End The Breastfeeding Struggle: The One Thing That Saved My Sanity
End The Breastfeeding Struggle: The One Thing That Saved My Sanity
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It’s been years since I held my nursing babies in my arms, but the breastfeeding struggle is still very vivid.
*The three steps I was told would end my breastfeeding struggle (…didn’t come close)
*Comic relief with A Day in the Life of Rachel (this is a funny, must-read for any mom, whether you’re breastfeeding or not)
*The precious gem that kicked my breastfeeding struggle to the curb: The Nipple Shield
*The 15-day happy challenge that any struggling mom could get inspired by.
If you’re here to check out my tiny miracle, the nipple shield — which I so hope will be a miracle for you, too — please take the time to read My Story and especially A Day in the Life of Rachel, first. I promise, I’ll give you the details on the forbidden fruit, aka, the nipple shield, but first, it’s so important for you to recognize you’re not alone.
During my first few weeks as a new mom, I felt very alone. I was enduring a breastfeeding struggle and it was like nothing I would have ever imagined. The people I thought could give me the best advice, seemed to be keeping me in the dark.
I wish I had had other moms to talk to or stories to read, about moms going through the same thing, but I didn’t. And when hormones are already raging and going wild, it’s not a good place to be.
To breastfeed or not, that is the question.
Being a mom gives you the right to make the choice to breastfeed or not, and no one should make you feel like a bad person, no matter what decision you make. But sometimes, the decision you wanted to make isn’t always as easy as you thought it would be.
It was Nov. 4th, 2005; my sister’s birthday. We celebrated at my parents’ home and I was played out. A few days shy of 8 months pregnant and all I wanted to do was crawl into my nice warm bed.
You guessed it. I awaken to an extremely full bladder. The joys of pregnancy. I realize now, that was just nature’s way of preparing me for all of the upcoming interrupted nights.
Ready to slip back into bed, and… wait, what? Um, something doesn’t seem quite right. I’m pretty sure my water just broke.
Fast forward to Nov. 7th (because the days in between are another story altogether), and my beautiful baby girl is in my arms, exactly one month early.
I’m eager to figure this mom-thing out, and nursing is one of the choices I decided was a good fit for us.
My first experience trying to nurse was a complete and utter failure. Latching wasn’t happening and, last I checked, that’s pretty key to breastfeeding success.
What was I doing wrong?
I had no clue, but was informed that I would have to be taught how to nurse. Ummmmmm, what? Seriously, do people train to nurse? Isn’t this just suppose to happen naturally? And why wasn’t I told about the potential for a breastfeeding struggle in all of those prenatal classes you feel guilty about not attending, because, of course, if you’re a ‘good’ mom, you wouldn’t dare opt out? Right? Or at least that’s how I felt.
The bottom line?
I won’t give you all the dirty details, but what I’ll tell you is this: my baby was born early. Early arrivals aren’t always completely developed. One of my baby’s underdevelopments happened to be the suck reflex. Yup. Lucky me.
So back to the suck reflex issue. Well, it sucked.
Basically, my daughter didn’t get the stimulation needed on the roof/back of her mouth, that would trigger her to suck. No trigger, no milk. And when she did get a bit of stimulation, she had to work so hard for milk, she got exhausted and fell asleep.
As a mom of less than two days, I thought her sleeping was a good thing. I mean, if she fell asleep, she must be full, right?
Remember how I said I needed to be taught to nurse? Well, the ‘breastfeeding teacher’ never showed for class. Or so it seemed.
What happened, you ask?
Well, what came next can only be described as one of the most ridiculous things any new mom should ever have to endure. If I had to make the choice over, I would never do it again. But as a determined mom, you don’t even realize you’re working on zero steam until you have time to look back and reflect.
As for the Breastfeeding 101 Course I thought I was getting?
Well if you thought latching issues were the icing on the breastfeeding-struggle cake, I’m about to tell you about the cherry on top.
The solution they gave me?
