My two children, now five and two, have never had a drop of formula. I am very proud of that fact. Before you roll your eyes and skip this entry because you think it is going to be a preachy testament to nursing, don’t, because this isn’t. Although it is what breasts are made for, and although it is perfectly natural to nurse, it is not always easy to do. We struggled with engorgement, mastitis, latching problems, biting problems, and a child with a “tight tongue.” I probably couldn’t have done it without the following: a supportive husband, my mother, prenatal nursing classes, two lactation consultants, my doula, the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, and La Leche League.
My story begins while my first was still in the womb. I am the kind of person who needs to know anything and everything about something I’m doing. I was having a baby, so we took all the classes we could get our hands on. Evanston Northwestern Hospital (“ENH”) was fifteen minutes away. They offered baby care classes, a car seat class, CPR classes, prenatal exercise classes, and two levels of breastfeeding classes. My husband and I took them all (I excused him from the exercise classes). ENH offered two prenatal breastfeeding classes, a beginner and an advanced.
The very fact that ENH offered two levels of prenatal breastfeeding classes told us something right there — nursing is going to be challenging. The information was daunting. We learned about colostrum, low milk supply, engorgement, mastitis, sore nipples, thrush, how to evaluate the poopie, nursing positions, sleep patterns, inverted nipples, pumping products, bottle options, bottle nipple choices, bras, shields, supportive pillows, lotions, medications to avoid, the list goes on and on. We hardly knew anyone who enrolled in breastfeeding classes like these. We felt so prepared. We were not.n the hospital, my daughter, Eva, seemed to be nursing just fine. In fact, she liked to suck so much that I spent the night stretching my arm over the hospital bed into her crib so she could suck on my finger. When the pediatrician came to visit us, she told us that our daughter looked healthy. Before she left, she suggested, “If you want to supplement with formula, that’s just fine too.” I was shocked. It went against everything we had learned in our nursing classes. After all, giving a baby a bottle this early in the nursing stage would hurt my milk supply and would cause “nipple confusion.” We ignored her advice, after all, she wasn’t our preferred pediatrician, she was just someone we picked because she worked at Prentice where I gave birth.
Eva wanted to nurse all the time. My nipples were very sore, it was painful to nurse, and I was in tears. A day after we got home, we called the lactation consultant my doula recommended. She rushed right over and sat with me for an hour while I worked on getting Eva’s latch just right. To make matters worse, my milk hadn’t come in yet so Eva was starving. The lactation consultant’s scale revealed that Eva had lost more than the expected amount, which is typically ten percent of her body weight. Over the telephone, my nurse midwife said I should supplement right away. The lactation consultant suggested I keep on nursing Eva on demand and take a fenugreek herbal tincture (At the time, it was only available through the lactation consultant. Today, it can be found at Whole Foods, among other places).
I was torn and confused. I didn’t know what to do. Supplement or keep nursing? Between sobs to my mother on the telephone, she offered me her sage advice, “Follow your instincts.” I’ll never forget those words. They still guide me as I parent today.
The tincture worked! My milk came in just six hours later and there was plenty of it. The latch problems continued, however, and my loving husband spent many hours on the couch with Eva and me, helping me hold her chin down and quickly push her face in to my breast. Lansinoh cream applied after every feeding helped my raw nipples heal (watch out, it stains!) When Eva was just two weeks old, we made a quick trip to our first local La Leche League meeting where the leaders took the time to help me with my hold and give me a few more pointers on getting a good latch. Eventually, we got it right. Thankfully, she became a wonderful eater and sleeper. We were so lucky our hard work paid off.
I had my share of engorged breasts and one bout of mastitis that left me with a fever and flu-like symptoms. Eva was thriving, but she constantly wanted to suck on something. We were thrilled when the lactation consultant gave us the go ahead to introduce a pacifier after the fourth week. She loved her pacifier until she found her thumb. At five, she still sucks her thumb.
