my breastfeeding journey

my breastfeeding journey

If you are weirded out by posts about breastfeeding, or if words like breast and nipple make you uncomfortable then you might want to stop reading this post. :-) I know this is can be a sensitive topic for some, and I am not trying to make a statement or “prove” that my way is better than another. I am mostly writing my breastfeeding story for my own benefit (because I do feel it is a triumphant story for me), and hopefully to encourage any other moms who might need that right now. Extended breastfeeding was something that worked for us, but I wouldn’t ever suggest that everyone should do the same.

When I was pregnant with Savannah, I knew I wanted to breastfeed her. My dear friend Beth was my inspiration. That was as far as I had thought through it – I didn’t necessarily have any goals nor did I do any kind of preparation about what to expect.

When Savannah was born, everything was so crazy. My midwife told me to put her against my chest (skin-to-skin) and try to nurse her, but I was trying to get to the hospital and didn’t really want to drive down the road without a shirt on. (I was already pants-less!) We got to the hospital and they took the baby from me to do all their checks while my midwife checked me and removed the placenta. Then I passed out… and we didn’t get to our room until Savannah was an hour and a half old. The lactation consultant came by but I was so out of it. We tried to get Savannah to latch, but she wouldn’t. She had already entered that sleepy stage that newborns get, and my nipples were flat – not helping the situation. Everything was rush, rush. The LC came by at 3:30pm; she stopped work at 5 and wasn’t working the next day (Sunday), so she wouldn’t be back until Monday morning. She gave me some breast shells to help draw out the nipple, and told me to wear those and see if they helped.

All I remember about that evening and the whole next day is that we could never get Savannah to latch. The nurses tried to help – they each had different advice, and were supportive of me trying to breastfeed. However, they started to get concerned and told me if I didn’t feed Savannah then she would die. I was so scared, and I had NO idea what to do! So I agreed to give Savannah a bottle of formula.

Monday morning, the LC came back to help me. Savannah was probably about 42 hours old, and had only been fed bottles of formula at this point. I was so frustrated; trouble breastfeeding was something I didn’t expect at all. The LC said the breast shells (which I’d been dutifully wearing) were helping bring out my nipple. At one point, I thought I’d gotten Savannah to latch, but when the LC came back she said it wasn’t a proper latch and Savannah was just shallowly sucking my nipple like a pacifier, and ended up giving me a really painful sore on that side. (Which, perhaps coincidentally, has been the side I’ve always had problems with – keep reading.)

I can’t really remember the order of events. I know the LC brought in the hospital pump and tried to draw my nipples out with that. That was the weirdest feeling ever!!! She also at some point gave me an SNS, which in retrospect I wish I’d learned how to properly use because I think it would have been a good tool those first few weeks. In the end, I had to leave the hospital when Savannah was about 50 hours old, and she still had not latched. The nurses gave me those newborn size bottles of formula, plus of course the breastfeeding “gift” bag that Similac so nicely provided for me.

The next few days were frustrating at best. I NEVER expected to have trouble breastfeeding. I felt like a failure. I didn’t know what to do. I felt guilty every time I gave her a bottle. Day 3 was the worst – I felt so overwhelmed that I completely shut down, turned off my phone, turned off my computer, and closed in on myself. It didn’t help that the day before Savannah was born, we found out the bank had *finally* approved the offer on our house (more on that here) and the next 10 days were spent crazily trying to get everything ready to close. (We had some issues with getting both mortgage and insurance because of the house’s problems.) Even though Paul had paternity leave, he was gone at the house trying to fix it so we could get approved to close. I was alone, extremely emotional/hormonal, and everything felt like it was crashing down on me. I spoke to Beth on instant message, and she encouraged me to call my local La Leche League leader. In retrospect, I really wish I had, but at the time it just seemed like one more thing. I was shutting down.

My milk came in at 4 days postpartum. Ouch! It was so painful! Then Beth (I think it was) suggested that I try pumping to relieve the pressure. Pumping! I had forgotten about the manual pump I’d bought. Pumping is the weirdest feeling ever, but it worked, and I was so thrilled to pump a nice full bottle for my daughter.

This really helped. I started pumping all the time, and I didn’t feel as guilty about giving her bottles knowing that it was breastmilk. This seemed easier than trying to get her to latch, though I did continue to try. I think I needed the break from the pressure that pumping gave me.

I can't decide what I want more - my bottle or my finger

When Savannah was two weeks old, I didn’t feel all that well. I felt hot, then cold. Then I got a red splotch on my breast. My parents had come up to visit by that point, and my mom confirmed that it seemed like a fever. We went to a minute clinic at CVS, and the nurse there was very nice and confirmed it was a breast infection – mastitis. She called my midwife for me and had her call in a prescription of antibiotics. I was still in “everything is overwhelming to me” mode, as we were trying to get our house ready to move in by the end of the month. After two days on antibiotics, I felt good as new and that was wonderful. However, I did some reading and found out that mastitis is common when a mother is exclusively pumping because the pump can’t empty the breast as completely as the baby. I knew I needed to get Savannah to nurse from my breast. (Besides, pumping was starting to be a pain! I still was using a manual pump.)

