My Breastfeeding Story (so far)
by Cana Hartman
The story begins before my son was born. I took just about every class offered by The Birth Center, and studied and practiced HypnoBabies to prepare for his birth, and so I felt confident and prepared. I did not, however, feel as confident or prepared to breast feed. My sister and sister-in-law both had recently had frustrating experiences trying to breastfeed, and both ended up giving formula in bottles. The breastfeeding class helped with the basics, but I was still having anxiety knowing I had flat nipples, and hearing other people’s issues in the back of my head: inverted nipples, food allergies, reflux, etc. I made an appointment with Katie Madden, and unloaded all my fears to her. We talked through them, and made a plan. She also set me up with nipple shields. I then felt good to go.
After Jackson was born, he was put on my chest, and I whipped out my trusty nipple shield. He squirmed up my front and kind of licked at it, then fell asleep. We were off to the races. The first few days at home are kind of a blur. I know that he was wetting his diaper the appropriate number of times, and his poop changed from tar to seeds, but I remember thinking his latch was not great, so I hand expressed into a spoon after every feeding (as I had seen at breastfeeding class), and spoon feeding him as much as possible. I believe it was day 4 when my milk came in. My boobs were feeling tingly and within an hour I was crying because they were so hot and painful. I called my mother-in-law and begged her to run out and buy me a pump. She asked what kind and I, feeling tired and out of control of my body, couldn’t even talk to her about it. “I don’t care…just hurry!” She brought me the Medela hand pump. What a life saver; pumping felt great. I think I got around 4oz, and Jackson killed it. I was happy that he took a bottle so easily, but what I didn’t know was that moment ended my nursing relationship with my son.
It was like a light switch was flipped in his head. He started refusing to latch and would scream until I gave him a bottle. I started attending the breastfeeding support group at The Birth Center, and made an appointment to see Katie. I was very nervous going to group the first time, thinking everyone would be sitting around smoothly nursing their babies, and I would have to whip out a bottle. I felt ashamed. Fortunately, I found the group to be completely non-judgmental, and was relieved to hear that I was not the only one having difficulties. Katie gave me some tricks to try with Jackson, and patiently sat through him screaming in her office for at least an hour and a half, before he finally gave in and latched. We got home and I kept my nipple in his face for the rest of the day. I look back and treasure that day, and the few other times he successfully nursed. I am so glad to have those memories.
For three and a half months, that’s 17 weeks, 119 days, about 3 times a day, so that’s around 357 times, I “practiced” nursing Jackson. He latched about 4 times, licked it and laughed around 20 times, and the other 333 times he screamed in my face. As he got older, the screaming got worse, and was accompanied by squirming away and hitting. But I was determined not to be “beat” by an infant, and hung on for dear life to stories I heard in group of 4 month olds “getting it”. During that time, I was pumping 5-8 times a day and feeding Jackson his beloved bottles. I used the hand pump for about 3 months, until my insurance company conceded to cover the expense of an electric pump. Now I use the electric pump at home and the hand pump when we are out and about.
Some of the “tricks” I tried during our practice sessions:
- Bait and switch- give baby a bottle and once he starts sucking, quickly switch out for the nipple
- Sneak attack- creep up on baby in the dark and put your nipple in his mouth hoping he will start sucking in his sleep
- Lesser of two evils- give baby a bottle of formula (which he hates the taste of) and then offer a delicious breast
- Switch-a-roo – similar to the bait and switch, but with the pacifier
- Under the arm- start by giving baby a bottle right next to your breast, under your arm, and slowly move his mouth from the bottle to the nipple
- Bottle top- use the bottle’s nipple in place of a nipple shield
- Two at once- try getting a bottle and a nipple in baby’s mouth at the same time
- Bath time (my favorite)- sit in the tub with baby, skin to skin, and get so relaxed and use baby’s natural rooting reflex to get a latch
- The dangle- “tea bag” baby with the breast, kneeling over him
- Nurse-in – lay in bed with baby, lots of skin to skin time, all morning and afternoon, offering the breast often
- Get used to it kid- hold your nipple next to baby’s face as they take a bottle
- The fire hose- spray milk into baby’s mouth as he hollers at you and massage his throat to encourage him to swallow (like a puppy)
- The stand-off – who can hold out longer? Mommy or baby?
There were many other strategies tried. I kept thinking if I found the right trick, I could flip the switch in Jackson’s head back from bottle mode. I was determined, but there were some tough days. I left one breastfeeding group feeling angry that mothers were crying that their babies would nurse and nurse all day. I grew resentful that those having supply issues could supplement nutrition, but I could not supplement that closeness with my baby. In retrospect, I think I was having my first PMS since getting pregnant. Once I got my period, I was able to step back and appreciate having such an easy time pumping, having an ample supply, and a baby who loves taking any bottle from anyone, anywhere, at any given moment. I am fortunate to be able to work from home, so Jackson and I are very close (my husband calls him my symbiotic baby because we are so connected). I have the advantage of freedom that comes with bottle feeding; not worrying about a latch in a distracting place, no worries for a baby sitter, my husband can get up with Jackson in the night just the same as I can. Additionally, my husband has a great feeding bond with Jackson. And, I have to give mad props to the guy for being so supportive throughout this journey. He would sit next to me on the sofa, rub my back, and say encouraging words as our son screamed at my breast. I could complain about having to disappear every 3 hrs or so to pump in private because it is definitely not socially acceptable to pump in front of people, but really I have it down to a science now, and it only takes 5 to 10 minutes. One time, though, I was parked in the back of a parking lot, pumping with the hand pump, and a quite pregnant woman waddled up, I guess to see me nursing my baby. When she saw that he was sleeping in his car seat and I was pumping, she gave me a dirty/confused look, and literally mouthed “ewww”. I just had to laugh to myself, knowing that soon she would have a baby of her own and discover that you do what you have to do, even if it means hand expressing while standing on your head; at least that’s how I feel.
