Today I’m excited to share another breastfeeding story! We’ve made this an on-going series covering any and everything about breastfeeding, support for other mothers and an outlet to share your own story. Email me if you’d like to submit your journey. (Info@themamanotes.com) Read more breastfeeding articles here.
Mother’s name: Sonja
Baby’s name: Scarlett Kyle
Baby’s birth date: 8/27/2015
Baby’s birth location: Lexington, KY
Beautiful images by Nina & Wes
Like many first time expectant mothers, I had a vision of exactly how birth, breastfeeding, and caring for a newborn would be. I would have a natural birth, breastfeed for one year, and all of the tips and tricks I read about for getting a baby to sleep through the night would work like a charm. Many things did not go as planned for me, but in talking to my mama friends and reading birth and breastfeeding stories of strangers, I realized this was often the case for others. While we all have slightly different experiences, the feelings of joy, worry, exhaustion, anxiety, and pure love that come with becoming a mother are the same. This is why I love reading about the journeys of others and why I wanted to share my own breastfeeding story.
The birth of my daughter, Scarlett, went relatively smoothly and quickly. Although my intent was to have a natural birth, I found myself begging for an epidural as soon as we arrived at the hospital. I felt guilty and a little disappointed initially but after five short hours of labor in the hospital, the cries of a healthy baby girl quickly erased any negative feelings I had. As soon as Scarlett was born, she was placed on my chest and my husband and I spent the next moments absolutely elated and in awe of the precious human being that had just entered this world. I was eager to have her latch onto me so the nurse helped us to get into a good breastfeeding position. My husband and I had taken a breastfeeding class a month prior so I felt confident with the basics but practicing with a baby doll only gets you so far. Our first try felt extremely awkward and uncomfortable and Scarlett did not seem to like it either. Fortunately, our hospital sent lactation consultants to every new mother so I eagerly awaited the visit. The lactation consultant helped Scarlett get a good latch a few times and checked for lip and tongue ties. She explained that it was important to take the time to get in a comfortable position before offering the breast and that it would take some practice for both mother and baby before getting into a good rhythm. I did not expect breastfeeding to be such a steep learning curve but I was thankful for the next couple of days in the hospital to focus on Scarlett, myself, and forming that breastfeeding bond between us.
The first day was a bit of a blur but I recall focusing much of my attention on trying to get the ‘perfect latch’ each time. Scarlett was eager to start sucking as soon as I offered her my breast but it often took two or three tries before I could get her to open her mouth wide enough for a good latch. It was during these breastfeeding sessions that I noticed a peculiar white spot on Scarlett’s eye at the edge of the iris. It was difficult to see since her face and eyes were still puffy from being a newborn but I mentioned it to her pediatrician on the day we were to be discharged because none of the nurses or doctors seemed to have noticed it and I didn’t know what it was. The ophthalmologist determined it as a limbal dermoid, a benign growth some babies are born with, but decided to do a further examination of her eye. This required taking Scarlett to a separate room where they dilated her eyes and used a speculum to hold her eyelids open while the doctors conducted their examination. I distinctly recall the nurse bringing Scarlett back to us say, “She is going to be ready to breastfeed.” The thought that our sweet girl was in any sort of pain or discomfort was agonizing and even more so knowing that I was not there to comfort her. Our excitement about getting to go home quickly turned into fear and confusion as the doctors told us they found another spot in the retina of Scarlett’s eye that looked like a bleed. Scarlett was to be admitted for further work up.
The night we should have been spending at home for the first time as a family of three was spent in the children’s wing of the hospital. In the shared room separated from another family only by a curtain, there was a crib for Scarlett and a cold, hard, uncomfortable recliner and couch for my husband and I to sleep on. I felt so scared and helpless but I knew I had to be strong for our little girl. I spent the entire night awake, sitting on the recliner holding Scarlett in my arms. I cried and prayed. I breastfed every hour. These were the only things I knew to do. I did not have any control of what the doctors would find but I would make sure Scarlett was fed and comforted. As much as it hurts to think back on this night, I know that breastfeeding so frequently at this early stage is what really helped us to have such a successful breastfeeding journey.
Thankfully, all of the tests the doctors performed came back normal. The findings with Scarlett’s eye could be monitored with routine eye examinations and we were able to go home the following day. The first night home, my milk came in and it was painful. I was engorged and I knew that this was common so I didn’t do much about it. When we went in for Scarlett’s first check up, we saw a lactation consultant who exclaimed, “Wow, you are ENGORGED!” It was a funny moment that made me realize just how much I didn’t know about breastfeeding. She instructed me to use cold compresses and start pumping a little to relieve the pressure. During this time, I was in graduate school conducting research and had a pretty flexible schedule so I returned to the lab part-time when Scarlett was 6 weeks old then full-time at 10 weeks old. In my attempt to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship, I did not offer bottles during my time at home. It wasn’t until a week before I returned to school when my mom suggested we try bottle feeding since it may take some time for Scarlett to get used to. Again, as a clueless first time mother, I did not anticipate this to be so difficult. Scarlett initially drank from the bottle with little fussing at home but when she started daycare, she would not drink anything. Her daycare teachers reassured me this was normal and that Scarlett would adjust in a few days. A few days turned into weeks then months of fighting the bottle and drinking 3-5 oz over a course of a work day. We tried different nipples, feeding positions, and milk temperature but nothing seem to help significantly. Scarlett’s weight started to drop in percentile with each doctor’s visit. I started to feel guilty for not being able to keep her at home to breastfeed, for not introducing a bottle sooner, and for getting frustrated that she wouldn’t just drink from a bottle. Finally when Scarlett was around 7 months old, we decided to only offer bottles. She needed to eat at daycare where she spent a significant portion of her day and if this meant our breastfeeding journey would be over, so be it. After a few difficult days, Scarlett finally started to drink from bottles better but it was clear she was never going to take to it as well as breastfeeding. We decided to resume breastfeeding at home because it was less stressful on everyone. Scarlett’s weight percentile remained consistent and it wasn’t expected she would be much higher on the percentile scale since both my husband and I are small.
When Scarlett turned 12 months old, I started to transition her to cow’s milk and attempted to wean her but not surprisingly, she did not like this. I was ready to be done with pumping and being a human pacifier but Scarlett was not ready for this major change. Now at 19 months old, she is still not ready. She still wakes up multiple times a night to breastfeed, mainly to soothe, and it is exhausting. Some days I panic and wonder if I have done something wrong for her to still want to breastfeed. I can’t help but feel like I am being judged for still breastfeeding. Other days I feel frustrated and defeated after attempting to wean. But most days, I am thankful for the intimate bond we share and realize the decision to continue breastfeeding is between Scarlett and I and no one else. I am also thankful for a supportive family that encourages me every step of the way.
No matter what version of the breastfeeding story we live, each mama will likely face unexpected obstacles that question our abilities as a mother. However, with the help and support of family, friends, healthcare professionals, and other mamas, the journey becomes much easier.