As natural a thing as breastfeeding is, it doesn't come so naturally to all mamas and babies. As a matter of fact, breastfeeding can be downright HARD. Before I ever got pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed my children. I dreamt of time spent nursing my baby while we gazed into each other's eyes and formed that strong, unbreakable mama/baby bond. Breast milk is incredible, and our boobs are so smart that they can change our milk to meet our growing baby's needs. I assumed that when the time came, breastfeeding would happen easily and naturally for me. Boy was I wrong!
At around 20 weeks pregnant I started leaking colostrum. I took this as a sign that I was going to have an excellent milk supply which made me so happy! My milk came in quickly after my son was born, and at birth he latched on right away, but his latch wasn't perfect. The lactation consultant that came to see us in the hospital wasn't of much help. On of my nipples was a bit flat so she handed me a nipple shield and told me to start using that to help him get a good latch. Soon it became incredibly painful, and I was nursing him 24/7 and he still never seemed satisfied. He was gaining weight, but not as quickly as his doctor would have liked. At his two week checkup he was still slightly under birth weight, so I took him in a week later for a weight check. At that time he hadn't gained or lost any weight, he was exactly the same. I didn't see this as particularly being a problem, but our pediatrician did. He had us see a lactation consultant who advised me to STOP breastfeeding for 24 hours and solely pump and bottle feed my three week old baby in order to see what my supply was like. (This was terrible advice and began our struggle with nipple confusion.) I told her that I didn't think it was a supply issue and that I believed it was anatomical. I suspected that he had a lip tie because his top lip was always curled under rather than flanged out like a fish. No matter how many times I tried to flip his lip out, it was too tight and he would either pop off or close his mouth up just enough to curl his lip back under. Our first pediatrician blew me off when I mentioned this and said my son was just a "lazy nurser." (We have a new doc now.) The lactation consultant just kept telling me his latch "looked fine" from the outside and that it must be my supply. I saw several other lactation consultants and no one could figure out why my son was not doing a nutritive suck in order to transfer milk efficiently. At one point I was even told there was nothing more they could do to try to help us, that it must be a "psychological issue" (Really? In a three week old baby?! Please.) and I was simply handed a six pack of formula, instructed to start supplementing him, and sent on my way. I went home and cried. As many times as I suggested the lip tie, no one took me seriously ore even humored me by flipping up his lip to check. I wasn't willing to give up on breastfeeding and I certainly did not want to put my child on formula. So in an effort to continue working at breastfeeding and maintaining my supply, every day I would breastfeed for 15 minutes on each side, top him off with a bottle of anywhere from 1 -2.5 oz of pumped milk depending on how much he was able to get out of me, then pump for 30 minutes to keep up my supply. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It was exhausting. I went to a La Leche League meeting and was advised to try an SNS (supplemental nursing system) to try to encourage my son to breastfeed effectively and get rid of the bottle. To paint a picture for you, an SNS is a bottle that you fill with pumped milk or formula and hang around your neck. It has two thin tubes that come out of it which you then tape to your nipples. As baby sucks, he pulls milk from the tubes. This gives them instant gratification at the breast and is supposed to fix nipple confusion as well as help to increase milk supply due to the stimulation to the breasts. However in my son's case, as soon as the SNS bottle was empty he stopped trying.
I was getting up to pump two to three times in the middle of the night in order to keep my supply up. Regardless of my tireless efforts, I wasn't always able to pump often enough or relax enough to have sufficient let downs to get all the milk my son needed, so eventually I was faced with the reality that I would have to supplement him. This devastated me. All I wanted was to be able to breastfeed my child. I felt like I was failing him. I worried about our bond and if it wouldn't be as strong if he wasn't breastfed exclusively. I researched baby formulas extensively, reached out to friends for advice, and finally settled on giving him the best organic formula I could find. The first time we gave him formula, I cried and cried. Even though it was organic and was by far the best one available in the US (Baby's Only Organic Whey Formula) there were still ingredients in it that I wasn't comfortable with. (More on that later.) I feared he would begin to prefer formula and reject my boob and my milk all together.
Fast forward to when my son turned three months old. He had developed acid reflux and colic due to his latch issues on both the breast and the bottle. He would scream and cry in pain from his reflux and could not be laid down flat at all. He was a "silent spitter" meaning the reflux would come up into his esophagus but not all the way out of his mouth, so he would end up swallowing it back down and it would burn both ways. Poor little! He would have a fit for a couple of hours each evening and cry uncontrollably. It was heartbreaking to hear him cry in pain and not be able to fix it for him! Upon the recommendation of a dear friend, I took my son to a pediatric chiropractor to try to get some help with his tummy issues, and I mentioned that I thought he had a lip tie. He checked my son and said that yes, he did indeed have a lip tie and it was as clear as day! I couldn't believe it! Someone was not only taking me seriously, but they were agreeing with me! He referred us to a pediatric dentist who confirmed the lip tie and told us that he also has a posterior tongue tie. The tongue tie was mild enough that we could let it be but his lip tie was significant enough that treatment was highly recommended. There are two options for releasing lip and tongue ties; with a laser, or snipping it with scissors. We chose to have it lasered because there is minimal pain and bleeding since the laser cauterizes as it goes, and the healing time is a bit shorter. All that was involved was applying a little topical numbing gel and then the laser is used to release the tie. It took about two minutes and the improvement was immediate! My son was able to flange out his upper lip and he began eating full meals just by breastfeeding alone! I can't even begin to express how happy this made me feel!
It's been a month now and breastfeeding continues to improve. I can actually hear him guzzling down milk! My milk supply has gone way up and he is now barely getting any supplementation. Some days he doesn't need any formula at all (yay!) but some days he has a bit of a setback, (usually when he is very tired) and if I can't pump enough (I have never been the best pumper) then he will need a few of ounces of formula in the evening or in the middle of the night. Even though what we were giving him was the best option for baby formula available in the US, I still didn't feel good about giving it to him. So what's a mama to do? I did a TON of research and finally decided to make my own all organic goat milk formula. My son LOVES it and gobbles it right up! (See my recipe for homemade formula here) He is about 95% breastfed at this point which is a HUGE improvement! As we continue to work on breastfeeding (relearning how to suck properly when you've been doing it one way your whole life is hard work!) and weaning away from any formula, I can now feel confident that I'm giving my son the next best thing to my breast milk. (Donor milk is also a great option if you get it from someone you know and trust. The diet of the donor is important, especially if your child has any allergies or sensitivities.)
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, you're not alone! It's HARD! Here are some things that can help;
Listen to your mama intuition ~ if you suspect something is preventing breastfeeding from working the way it should, then you're probably right. Keep searching until you find the source of the problem. Your first inclination is probably right.
Get a second opinion, and a third if necessary.
Check for physical issues such as lip or tongue tie. A Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can usually diagnose them as well.
Check the baby's latch. Is it deep enough? Is your breastfeeding position not comfortable for you and/or your baby? Try switching it up.
Definitely take advantage of the La Leche League. They have monthly meetings and you can call and talk to one of their leaders for free any time. They are wonderfully helpful and, its free. http://www.llli.org
If breastfeeding is not an option, do your research on which supplementation is best for you. There are many options available from donor milk to organic baby formulas to making your own homemade formula. Don't let anyone make you feel badly for having to supplement your child! As mamas we are all doing the very best we can and doing what we believe is best for our baby. And feeding your baby is the most important thing, regardless.