Sunday, August 6, 2017

MY NURSING STORY


This week was World Breastfeeding Week and the month of August is National Breastfeeding Month. I have been waiting to post about my nursing journey for three months, and what better time than the most celebrated month for breastfeeding?? This post is a big one because I am so passionate about this topic. In the first section, I'll be going over my experiences and the different nursing "complications" I've overcome. In the second part I'll be providing research detailing why breastfeeding is so important, and finally I will be offering some free lactation and breastfeeding services for Utah moms!

I must start by saying that this post IS NOT: shaming moms who choose to formula feed, have to formula feed for medical conditions, are substituting with formula, etc. This post IS: encouraging breastfeeding moms, spreading the importance of breastfeeding, offering assistance to those struggling with breastfeeding and documenting my journey over the past seven months. I also want to add that these are my experiences alone, and I'm not claiming that everyone's stories are the same; I can only speak to my experiences. I have to list this disclaimer because I have seen a lot of moms this week feel put down because of their feeding choice. It makes me absolutely sick to my stomach to ever see moms shame other moms for birthing, feeding or raising their babies differently than they are. We all need each other! Motherhood is harddd. (If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen my post about this the other day.) This journey is so trying and we need to support each other. So, with that being said, on to my story!

Dage at one week old

MY NURSING STORY


Breastfeeding was extremely hard for me, from the very beginning. It "came natural" in the sense that Dage came at home at 41+6 weeks and he had a perfect latch within minutes of being born. It "came natural" in the sense that I found it didn't feel weird at all to have this little baby basically have full control of my boobs from that moment on (haha). It "came natural" in the sense that I wanted to nurse and had planned to breastfeed my kids as long as I knew I wanted to be a mom. However... I ran into a myriad of complications that made me doubt if my body was capable of sustaining my son. Complications that made me feel that it wasn't coming natural. Some of the experiences I've had are very common hardships of nursing a new baby such as: sleep deprivation, cluster feeding, engorgement, and more. Other things are added hardships that can occur, such as: supply drops, mastitis, thrush, tongue and lip ties, painful letdowns, silent reflux, etc. These were all things that I was absolutely not prepared for and I feel that most first time mamas can agree. Even the most common difficulties that stem from the sacrifice of breastfeeding were really hard for me. I always imagined nursing as being a sacrifice, but I had no idea how much of a sacrifice it would become in my life. I'm hopeful that my post can relay what is normal, what isn't, what you can do to remedy certain situations, and most importantly encourage moms who are battling with breastfeeding!

 [Extreme exhaustion.] The first 3-4 days after his birth before my milk came in, I went through a lot of fear (as most moms do) that I wasn't going to produce enough for him. My amazing, intuitive midwife continued to reassure me, saying that I would provide for my baby. I trusted her, and boy am I glad that I did. Those first two weeks were a total blur, but I can remember one thing: from the second I would set Dage down after nursing him until he was hungry again, the longest we would ever clock was 20 minutes. Within those 20 minutes, I could hardly close my eyes--let alone fall asleep--and it got so bad that I started hallucinating from lack of sleep. Scott did all the diaper changes--but felt pretty helpless as he wanted to latch constantly! I was engorged and miserable. The only thing that gave me hope was the constant promises from other mommy friends. Hang in there! It gets better! One friend who had a baby two months before I had Dage told me, I promise, it really does get better! We're only getting up once during the night now! Oh my gosh, I can't tell you how much I lived and breathed every ounce of that encouragement. If you were one of those moms, THANK YOU. 

[Tongue/lip ties.] During this time, I experienced the most intense pain when Dage latched, to the point where I would see stars and cry every time. I got various advice, ranging from, "That's totally normal! Get some nipple cream and it'll eventually pass" to, "That's not normal at all. Nursing should feel like a gentle massage. Check him for tongue and/or lip ties." I felt so confused and lost. I knew something was wrong but a lot of women apparently struggled with the same pain. I decided to do some of my own research and found that he had both a tongue and lip tie that was missed (they commonly are). Once we had them revised, EVERYTHING changed! Immediately after revision, I held him to nurse and cringed as he latched, expecting the intense pain like before. He started eating and wasn't causing me any pain anymore! I literally wept and said aloud, "So this is what it's supposed to feel like." Needless to say, I'm a huge advocate for increasing tie awareness now.

[Nipple shields.] Though that issue was resolved, I had been cracking and bleeding from his too-strong latch. To allow myself to heal, we started using a nipple shield and I would apply coconut oil with a mix of tangerine and lavender essential oils in between nursing sessions. I had avoided a shield up to that point because I was terrified of him becoming dependent on it--which is exactly what happened. I only really needed that shield for a week or so, but he forgot how to nurse without it and I ended up struggling to wean him off of it until he was 12 weeks old. It was a hassle to not be able to nurse him without that silly piece of plastic, but one day after many attempts, he decided he didn't need it anymore. We have been gold ever since! :) I do not regret buying one; it saved my sanity. I needed it.

