The theme of World Breastfeeding Week this year is “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.” It is a theme that really resonates with me because I am currently breastfeeding my second child only because of the support around me. There are so many amazing breastfeeding mothers out there that make it look so easy and natural, but the reality is that it does not come easy for every mother and baby. Sometimes we need a little extra help to get started, and sometimes we need a little extra help to keep going.
With my first daughter, Hailee, breastfeeding did come very naturally for us both from the day she was born. In spite of my inexperience we seemed to get it right away. When my second daughter, Mackenzie, was born I didn’t expect to have breastfeeding issues; after all, I was a seasoned breastfeeding mom! Something I learned very quickly was that every mother/child nursing relationship is unique.
Mackenzie was delivered at 37 weeks with a planned c-section due to her having Spina Bifida and me developing cholestasis of pregnancy. (You can read more about her birth and why this was the birth she needed in a previous blog.) So not only did we have the immediate challenges of breastfeeding that come after a c-section, but she was also taken to the NICU immediately after birth. Because of her spinal defect she was placed in the prone position and was not able to be held or moved. She was scheduled for surgery to repair her spine the following morning which meant she could not have liquids by mouth until recovering from surgery.
With the advice of Rochelle McLean, the most amazing lactation consultant one could be blessed with knowing, I began pumping 10-12 times a day to get my milk to come in. Mackenzie was three days old when she had her first taste of mama’s milk through a bottle while lying on her side in her isolette. It was toward the end of this day that I got to hold her for the first time and attempt to latch her to my breast. An amazing nurse, actually put in a request for a doctor’s order to allow me to do this. We had expected to have to wait until at least day 4 or day 5 to hold her. This nurse became my biggest breastfeeding advocate while in the NICU. She did everything she knew how to do to help us, but Mackenzie was not a natural breast feeder like her big sister had been. Over the next week in the NICU Mackenzie continued to struggle to latch to the breast. The only negative experience we had during this hospital stay was that a staff lactation consultant never came to help us. My guess is that it was because Mackenzie’s hospital stay was from December 21st -30th and they were on a holiday schedule. It was also cold and flu season so they would not allow me to have an outside lactation consultant come to the NICU. So our first days trying to breastfeed were full of frustration and tears from both Mackenzie and me. I broke down many times calling Rochelle hardly able to speak through the tears. Breastfeeding was so important to me. It was the one thing I wanted to go as planned and the one thing I would not give up on. The only thing I remember her telling me was to just keep pumping to keep my supply up and when Mackenzie was out of the NICU we would get her to latch. The night Mackenzie came home from the hospital Rochelle was at my house helping us figuring out how we could get her to latch. It turns out that Mackenzie had a slight tongue tie and I needed to use a nipple shield to help her get a deeper latch. Luckily it stretched out enough on its own that after several weeks we were able to wean off of the shield.
Finally, we were successfully breastfeeding with ease! You thought that was the end and our breastfeeding journey lived happily ever after, right? Nope. Then mastitis happened. Mastitis is pretty much like the flu on steroids with an immense amount of breast pain added to the mix. So you are not only caring for a newborn, but you are also having chills, body aches, and a fever. I was pretty much miserable. Again with Rochelle on speed dial, I kept nursing and pumping trying to unclog the duct. My husband nursed me back to health, cared for our 4 year old and newborn. I took hot showers, used hot compresses, and dangle nursed. I did it all and finally I overcame it! Back to breastfeeding bliss we went….for about a week and a half. Then my mastitis was back with vengeance! The clogged duct was in a different location than the first time and much more painful. This time the clogged duct was red, hot to the touch, and developed streaking red lines. This time I went to the doctor for antibiotics to clear it up before I developed even more problems. Thankfully it did clear up and has not come back.
In the first days and weeks after Mackenzie’s birth it felt like we had to overcome obstacle after obstacle to continue to breastfeed. Without amazing people in my life like our NICU nurse, Rochelle, and my husband encouraging me and helping me along the way I would not have been able to breastfeed my baby girl. Now at 7 months, she is thriving and nursing very well. I hope other moms know that it doesn’t always come easy, but it’s always worth it to keep fighting if it’s what you want for you and your baby. Follow your heart even if it means seeking out professional help. Talk to other moms about what you are struggling with because you are not alone. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy.