The lactation nurse who was seeing me when I was told I needed to admit my son to the NICU was the one I would end up seeing for breast-feeding support. Every Tuesday for a month my husband myself and my son would all go to my appointment.
In the beginning our appointments consisted of getting him to latch onto me. He was weighed prior to eating so we could see the difference in weight gain after he was done. Once he was latched he would eat on both sides until he came off on his own. The first couple of appointments I would only transfer about half an oz total. At this point he was eating 2 oz every 2 hours. The nurse wanted me to feed on demand. This means feed him every time he wants to eat. This is the best way of getting your milk supply up. I had already been doing it at the hospital and I would try again now that I had him home.
The next few weeks were brutal. I cringed at the thought of breastfeeding. His latch was not good yet and when he was hungry he would latch on whichever way he could as soon as I got close enough. I was sore, it would hurt to put on a bra or shower. Water hitting my nipples literally hurt. I also had occasional bleeding. I didn’t know it was happening at first but then my son spit up blood. I got scared when it happened because I didn’t know what the cause was. I made a same day appointment right after. Before we left for the appointment I pumped and when my letdown happened it was blood and not milk. I panicked but later found out it was normal and also safe for babies if some blood gets in their milk.
When a baby breastfeeds they need to completely latch onto the areola and not the nipple. The reason for this is because they need to extract all the milk and the way to do this is to stimulate the area around the areola which is where the mammary glands are. Mammary glands are what produce the milk. You can also massage your breasts in that area to promote let down and extraction of all of the milk.
Although it was hard I would breastfeed as often as I could. Breastfeeding was usually followed by formula. There were a couple times he would be satisfied with me but more times he would require a bottle right after. I knew when he wasn’t getting enough because he would tug, re-latch, and cry. He wasn’t getting enough from me and the fact that he ended up in the NICU starved and dehydrated because of my milk supply gave me anxiety. I would never hesitate to give him a bottle. This didn’t help my milk supply but it gave me peace of mind.
I would breastfeed about 3-4 times a day on average and then pump other times. I wasn’t very consistent with pumping because I was usually so tired. I would attempt to breastfeed for around 20 min then give him a bottle which took about 15 min for him to finish. This was followed by 30 min of burping him and keeping him elevated (he was showing signs of reflux). By the time he fell asleep there was probably less than an hour left before he would wake up and be hungry again so to pump in that short time span was hard for me to do.
When you don’t completely empty your breasts of milk you can get clogged milk ducts which can then lead to an infection or inflammation of your breast tissue which is called Mastisis. On a night before my lactation appointment I started to feel tired and cold so I went to bed early. Before I went to bed I pumped because my breasts were hurting so I thought I needed to empty them. I also took my temperature and I had a mild fever. I figured my body just needed rest because I was exhausted.
The next morning my breasts were warm and I could barely touch them because they were really tender. Soon after I woke up I started feeling really cold again (in the middle of summer in the valley) and soon after started getting the chills. My body began to uncontrollably tremble and my teeth uncontrollably clattered, at this point my temperature was 104. This went on for about an hour. All while this was happening my husband was trying to figure out what to do. He called both of our moms but neither knew what to do. He wanted to call the ambulance but the thought of having to be admitted to the hospital and having to be apart from my son again gave me such bad anxiety. I told him I would rather make it to my appointment and be seen by the lactation nurse since I felt it was breast related. When I finally stopped trembling I was able to get up and make it to my appointment. My body was so sore from trembling, it hurt to move around.
My poor husband told me that life as a single dad popped in his head while all of this was happening. He had just recovered from being sick since we got home from the hospital and now I wasn’t doing well. We felt like we couldn’t catch a break with everything that kept happening, so something that seems so small now was so stressful at the time.
When we were at our appointment I told her what happened to me that morning but she said it wasn’t mastitis. She couldn’t tell me what it was but I still believed I had it, maybe a mild version. The only symptoms I didn’t have were thickened breast tissue and skin redness, I had the other 5.
Once my son’s latch improved we introduced the SNS again. Since my milk supply was still low this would help me increase it while still making sure he was getting enough while at the breast. I thought this was going to be my answer on increasing my supply! Much to my surprise my son now did not care for the little tube to go in his mouth even though it meant he was getting food. We tried over and over again but he knew and would fight it.
When we would go to our appointments my husband and I would be stressed. Our son was gaining his weight back, but according to the lactation nurse it was at double the rate he should be gaining. She said if it was all breast milk she wouldn’t be concerned but since it was mostly formula she was because it could lead to obesity. Looking back now we stressed for no reason. His pediatrician never had a problem with his weight and knew it was from formula. Our lactation nurse was being tough on us since her job revolves around breast milk. We weren’t about to let our baby cry when he was hungry because he reached his limit on formula.
At my last appointment (I didn’t know it would be my last) the lactation nurse’s attitude seemed to change when she asked me the normal question of how much is he eating in 24 hours and how much of it was breast milk. The majority was and had always been formula. Since his latch had just improved a week prior I was still working on breastfeeding him more often but struggling with the fact that I would still bleed and did not want him to take that in. The week before I had researched more on tongue ties and the recovery. I found that babies need to relearn how to suck after being clipped since they had already learned in the womb. Now with it clipped they would need to relearn and could take anywhere from a few days to a few months. I asked her if this could be an issue with my son since his latch was not perfect. She ignored my question and asked me how much I was breastfeeding per day. I told her 3-4 times. Once I told her that she said she would not be scheduling a follow up appointment because if I’m only breastfeeding that many times per day there is nothing she could do for me. I was stunned when she said this but didn’t fight her on it. She gave me the name of a breastfeeding support group on Facebook and the number to the breastfeeding hotline for our insurance and sent us on our way.
I knew that the more I breastfed my supply would go up but I was struggling physically and mentally. When I would ask her for foods I could eat to increase my supply she told me to go full vegan. I felt like that was just her own lifestyle choice. Mentally I struggled because my son ended up in the NICU from not getting enough food from me to get rid of his bilirubin. So excuse me if I’m a little traumatized!
Leaving the appointment I felt like I was given up on but was also relieved. She never gave me good advise on how to increase my milk supply after what we tried didn’t work. I was relieved that we wouldn’t have to hear her complain about my son gaining weight too quickly because of formula. Although she did help me with getting him to latch properly I ended up finding more info on increasing milk supply on my own through family, friends and social media.
Looking back I do wish I would have been more educated on specific things. I wish I would have found supplements sooner and known about flange sizing while I was still at my consultations. I found that the flange (the part of the breast pump that goes over your boob) that I was using was too small. If it’s too small it tugs on the nipple and not the areola which doesn’t help in extracting the milk. If I have another baby I’m spending money on a good breast pump. The one the hospital gave me was ok but not as good as the one they let me use while I was at the NICU.
Although my breastfeeding journey has been hard and the opposite of what I wanted, what’s important now is that my son is a healthy boy. Everyone’s journey will be different and will end up being what’s best for them and their baby. Up until recently I would be embarrassed to take out a bottle in public. I would imagine someone asking me why I’m not breastfeeding my newborn and I would then have to explain myself. This never happened and was just a part of my anxiety. There isn’t one definition of what being a mom is. You make it what your baby needs it to be and in the end that’s all that matters.
*The picture in this post is of me breastfeeding in the car after a lactation appointment because he didn’t get enough at the appointment and couldn’t make it the 45 minutes home to eat again.