It was simple. Use a tiny little tube to feed my daughter, until she learned to suck.
How did it work? I’m about to tell you. But let me be clear: it was not as simple as I thought it would be.
First Mom pumps off milk.
When Baby is ready to feed, Mom places milk into a large test tube thingy. Yes, that’s what I called it.
Attached to the large test tube thingy is the tiniest little plastic tube you’ve ever seen. This will act as a straw — kind of. Oh, and the end of that tiny tube?
That tiny tube gets taped to mom’s boob, right at the nipple.
Apparently this teaches Baby to nurse. I would later find out this only made her lazy, but I digress.
Now that Mom is prepared for nursing, viola! When the sucking begins — with little to no work for Baby — the milk magically appears in their mouth. Baby goes through the ‘nursing’ motions, so this will act as preparation for the real thing. Or so I was told.
Sounds simple enough, right?
After the three steps above are followed, the process isn’t over.
Next, Mom holds the big tube full of milk high into the air when she wants a steady milk flow (Baby will choke because it’s too much to handle all at once, and Mom tries to learn quickly how to find the magic spot of perfect milk-flow regulation).
When she wants to slow the stream of milk down, she lowers the tube so that it doesn’t funnel down her baby’s throat at lightning speed.
Again, I hope you can picture it. It only gets better.
Now new mom tries to hold her baby to nurse. Remember, this mom has no clue how to nurse properly, so rather than give her an easy solution, she’s going to instead be challenged to do it one-handed. She looks for the candid camera, but joke’s on her. This is real life.
Back to the story:
Baby in one hand (and if it’s a premie, good luck even if Mom is using a nursing pillow), test-tube in the other. Mom cradles Baby’s head with one hand, gently balancing Baby’s body on her arm, all the while raising and lowering the other hand constantly — because this technique is not easy to get the hang of.
And remember: Baby needs to feed for about 20 minutes. Have fun with that.
Now that you understand the process, brace yourself as I show you what life in the day of Rachel looked like back in 2005. And I did this for an entire month. Count it up. 30 Days. I can’t even commit to a 30-minute workout for 30 consecutive days, but somehow I became Test-Tube-Feeding-Marathon-Mom. I’m exhausted just thinking back.
Pick a time, any time… because we all know newborns have their own schedule.
Let say 12 a.m. That’s a fun time to start.
Really try to imagine this is you, just to get the full obnoxious experience. How my breastfeeding struggle didn’t steal my sanity, I’ll never know.
12 a.m. ~ Baby wakes up hungry.
12:05 a.m. ~ You warm the milk on the stove because microwaving it — although much faster — makes the temperature uneven, and you’ll burn baby’s mouth, no matter how careful you are. Only bad moms use microwaves. Don’t be a bad mom. Don’t be lazy.
Baby is screeching but you shush in her ear. If that doesn’t work, you’ll try bouncing, or rocking. But whatever you do, keep her away from the hot stove. You’re tired, and there’s no telling what kind of mistake you might make as an inexperienced mother.
12:10 a.m. ~ You think: That was the longest 10 minutes of my life — but get real, lady, you don’t even know what motherhood looks like yet. This is only the beginning. Of course, you’re a new mom, and you’ve so much to learn.
12:12 a.m. ~ Baby is still screaming because you’ve laid her back down. You fill the perfectly-heated milk into the test tube. You plug the other end with your finger, because breastmilk is precious. You cannot lose a drop.
12:13 a.m. ~ You sit down in a chair/on the sofa — wherever you want, really. Oops. You forgot to get the baby.
12:14 a.m. ~ You pick up the baby, trying to sooth the desperate cries. Of course, you’re doing this with just one hand because you still have a hold of that test tube, remember?
12:15 a.m. ~ Finally, you’re ready. Joke’s on you. You forgot to grab the tape to attach the tiny tube you’re clinging to with every fibre that is left of your sanity. Yeah, the tube that needs to stick on your boob? That one.
