To say that nursing Declan has been an adventure is an understatement. From day 1 I knew it might be harder than with Lexi, but I wasn’t going to to stop no matter what. There would be no formula. That’s what I was set on, and I’m very thankful I have succeeded in that. I also didn’t want to introduce a bottle unless absolutely necessary because (due to Lexi’s outright rejection of them after her first few) I was/am much more a fan of the simplicity of just nursing, without all the work of pumping. At this point, I have soooo much admiration for mamas who exclusively pump, especially those who work full time. (S/o to my Sissy Beans!) our journey continues to evolve, but I feel we’ve reached a major turning point, so I want to share with you where we have been over the last four and a half months.
First, let me say that I was totally unprepared for this to be difficult at all. Everything about Lexi was easy and natural, and after a very early latching challenge that was easily solved by 3 months with a nipple shield, nursing her was a breeze. I had never experienced the things that make women quit nursing. Now I have. Pretty much all of them, actually.
So, the first time they put Declan in my arms, at mere seconds old, I saw that he had a tongue tie. I was aware of the solution for this and so still felt like we would be ok. The first time I tried to nurse him, maybe a half hour later, I pointed the tie out to the nurse. She said “yeah but it’s not severe, so it won’t interfere with breastfeeding.” And the first couple times, it didn’t seem like it would. He was impatient and cranky (but who wouldn’t be after a 40 hour birth process where you were just facing all kinds of wrong and had to be yanked out by vaccum?) but we didn’t really start having a challenge until that first night late. He was screaming, not staying latched, and I’m order to get him to nurse at all I had to stand and rock him in the football hold and sing. It was exhausting on top of a very difficult recovery. Some of this was due to his personality, the circumstances of his entry to the world, and I figured some was due to the same anatomical challenge Lexi and I had had-I have fat flat nipples-my babies have bitty mouths. So, the following morning I asked for a nipple shield from the Lactation Consultant, but she was busy and in the meantime I had two wonderful nursing students who were both mamas come work with us. We pumped, we used shells, we finger fed him. It was encouraging but still hard, in my exhausted state. He wanted nothing to do with the nipple shield.
We kept nursing with varied success the rest of our hospital stay. When we got home, suddenly he started latching great with the nipple shield! He had actually gained a few ounces back by the first visit to the pediatrician! Things seemed to be looking up, even though my recovery was going very slowly and hard.
At about two weeks, he started making a clicking sound when he nursed, and I noticed lots of milk was leaking from his mouth and that concerned me. We kept going though, as I had no better plan. I was getting very discouraged, and a bit obsessed with his diaper count, which was thru the roof.
At four weeks, even though we continued to struggle, I was holding as steady as I could, when he rejected the nipple shield and started nursing 5 min on one side every 2-3 hours. This horrified me and I had a flat out breakdown that may have included me punching a wall and really messing my hand up when he was 4.5 weeks old. We had a weight check that showed he was on track, so I tried to relax a little and trust him to lead. That lasted less than 2 weeks.
At 6w2d I took Declan to see my dear sweet friend Melissa who is a CLC. She and I had been texting constantly since Declan’s birth, and I am still so very thankful for her support and understanding. We weighed him, and saw that in the 10 days since his last check, he’d gained 3 oz. not great. Then she watched me nurse him, and we weighed him again. He gained 3oz from 7 min of nursing on one side. So that was pretty good! We talked awhile, and Melissa agreed that the tongue tie (which had also kinda been brushed off by the ped at this point) was a likely culprit for the clicking and insufficient milk transfer. Plus, I could feel my previously robust supply starting to dip. She recommended I go see an ibclc and the next morning, I did. It was a good appointment, and while she didn’t think the tongue tie was necessarily the issue, she gave me a good plan of giving him an extra 4oz a day by spoon or syringe, since I was wary of complicating things with a bottle. This worked great, and he gained 6 oz over the next 6 days! He hated being supplemented this way though, and I hated doing it. I also did more research on tongue ties and decided it was time to get it clipped, because it could make all the difference, and at worst it would do nothing.
The same day we had his tongue clipped, I also decided to offer the supplement in a bottle. This went better than the syringe, though he still wasn’t a fan. This was a huge scary step for me, as I was afraid he’d prefer the bottle and reject nursing entirely. He didn’t. He also gained 15oz between weight checks in 12 days. Looked like we were out of the woods on weight gain, even if I was spending my entire days and nights pumping and nursing. Seeing the improvement he made over the weeks following the procedure-it wasn’t instant, and even now he slips back into old habits-I am as sure as I can be that the problem was his tongue tie. Mamas, if your suspect at all that a tongue or lip tie is causing you and your baby challenges, I advise you to get it clipped. There is no downside. It is impossible to tell by looking at a tie whether it will be a problem, because it’s a matter of how anatomy matches up. My fat flat nipples, Declan’s tie, and his bit of a high palate all added up to a problem, but with the clip and a lot of stubbornness, we are doing far better.
Since then, I’ve been nursing as often as Declan is interested, pumping after as many feedings as possible, and feeding him what I pump. This has been workable, but far more time consuming than I’d like long term. Declan had also gotten a bit cranky about the work associated with nursing and was refusing more often than not during the day. I’ve also weathered a few intense supply dips where all I did for days at a time was nurse, pump, eat, and pop supplements.
Then, something I feared would damage our nursing relationship may have been the catalyst for the biggest change yet. I had to have emergency dental surgery to extract a wisdom tooth that had me in constant pain from when Declan was 5 weeks old on. In order to let me recover as well as I could even while maintaining my grueling pumping schedule, Scott took over nighttime feeding of Declan. This let me get a 5-6 hour stretch of sleep before my body woke me to pump, then go right to sleep again. We did that for about 7 nights, then I actively started trying to nurse more, and teach him to nurse lying down. Now, unless he’s extremely sleepy/cranky and therefore less willing to work, he never rejects nursing, and seems to be draining me better than he ever has.
Because of these developments, I feel like my goal of being free of the pump is in reach. I’m still pumping after most feedings, but unless it was a bad feeding, I’m only pumping for 10 minutes, or one letdown. As soon as Declan stops seeming like he needs what I pump in addition to nursing (I usually give it to him before nap and at bedtime now), I’ll reduce pumping over time and reserve it for replacing feedings when needed instead of keeping my supply up.
So, that’s where we are now, and I’m excited to see us get where we want to be.
Mamas, only you can decide what’s best for you and your baby, but if you really want to breastfeed, I believe you can overcome any obstacle, and I’m here to help!