[Mastitis.] If any of you are nursing a new baby or are about to have a baby, let me spare you a lot of sickness and say that it's GOOD TO PUMP when you feel too full but it's not time for a feed. Don't go too crazy; simply pump enough to relieve intensity. My son was two weeks old when I reached out on Facebook expressed my difficulties, including engorgement. I was told multiple times, "Whatever you do, don't pump! It'll mess up your supply!" and "You don't want an oversupply!" I heard this so much that I went against my better judgement and trusted their advice. I didn't pump even a tiny bit when I was painfully full, and as a result I ended up with one of the worst cases of mastitis that I've ever heard of. I could write pages about my experience with mastitis, but in short: it is literal hell. I thought there was a good chance I wouldn't make it. I kept telling my husband, "I would rather go through another natural birth right now than go through this!" and I was entirely serious. I know how awful antibiotics are for the gut and I was absolutely not interested in taking them, so I cured it with natural supplements and remedies. Finally, after nearly a week, it was gone... but so was my supply. :(

[Supply drops.] I have read a lot--and I mean, a lot--of books and articles supporting natural birthing and exclusive breastfeeding. There is a debate about supply drops and what causes them, if they really do occur, to what extent, etc. There is lots of information that I didn't have a chance to cover by the time I was navigating my breastfeeding experince with Dage. I'm no expert by any means, but I did have a natural birth at home and I'm a big believer in trusting our bodies. I will say that in MOST ALL cases, other than medical rarities, the mother's body will always provide enough for her baby. We live in a world that is increasingly making us feel dependent on other things and steering us away from listening to our bodies. However, there are circumstances that can factor into any mom's supply like drinking enough water, eating enough carbs, getting enough rest and more. After my first bout of mastitis, I had become so sickly that my supply totally tanked. I was only able to pump about 1/8th of what I had been before; mere drops. Dage was constantly hungry. Which led to...

[Cluster feeding.] This was one of the hardest parts of nursing Dage, because when he hit 7 weeks he suddenly needed to eat 1-2 hours at a time with only 30 minutes break in between. In total, I was nursing 16-18 hours every 24 hour period for two weeks straight. After those first couple weeks, he continued to nurse for an hour at a time with 45 mins to an hour break in between, and stayed on that schedule for another two months. My daily schedule was this: Scott would make me breakfast, set me up with snacks and anything else I'd need for the next eight hours. He would leave with me sitting on the couch in a robe nursing the baby, and when he came home there I was; on the couch nursing the baby. I had such little time in between feedings that I hardly had time to feed our dog or take a bathroom break.  I became pretty depressed, thinking that my body simply wasn't producing enough. He would cry and cry and never seemed completely full. I would only have a letdown once every 30 mins or so while he was latched, and the letdowns were small. I started to think that there was something wrong with my production. I began to supplement with a 3 oz bottle at night (from my pumped freezer stash) to see if he would sleep longer, and he did--but as it always happens, supplementing restricts supply even more. I stopped doing that after a couple weeks and went back to nursing on demand for multiple days straight without any substitutions. I basically thought I would give it one. last. try. Cue Netflix, cozy blankets, gallons of water, Costco's Aussie Bites, red raspberry leaf tea and nursing tea, sunflower lecithin and a huge intake in carbs... lights, camera, action. That's when the magic happened.

Now, there are more complications I dealt with after this point... namely poor response to pumps (to this day), more mastitis (not as bad as the first bout), thrush (ouch), painful letdowns (which I will always have), and silent reflux (which deserves it's own post in the future). For sake of time, I'm not going to dive into detail with these today, but if you have any questions about them please comment or shoot me a message. I'm anxious to move forward to what happened next; the magic part of my story. When I made that decision to give breastfeeding everything I had one final time, my life totally changed. I geared up and exclusively fed Dage for an entire month--no bottles, no substitutes--and at first, I was terrified he was going to starve! But guess what? He didn't! And more than that, he began to thrive. My supply started to regulate (meaning I was not as engorged and could go longer between feedings, hallelujah). His feeding times quickly tapered and suddenly he was only eating for fifteen minutes at a time. He became a happier baby. I became a happier mama. I was FREE! Like I could actually take my baby to the store or on a walk, because I had time to! I was no longer confined to a bed or couch. I felt like I could live again.

It all made sense when we measured Dage at his three month checkup and he was 24 inches. Then when he jumped to 28 inches at four months. Then 31 inches at six months (the average for most 1 year olds)! No wonder he had been eating literally around the clock. The mystery was solved. When a baby cluster feeds, they're telling their mom's body to produce more--a common concept. I just never thought cluster feeding could be that intense!

I feel like I could go on for days about how happy I am that I stuck with breastfeeding. And how proud I am that I stuck with it--because holy cow, I NEVER thought it would be as hard as it was for me. Breastfeeding then was stressful, painful, uncertain, irregular, exhausting. Breastfeeding now is empowering, peaceful, blissful, convenient, wonderful. It's not only a method of providing nourishment, but calming him down, too. Right now, I'm nursing him as I type. He's grabbing my shirt with one hand and pulling it into his face. The other hand is wrapped around me. He will finish in five minutes and I will tuck him in bed. I never imagined during those first 3-4 months how easy it could be--how easy it WOULD become. This is my reality, but it couldn't be closer to a dream. I'm so grateful I'm able to breastfeed my son over the last seven months, and I plan to as long as we can.

