Over the past eleven weeks, I’ve learned so much more from nursing (or at least trying to nurse!) than I ever could have imagined. Nursing has taught me more about patience, perseverance and how best to combat and endure pain than almost anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. Prior to Naiya’s birth, I don’t think I ever realized just how incredibly challenging it is for so many women to nurse their babies. I assumed the baby comes out and voila, they learn to eat. For this reason, I figured I’d share my own nursing story in hopes that it might help other moms and moms-to-be know they’re not alone if they’re struggling too.
Nursing: Back To The Beginning
My nursing journey began after Naiya’s emergency c-section on August 30th. I was so out of it from my surgery that when it came time to nurse Naiya for the first time a couple hours later, my nurse handed over a nipple shield to help her to latch on more easily. I had no idea how to use it but somehow Naiya latched on like a total pro. It felt like an amazing bonding moment–especially because I was able to feed her colostrum (or “liquid gold”–the nutrient-dense yellow-colored milk that moms produce right after a baby is born) and Naiya seemed satiated.
From there, as I started to recuperate over the next five days in the hospital, we couldn’t get Naiya to latch without the shield. It was then that I started to realize just how challenging nursing really was. I figured it would all get better with time and that I’d fall into more of a nursing routine soon.
Nipple Shield Nightmare
My milk didn’t come in until I got home from the hospital around day six post-labor, at which time I was still using the nipple shield to feed Naiya. Once my milk came in, though, Naiya started to injure me pretty severely by pulling my nipples right through the shield as she ate. I later learned that she wasn’t using her tongue properly and that her tongue positioning would only improve with time as she got older. I realized right away that I’d need to figure out how to get her off of the shield ASAP in order to continue nursing successfully. I kept trying to do so on my own at every feeding but Naiya wasn’t having it.
HELP! Lactation Consultants To The Rescue?
I knew I needed to seek professional help so Naiya and I met with three different lactation consultants. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t get her to latch on without the shield. With the shield, Naiya continued to injure me so badly, the lactation experts suggested I pump 7-8 times a day exclusively instead of nursing–at least for a few weeks while I healed.
They suggested I also rent a hospital-grade Medela Symphony pump to combat what had also become over-production of milk (the pump my insurance provided for free simply wasn’t getting all of my milk out and this was causing infection on top of everything else).
Pumping around the clock became extremely lonely and I had to be really careful not to isolate myself too much. I started to get so down during this time because I was still recuperating from my c-section, I didn’t feel like myself and I couldn’t leave the house yet because Naiya didn’t have her shots.
Moreover, every time I’d finish pumping, it felt like a new countdown would start because I knew I’d have to pump again so soon. It became impossible to plan anything around my pumping sessions and I felt so stressed out and alone.
Pumping: The Hardest Part
Hands down, the hardest part throughout this time was pumping every 3-4 hours overnight–on top of feeding Naiya with bottles and soothing her whenever she woke up (which was very often).
Pumping and feeding her with bottles felt like pulling double duty all night and it was completely exhausting!
Needless to say, for the first 9.5 weeks of Naiya’s life, I truly didn’t sleep more than 2-3 hours at a time tops. It was so intense and looking back, I honestly don’t know how I got through it. Phil was exhausted too and we wondered if we’d ever be able to sleep again, let alone find a solution to our feeding problem.
Extreme Reflux, Allergies and “The Elimination Diet”
On top of all of this, very early on, Naiya also developed what we later learned were severe reflux as well as allergies to my milk and to formula. We knew this because Naiya was constantly uber-fussy and our pediatrician also found blood in her stools. She was also writhing in pain–straightening out her legs and arching her head back after every feeding (while crying hysterically for hours on end!). Likewise, per her doctor’s suggestion, I was put on the “Elimination Diet,” a soy, dairy, gluten and nut-free diet (on top of already being a vegetarian).
It turned out that these types of foods were most likely causing Naiya intestinal inflammation because she was allergic to them. It was our hope that if I eliminated them from my diet that she would feel better but it’s been really hard! It’s crazy how many of the foods we eat contain soy, let alone nuts, gluten and dairy.
Likewise, over the past few weeks, I’ve been checking labels like a crazy person. It’s been so difficult to eat out because it’s hard to know what ingredients are in the foods I order when they aren’t listed in full. One little slip-up and Naiya will get sick so I have to be careful. Every potential food slip-up can remain in my breastmilk for up to three weeks!
Our pediatrician and a GI specialist also ended up putting Naiya on a couple of different prescriptions for reflux, as well as a prescription-based formula called Neocate because it was the only one that she could actually digest. The great news is that Naiya finally slept through the night for the first time a week ago and these medications seem to be working!
Eleven Weeks In
Eleven weeks in, I’m beyond excited to share that Naiya finally latched for the very first time without the shield this past Sunday evening! I was at my nephew’s first birthday party and I don’t know what prompted me to try nursing her one last time but I did and it was so meant to be. I took away the shield a few minutes into her feed and she was able to eat without it on both sides! There were so many times over the past couple of months that I almost threw in the nursing towel.
There were a lot of tears and I constantly felt giving up. I kept getting to the point where I would have been absolutely okay with it–(I even donated over 100 bags of pumped milk to a family in need!) until I’d hear a little voice in my head that would say ‘keep going–maybe soon she will be able to do it.’
No one around me was pressuring me to nurse by any means but for some reason, I so badly wanted to figure out how to make it work.
Nursing: Up Next
I’m not exactly sure what our next steps are in terms of nursing vs. formula but for now, I think we’re going to try a combo of both while we continue to monitor Naiya’s tummy.
I’m also continuing to pump but am so thankful that I’ve been able to train my body to make it through the night without having to pump every 3-4 hours. This has been life-changing for me because I am actually able to get some solid sleep and I feel like a new person!
All of this said, I’ve learned so much about nursing and pumping over the past few weeks, I barely remember what life was like before.
I know so many moms who are able to nurse for over a year without a problem and truthfully, with all of the issues we’ve had, I’m not sure I will be one of them. Instead, I take it one day at a time. That said, I’ve given it my all and no matter what happens from here, I’ll always find solace in the fact that I’ve tried my best.
An Ode To Other New Mamas
To all of the nursing mamas out there, you are warriors. I can’t believe how difficult it can be and I have so much respect for you. To all of the moms feeding their babies formula, you are absolutely rockstars too–don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and do not beat yourself up (as I know I’ve done to myself).
At the end of the day, fed is best and it’s most important to have a happy and healthy baby, as well as a happy and healthy mom. For anyone else struggling with nursing, please know that you’re not alone and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am not quite there yet but for the first time in our nursing journey, I can absolutely see it and just knowing it’s there feels amazing.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Katrina Jane