My Imperfect Breastfeeding Journey

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By: Teresa Finoccio (Guest Blogger from Breastfeeding World)

My daughter is currently 4.5 months and exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding is simple, sweet and soothing…but it wasn’t always this way for us. In fact, it still isn’t perfect, but is anything really? It took me 3 months to comfortably breastfeed. A long, hard and overwhelming 3 months. I am so glad I kept on going with such determination. Here is my story…

Our first latch

Our first latch

My daughter was born at home (planned) and we had immediate skin-to-skin bonding, for over an hour, before baby got her first exam and I got cleaned up. We had all the advantages that apparently lead to successful breastfeeding journeys. In our first hour together, she did latch but only lightly and for a couple of minutes. My midwife told me her stomach was so tiny, and she had probably gotten enough and not to worry. So, I didn’t. By our second night together, I started to realize that maybe she was not latching correctly or eating enough. This was confirmed at her 2 day appointment when her pediatrician referred a bilirubin test and the results showed a slightly jaundiced baby. Talk of supplementing from doctors and family members had me feeling like a failure. My midwife reassured me that she would come help us with our latch and that I do not need to worry, we will get this down. In the meantime, I went to the store and got myself a pump, so baby would be able to get what she needed from the bottle. Pumping would take about an hour – and hurt – to get 2 ounces of colostrum. By the time I pumped, fed her, laid her down and washed the pump parts, it was time to pump again so it would be ready for her next feeding. This was exhausting.

One plus to pumping- Daddy got to feed and bond.

One plus to pumping- Daddy got to feed and bond.

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In the next week, my midwife did help us with our latch. But it hurt. It hurt so bad. I would feed her and have to kick my feet, bite my tongue, yell, cry, and have a fan on me because I would sweat from the pain and I would dread every single feeding. Suddenly, the exhaustion of the pumping cycle seemed like a better bet than the excruciating pain from actually breastfeeding. After doing my research, it sounded like I could use some nipple creams to help alleviate the pain, so lanolin it was. I used it, religiously, for about a week. A couple of days into using the lanolin, I began to itch very bad in not so pleasant areas – but most research I did suggested it was part of the healing process (although I did not tear during my birth). About 24 hours after that, it was my entire body. I started seeing a rash on my arms and face. I was so confused! What is this?!

Full body allergic reaction to lanolin

Full body allergic reaction to lanolin

Within 48 hours of the initial itch, my entire body from head to toe was broken out into a complete rash. My lips were swollen and my whole body was itching more than you could imagine. My midwives and I were stumped – I began taking oatmeal baths and brainstorming on what I ate differently or something new I used on my skin recently. I took one Benadryl, knowing it was going to be bad news but couldn’t help it and quickly learned my lesson. I get knocked out when I take Benadryl. Like, don’t try to touch me or wake me for 8 hours at least knocked out. Well, with a hungry newborn and as a breastfeeding mama, that wasn’t going to work. Finally, when I told my midwife everything I have ever been allergic to (poison ivy and wool) her light bulb went off. Lanolin is made of wool!!! In the trash went my tubes of lanolin. Since I was using this so religiously, numerous times a day, on my open cracked nipples, it had been in my bloodstream quite a while. My midwives prescribed me a 2 week steroid and it took about 3 weeks for my rash to fully go away.

A great Nipple balm to use that is 100% natural and lanolin free is Nipple Nurture Balm from Fairhaven Health!

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In the meantime, I started going to free breastfeeding classes at my local hospital hosted by a lactation consultant. Here I learned about many things, one of them being thrush. It sounded like I had all the symptoms, but my baby showed no signs. My midwives decided to treat me for it anyway, and it did really help. But as fast as things got better, they got worse again just as quick. My rash came and went, my baby’s latch was perfect according to my midwife and lactation consultant at class, the thrush symptoms went away… but breastfeeding still hurt. A LOT. Finally, I decided to contact a lactation consultant that would come to my house, observe how I fed and my positions, offer advice and hopefully fix me. Please, fix me.

