Every night, after she has been scrubbed, lotioned, pajama-ed and kissed on the head by Matt, M snuggles into my arms and nurses until she’s drifting off. I study her little face in the dim purple light filtering through the curtains and think about how far we’ve come.
(You can read all of my posts involving breastfeeding here.)
A brief recap of our journey so far:
- We started out well, stretching the hospital’s skin-to-skin policy into latching M on right in the OR, after she was delivered via unplanned c-section. (We were even highlighted at a Best Start conference in February!) Still, we had some issues with ‘lazy eating’ and a latch that seemed questionable to me, but had a really hard time trying to see the LC while we were in the hospital. M gained weight quickly after we were discharged so we figured all was well.
- Around a month postpartum, M’s latch really started to go sideways. We went back and forth with the help of the LC and a handful of doctors and nurses trying to make things work for a few weeks. We were diagnosed as borderline on the Hazelbaker scale for tongue ties, and had a frenectomy done on M at eight weeks old.
- She latched really well for a week and then it all went haywire again. At some point I developed thrush (never officially diagnosed, but it responded somewhat to thrush meds) and battled it with a few rounds of gentian violet, APNO, and miconazole. Nursing became very painful, so I started pumping and bottle feeding during the day, which turned into pumping full-time.
- With the exception of a few attempts at nursing, I exclusively pumped after that. We went on vacation, involving four flights, and faced with the prospect of pumping in the airport, I decided to try latching her again. To my surprise, she managed it well, so I kept going.
So here’s where we’re at now…
Whatever thrush or thrush-like pain I had is basically gone. I did a round of antibiotics just prior to our vacation, in case it was a bacterial infection (the walk-in doctor wasn’t super helpful in this regard, and basically said ‘You’ve done pretty much everything you can, maybe you’re allergic to the pump’ but the antibiotics were a last-ditch effort so I went with it). After that I threw medical advice out the window and started applying miconazole after nearly every feeding. Maybe it was the antibiotics, maybe it was the miconazole, maybe I actually was allergic to the pump, but something obliterated the red, itchy stabby feeling within a week or two.
Like magic, over the course of the last month, M has spaced out her frequent feedings (for the most part — she’s distractable now and doesn’t always finish feeds, meaning she’s hungry more often) and she seems to be thriving. Her latch is not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. I never understood what the LC was trying to impress upon me when she asked if M was latching with her tongue forward, and encouraged me to bring her to the breast when her tongue was in the right position — because M never actually used her tongue properly. Now I get it. I see her stick her tongue out all the way, over her gums, as I bring her on. And I see her tongue moving and working and cupping and lifting as she drinks.
On the day I found out she was back on her growth curve — yay us!
I don’t know if it was just a matter of her getting used to having more tongue and more motion to work with, considering that she was restricted in utero and for two months after. I don’t know if having to latch properly onto a bottle and use her tongue rather than clamping taught her the right way to do it. Whatever it was, I am grateful. We actually ran into our LC at a community event and she complimented how well M was using her tongue, something she observed without even seeing her nurse.
Her suck-swallow-breathe pattern isn’t always the greatest (something my sister noticed just from hearing M latch on). She forgets to breathe and snuffles and pops off. She goes into jags of random sucking with no swallowing, especially during the day. She’s easily distracted, and twists and turns. I usually have to flip out her upper lip and push down her jaw once she latches on, but now, she stays that way rather than tensing up and clamping down immediately.
There is still pain, especially when M is sleepy, or I’m dozing while nursing at night and not watching her latch, or she isn’t sleeping well so I don’t get a break at night. But it’s manageable pain. I can deal with it. I don’t think it will ever be pain-free, because I believe her high palate is always going to cause problems, but it is so much better than it was. And it’s so much better than pumping six times a day and worrying about output. It was hard to let go of the knowledge and control from pumping and bottlefeeding — I knew when she was or wasn’t hungry, with certainty, I knew she was eating enough, I could track her consumption — but after readjusting to nursing I feel like I can trust my body again.
At her four-month appointment, she had recovered from falling off her growth curve and was holding steady around the 50th percentile. The true test will be at her six month appointment, because she was bottlefed for a lot of her third month, but I feel her growing heavier every day and have faith that she’s gaining well.
I am so, so glad that we did not give up, even when it felt like we were underwater. I stuck to my mantra — never give up on a bad day. Because I didn’t want to make that decision under the weight of bad feelings, and on a good day, I didn’t want to quit. I owe a lot to my support network; all of the health professionals and my wonderful husband who fed M bottles while I pumped overnight, bought me flanges and lanolin and chocolate, accompanied me to appointments, and so on. It overwhelmed both of us, so many times, but we pushed through.
We’re almost at the point of solids, now. We’re going to be doing baby-led weaning (weaning as in ‘adding complementary non-pureed food’ not ‘stopping breastmilk’) starting when M is around six months old. For weeks, I clung to starting solids as a way to maybe have to nurse less often, but I feel good enough about our collective capabilities that BLW’s philosophy of ‘food before one is just for fun’ doesn’t scare me anymore.
I will admit to being scared of teeth, not because I’m worried that she’ll bite me, but because her latch is just shallow enough that it might cause problems. But we’ll figure it out.
Breastfeeding has been, by far, the most challenging part of parenthood. I read so many times, in so many places, to keep trying, to stick it out, that it would get better. I am so thankful it got better for us.