Nursing seemed to go just fine until she got a few teeth. At ten months, she began biting me. She thought my screams were amusing. The last straw was when she bit me so hard, I was bleeding! I called the lactation consultant. She gave me the most ridiculous advice, “Just reason with her. Tell Eva that it hurts Mommy when she bites.” “Um, she’s ten months old, do you really think I can reason with her?” I inquired. “Oh, you’d be surprised what she can understand.” I hung up the telephone. In my opinion, there was just no “reasoning” with a baby, especially one who thought it was funny to hear her mommy screech in pain. I called the pediatrician. The nurse who answered was very sympathetic and agreed that it was silly to try to reason with a ten-month-old. She recommended I try a nipple shield to protect my wounded breast. In those days, nipple shields were only available from a lactation consultant. I got one, but Eva wouldn’t go near it.
Finally, it was a La Leche League leader who gave me the best advice. She told me three things: 1) Try not to react because she may be doing it to get a response, 2) if she clamps down, push her face toward the breast so that she has to let go to breathe, 3) if she bites, stop nursing and explain to her there will be no nursing if she bites. I don’t remember how many more tries it took us, but she eventually stopped biting.
My son, who is still happily nursing today at twenty-nine months, owes his success to a different La Leche League leader. Charlie, like Eva, wanted to nurse all the time. My milk came in much sooner, which is common for the second baby. I helped it along a bit by taking the fenugreek tincture in the hospital as soon as Charlie was born. After we came home from the hospital, in addition to jaundice, we were struggling with a unique problem. Charlie would latch on, take a few sips, fall off the latch and cry at my breast. Telephone calls to two different lactation consultants didn’t help. A trip to the pediatrician didn’t help. Finally, I went to a La Leche League meeting. We stumped all three leaders as they watched Charlie nurse and cry.
One of the leaders worked with me on my hold. Charlie needed me to hold my breast up to him with one hand, while I held him with the other. This helped a bit, but we could tell he was still struggling. The leader got out a huge book and began leafing through it. She asked me whether I thought his tongue looked short. “Come to think of it, he never sticks his tongue out much farther than his own lips.” I replied. The leader suggested he may have a tight frendulum. The frendulum is the strip of skin just under the tongue. This is where the expression “tongue tied” comes from. The leader suggested I discuss this with the pediatrician.
The pediatrician looked at Charlie’s tongue and agreed he needed his frendulum cut. She referred me to a pediatric oral surgeon. A dab of numbing cream and a quick snip later, Charlie’s tongue was no longer “tight.” I nursed him immediately following the snip while the doctor explained that we were very lucky to be able to do the procedure now. He sees many children whose parents don’t realize they need their frendulum cut until their children are struggling with a speech impediment. Surgery on these older children is not a simple in-office procedure like Charlie’s. Although I still need to hold my breast up to Charlie’s mouth, his longer tongue has helped him to nurse like a champ
Today, Charlie and I face another problem — ignorance. He is a nursing toddler over the age of two, and many people fail to understand why I “allow” him to continue with it. Family members (not my husband), friends, and even strangers ask me, “How long do you plan to let him do that?” As if “that” were not a positive thing. I tell everyone that it is his decision. He will tell anyone who asks that he loves “Mommy’s milk” and that it is “delicious.” Believe me, I’m ready for it to end, I just want it to be his decision. Furthermore, the World Health Organization recommends that children nurse “for up to two years of age or beyond”. These days, I don’t need breastfeeding advice, but Charlie and I will go to La Leche League meetings just so I can feel “normal” and accepted among other mothers nursing their toddlers.
Why am I telling the public my nursing sagas? I want others to know that, for most of us, nursing does not come easily, but there are many different ways to get help. I doubt I could have or would have stuck with it if I did not have the support and the resources to get help (Although I subsequently joined La Leche League, they assist any nursing mom for free!). Furthermore, I doubt I would have nursed so long had I been a working mom. Indeed, finding a time and a place to pump breastmilk at the workplace continues to be a problem. Ah, but this is an entry for another day 🙂