Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our Breastfeeding Story

It's National Breastfeeding Week, so I thought that I would share our breastfeeding story here as it's something that I am incredibly proud of and something that I want to remember.

I think for moms who want to breastfeed, one of the biggest worries they have is that they won't be able to. At least that's how it was for me. It was something that I wanted so badly and I was so scared that it wouldn't work. And it almost didn't.

I had read so many birth stories where the baby magically latched on after being born and nursed right away with no trouble. That was not Sawyer. We tried over and over again at the hospital, but he couldn't figure it out. It was amazing to me how many nurses gave up on us so quickly. I look back on it now and it makes me mad and breaks my heart all at the same time. I was a first-time mom, incredibly exhausted and hormonal, I had a baby who couldn't eat, and I felt like no one was helping me.

We were sent home with a syringe and instructions to give him whatever I was able to pump. No amounts. No timeline. We had no clue. That first week was a nightmare. Sawyer screamed almost 24/7, he lost weight, and was labeled failure to thrive. We saw numerous pediatricians and made almost daily trips to the lactation consultants at UK. No one had any answers. I continually asked if he was tongue tied and all of them brushed me off, despite the fact that all the symptoms were there. My baby was starving those first few weeks and it's something that I will never, ever forget.

I eventually was able to get him to "latch." I use quotes because his latch was actually this incredibly painful biting motion that made me grit my teeth and brought tears to my eyes. He refused to nurse from the left side, so for the first 5 months of his life, I nursed exclusively from one side while pumping from the other. It was exhausting. Our pediatrician was not helpful. She told me that breastfeeding always hurt in the beginning.

If you are ever going to nurse a baby or if you are currently nursing and are in pain, please read this: BREASTFEEDING SHOULD NOT HURT. It may be uncomfortable and you may deal with some sensitivity in the beginning, but if it is painful, something is wrong.

Even after getting Sawyer to latch, he still couldn't gain weight. He was nursing almost every 20 minutes, screaming almost all the time, and not sleeping. Our doctor decided that he must have been allergic to something I was eating, so when he was 1 month old, I cut dairy, gluten, soy, egg, rice, and fish from my diet. We started supplementing with formula, but even then he still had trouble sucking from a bottle. He gained a little weight, but was still barely on the charts. He still wanted to eat every 20 minutes (at 3-4 months old, this shouldn't be happening) and he woke up every 20-30 minutes at night. He made clicking and gasping noises when he nursed or took a bottle, and had terrible gas pains and awful reflux. My supply began to suffer because he couldn't figure out how to suck, so my body didn't think there was a demand for milk.

So many people were telling me to throw in the towel and give him formula. They would make comments like, "It's not worth it. I would have stopped by now." And I wanted to scream at all of them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula-- it kept my baby alive when I didn't have enough milk. But our issues were so much more than breastfeeding. Something was WRONG and no one seemed to believe me.

When Sawyer was 4 months old we finally were recommended to a midwife an hour and a half away. Sawyer screamed the whole way there, but it was worth it and I will forever be grateful for her-- Christina Scribner of Copper Creek Midwifery. She talked with me for 3 hours. She listened to my concerns, she validated my feelings. And she took one look inside his mouth and confirmed what I had been asking since he was a few days old. Not only did he have a posterior (hidden under the skin) tongue tie, but he also had a lip tie. The lip tie prevented him from flanging his lips back to latch and the tongue tie didn't allow his tongue to move past his lips or lift up and down. Unfortunately, his ties were so severe that she couldn't clip them. So when Sawyer was 5 months old, we drove 2.5 hours to Dayton, Oh where a wonderful doctor named Dr. Notestine corrected his ties with a laser .

The majority of pediatricians and dentists (as well as the lactation consultants I saw) are not trained in diagnosing ties. If it isn't a super obvious one, then they are likely to miss it. It is so frustrating to see mothers talk about how their doctor says their baby isn't tied, but then months later they find out that they were actually tied. We saw 3 pediatricians, a La Leche League leader, and 3-4 lactation consultants and they all missed Sawyer's ties.

Sawyer's procedure only lasted about 2 minutes. It was awful. But as soon as he was finished, he latched on and we had the best nursing session we had ever had. There was absolutely no pain or discomfort. He got full for the first time in his life and slept the whole way home (another first). Within about a week, all of Sawyer's problems disappeared. He went from nursing every 20 minutes to every 3-4 hours. His gas and reflux vanished. He stopped screaming all the time. My supply bounced back and he started nursing both sides, which he had never done before. We still had to do suck training and chiropractic care for awhile because his jaw and mouth were so tight from not being able to fully open them for so long. I remember crying the first time we saw him stick his tongue out because I was so happy and because I knew that the revision and chiropractor had worked.

Fast forward to now, and we are still going strong at 21 months. I never, ever would have thought that we would make it this long or that I would even want to make it this long. It's still exhausting at times. When he needs comfort and reassurance, he wants me. When he's mad or upset, he wants me. When his mouth hurts because he's teething and it's 3 in the morning, he wants me. There are times that I am so touched out that my skin crawls at that thought of nursing. There are times, especially when he is practicing his yoga while nursing, when I think that I want to stop and just burn all my milk-stained nursing bras and call it a day. But then I think that one of these days, he won't come up to me and ask for "Mek" anymore. One of these days he'll run to daddy when he scrapes his knees instead of me. One of these days, I won't nurse him to sleep while singing his night night songs. I am not ready for that yet. He's not ready for that yet.

There are a lot of things I want to remember, like the fact that Sawyer refuses to nurse if he's wearing shoes. I want to remember how he tries to touch my face with his feet, how he says "sweeeesh" when he wants to switch sides, how he plays peek a boo in my shirt, and how when I tell him I love him while he's nursing, he winks at me. The one moment that I want to remember more than anything though, is this one. It's nothing extraordinary, but it makes my heart full. Sawyer was latched on and asleep-- the only way he would nap the first year of his life. I was hot, hungry, exhausted, and I had to pee. I was fighting the urge to just wake him up so I could get him off me. Out of nowhere and without opening his eyes, he put his hand on my face, unlatched and said, "mama," snuggled into me and went right back to sleep. Milk was running out the side of his smiling face and he let out a huge contented sigh. It made all those late nights worth it.

I am so incredibly proud of myself and Sawyer. Our journey has been a lot of work. Some people don't understand it, but they don't have to. It's not their journey. I'm so thankful for the local moms I met who stepped in and told me to just nurse my baby. They told me I wouldn't spoil him and that I should just nurse him whenever he needed it. They made me feel comfortable in my own skin and in my mom skin. They didn't judge me for not wearing a nursing cover (something I never thought I'd be comfortable not using), they didn't judge me when I needed to give him formula, and they supported me each step of the way.

I'm thankful for my husband, who was so supportive of me. He held my hand when I was in pain from Sawyer's latch. He made it clear that he supported my decisions, no matter what. He cleaned pump parts and bottles, he arranged pillows and helped me get comfortable so that I could nurse. He was a rockstar and I couldn't have done it without him.

I am thankful that I listened to my mama gut and kept pushing for answers, I'm thankful for sticking with it even when it was hard and we were both in tears. And I'm so thankful for my sweet blue eyed blondie and this bond that we share.

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