Breastfeeding :: Sometimes It’s Easy, Sometimes It’s Not

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I was ready for everything to go wrong.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I knew I wanted to nurse. I wanted to nurse in that formula-is-poison, I’m-an-obnoxious-first-time-hippie-mama-and-the-baby-hasn’t-even-come-out sort of way. And since I’d recently ditched my Ph. D. program, I was darn well going to get an A in breastfeeding.

I studied every possible thing that could go wrong: low thyroid levels, Hypoplastia breast syndrome, latching problems, positioning problems, low supply, oversupply, overactive letdown, growth spurts, failure to thrive. I knew them all. I armed myself. I would not fail this test.

My first son popped out, latched on, and nursed textbook-perfect with zero effort from me. He did have reflux and milk/soy protein intolerance, but he nursed until he was 3 ½.

Twenty-two months later, my second son made a surprise entrance after only four hours and two pushes. He also latched on immediately and nursed perfectly. He’s 2 ½ and still needs “mama milk” at least once a day.

Then came Sunny.

In between him and my first, I had gone to innumerable La Leche League meetings, participated in LLL Facebook groups, lurked on The Leaky Boob, pumped milk for my sons, pumped milk to donate to other babies and nursed kids that weren’t my own. I had tandem nursed – though I weaned my first when I got pregnant with Sunny – and nursed through two pregnancies. I was prepared to tandem nurse again.

I thought I was so ready. Except I wasn’t.

We started off great: Sunny came out screaming, and didn’t stop until I latched him on at less than a minute old. He sucked fine. I had plenty of colostrum. He nursed all the time – normal for a newborn – and we cajoled the docs into sending us home after 16 hours. My left nipple hurt a little bit. I chalked it up to hormones.

And then he wouldn’t pee.

We checked his diapers over and over, but they stayed dry. He peed once on Day 1. He only peed once on Day 2. My nipples were a raw, wrecked mess – sucked into lipstick-points, raw and cracked and bleeding. Nursing had never hurt like this. Sunny took forever to latch, popped on and off, and his nursing hurt so badly I resorted to putting Oragel on my nipples.

He still wouldn’t pee. And I recalled, dimly, something about lip and tongue ties.

Sure enough, after some research, we realized Sunny had a class 4 posterior tongue tie, plus a lip tie. These stopped him from sucking effectively. He couldn’t stimulate my breasts to produce enough milk.

The doctor couldn’t fix it for two days. I knew supplementation was on the horizon. We barely – barely – missed needing to give Sunny a bottle, though we did syringe-feed him some of my own milk a few times. I spent two days slathering my nipples with Oragel, which probably isn’t the best idea, and gritting my teeth through marathon newborn nursing sessions. This wasn’t like my other boys. This was freaking hard.

Sunny lost ¾ of a pound by the time my milk came in, on the fifth day, 24 hours after Dr. Hahn lasered his ties. The surgery itself was quick, but traumatic – no anesthesia, and Sunny was clearly in pain – but after a day, he was fine. His suck improved. He gained weight, and his diaper output improved.

I’m lucky. I knew how to look for ties. I knew who to call to get Sunny’s mouth fixed; we had the money to pay the cost immediately, out of pocket (no insurance accepted for the surgery). And I was lucky enough to know something was wrong in the first place. Some mamas nurse through excruciating pain, never knowing it’s fixable.

Sunny’s 9 months old now, and still nursing happily alongside his 2 ½ year-old brother. And I’m no longer the judgmental first-time mama I used to be. There’s no way to get an A in breastfeeding. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it works well and sometimes you can’t even get started.

Learn as much as you can. Arm yourself with information. But know, in the end, it isn’t what you’ve read or what people tell you or what your doctor says or what your mother-in-law (or judgmental hippie friend) thinks. It’s you and your baby. And he needs to eat. However that happens is okay.

Have you dealt with a tongue tie or a lip tie? Tell us about your experience below.

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In 2009, Elizabeth got pregnant and quit a Ph.D. program in English, where she taught writing and served as an Assistant Director of First-Year English. Now she stays home with her three boys in a house full of art and learning and books and dogs and fossils. An amateur naturalist, paleontologist, and artist of all kinds, she unschools her four-year-old and serves as a Volunteer Babywearing Educator with the local chapter of Babywearing International. Her MFA in fiction gets put to use writing blog posts and that novel she’ll finish once her boys stop interrupting her. Elizabeth has won numerous writing awards for her short stories, novellas, and novel-in-progress, and blogs at www.manicpixiedreammama.com.

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