As soon as I found out that I was pregnant, I envisioned breastfeeding my baby. I dreamed of sitting in a rocking chair in her nursery, wearing a super cute nursing pajama set and breastfeeding my baby like it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world.
At my 37 weeks pregnant ultrasound appointment, I discovered through an ultrasound that my little girl had a cleft lip and possibly a cleft palate. We were sent to Riley to meet with a team of doctors who specialize in this. At the appointment, I learned that there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed due to her cleft. I was sent home with a ton of information, special bottles, feeding tubes and specialty nipples. I felt heartbroken. I was so unsure of her future. We weren’t sure if her palate was affected, if it was, then we weren’t sure how we could feed her. I felt the dream of nursing my baby slipping away.
The day came for her delivery, and my husband and I (and all of our family) couldn’t wait to meet our first child. We had all the excitement and anticipation of any other first-time parent. However, it was coupled with the fear of how severe the cleft lip was. We would not know until she was born if her palate was affected or how severe her cleft lip would be. I prayed and prayed for a healthy child, one I could love and care for, I also prayed that I would be given a chance to nurse my baby girl.
After a long inducement and a quick delivery, our sweet child was brought in to this world. She was perfect. She had a cleft lip and no issues with her palate. The doctors were still unsure how this would affect her nursing and I was encouraged to attend breastfeeding support groups that were led by lactation consultants.
My first support group meeting was so eye-opening. We met in a conference room in the hospital, all of us sitting around a large table as if we were at a board meeting. We would weigh our babies, nurse them and then weigh them again. The lactation consultants helped each of us and answered the million questions we all had. My little girl did wonderfully. We were all surprised and amazed how well she nursed despite her cleft lip. The lactation consultants were vital in helping me learn how to nurse, troubleshoot any problems that came up, and they gave me confidence in this new endeavor.
Around that table, I saw so many different mothers, all feeding their babies the best they could. I saw women pumping then instantly putting their milk into a feeding tube for their special needs newborn. There was a woman nursing both of her twins at the same time. Some women struggled with supply and would nurse then supplement, then nurse again. This table full of women was awe inspiring. We were all trying with all we had to simply meet the most basic need for our babies. There was no judging or shaming, just encouragement and support. I think all of us had probably envisioned that nursing would be easy and natural. We assumed that because mothers have been nursing their babies since the beginning of time, we could do it too. Then reality hit us, it is not easy and most times it does not just come naturally.
Many of my friends nursed their babies. Their stories are all different. Some had too much milk, some not enough. Some loved nursing and it broke their hearts to stop, some would nurse for 6 weeks and decide they were done. Some friends pumped at work every day and some struggled to pump at all. No matter their story, they all love their children.
I also try to encourage other mothers, if they don’t enjoy breastfeeding, if it isn’t working out, or if the amount of stress it is adding to their lives is overwhelming – please bottle feed your baby. The first year of motherhood is hard enough, give yourself permission to formula feed that precious newborn. You will still bond with your child, your significant other can help and bond too. Your child will be fed, you will be meeting that basic need, and that is indeed the ultimate goal.
With the support of lactation consultants and a husband that would wait on me hand and foot while I nursed our baby, I was able to breastfeed with little trouble. I was able to sit up several nights in her nursery and lovingly nurse my baby to sleep. My dream of breastfeeding came true and I am so grateful to have had that amazing experience.