My breastfeeding journey… Oh, the things I could tell. It’s a book, really. I’ll try to keep it to a more reasonable length for this post. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, if you’d like more details.
My journey actually started in childhood, as crazy as that may seem. I was breastfed, as were my brother and cousins. It has always been a part of my story. I always knew that, one day, I would breastfeed my own babies. I had no idea it would be so soon, but, in the end, that didn’t matter at all because the determination was there, young and single or not. I breastfed toys as a preschooler. I talked about it. I remember once, asking my mom about it because she was breastfeeding my little brother. She even gave me a taste of the milk on her finger, which I promptly declared “gross” and went back to my cow’s milk.
When I discovered I was pregnant, breastfeeding came back to the forefront. It was important to me. No need to research formula to determine which would be best because I had no intention of using it. When my grandmother sent me a can of formula, I was offended. She knew I didn’t want to use formula, but told me, it was “for when you’re out and about with him”. I was told that nursing in public wasn’t acceptable and, honestly, it didn’t become legally protected in my state until Isaiah was almost a year old. During that first year, when we went out, I pumped ahead of time and gave him bottles of breastmilk. If I forgot, I found a quite place and let him breastfeed because I sure wasn’t going to let him scream from hunger.
But, back to the beginning of this story… Breastfeeding was insanely hard for me. I will be forever grateful for a book that was given to me during the early months of my pregnancy. I read it, over and over, learning about proper latch and different positions. I didn’t want to wait until I was holding my new baby to try to figure out what in the world I was doing. Really, I still ended up holding a newborn not knowing what I was doing, but I was at least a little prepared.
When Isaiah was born, our nurse was actually a friend. One of the blessings of small towns, I guess. She knew I wanted to breastfeed, since we’d been discussing it while I was in labor. When Isaiah had finally made his entrance, she helped me to get him latched. Her very first advice to me was not to use pacifiers until his latch was established. Same with bottles. It was excellent advice. For the first two weeks of his life, Isaiah nursed and sucked fingers. After that, I gave in to giving him a binky so that I could have more than 10 seconds that he wasn’t latched on at a time. While we were in the hospital that first night, a new nurse came on shift. Despite orders to bring him to me when he woke, she chose to give him a bottle and keep him until I woke and asked for him. His wonderful, first-hours-of-life latch was lost. Our struggle began.
For the first day or so, Isaiah didn’t have much interest in nursing. If I didn’t wake him and help him latch, he wouldn’t show any interest at all. When he did latch, it didn’t last long. He was mostly quiet and calm in the hospital and for the first couple weeks of his life.
Isaiah’s latch was horrible. I hurt, constantly, even when he wasn’t nursing. It was miserable. I wanted to quit, but, really, I didn’t. Isaiah wanted to nurse constantly. There were no moments that he wasn’t nursing, except the short periods when he napped. Being an awful sleeper from birth, naps were not ever long enough or frequent enough to provide any relief for the pain. Within a week, he had started clamping down. His jaw would lock and I’d struggle to get him to release me, crying in pain the entire time. With help from my mom, we tried different positions. Most didn’t work because Isaiah couldn’t figure out how to latch from different angles. I dropped by the hospital to talk to the LC, but she was new and had no practical advice. She offered a nursing shield that I would have to pay for. It also wouldn’t protect me from Isaiah’s clamping down. I decided not to get one then, figuring I could always pick it up later.
Next in our adventure was colic. Hours upon hours of screaming. My mom and I took turns pacing the floor. It was worst in the evenings, from supper time, long into the night. Isaiah would only sleep in my arms or in a sling with my mom. It never lasted long before the screaming would start again. When he was so miserable, Isaiah wanted to nurse, to try to sooth the pain, but when I offered, he’d arch his back and scream louder. Some days, he’d go hours without latching on, even though I knew that was what he needed. After days of misery, I figured out that if I stood up and walked, he would nurse, as long as I didn’t stop moving. So, I paced. Every time he nursed. For days.
Of course, then there were nights. Isaiah wouldn’t stay asleep if he wasn’t in my arms, so putting him in his own bed wasn’t working at all. I’d always been taught that babies must have their own beds, so I’d put him in his bed, be just lying down in my own and have to go back because he was crying. I would rock him the first half of the night, then my mom would take the second half. After a few weeks, he started nursing when I was lying down, so I could at least rest while he nursed. Then, one night, I fell asleep. We both slept for the first time since he was born. He wasn’t very old when he learned to latch on and nurse at night without my help. That was the biggest blessing I could have asked for.
Eventually, the colic passed. The screaming stopped. Isaiah’s latch was still horrible and painful, but at least he was nursing and gaining weight. For the first six months of his life, Isaiah nursed every hour, without fail, ’round the clock. People told me to schedule him, but I just couldn’t bear to listen to him crying for two hours because he wanted to nurse. It didn’t seem fair. As he got older, he nursed less frequently and I was able to do something besides sitting on the couch, nursing him.
Aside from still having a poor latch (I seriously suspect a tongue or lip tie, but no one is interested in fixing it when the baby is 8 months or older and not underweight), Isaiah’s nursing is great. It’s seen us through a lot. It helps calm him when he’s overwhelmed. It has been the only answer for some of the biggest sensory meltdowns I’ve seen. It saw us through his first stomach flu. It got him through surgery, when he wouldn’t eat or drink, he was still willing to nurse. Isaiah will be three at the end of this month. It’s amazing. He’s still nursing. He seems to be (finally) night weaning. He went two nights in a row without waking to nurse, then nursed once for less than five minutes last night. He’ll probably hang onto his daytime nursing for a while and that’s okay with me. He’s my sweet boy and he will get his mama milk for as long as he needs it.