As I laid next to my almost 10 month old son and nursed him to sleep tonight, I couldn’t help but marvel at everything it took to get us to this point. He is my third child. My second son. My second breastfed baby. The journey hasn’t been easy.
I have to say that my breastfeeding journey began before I ever held a baby of my own in my arms. My oldest, Oliver, is almost 6. I didn’t even try to breastfeed him. I had debated it during my pregnancy, and in the end decided not to breastfeed. It was a mixture of ignorance on my part and lack of support I quickly regretted this decision and spent many months fighting back tears as I mixed bottles of formula and fed him with bottles. He wasn’t even a month old when I became determined to breastfeed our next baby.
In October 2011 I was given that chance. Our sweet daughter, Lucy, was born and within her first hour she latched on and our breastfeeding journey began. This time I had support, but was still not educated on how it all worked. I just assumed it was going to happen naturally, or in my eyes, easily. How wrong I was! Within days I had cracked, bleeding nipples. I worked with an IBCLC and we managed to get to the point where it was more comfortable, but breastfeeding Lucy was never very enjoyable. After the guilt and regret I had with not breastfeeding Oliver, quitting was not an option. I pushed through and we continued to nurse until she was almost 20 months old. At that point I was about 23 weeks pregnant with our third child, another boy, and my milk had dried up toward the end of my first trimester. Lucy continued to comfort nurse for some time, and when timing felt right we gently weaned.
In September 2013, our third child was born. Max Christopher was my first out of hospital birth, and he too latched quickly and began nursing within his first hour of life. While his birth was peaceful and wonderful, there was a lot of anxiety and fears that came along with him joining our family. You see, during my pregnancy, we had found out via ultrasound that Max was going to have a clubfoot. Our oldest son had been born with bilateral clubfoot (meaning both feet were clubbed), and I knew the pain and heartache that comes along with it. It meant lots of travel, probably surgery, and years of nighttime brace wear. Yes, it was fixable. Yes, we were thankful that it wasn’t anything worse. But when anything is wrong with your baby, oh, how your heart aches.
My milk came in within 24 hours of Max being born. I quickly started to recognize that we were having the same problems that I had had with Lucy early on. I managed to get his latch somewhat corrected, however after taking a close look in his mouth, I realized we had another issue on our hands: Max was tightly lip tied and also tongue tied. This can cause major issues with breastfeeding, and I was sure that it was the culprit of my trouble with Lucy although I didn’t know it until much later.
Although I knew Max had these ties, and I knew it was going to cause us problems, the logistics of getting it fixed was another issue. The dentist that I wanted to go to to fix it was 3 hours away. At 8 days old we began the treatment for Max’s clubfoot, and that involved driving 2 hours each way every Monday for weeks at a time. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and the thought of more driving and doing anything else to him was too much to bear. I just kept putting off the lip tie and tongue tie revisions as long as I could.
Getting Max’s clubfoot corrected involved weekly appointments where he would get his foot and leg casted and slowly turn the foot into a better position. Each Monday was long and tiring. He was often uncomfortable after the appointments, and unlike a lot of babies, nursing did little to comfort Max. When he was in pain or uncomfortable, he wouldn’t breastfeed. I often felt rejected and angry that the one thing I was given to be able to help him gave him no comfort whatsoever. When he was 8 weeks old Max had a minor surgery (although when its your baby, it definitely doesn’t feel minor) called a tenotomy where they cut the Achilles tendon and put on his last cast which stayed on for 3 weeks. He hated breastfeeding during that week after his surgery. I had to pump and freeze my milk because he wasn’t eating much at all. It was heartbreaking. I remember about two weeks after his tenotomy Max nursed and fell asleep, the first time that had happened since before his surgery. I cried with relief that we hadn’t lost that precious time altogether.
Three weeks after his surgery his cast came off and he began wearing his bar and boots brace. It took a little getting used to nursing with the brace. Max couldn’t really turn into me when he breastfed, so we had to get used to him being restricted by the brace and just turning his shoulders and head into my breast to feed. Nighttime was especially difficult because he usually would lay on his side and nurse since he slept in our bed next to me. He isn’t able to easily lay on his side with the brace on, and again, Max doesn’t like to nurse when he’s uncomfortable.
