This real life breastfeeding story was written and shared by Laid Back Lactation client Anna L.
My 10 week old son wouldn’t take a bottle. That’s how this story starts.
At the beginning, it is going to sound mostly like this story is about two people: me and my baby. Because that's what breastfeeding is 99.9% of the time. As precious as it can be, it is also total isolation. It is your body and your baby's body put together in this fierce and beautiful quest for nourishment and comfort and survival.
But this story is really about a village of women. Behind every successful mother is a group of other mothers, cheering her on, sharing their stories, and bringing their love to the table. I waited too long to search for my tribe, but when I found it, my identity as a mother became a complete and beautiful picture as they helped me piece it together. This story is a tribute to these women.
When Jude was born it was like I was a breastfeeding champion. Our first nurse couldn't believe how quickly he latched. When she came in to see how my milk was coming in, she practically shrieked with delight. “It's like you're 4 days postpartum and you're only 1! How are you doing it?”
I had no idea. I was just lucky.
I remember blushing slightly to speak to my friends who had struggled with their newborns. Jude was sleeping so well. He had gone back up to his birth weight after only 3 days. Our pediatrician even looked at us and said, “What's the catch? You guys are so calm! This can't be your first baby.”
But it was. He was perfect and we felt so lucky. And we felt so good about ourselves, too! We were kicking ass at this parenting thing and we allowed ourselves to take credit. We had waited a long time for this and it felt so good. We had hard days, but things were blissful and easy most of the time.
We introduced a bottle when Jude was about 3 weeks old. He took it on the first try, no problem. He came back to the breast no problem. Easy peasy.
The only thing was this reflux thing. He would grunt and groan during the night and spit up rivers of milk during the day. More and more often, he arched his back painfully while nursing. I could hear the milk hitting the floor of his stomach as he gulped and gagged. I felt like I was drowning him. There were times when I literally had to clean milk up off the floor as it flew out of my boob and across the room. Jude’s latch would click and click and he would fall off the breast repeatedly. Nursing in public was embarrassing if not impossible.
I did my research. I spoke to my pediatrician about a possible tongue or lip tie. But he was still gaining weight so well and I was in no significant pain. “You’re doing great!” she said. “Stop worrying.”
I cut out dairy and soy for a month just to see but it didn't help the reflux at all. His latch got shallower and shallower. I started having to go through a series of crazy acrobatics to get him to nurse on the left side. I watched videos of proper latches and thought wow, ours doesn’t look like that at all. Meanwhile he grew and grew and everyone told me I was fine, but deep down something felt wrong.
That’s when the bottle drama started. What had once come easily to our little guy suddenly seemed impossible. He would put the bottle in his mouth and roll it around like he couldn't understand it. We put our fingers in his mouth to suck on and he gagged and choked and couldn't do it. He even stopped taking a pacifier. It was like he couldn’t suck all of a sudden.
I was supposed to be working at a summer camp in a few weeks and the panic rose with each passing day. He needed to take that bottle because I needed that income. After a week of trying everything I ended up storming out of my house in frustration. We had tried so many bottles our bank account was drained with the effort and so were our emotional capacities. I began to resent nursing because now it felt like there was no other option. And I resented everyone around me for being so positive, like this was no big deal and a phase he would grow out of if I just tried a little harder.
One night in tears I sat on my living room floor with my laptop and desperately searched for “lactation consultants near me”. And up popped Laid Back Lactation. I sent a desperate email message, not even expecting this person who specializes in breastfeeding to be able to help with a problem that seemed centered around bottles.
Within 24 hours, Elizabeth was sitting in my living room, petting my dog and listening to my frustrations. She literally shrieked as soon as Jude latched. “Oh my God! Is that how he eats?!? No no no no no. That doesn't hurt you?” The relief I felt was greater than anything I can describe. I was right! Something was wrong, and now we could start to fix it.
Actually, lots of things were wrong. My poor little baby had quite the troubled mouth. So the first step in Elizabeth’s plan was seeing an infant feeding specialist who gave consults during Laid Back Lactation’s weekly support group. “You don't have to stay for the support group,” Elizabeth told me. “But you should.”
That first week I just listened. Because I came in late after my visit with Rachel (the infant feeding specialist who blew my mind by knowing everything about my baby just by looking in his mouth) I don't even think I introduced myself that first day. But I sat myself down on a yoga blanket with my tiny human and I listened and watched all of these amazing women be mothers to their children and to one another. I listened to Allyson’s words of encouragement and wondered how on earth I had gone so long without this in my life.
Over the next few weeks, Jude had a lip and tongue tie corrected. Elizabeth was the most-texted person in my phone for at least a week. We met with Rachel every Friday. I kept attending meetings with the group. And slowly, painfully, and without me even noticing, things got better.
This week, Jude starts daycare. He still can’t take a bottle, but he sucks a pacifier like a champ and can take milk from a sippy cup or spoon. Nursing is truly enjoyable now. We still have our weird days, but I feel so much better knowing there is a small army of women cheering me on from the sidelines.
I did a lot of research before Jude was born. I was prepared for a lot of things. But the one thing I wasn’t prepared for was how much I needed other moms. Somehow, it just worked out that I’m one of the first in my group of close friends to have a baby, and it never really occurred to me that this might make things difficult. But when I sat on my living room floor and did the google search that led me to Laid Back Lactation all those months ago, it was because I felt like there was no one in my small world that understood what I was feeling. I can’t express how differently I feel now that I’m on the other side of this experience.
Yes, breastfeeding is 99.9% about two people: you and your baby. But what I have learned these past 5 months is that who makes up your .1% makes all the difference. How thankful I am to have found the very best in all of these amazing mothers who have shared their journeys with me.