My son Teddy and I had trouble breastfeeding from the start. He wouldn’t latch in the hospital despite my receiving help from three different nurses and two lactation consultants. After 24 hours he still hadn’t eaten and when they came in to weigh him I broke down and cried. I felt so horrible. The lactation consultant asked if I wanted to try a nipple shield, but warned me that they often lead to low supply and could be difficult to wean babies off of. I was desperate at that point so I agreed. He did much better with the shield, but the lactation consultant was still worried that he wasn’t getting enough, so during each feeding we used a syringe/tube system to give him a little extra expressed breast milk while he was latched on. They were also worried about the shield leading to supply issues, so they had me pumping after every feeding ’round the clock. Teddy nursed every two hours for about 45 minutes at a time, so pumping as well was exhausting. Once I left the hospital the lactation consultant continued to check in with me. I kept saying that I thought I was making plenty of milk despite using the nipple shield, but she assured me that I needed to keep pumping after nursing sessions if I wanted to sustain my supply, so I obliged.
While I was in the hospital they also informed me that Teddy was slightly jaundiced and that I would need to follow up with the pediatrician to ensure that it subsided. At his first check-up his bilirubin levels were still considered high, so the doctor told us we would need to return in a few days to check them again. For a long time we were going to the doctor on a weekly (sometimes twice a week) basis for heel sticks to check his levels. They remained fairly high for quite a while, but I am lucky that I had an amazing pediatrician who constantly reassured me that it would most likely resolve itself. Still, between being a brand new mom and dealing with breastfeeding and weight gain issues, I was a wreck. Fortunately for us, Teddy’s bilirubin levels eventually came down and he also began gaining weight like a champ. Little did we know, that was just the beginning of our struggle.
When Teddy was four days old I started to feel like I was coming down with the flu. I had a fever, chills, and was completely miserable. My mom, who had been staying with us, asked me if I had any red marks on my boobs. I went to the bathroom to check and, sure enough, both breasts were streaked with red. I had mastitis on both sides. After that I went down to only pumping twice a day after feedings and also weaned Teddy off the nipple shield (no easy feat- I thought we’d never get rid of that stupid thing) sometime around eight weeks. My boobs became slightly more manageable, but I was already dealing with a huge oversupply. Every time I nursed Teddy would pull of screaming the second I had a let down. I ended up having to unlatch him during every let down, catch my milk in a towel, and re-latch him. That went on for 4 months and during that time I got mastitis three more times. I will say that the one good the about having an oversupply meant that I always had a freezer full of milk. In fact, I ended up with so much that I was able to donate a lot of it to a mom in my area who needed it for her baby.
Around two months in Teddy was becoming increasingly fussy and gassy. He also had very loose, dark green, mucousy stools, eczema, and seemed to be permanently congested and wheezy. After speaking with the pediatrician about milk intolerances and all of its symptoms I cut all dairy out of my diet and he became so much better within just a day. About a month later though he still seemed to be having tummy issues. I did some research and found that half of all babies who are sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soy. I cut soy out and once again, he improved tremendously.
When Teddy was four months old, we were still really struggling. He was a very fussy baby and never slept well. Getting two straight hours of him at night was a miracle. We would walk/rock/bounce him back to sleep and the second we laid him down he would wake up again. He was also still having a hard time nursing without pulling off and crying. I explained this to his doctor at one of his appointments and he said it sounded like it might be reflux. He prescribed us Zantac, which made absolutely no difference. The next medicine they had us try was Prevacid. It seemed to help slightly, but after about a month on it I stopped giving it to him and saw no change, so we kept him off of it. During this time, I was a mess. Despite huge efforts and help on my husband’s part, I felt very exhausted, alone, and anxious. I know now that I suffered from postpartum anxiety. Every evening I was overcome with intense feelings of dread and worry about the night ahead of me. At the time I didn’t know how to put my emotions into words, so I never told anyone. Luckily, my anxiety seemed to fade slowly on it’s own and I felt more like myself around the nine month mark.
At six months Teddy was still having eczema flair ups and tummy troubles now and then, so my pediatrician wanted him to be allergy tested since he was already having issues with dairy and soy that I ate. During our appointment with the allergist I felt like we were completely blown off. The doctor performed a skin prick test on him and determined he was only allergic to egg. He told us that I should just reintroduce dairy and soy and that his eczema wasn’t bad enough to be a big deal. I left feeling very unsure, but I didn’t feel confident enough to question the doctor’s diagnosis, so we went on our way and I cut egg out of my diet as well.
A little while before Teddy turned nine months I gave him a tiny bit of hummus to taste. He ate it and immediately became red and blotchy and began coughing and gagging. I called my pediatrician who kindly referred us to a different allergist. During his appointment they did another skin prick test followed by a blood test. The results came back to show that Teddy was highly allergic to milk, egg, wheat, nuts, and sesame. I was upset but also felt relieved – we finally had some answers to all of the issues we were having! I cut all of those foods out of my diet, which was a HUGE adjustment, but the changes I saw in him were worth it. It was as if a switch was flipped and he was a new baby. He immediately became much happier and even began sleeping through the night for the very first time!
I had originally planned on weaning Teddy when he turned one, but I learned he would still need either whole milk (which he was allergic to) or hypoallergenic formula until he turned two, so I decided to keep breastfeeding as long as we were both enjoying it and my supply cooperated, despite having to go back at work full-time, which presented a whole new set of challenges. My “pumping room” was a tiny room with two chairs in the center of the library without a lock on the door. So every day during my lunch break, I would sit in one chair, balance my pump on the other, and hold the door shut with my foot while all of the students using the computers outside of the room would go “what’s that noise??” Despite the lack of privacy, I didn’t complain for fear of being criticized. I was the only pumping mom there, so I didn’t think others would understand.
One thing that surprised me after that first year was how much I actually loved the toddler nursing relationship. Not only were the nursing sessions shorter and further between, I felt so much less pressure now that Teddy was also doing a good job with solid foods. We ended up weaning around the time he turned two, when it just felt right for both of us.
If any other breastfeeding moms out there are struggling, I just want to say that I understand how you feel and you are amazing. Breastfeeding may be “natural”, but for me it was anything but easy. Despite everything I faced, I’m so happy I was able to stick with it and I hope you are able to do the same if that is what you want. Being your child’s sole source of nutrition is a lot of pressure and I don’t think there is enough support out there for breastfeeding mamas (or new moms in general). If I had it my way, every mom would be sent home from the hospital with a full-time assistant and a personal cheerleader. Until then, know that I’m here, cheering you on.