Our Journey with Breastfeeding
Almost eight months ago I fell in love for the second time in my life. I will never forget the surreal and amazing feeling of Micah being placed in my arms. These past eight months have been some of the hardest and yet most beautiful months of my life. The title of this post will eventually make sense, but first…
I will preface this story by saying that I plan to be explicit and detailed. I will be discussing the nitty gritty of our breastfeeding experience. I won’t apologize for it, but I will give you fair warning. So here is your warning, and if you would rather… no hard feelings. Here is your “out”. 😉
Breastfeeding is one of the many reasons I believe in a divine creator. It is so beautiful. It’s intricate. The more it is studied, the more we learn how great it is for bonding, healing, health, protection, prevention, and the list could go on and on. I could write a novel just on this subject, so I will stop here. Since I have been so passionate about the miracle of breastfeeding for several years, it was very important to me to be able to breastfeed Micah. And regardless of how prepared I felt to breastfeed, the
first 4 okay really 6 months of breastfeeding Micah were a struggle to say the least.
This is our story…
The Tongue Tie:
It started in the hospital. By day 3 my nipples were bloody and bruised. After assessing latch after latch none of us could figure out why. Micah’s latch looked good. I assumed that this was just the norm of the first week and things would get better. So I bought those outrageously expensive “soothies” and waited for relief. Within just a few days I was having my husband and/or my mom hold my hand and help me breathe through the 45 minute feeding that happened every 2-3 hours. I knew something was wrong. On day 5 when Micah was crying it finally became apparent that he might have been tongue tied. I was nervous about what this would mean but also was so glad that we might have solved the problem. So we made an appointment to go see an IBCLC at our hospital. Micah was growing well and as healthy as could be. I, however, was pumping the ibuprofen and trying not to get nauseous each time we latched from the pain. Sure enough, the IBCLC agreed that Micah was tongue tied. We made an appointment with our Pediatrician, and I felt like we finally had a solution!
Not quite. At our appointment the Dr. took a look at Micah’s tongue and told us that he felt the tie wouldn’t have any effect on breastfeeding. He said I needed to just give it time (while he is telling me this, I was burping Micah and he spit up my blood. Needless to say I had an “are you kidding me” look on my face). Through many tears and much needed encouragement from David, we decided to listen to our gut rather than what the Dr. felt and opted to have the Dr. to snip the tongue tie. The Dr. took Micah out of the room (at this point I was bawling thinking about the pain I was causing my son) and about 30 seconds later, he brought Micah back in. It was over and Micah was just smiling away. It was that easy! So, at this point I thought we were certainly in the clear with breastfeeding and it would be smooth sailing from there. So we headed to the Starbucks drive through (which soon became a tradition after Dr. appointments) on the way home from the appointment to celebrate.
About a week later I was still in pain every 3 hours and I noticed a growing red area on my left breast. Things had not gotten better like I expected they would. I made another appointment with the IBCLC’s and sure enough they agreed I had the early signs of mastitis. (By the time we went to the appointment, both breasts were infected). So I got on round one of antibiotics. I felt like we were definitely moving in the right direction (insert Starbucks celebration here). Four days later it was still not clearing up, so I started a different antibiotic. Whew.
About a week later the mastitis cleared up, but I was in even worse pain with breastfeeding. I made yet another appointment with the IBCLC’s who told me that they hadn’t seen nipples so raw and advised me to call my midwife for a prescription for Newman’s Nipple Cream for relief. I started my first prescription of this amazing cream and was just sure that we were on the right track.
Labial Frenulum Tie:
A few days later I made yet another appointment with the IBCLCs to further assess the latch since I was simply not healing and the pain was getting worse. They said I needed to go in and see the midwives. The midwives told me (I warned you earlier) that the damage was so bad that they would use stitches if it were anywhere else on my body. I was advised to begin only pumping.
So for 4 weeks I felt like all I did was pump. I cried through the first bottle. Pumping and introducing the bottle at 3 weeks was not what I had envisioned. I got exactly what Micah needed each time that I pumped and not a drop more which meant that I never really got ahead of Micah. Being home alone when David was at work was difficult. I would pump and then immediately give Micah what I pumped in a bottle and would do it all over again just an hour or 2 later. We were incredibly blessed to have such an amazing support team during this time (really the entire time). Our church brought us meals since I didn’t have time to cook, my mother and father in law let me come over in tears and pump while they kept Micah happy, my parents called to check in on me just about daily with words of encouragement, my husband constantly encouraged me. But I wasn’t healing. On week two of pumping my IBCLC (at this point she had become more of a friend since she knew me so well) called to say she had just learned that there was a steroid in Newman’s Nipple Cream that could have been preventing me from healing since the wounds were so deep. So, I stopped using the cream immediately.