12:16 a.m. ~ You pick baby back up, and place her in the bassinet. Of course, you could leave her on the sofa. You debate doing this. She’s a newborn. She can’t roll off. Hmmmmm…. But, as any ‘good’ mom would, you decide against this (just wait until your second comes along — it’s a whole new ball game. But you don’t know this yet).
12:17 a.m. ~ Baby’s back in the crib. You find the tape, grab it as quick as you can and scoop baby up once again. Baby is starving at this point and makes no bones about letting you know it.
12:18 a.m. ~ Flopped back onto the sofa, you’re all set. Your arm is killing you and you realize you’re squeezing the tiny tube with more force than you ever thought possible. You want to cry. But you’re strong. Of course, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, and you’re baby is crying louder than ever, so nobody will notice if you start wailing, too. So go ahead, let it out.
12:19 a.m. ~ You decide to stop crying because as you attempt to peel the tape with your teeth, in your one-handed situation, you quickly realize you can’t see through your own tears. Pity-party over.
12:20 a.m. ~ The tiny tube is finally taped to your fully-exposed breast, and you’re ready to begin. Baby is rooting like nobody’s business and you take the first opportunity seeing a wide-open mouth and just pray that this will go well.
12:21 a.m. ~ One hand in the air, another at the back of the tiniest head you’ve ever laid eyes on, and the crying stops.
12:22 a.m. ~ Show’s over. Let the choking begin. Seriously. I know it’s late, but did you forget that the higher you hold the tube, the faster the milk flows? Great.
12:23 a.m. ~ Now you have to sit baby up, pat her back and try to catch anything that might come flying from her mouth. On the plus side, you’re becoming a one-handed genius.
12:24 a.m. ~ You thought you were prepared, but where’s the burp cloth? You decide it’s just too much trouble to go get it and figure a little spit up is a fair trade. You’re already losing your sanity.
12:25 a.m. ~ Baby is ready to nurse again, and you’re ready to set your eagerness-to-get-this-process-done aside, and hold the tube ‘just right.’ You grab a pillow, or a blanket — anything you can get your hands on really — to prop under your elbow. Your arm is shooting pain right to your shoulder and down your back.
12:26 a.m. ~ You tell yourself it’s all worth it. You want to breastfeed. The breast is best. Yes. You secretly wish there was another way, but refuse to give up.
12:30 a.m. ~ Your body jolts. You fell asleep. Who falls asleep with a 3-day old baby on their lap? Not a ‘good’ mom. You decide to pretend it didn’t happen. It’s kind of like “if a tree falls in the forest…” right? Seriously, if no one was around to witness it, did it even happen?
12:31 a.m. ~ Oh no! Baby fell asleep, too. You remember the nurse saying something about feeding for at least 20 minutes. Or at least until a certain amount of milk was gone. Which was it? Of course, you remind yourself that a ‘good’ mom would know the answer, and you start crying again.
12:32 a.m. ~ You also remember the nurse told you Baby would be exhausted because she’s so little; that she would need stimulation if she fell asleep before feeding enough. But then you also remember a nurse saying if Baby falls asleep while feeding, she’s content and full. And another nurse said to never wake a sleeping baby. But another one said you should always wake baby when the routine calls for it.
12:36 a.m. ~ Baby is still asleep. Your hand is miraculously moulded mid-air, and thank goodness it’s gone numb because you no longer feel the pain.
12:37 a.m. ~ You’re confused about the nurses advice. They’ve all been great, but you can’t understand why they’re telling you different things. (You’ll realize when you’re a seasoned mom that these nurses were probably all mothers themselves and were giving you advice based on what worked best for them. You don’t know it yet, but one of the joys of being a mom is that you get to decide what works best for you and your baby. No, they don’t tell you this ahead of time, which is unfortunate, because you’ve been trying to feed your baby for 37 minutes and have gotten nowhere.)
12:38 a.m. ~ You wake baby up and try to feed her again. You’re exhausted. Too exhausted to even cry. You know you have to save every ounce of energy, so you turn into SuperMom, and get it done.