After months of struggles, Dage and I made it, and we definitely deserve to celebrate this month!

Dage at four months

THE IMPORTANCE OF BREASTFEEDING

There is a ton of great information available about why breastfeeding is so important, I don't know where to begin. Human milk goes through incredible changes, like how the milk type changes depending on the time of the day, if you get a cold, or your baby's needs for their current period of growth. It not only changes in color and density, but in nutritional value. I want to share some amazing facts that my doula Kamie Dangerfield organized:

"Human milk resembles unstructured living tissue like blood and is capable of transporting nutrients, affecting biochemical systems, influencing & improving immunity and can destroy pathogens. It also heightens brain development. Breastmilk changes and adapts as the baby grows and as their needs change. At birth a newborn's immune system is small but complete. It expands in response to the new environment and bacteria, but it takes time. Breastfeeding helps the baby's immune system until it is fully able to defend itself.

"Another great benefit from breastfeeding is the fact that breastmilk offers protection from disease and infection. A mother's breastmilk composition changes according to what nutrients the baby needs. The longer you breastfeed, the lower the risk for illness. The likelihood of infantile diarrhea and gastrointestinal disease lowers significantly when breastfeeding. It also helps prevent respiratory and ear infections, lowers the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and can also contribute to the prevention of Celiac Disease, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and childhood cancer, allergies and asthma.

"Around the world, breastmilk composition remains about the same unless a mother is significantly malnourished. The following nutrients are contained in breastmilk:
Fat: Fat amount varies from mother to mother based on her diet. Fats provide essential fatty acids that help the brain develop and grow.
DHA &AA: Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and Arachidonic acid (AA) are both associated with higher visual acuity and cognitive ability.
Lactose: Lactose enhances calcium absorption and metabolizes glucose.
Protein: Protein in breastmilk plays an important role in immunological defense.
Nucleotides: These compounds metabolize energy, enzymatic reactions and helps the gastrointestinal tract mature.
Vitamins & Minerals: Vitamins A, D, E, B6, K, B12 are all found in breastmilk. The following minerals are found in breastmilk: Zinc, Sodium, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese. Each plays an important role in the health and growth of an infant."

How cool is that?? I had never known those things before. To me, breastfeeding wast just "what you do" when you have a baby... but it's so much more. There are entire textbooks dedicated to breastfeeding and human lactation that are filled with fascinating details about the structure and role of human milk and how it corresponds to babies' needs.



SUPPORT FOR BREASTFEEDING MAMAS

 If I could leave you with a piece of advice, it would be this: educate yourself on the importance of breastfeeding. If I didn't have such a strong support system and a ton of information at my fingertips, I definitely wouldn't have had the motivation to continue. I personally feel that there need to be more resources to promote breastfeeding, to encourage mamas when they hit those really tough moments. Yeah, there are lots of group classes and things you can take before your baby comes, but they're usually pretty pricey. Financially and mentally, we were pouring so much into preparing for our son's birth that we didn't really have the extra money to spare. But guess what? This week I discovered some amazing FREE resources for mamas to increase their breastfeeding knowledge and gain support!

If you're in Utah County, there is a FREE breastfeeding class every Wednesday afternoon at 5:30pm in the Utah County Health Department Rm. 2601. They are there to teach you how to meet your breastfeeding goals. Everyone is welcome and no appointment is needed! You can call 801-851-7312 with any additional questions. There is also a FREE parent / infant class series that provide different classes each Wednesday in the month at 4:00pm. These are held at the WIC office, second floor. The first Wednesday is infant massage, second Weds is baby behaviors, third is happiest baby on the block, and forth is all about baby-wearing.

An additional free service is the Utah County WIC Lactation Services, who's mission is to help mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals by offering a Breastfeeding Support Team who are ready to answer questions and offer expert help. This includes: a prenatal breastfeeding class, a parent infant class series, one-on-one counseling sessions and telephone support with peer counselors, LEC & IBCLC's, and breast pumps and breastfeeding aids available for those who qualify. Their Breastfeeding Warmline is 801-851-7312.


Photo by CaLea Gunther Photography

In closing, I just want to speak to those struggling to breastfeed their little ones, and all moms alike: You are doing amazing. You're always doing far better than you think you are. IT DOES GET BETTER. You are making a beautiful sacrifice for your baby. If the pain and difficulty is overwhelming you right now, I know what you're feeling. Don't give up! Don't be too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. We women are here to help each other. Don't hesitate to ask someone to help so you can shower and nap. In those moments when you just want to cry and give up, give it one more try--it might just be the day that the magic happens. Wear all the comfy clothes, the loose bra, the soft robe. Don' worry about comparing to what other moms are doing and focus on what you and your baby need to do. Snuggle your little one closely. Seriously... you are doing angel's work.

xoxo

Brittany

P.S. If you haven't read Dage's home birth story, you can catch up by clicking here.

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