Also around this same time, my IBCLC also told me that she wondered if Micah might have a labial frenulum tie (AKA an upper lip tie. If you don’t know what this is just like I didn’t know what this was… here is the google image search). Sure enough, she was right. Micah’s upper frenulum was tight which made it just about impossible to allow his upper lip to latch on properly. I was given a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to have them assess the frenulum and potentially clip it just like with the tongue tie. (Side note: Although a labial frenulum tie is rare, if your baby has a tongue tie it might be a good idea to check for a tight upper lip frenulum.)
The first ENT specialist that we went to walked into the room with a chip on his shoulder and (I kid you not) told me that I was “just hormonal”, that, “fixing the lip tie wouldn’t help breastfeeding at all”, that I just needed to come back in a month and, “I would see that things would get better and my hormones would be settled down” and the best for last… that all it would do is cause a gap between his two front teeth, “but that’s trendy right now”. I did everything I could not to break into tears as he smiled and walked out. I have never seen David as upset as he was after we left his office.
I got another referral to a different ENT specialist that knew his stuff on breastfeeding issues in the same office. Sure enough when this Dr. walked into the office, he immediately agreed that Micah’s frenulum was tight and could easily be clipped right then and there. My heart broke as David held Micah in his arms and the Dr. quickly clipped the frenulum. It bled for a minute or two and I gave him a bottle immediately to help ease the pain. Within about 15 minutes, we walked out of the office once again with a smiling baby. He was such a fighter and such a good sport through this whole process. I felt horrible about causing Micah pain, but I knew that it would be worth it and was so hopeful that we would soon be back to breastfeeding.
As soon as I was completely healed, I stopped pumping and went back to breastfeeding.
The nipples were finally healed, but I was experiencing different sort of pain. Actually, I had been experiencing this pain ever since I stopped the antibiotics for the Mastitis but I thought it was just a part of the healing process. But once the nipples looked healed, I knew the pain was from something else. It felt like fiber glass in the ducts every time I breastfed and even randomly when I was not feeding Micah. Of course, I consulted my favorite IBCLC’s and they agreed that it must be thrush. For months David and I tried just about everything under the sun to get rid of this: Vinegar (everything that touched my breasts or Micah’s mouth got washed with vinegar), soap, bleach, grapefruit seed extract, Fluconazole, Nystatin, cutting sugar and carbs from my diet, eating lots of yogurt, boiling pump parts, etc. etc. etc. That was exhausting. I know David felt the same way.
Another side note: thrush commonly comes after being treated with antibiotics. Since I was on antibiotics for almost two weeks, I basically was in for a “perfect storm”. If you have to take antibiotics while breastfeeding… don’t forget to pump the probiotics. Yogurt anyone?
It wasn’t until we went to visit my family in Houston when Micah was 5 months old that it FINALLY went away. I am sure it was a combination of many things that made it go away, but I really feel that spending the week in a chlorine filled pool is what made the biggest difference (besides prayer).
It is a miracle that we are still breastfeeding at 8 months. I am so blessed to have had the support that I have had. I have grown to love the IBCLC’s that were constantly there for us, I am so thankful to live in a state with “Baby Friendly” hospitals such as Medical Center of the Rockies where we started our journey, and I have grown an appreciation for the village of family and friends that huddled around us and made such a difference. Every call to check in on us, every meal made, every prayer said, every encouraging word… it made the world of difference. To those of you reading, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And my husband… I thought I loved him to full capacity on the day that I married him. But feeling his support and seeing the rock that he became for us through the thick and thin made me fall in love with him all over again. David, I’ve told you before but we wouldn’t still be breastfeeding today if we didn’t have you in the role of husband and father. And this might sound funny but I bet with all that my husband has been through that he could seriously write the book on breastfeeding. Ha! But really, he could go head to head with the best gurus of breastfeeding after all we experienced.
And now the title. (Really quick: Have you really made it this far? That is impressive! You deserve some dark chocolate and a cup of really good coffee. Seriously, take a break and go get some. I’ll wait.)
My Abraham Moment. Ugh, here come the tears. So, after many a conversation with dear friends and family I have pulled one of the deepest things that I think I will learn from this whole breastfeeding saga. All throughout this time I was frustrated and confused. Breastfeeding had been on my heart for such a long time. I truly believe that the science of breastfeeding points back to a divine creator on so many levels. I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to take part in this beauty. So, I cried out over and over for help and relief and wondered why it wasn’t getting better. It was hard. It was messy. I was not very good at it.
But here is the beauty. Although breastfeeding is beautiful, and amazing, and created with a purpose… I think I needed to be willing to let go of something that is so good and remember that God is bigger. So, a few months ago, I broke down and decided to let it go. And here is the best part. It didn’t end there. I believe God is in the business of making the tough and dirty into something of beauty. And that is what it became. We are still breastfeeding to this day. And it doesn’t hurt! At all. As a matter of fact, I had to take a few breaks in writing this to go cuddle with my son. Micah is growing so well and I am healed. I don’t know how long I will breastfeed for, but each day I am thankful for this gift. I’m guessing that since I signed up for this mom business that this won’t be the last “Abraham Moment” I have. But for now, I will tell this story (with a lump in my throat) to encourage other moms out there that there is hope and healing no matter what your story looks like.