I also struggled with oversupply and overactive letdown. Max gained weight very quickly. (before each new cast was put on, Max was weighed and gained anywhere from 1/2 a pound to a pound a week! It was crazy!) He would nurse and then I could pump 8 oz. I had to slow down on pumping because I was worried that I was just making it worse. In the evening, Max would latch on, gulp gulp gulp, and scream. Then my husband or I would have to work to burp him and he would let out a huge burp, and then be hungry again. We would repeat this cycle for up to two hours. It was exhausting. He also seemed sensitive to things I would eat, but it was hard figuring out what exactly.
There were so many times I wanted to quit. Wanted to just throw up my hands and walk away. I wanted to be left alone, to cry, to scream, to be able to do whatever I wanted to do for however long I wanted to do it without feeling the physical effects of my baby not wanting to nurse. Instead I felt tied to a baby who often rejected feedings and emotionally, I felt like was rejecting me. Max has the sweetest, most amazing disposition and I simply adore him. But there were definitely times I resented all of our struggles and desperately needed time to myself and a decent night’s sleep.
It was only a few weeks after Max got his bar and boots brace that he ended up in the hospital with an infection (unrelated to his clubfoot). He spent two days in the hospital and it was a horrible, traumatic experience for me. Thankfully, he nursed well while we were there, but I started to feel like we just could not catch a break.
When Max was about 4 months old we decided to really look into having his tongue and lip tie revised. We made an appointment for March 13 with Dr. Notestine. I was looking forward to finally having this taken care of.
Two days before we were to leave for our appointment, my father-in-law went into the hospital for a routine procedure. Things did not go as planned, and he ended up in ICU that night. Tragically, he passed away two days later, and we obviously did not make it to our appointment. I have never felt so grief-stricken as when we lost our precious Poppa. I had to fight myself to eat the first few days, and I worried that the stress would affect my milk supply. I had to spend a lot of time away from Max during those days, and had to trust others to bottle feed him. It was very hard to leave my baby with others and worry about pumping so often.
Max was just over 6 months old when we finally were able to get his tongue tie and lip tie fixed. While it was hard to see him go through anything else, it was the best decision we made for our breastfeeding relationship. Dr. Notestine explained that instead of truly “nursing”, Max was using the wrong muscles and “sucking” to get milk out. His lip was very tightly tied and he also had a posterior tongue tie. The laser surgery to release the ties took very little time, and I was able to pick up my baby right away. We went into a quiet room and nursed and wow! What a difference! It was the first comfortable latch I had ever felt, and it brought tears to my eyes. For the first time, it felt like Max actually emptied my breast while feeding, and wanted the other side. Dr. Notestine came in and watched the end of our feeding and commented on how good it looked. For once, I felt such relief and happiness with our nursing relationship.
While I tried to introduce some solid foods to Max after his lip tie and tongue tie healed, he really wanted nothing to do with it. It wasn’t until he was closer to 9 months old that he began showing any interest in foods. While I have no problem with exclusively breastfeeding for an extended period of time, we continued to have challenges. Max is a very easily distracted baby. I often have to go into my bedroom and lay down with him in the dark to get him to breastfeed. Doing this with two older children is not easy. Going out in public with Max basically means he won’t be nursing for however many hours we will be gone. He will go 6 hours or more without eating if we aren’t home. No matter how hard I try or how full of milk my breasts are, he won’t have anything to do with nursing. It would become extremely painful for me, and he would often cry from hunger, but still would not nurse. This was probably the most frustrating part of breastfeeding for me. Now that he is eating some solids, it is somewhat easier. Recently, our family had to spend 5 days away from home taking our oldest to St. Louis for surgery to treat a relapse of his clubfeet. I had to pump and bottlefeed because unless we were alone in the hotel room, Max wouldn’t breastfeed. I had so much pain and felt so inconvenienced having to stop and pump just to turn around and give him a bottle.
Max has also had problems with ear infections, and once had a terrible allergic reaction to an antibiotic that we gave him when his ear drum ruptured. Its often cited that breastfed babies have fewer ear infections than bottle fed babies, but this doesn’t seem to be the case for Max. It feels as though it is one thing after another with this sweet baby. Its very humbling to have a child who often gets sick when you feel you are doing everything “right”.
Despite our many struggles, heartaches, and frustrations during the past 10 months, I have to say that breastfeeding has absolutely been worth it. So many times we talk about how wonderful and amazing breastfeeding is. Its true- nursing my child has been all of those things. And its also been heartbreaking, aggravating, painful, and at times, downright unenjoyable. We don’t often talk about those things. But as I lay next to Max and feel his soft hands holding onto me, listen as his breathing becomes slower and heavier as he drifts off to sleep, I am so thankful for these times and that I am able to breastfeed my child. These memories will last a lifetime.