breastfeed. Just another hurdle. I kept pumping and my milk started to flow so I thought that I was on the right path to get my boy on the boob. 

When Conor was discharged I was determined to get him breastfeeding but still wanted to be sure he was getting enough food. For 6 long weeks, I worked that nipple shield and my holds to get him to latch properly. I would let him nurse as long as I could, but he was lazy after getting the bottle so much. He wanted the fast flow of the bottle and wasn’t getting it from me. When he got tired, my husband would give him a bottle of my pumped milk and I would spend some time pumping each side just so I wasn’t in pain. 

But I was determined. I worked with a lactation specialist and kept at it every three hours to get him to latch. Due to his poor latching skills, my nipples were raw and bleeding most days. I would cry every time I tried to get him on the boob. When he did get milk, it was so painful for me that I would wince all the way through. I set a timer for myself just to get through it. I was feeling so much pressure to be a “good mom” and breastfeed my child, but was conflicted on how difficult it was for me. I was feeling pressure from people to keep going and “it will get easier”. It wasn’t getting easier. 

Over many tears and feelings of guilt, I finally made the decision to give up trying to breastfeed. Conor was happier when he had the bottle, I was happier when I wasn’t in pain. The stress that I was feeling to be this “good mom” lifted and I was so much calmer. I put all those judgments (mostly in my own head) aside and put what was best for me and my child first. And for those who say that my son and I wouldn’t have the same bond as we would if we breastfed, trust me I felt more bonded to him and him to me when I wasn’t crying and stressed all the time. 

It wasn’t easy to pump with all that cleaning but it was easier for me to pump than to struggle to get Conor to latch. I continued to pump and provide pumped milk to Conor for 6 months until I went back to work. Without the ability to pump every three hours my milk dried up pretty quickly. Though it wasn’t a full year, I still feel proud that I provided the same nutrients to my child and did what was best for us.

Providing breastmilk through pumping was the best choice for Laura and her son Conor after they struggled for weeks to get a good latch.

The World Got a Crisis, but I Got a Gift

I hated pumping, but like many working mothers, I had no choice when maternity leave ended and I needed to return to work. While our breastfeeding journey started out relatively easy (she latched well once I figured out the correct way and my milk came flooding in my day two), we soon faced a different challenge: allergies.

Liv started experiencing horrific eczema around 8 weeks old. Initially I thought it was just baby acne but it wasn’t. After going through a process to identify an allergic reaction to something I was eating, I was encouraged to continue breastfeeding as we worked through it. So, I abandoned my looming pregnancy cravings for all things dairy and committed to changing my diet.

I had a very supportive husband, pediatrician and pediatric allergist who stood behind my decision to continue breastfeeding. But I didn’t anticipate how difficult our journey would actually be.

Because she so young at the time she was diagnosed with “some sort of allergy” (identified by a fecal occult stool test), she was too young to be put through official allergy testing to determine what the cause could be. So the months leading up to her six month allergist appointment were all trial and error.

Her eczema flare ups were so terrible that if I ate something that aggravated her, she would immediately turn red, scratch until she bled, and we’d both be in tears as she resisted nursing.

Dairy elimination turned into soy elimination, and if you’ve never examined ingredient labels, let me tell you: soy is in EVERYTHING. My favorite quick snacks, prepared foods and take-out items were no longer options. I was instead trying to manage meal planning and prepping to consume enough calories to feed both of us.

When soy elimination didn’t offer any positive results, I started a food journal and cut everything that I could potentially trace back to her eczema flare ups. At one point, I was rotating between a handful of meals and had oatmeal for breakfast every day.

But after the allergist appointment identified allergies to dairy, egg and our cat, and she was put on children’s Zyrtec and an eczema management routine, we were finally starting to see improvement in her skin and that was all the motivation I needed to keep breastfeeding.

Such extreme diet elimination had significant consequences. I lost an unhealthy amount of weight. My milk supply plummeted. Our date nights and meals out with friends came to a screeching halt as I couldn’t eat anything we didn’t prepare ourselves. I was tired and hungry all the time. But I was stubborn and wanted to stick with breastfeeding. To be honest, I had never had such conviction about anything in my life. I did not diet. I couldn’t stick to an exercise regimen. For me, this was a personal challenge not to quit on myself, as much as it was for the benefit of our baby. Hypoallergenic formula was made of such randomly derived ingredients it was unnerving to think about trying. Not to mention the cost of such a dairy and soy-free alternative formula was astronomical.

When I went back to work in January of 2020, I was faced with the reality that I would have to continue traveling—and doing a lot of it. I was already fiercely documenting my meals and labeling my pumped milk accordingly. Overnight travel added in an extra layer of difficulty to meal prepping. I was stressed beyond words, which only further tanked my supply.

I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was on March 15, 2020 when I learned daycare would be closed due to an emergency executive order. I was already ordered to work from home for the foreseeable future, and I was so thankful that my dwindling supply would have a chance to reset with a “staycation.” I abandoned my pump and never looked back.

For the past five months, my daughter has been exclusively breastfed and gently weaning herself as she discovers a new love for food. It’s the way I would have envisioned our breastfeeding journey coming to an end. It’s been so much fun and a joy to watch her take such pleasure in eating and trying foods I previously had to avoid.

I acknowledge that the current situation has brought so much pain and hardship to so many families. But for our breastfeeding journey, it was the cure for my anxiety and a blessing in virus disguise.

My advice to breastfeeding mamas is to first and foremost find a support network. Friends, family, a breastfeeding support group … anyone who can help. Next, know your limit. It’s easy to go in with the goal of wanting to breastfeed for one year. But you will experience challenges along the way. It’s normal. So know where you can go when you need support. But also set your threshold for enough is enough. Fed really is best. I probably wouldn’t be 11 months into breastfeeding if it wasn’t for a pandemic. Or, I’d be miserable trying to make it all work.

At the end of the day, we all just want what’s best for our babies. But what’s best for our babies are happy mamas!

happy baby
Nothing beats the smile of a milk drunk baby
breastfeeding mama and baby
We struggled through allergies on our breastfeeding journey

I’d love to hear the best or hardest part about your breastfeeding journey. Is there something you’re still struggling with? Comment below.

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