Beth came to my rescue again and suggested these things called nipple shields. In my case, it turned my nipple into a similar shape as a bottle nipple, and Savannah easily took that. The first time I tried it, she hungrily nursed from my breast. What an amazing feeling!!

Happy to be nursing

We continued like this for 6 months. Every so often, I’d try to get her to latch without it, but to no avail. I had resigned myself to using it for the rest of our breastfeeding relationship. Originally, my goal was to nurse 6 weeks. (I think someone recommended that to me.) After the trouble I had, I did not feel like I couldn’t quit earlier. But, I wanted to give it a fair try.

Then my goal was to nurse at least 6 months, and wean her at that point. I was comfortable with that, and felt like that was a great start. By the time 6 months approached, we were in our little groove. Things were going well, so I decided not to worry about weaning her right then. I mean, the nipple shield hampered things a little, especially for nursing in public, but it was so freeing to me to not be exclusively pumping.

Yum yum!

The suddenly, at 6 months, I offered my bare breast to her and she took it! I honestly have no idea why it suddenly worked when it hadn’t all the times that I had tried before. It was almost cold turkey – I put away the nipple shield and never used it again. Things were wonderful!

The most freeing thing was being able to easily nurse in public. This is one of my favorite pictures – I took it when I was nursing Savannah while waiting for the train to come. A lady walked up to me and said a few pleasantries to me, and I don’t think she ever realizing I was nursing a baby!

Nursing in a MARTA station

We had about a month or two of beautiful problem-free nursing when I started having trouble again. It began when we went to the Dominican Republic, though the timing was coincidental. My memory of the exact details are hazy, two years later, so I apologize for any gaps in my story.

Every time she nursed on my right breast, it felt like pieces of broken glass. At first I’d just nurse through the pain, but by the time we left the D.R. I found I was skipping that breast altogether. (At this point, we had settled into a pretty good routine of nursing only one side per session, and switching to the other side for the next session. Savannah seemed to prefer it that way – she never took the second breast if I tried both the same session.) I think it was thrush, but Savannah never displayed the symptoms, so I’m really not sure.

In typical me fashion, I delayed contacting anyone who could help me, preferring to research by myself to figure out what was wrong. However, skipping that side repeatedly was really not a good idea. A couple of weeks later, I got mastitis again (though at the time I thought it was just a clogged duct). It wasn’t so obvious and textbook as before, though. I ended up calling the local La Leche League leader, and I can’t remember what she told me, but whatever it was it didn’t help. (I was still feeling the broken glass pain, so nursing a lot – which is generally the best thing for clogged duct/mastitis wasn’t ideal for me.) I went to see an IBCLC at a hospital near me (a different one than I went when Savannah was born). She showed me how Savannah had a shallow latch on that side, which perhaps was how I got thrush. (I think? I don’t remember exactly what she said.)

I know I called my midwife at some point, and she suggest Jack Newman’s APNO, which I did pick up at a local compounding pharmacy. The glass pain went away after using the, but the mastitis stayed. My midwife, believing I actually just had a clogged duct because of my lack of a fever, recommended warm compresses and trying some other natural methods (like raw potatoes).

The problem was that I wasn’t running a fever. In retrospect, I realize I don’t run fevers, so that isn’t a good indication for me in deciding if I’m sick or not. I didn’t know this at the time though. I can’t remember everything, but I know that it felt like YEARS before I got brave enough to insist on an appointment. I think all total I was sick for about 4 weeks. I kept saying, clogged ducts don’t last this long!! PLEASE give me antibiotics!!

FINALLY I got in to see the midwife. She confirmed that I had mastitis – my breast was very swollen and very red and purple by this point. She gave me an antibiotic prescription and I went home to fill it.

Around this same time, I contacted another midwife at a different practice where I had previously been a patient (long story!) and she actually took the time to really listen to me. She did some research into clogged ducts and gave me some suggestions, and I made an appointment. Unfortunately the earliest I could get in was a week away, but I went ahead and made the appointment. I was able to get in earlier than that to see the other midwife mentioned above, who did give me the prescription. I didn’t cancel the other appointment though (more about that later).

That weekend we flew up to my in-laws’ house in Massachusetts for a family wedding. For timeline purposes, Savannah had just turned 8 months old at this point. I felt very sick for the trip, but was confident that the antibiotics just needed to kick in and I’d be fine, just like last time. However, after 4 days I was still pretty sick, and I think the toll of the trip was making me feel even worse. I slept a lot and skipped church (though I did make it to the wedding!).