1:00 a.m. ~ Baby is fed, burped, changed, and back to sleep. You know baby feeds every 2-3 hours so you are eager to get some sleep, too.
1:01 a.m. ~ But wait. Don’t you remember? You’re not just any breast-feeding mom. No. Because you have a breastfeeding struggle, it means you feed with a tube. You don’t get to sleep just yet.
1:02 a.m. ~ You pull out the breast pump. Thank goodness for your cousin who gave you a double breast pump, because if you had to pump one boob at a time, you’d be off the deep end by now. (You’ll later pat yourself on the back for being a Superstar during this crazy time, but right now, you don’t realize how amazing you are).
1:22 a.m. ~ They say that once your body gets used to breast feeding you’ll be able to completely pump in ten minutes flat. Until then, you give up after twenty, knowing you could go longer but sweet sleep is begging you to give in.
1:23 a.m. ~ You whip your milkers off, ignoring the drops of milk that fall onto your lap. You wonder if you even changed your pants from yesterday, but the days seem like one, and who really cares anyway?
1:27 a.m. ~ You package up the milk, and place it in the fridge. The stove is cranked to maximum as you wait for the water to boil. Every time you pump, you need to sterilize. Every time you feed Baby, the tubes need to be sterilized, too.
1:40 a.m. ~ The equipment has boiled for the ideal, ten-minute rule that any ‘good’ mom would follow. You don’t even know how your eyes are still open, but are just thankful you didn’t fall asleep and burn the house down. That certainly wouldn’t be winning you any awards.
1:42 a.m. ~ You snuggle down, only to fling the blanket off of you quicker than you ever imagined you had the energy for. You realize you didn’t write anything down. You know, that sheet you get when you first come home? The paper that asks you how much Baby ate, how long it took, did they pee, did they poop, the list goes on.
1:45 a.m. ~ You scribbled down everything as fast as you could and now finally, it is time to close your eyes. You have never been so happy to lay your head on a pillow. Sleep takes over and you are off to dreamland. Bliss.
2:30 a.m. ~ Your dream is vivid. There is a lady reading on an outdoor bench. You see a stroller sitting by a tree. The baby inside is crying. The lady, who you assume is the mother, won’t budge from her seat on the bench. The baby is only 4 feet away. What is her problem? You feel angry. The baby is screaming and you want to pick it up. You approach the stroller and the lady looks up at you and she now has the head of a snake. The snake-lady bounds her viper teeth at your face and you jolt awake. Although you’re awake, the sounds of a crying baby don’t stop.
2:31 a.m. ~ Of course, you realize the crying is that of your own baby. And now you start the process over again. Good luck, Mama. You’re going to need it.
How I ever made it past the first day I will never know. But my breastfeeding struggle did not need to lead to this. Albeit, I firmly believe the best intentions were there, it was absurd to think any mother could keep up with this.
Two days later the health nurse came.
She came into the house, talked to me, probably scoped the place out in the meantime (or at least that’s what it feels like when the mandatory invasion takes place), and weighed my baby.
This is when I was presented with the Mom-of-the-Year Award. Oh, wait. Substitute Failure for Mom, and we’re good to go. Yeah, because the blow I was dealt with next made me feel like nothing more than a complete and utter failure.
I was told my baby was actually losing weight and not gaining. My tiny baby was barely hitting 5-pounds. Why? Because apparently I wasn’t doing a good enough job feeding her. Umm-hmmm. She wasn’t feeding as long as she should have been.
And in case you missed what a day in the life of Rachel looked like at that time, be sure to check it out. Seriously. I don’t remember when I wasn’t nursing, so how could this possibly be happening?
Oh, and the beautiful olive skin tone I though my daughter had? Not so beautiful when you find out it’s caused by jaundice.