Throughout all of this so far, everyday was a constant struggle in my mind to give up or keep going. I could not even hold my baby because my nipples were in such constant pain. I would cry from the pain during feedings, but also in general not even during a feeding. I would cry from the stress and the constant battle in my mind on what to do? If things aren’t better by the end of the week…I must have said that to myself for at least 8 weeks. I had to be constantly topless as my nipples couldn’t even touch a piece of clothing they were so sore. Drying off after a shower was not even possible without cringing. I used nipple shells (I learned about those at the classes as well), which guard your nipples from your clothing. They were a lifesaver and the biggest pain in the butt at the same time. Constantly leaking every time I bent over and in my sleep, pouring out all over everything and wasting my precious milk! I also learned about nipple shields – an artificial nipple to place over your own to help with the pain – but it did nothing to help my pain. If anything, it made it worse! I picked up a hands-free pumping bra from Target and WOW! This was the best day in my breastfeeding journey so far! My 45-60 minute pumping sessions turned into 15 minute sessions (tops) to get the same amount of milk! This was definitely a game changer. I began a new system – pump/bottle-feed, breastfeed, pump/bottle-feed, breastfeed… I kept up with this every-other system for about a month and it really helped allow my nipples to heal.

Hands down pun intended the best invention ever! 

Hands down pun intended the best invention ever! 

When my lactation consultant came for a visit, she taught me the football position (which took 5 pillows and a perfect seat on the couch) and the side-laying position which made amazing differences. The football position helped relieve some pain and in the side-laying position at least I was comfortable and in pain, rather than sitting up straight and hurting my back! Anyway, the changing point in our journey was during this visit when the consultant mentioned posterior tongue tie. I had heard of tongue tie, which is pretty easy to see, but I had never heard of posterior tongue tie, which is harder to depict (even some lactation consultants and pediatricians do not recognize posterior tongue ties!). My baby could not lift her tongue to the roof of her mouth or stick it out as far as she should be able to. This was causing her to not be able to get the proper tongue wave/motion she needed to use while nursing. I was recommended to a pediatric dentist who specializes in these frenulum procedures. I was so relieved, so elated, knowing that there was something that could fix all of this. I saw a ray of light, of hope! I even learned of Dr. Jack Newman’s nipple cream that could be made lanolin free and got a prescription for that which did help in the meantime.

Road-trip Breastfeeding 

Road-trip Breastfeeding 

I immediately contacted the dentist and of course, with my luck, he was on his first day of a 9 day vacation. However, he told me he would fit me in the day he got back, and he did. We went to our appointment and sure enough, she indeed had a form of tongue tie.Hallelujah! There is a cure! At this point I was past the thought of giving up, I was going to go until 6 months no matter what, but I really hoped I could improve my comfort level. Well, we got the procedure and for 2 weeks had to do tongue stretches on the baby. The doc told me I should feel an improvement within a week but it could take up to 3 weeks, and there were no guarantees this was even going to fix our issues. BUT IT DID! And it took a whole more month! I started really feeling a difference around the 2nd week. You could see how different it looked when she would eat! The range she had with her tongue movements were suddenly impressive! I couldn’t believe I didn’t recognize this earlier. Thank goodness I finally gave up my stubbornness and hired a lactation consultant!

By month 3, things were really starting to get easy. So easy, I took a 5 day road trip and only brought my boobs! No pumps, no bottles, no shields or shells! (OK, I broght the shield, but like I said, is anything ever really perfect?) The shield does help with pain now (since her tongue tie was fixed), and honestly I still use it for 50% of my feedings on my left breast. For some reason, my left nipple never fully healed and still gives me slight pain here and there. My nipple shells went in the trash and my pump is now used only for babysitting purposes!

So, does breastfeeding get easier, does it get better? Yes, but sometimes it takes longer than a couple of weeks. Here I am, with a 4.5 month old, exclusively breastfeeding. Is it perfect? Nope. But it works. And it is comfortable. And it is best for my baby. I still do not know how I made it through the first 2 months, but I am so glad I did! And my new goal is to go until one year…at least! 

The reason I kept going

The reason I kept going

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