At one point, I noticed that my breast was starting to get something – an abscess – right where the clogged duct was. It started very small, but from all my Google searches, I knew that abscesses mean go to the emergency room. I called my midwife, and felt very frustrated. She said abscesses were rare, that she’d never seen one, and she asked me if the baby was nursing on that side. I said no, because my breast was so misshapened at this point that not only could Savannah physically not nurse, I couldn’t even get the pump to work correctly on my breast. She told me how to hand express, and I promised I would try that. (Which I did, and I’m grateful for her advice about that!)

That evening, the abscess was getting worse and Paul and I decided we needed to go to the emergency room. I was very afraid of everything I was reading online, and my midwife’s dismissal of my concerns did not help me relax. At the ER, they confirmed I *did* have an abscess, but since I was leaving to return to Georgia the next day, they did not want to lance it then. They gave me another antibiotic (since after 4 days the one I had been taking was clearly not working) and some pain meds. We flew the next day, with poor Paul having to take care of both me and baby Savannah, and I was having to pump & dump and give her formula. (Not sure I had to do that, but at that point I was so exhausted and tired that I had nothing left in me to research it. I was also limited to looking all this up on my phone since we were at my in-laws, which made research difficult.) I had that appointment the day following with the other midwife (mentioned earlier) – I’m glad I kept it! She was the only one who had been helpful on the phone, and I knew I needed to get this taken care of.

We got home from Massachusetts late that evening, and I went to take a warm bath. (The one thing that was helping me!) As soon as I lowered myself into the water, my abscess burst on its own. Pus, blood, and milk came flowing out into the water, and I gently massaged it to get as much out as I could. The relief was immediate and felt wonderful.

Early the next day, a friend watched Savannah while I went to my appointment. That midwife was so kind; she took swabs of the wound for labwork, and recommended I see a breast surgeon for follow-up care. I did so and made an appointment for the next day (or day after that – my memory is fading!). The breast surgeon examined me and said it was very good that it burst on its own. He asked me if I was feeling better, and I said it was an immediate difference, and he said that was the most telltale sign that my body was on the mend. The labwork came back that it was MRSA, so I was told to wash my hands and skin thoroughly and be very careful not to spread it. (A month or so later, Savannah got a MRSA abscess of her own that we had to lance, so apparently I wasn’t careful enough! But she’s okay now and nothing else since then!)

I was put on a third antibiotic, and a few weeks later had an ultrasound on my breast to make sure the infection was gone. It was a little sobering – the ultrasound place dealt primarily with breast cancer, so the literature in their changing rooms (where I waited) was all about that. When I returned to the breast surgeon for my follow-up appointment, he said the ultrasound showed that my infection was gone!

I stopped nursing Savannah on that side during the trip to Massachusetts, and my milk dried up fairly quickly. (I was still nursing her regularly on the other side.) The breast surgeon warned me that I probably would never have the same supply on that side, though I’d most likely be able to nurse future babies there. We’ll see what happens!!

A lot of people are impressed that I didn’t wean Savannah when I got the abscess, but really that wouldn’t have helped anything. I can’t imagine trying to deal with getting my milk to dry up at the same time as everything else! Especially since my problems began because I wasn’t feeding her enough on that side. My body easily compensated for her moving exclusively to one side, and I never had supply problems. And with everything I was going through, I’m sure it was comforting for her to not lose that nursing bond.

My goal at that point was to make it to her first birthday and then wean her, but her first birthday came and went and I didn’t feel such a need to cut her off. After everything I’d gone through, I was excited to still be able to nurse her. It was still comforting to both of us, so it felt only natural to continue. I didn’t place another time goal on our breastfeeding relationship, though I did feel that I could have weaned her at any time once it wasn’t working for either her or me.

I love Mommy!

I was also really happy to be able to share with this breastfeeding with other mom friends. It was very, very special for me to take this picture at our Gerig Reunion last summer – Savannah was almost two.

Nursing mamas!!!

Breastfeeding for me was such a great way to meet both her nutritional needs and her emotional needs. I am not a snuggler by nature, so it was also a nice way for her to get physical contact with me. I rarely refused her if she wanted some mama’s milk. As she got older, I would try to distract her if the time wasn’t convenient, and she seemed content with that. We usually nursed first thing in the morning, cuddling together in bed before we had to get up and face the world. I loved that time together – what a beautiful way to start the morning! I also loved the smiles she’d give me while she was nursing.