How did this all happen? Well, don’t bother asking the new mom who doesn’t know how to breastfeed. Or how to tell that her baby is starving. Or how to tell her baby is jaundice and needs immediate care. No, that woman hasn’t a clue what’s happening because her world feels like it’s spinning out of control. The one thing you could do, is make her feel like everything is going to be alright. But instead, why not make her feel guilty for doing it all wrong? Oh wait. She ALREADY feels that way.
Sorry. I got a little side-tracked there. No, I’m not bitter, but if you couldn’t tell already, the nurse I saw that day, did me no favours and the memory is still painful.
At that point I was told my baby would have to be admitted immediately to the hospital, and she needed more milk than I was giving her. I already got that memo, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Twenty-four. Hours. A Day.
In the blur of it all I can remember hearing the nurse say that since there wasn’t enough milk going through her, jaundice was setting in and she may need to be placed in an incubator. Now, as a mom with experience, this wouldn’t bother me today. But almost 12 years ago, when I had no clue what any of this even meant, I was devastated.
I packed up my beautiful bundle and headed to the hospital. I cried the entire way.
What happened over the next few days could be another story in and of itself. Long story short: I was told to attach the little tube to my pinky finger for most feedings instead. This shaved off about 2 minutes of the process but was easier for my baby to latch, so she gained weight and we could finally go home.
I was still in a daze, but the motions were so monotonous, I could go through them in my sleep — and I did.
In short, I was sent an Earth Angel, and my life was forever changed.
After a month home with my baby, a new health nurse came to visit me. I told her about all that I was going through. I told her I was determined to make breastfeeding work, but that I was worried I simply had no energy left and needed help.
What she said next will never leave my memory. She said, “Well, there is something you could try but most nurses won’t promote them. It’s something called a Nipple Shield.”
Of course, I had no idea what this was, but she promised to get me one and show me how to use it. I didn’t hesitate.
If you’re still with me, there’s something I want you to know. These little gems might be readily available in your area, which would be awesome. But, if they aren’t, or if someone is trying to deter you from using it, ignore them.
The Nipple Shield saved my life. My breastfeeding struggle ended the day I started using this, and I’ve never looked back.
*The nipple shield is fake (um, yup… figured that one out pretty quickly, already).
*Nipple shields will probably only work short-term. This was not the case for me.
*They interrupt the natural way my baby would learn to breastfeed. Natural? If you didn’t already read A Day in the Life of Rachel, do it now. ‘Nuff said.
*The nipple shield would decrease my milk flow. Again, no issues there.
Can you imagine?
I was about to give up breastfeeding all because of the ridiculous process I’d been told to use. I was asked to tape a plastic tube to my boob. I was expected to hold a tube in one hand, somewhere in the air, above my shoulder, for twenty minute feeds, every 2-3 hours, all the while trying to maneuver a 5 pound baby with the other arm.
And all I could think was:
And you say the nipple shield isn’t natural? Well, the nipple shield completely saved my sanity and allowed me to continue to breastfeed my daughter.
My water broke just shy of 8 weeks early. Another preemie baby. Although there is another long story that goes along with her, that’s for a different post.
As a seasoned mom, I bet you can guess what I did.
I took one shot at breastfeeding this tiny 4 pound baby, and ‘failed’. So guess what? I asked for a nipple shield. And the nurse gave me one.
A day in the life of Rachel looked just like any breastfeeding mom who’s feeling successful. Tired, but not struggling. And I got to use both hands to wrap around my baby while she fed. Bliss.
If you’re having breastfeeding struggles and looking for another option before throwing in the towel, give the Nipple Shield a try. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you’re unsure if the Nipple Shield would be a good fit for you and your baby, read up on it first and make your decision from there. Whatever you choose, if it’s the right choice for you, you’re doing a great job. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Whatever your breastfeeding experience, whether it be a breastfeeding struggle, a breastfeeding frenzy, or a choice to not breastfeed at all, tell me all about it in the comments section below.
If you’re a mom who needs a little pick-me-up, don’t forget how important it is to do something for yourself. Join in the 15 Day Happy Challenge where you focus on gratitude, happiness, and most importantly, you! You won’t be disappointed.
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