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I did everything a first time expectant mother should do; I went to birth classes and like the dutiful mother-to-be that I was I attended breastfeeding class. Not because I wanted to attend one more class but I just knew that it was the right thing to do. I mean how hard can breastfeeding be? I had nipples and as far as I could tell two working breasts. I mean sure they hadn’t been put to the test in any way other than pleasure but breastfeeding can’t be that difficult. The baby will just naturally take to my breast and voilà! Baby’s fed and happy and I will just begin to lose hordes of weight.
The First Time I Ever Breastfed a Baby
The first time I ever breastfed a baby did not go the way it did in the video I watched in my breastfeeding class.
The first time I ever breastfed a baby, I had no idea that my baby wouldn’t be able to latch on.
The first time I ever breastfed a baby I needed help from my nurse.
The first time I ever breastfed a baby I sat and cried because nothing was working and I felt like a complete failure.
The first time I ever breastfed a baby I cursed the day I decided to breastfeed my baby.
The first time I ever breastfed a baby they told me it would get better.
…but it didn’t get any better.
Every time my son would cry while we were still in the hospital I dreaded what was coming next. “Ugh,” I thought to myself, “He’s hungry…again.” I would press the call button on my bed because I needed help from my nurse. I just could not get my son to latch to my breast. I waited patiently as my husband held our son and the nurses would come with a new contraption to try to get him to understand how to nurse. Syringes with this sugar water solution, manually compressing the colostrum out of my breast so that he would get a taste of what was coming and then open his mouth wide enough. Every single time we used all of the tricks in the books but it never really did get any better. Then the time came to leave the hospital. I sobbed uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe that they were sending me home with this tiny baby whom I couldn’t feed! Were they crazy?
Finally getting help
Things only continued to get worse and by day three my son had lost a significant amount of his birth weight, had jaundice and needed a bilirubin bed. The home health nurse who came to visit us watch me try to feed my son and she watched us fail miserably. I sat and sobbed, feeling not only like a failure but also like a complete basket case because I couldn’t stop crying. The home health nurse was so sweet though and she offered me something that dramatically changed my breastfeeding journey with my son: A nipple shield.
I used the nipple shield and supplemented with formula after every feeding and my son gained enough weight back in time that he didn’t need to be admitted to the hospital because of his jaundice. I had never heard of a nipple shield before so I entrusted the advice of good old Google. I never should’ve done that.
Every single article that I read said that nipple shields were quite possibly the worst thing you could use when trying to breastfeed your baby. Not only would my son never learn how to properly latch to my breast but the plastic that the shield is made of would take away any benefit my breastmilk had. Sounds crazy, right? It was. The articles I read made it sound like I just needed to give up because my efforts were worthless.
My trip to see an angel…the lactation consultant.
In a last act of desperation my husband and I went in with our son to see a lactation consultant. This was it, the final test in whether or not I could be breastfeeding this child. I shamefully pulled out my nipple shield as she asked to watch how I feed my baby. I started sobbing when she asked me what my concerns were. I told her that I was so sorry and that my body was broken; I couldn’t feel my baby by myself I cried to her. She looked at me with these empathetic eyes and rubbed my son’s full head of newborn hair.
“Oh honey,” she said, “This is not your fault at all. The problem is your son, not your body. He is a disorganized sucker.” She had me watch how he struggled, without the nipple shield, to suck, swallow and breathe. She was right. He couldn’t figure it out on his own but when we added the nipple shield back into our routine he got it. I asked her if it was really okay to use the nipple shield and then told her my findings from my extensive Google research. She reassured me that it was really fine and a lot of the information out on the internet was from old studies. She encouraged me to use the nipple shield and said that as long as he was eating that is what mattered. Then she gave me her number and told me to call her whenever I had questions. She wrote down notes and handed me a copy. I referenced those notes more than once over the course of a month. I even called her once or twice and much to my surprise she called me to check up on me.
A word of advice for you…
Don’t give up if you really want to breastfeed your baby.
Take the advice of lactation consultants. If they are anything but kind and gentle find a new one.
Do not Google breastfeeding problems; you’ll feel like a failure especially if you’re already in a fragile head space.
Understand that struggling with breastfeeding is fairly normal, not every baby gets it naturally. Not every situation will be addressed in the breastfeeding class you take.
Don’t be hard on yourself.
Fed is best.
Would it be amazing is every mother could easily breastfeed their baby without any problems? Yes. Sometimes that isn’t possible though and that’s okay.
Be open to suggestions.
Accept the support you need from those around you.
Do not belittle yourself, you’ve grown a human inside you for the last nine months for goodness sakes!