Getting a snack

When I got pregnant, I began to wonder if I should wean her or if I should let her keep nursing until she was done, even if that was after the baby came. I stressed about it for a bit, because I really had no interest in tandem nursing. I hated suddenly refusing something that I’d always given her though, and I didn’t want abrupt weaning to affect her transition from being an only child to being an older sister. I had adopted the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” policy a while before, and I noticed that she started only asking every other day. As she seemed to be naturally moving away from needing it, I relaxed and realized that I was okay with whatever happened – whether she quit on her own before the baby came, or if she continued.

I think we had our last nursing session last month. We made it 32 months! Much longer than my original goal of 6 weeks, huh? I am so happy that we were able to persevere throughout the troubles we had. She hasn’t asked for it in several weeks, and my milk has been gone for a while now. I have been warned that she might try to nurse again after the baby gets here, but I’m okay with that. For me, I never felt that breastfeeding was something that only she was wanting, or only I was wanting. It was a beautiful bond between the two of us that naturally and peacefully ended. I am a little sad at the closing of that chapter, but excited for the next chapter. I know that every month I breastfeed I reduce my risk of breast cancer, as well as her risk of breast cancer, which I think is great. And hopefully my journey will only begin again with future children. There are several things I want to do differently with the next child, to hopefully avoid those problems I had in the beginning. First off, I won’t make the mistake that breastfeeding is easy! And I will arm myself with names and numbers of people to call for help if I need it.

8 thoughts on “my breastfeeding journey

  1. Great post! Your journey is amazing, and you’ve got a great story to encourage others to persevere no matter what. Here’s hoping New Baby’s journey will be easier- but, if it’s not, you still know you can get through it!

  2. Wow! What a journey it has been. I hope that you got all the issues out of the way with Savannah, and that this baby’s nursing story will be easy as pie :)

  3. I hope so, too, Kacie! I plan to go to a LLL meeting before the baby comes and tell them my story and ask about ways I can prevent it from happening again. (At least with what happened in the beginning, not the thrush/mastitis/abscess part.)

  4. Joanna: Random fun fact. The IBCLC I saw when Savannah was 8 months old was at the hospital where you were born. :-)

  5. Wow…the picture of all of us nursing together is so much more beautiful to me having read more details of your nursing story!

  6. Love it. :) An amazing story of perseverance and love! For some people and some babies, it can be blessedly easy. For others… well, that’s why they invented the LLL. ;-) I may have to suck up *my* pride and go back to a LLL meeting! After four kids! Little Evelyn is such an intense little nurser – I haven’t had this much pain since I nursed Olivia! I thought after two easy nursers, I could relax. Guess not… :-P Thanks for sharing your story, Ashley! I’m sure it’ll help a lot with other new moms going through that frustrating “I thought this was supposed to be easy!” phase. :)

  7. I love this story and am so glad you’re sharing it! I remember how hard it was at the time, though. We IM’d and I had gone through (or was going through) similar things but not as dire (no abscess). I was even distracted by our own housing situation (but now that you mention it again, perhaps it’s better mine fell through and I had to stay put) and going through PPD. Do you think you experienced that, too, since you shut down? After seeming like I had run the gamut of problems, I was so proud I had nursed Elijah until he weaned himself. My goal was the same — just get through the first few weeks, then the first 6 months and before I knew it, I was conquering it and it got easier! It really helped me with Liberty — because, unfortunately, she was not the piece of cake I was hoping for — because even though I had a different problem, I knew I could get through just about anything! I almost had her tongue tie clipped but it broke on it’s own and it was pretty much smooth sailing from then on out once I had figured out her allergies. I had already figured out I’d have to nurse all my newborns on my side, since I have a ridiculously fast flow. She doesn’t seem to be weaning like Elijah did (By a year old, he was just nursing three times a day and she still nurses every couple of hours, if I let her. Sometimes I try to distract her to skip a feeding, though.) so I’m kind of prepared that she will probably nurse longer than Elijah did (18 months.) I hear that’s common with girls.

    1. Nichole: How I describe it is that I got really intense baby blues. I don’t think it was PPD because it went away on its own around 7 weeks, but while they were here it was scarily intense. I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve struggled with PPD, so hopefully if I get it with this next baby, I will be able to recognize and get help.

      Honestly? If I could do it all over again, I think I would have walked away from our house simply because of the timing of it all. I think it would have been fine if the house was in good condition, but with the work it needed I wish we’d put a “walk away” date of like August 15th or something. It would have been hard for me, but I do think I missed out a lot on some of that early postpartum stuff (like being able to nap when your baby naps, and taking it easy the first few weeks)… and I definitely think it contributed to my troubles breastfeeding. So maybe it was for the best that your housing situation fell through!

      And I’m glad you were able to push through your own struggles/difficulties!!! That is so cool that you nursed Elijah for so long, and that things are still going well with Liberty! And I can’t believe she’s almost a year old already. I need to meet that girl!

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