Throughout this whole time, Jackson has been thriving (he is over 18 lbs at 3.5 mo, rolling, starting to sit up, and has gotten 2 teeth already), and fortunately I have had no issues with supply. I have always had enough to freeze at least 5oz a day. That momentarily dipped (to a level where I was still comfortably feeding Jackson all he wanted but not banking any) when I was ovulating. So, I drank a ton of mothers’ milk tea and ended up engorged at 3am, baby sleeping but me awake and pumping. At least I know it works, if I ever need it.
After finally feeling like I had exhausted every trick in the book, and using up every ounce of patience with “practicing” that I could scrounge up, I have finally come to peace that I have done everything possible to nurse my baby. It brings me tremendous comfort that Katie once told me, there is breastfeeding… and there is nursing. I have not been successful with nursing, but I AM breastfeeding! And I now feel at peace with that! I was pleasantly surprised to find many other mamas online who are also exclusively pumping (for a variety of reasons). They call it EPing. After one last meeting with Katie, doing an 8hr stand-off with Jackson, and then staying up way to late going on different Facebook groups and reading articles about EPing, I can now say… I am now a PROUD PUMPING MAMA!
Each week Cana came to breastfeeding support group. Each week, she told her story. How Jackson latched for just a few days in the beginning. How he got a bottle once and never came back to the breast. How she tried everyday to coax Jackson back to the breast. How most of the times he screams at her like she is putting soap in his mouth rather than a nipple. Some weeks, Cana was upbeat and hopeful. “This week, Jackson let me put the nipple in his mouth and he didn’t scream,” Cana shared once. “Now Jackson will laugh when I put the nipple in his mouth!” Other weeks, Cana would be teary eyed, feeling defeated, resentful and angry. But, nevertheless, every week Cana came. She called group her sanity. The fellow mamas were always impressed by Cana, as was I.
At some point, I shared my perspective with Cana and the group about nursing vs breastfeeding. Aren’t they the same thing? Well, technically, yes, but I like to think about it this way.
When you nurse your baby, you are feeding her right from your breast. She snuggles in close. The skin of her mouth and her face is right up against your skin. As she gets older, she may pat or stroke your breast, bury her head deep into your breast, or wrap her arms around your breast in a big boob hug. Regardless of how much milk is coming out of your breast, if your baby is suckling, you are nursing. I often explain this analogy to mothers who have a low milk supply and need to supplement with a bottle after breastfeeding. In no way does supplementing lessen your nursing relationship. Those mothers have a nursing relationship and a partial breastfeeding relationship.
Breastfeeding, however, is providing breastmilk for your baby either directly from your breast or via bottle. Some mothers do this when they are separated from their infant while at work. Some mothers choose to pump and bottle feed for personal reasons. Some mothers are forced to exclusively pump because their babies are very hardheaded and stubborn (like Jackson).
What a gift it is to be able to breastfeeding and nurse your baby. If you are reading this and you are able to latch your baby directly on to your breast and provide her with 100% of her daily nutritional needs, stop, take a deep breath and have gratitude for this gift. Some women get to nurse, some get to breastfeed, you get to have it all.
I have known a handful of “EPers” (Exclusive Pumpers) in my career. These mothers have a few things in common…they have a fierce dedication to breastfeeding, their heart yearns for a nursing relationship and breaks each and every time they attempt and fail. They are grateful for the milk they are able to make and express and angry that they have to take so many extra steps to get it into their babies. In turn, of course, I have known a number of the EPer’s babies, but none tops Jackson.
Cana and I met one last time before she decided to stop trying to latch Jackson. Cana had reached the end of her rope (after 3.5 months of trying, imagine that!) and we needed one last face off before we threw in the towel. Cana brought Jackson to my office hungry and we spent 90 minutes together as Jackson got hungrier and hungrier. I pulled out all my tricks. I had plenty of patience, as did Cana, as Jackson cried and cried and cried…finally, I surrendered. Cana surrendered. Jackson had won. I love him for being so damn adorable and so damn stubborn.
Jackson is one of my favorite babies (ok, I know I say that about all the babies, but he will always hold a very special place in my heart.) Why? 1. He is a super duper fat breastfed baby and I have a thing for fatty babies. 2. He is a very very happy go lucky boy (unless Cana put her nipple in the general proximity of his face) 3. He beat me. People like to call me “the boobie whisperer” or a miracle worker. But, the truth is, I don’t have magical powers and I can’t make babies do anything they don’t want to do. But I can help mothers accept what is. For Cana, that meant letting go of her attempts at being a nursing mother and embracing her role a as breastfeeder. Cana discovered a whole new world of EPing and found community amongst them.
Most importantly, and I will say this again and again, each and every baby is a person. Some babies have much stronger personalities than others and to deny this is to ignore your baby’s uniqueness. You have the opportunity to learn so much from your child by breastfeeding. He will teach you lessons about how to be his mother that you apply for decades to come. So, ask yourself, “what is my baby trying to tell me about who he is and what he needs?”
In Jackson’s case, he was saying, “no thanks mom. I don’t like it straight from the tap. I know you had different plans, but this is the way it is going to be whether you like it or not. Look on the bright side…I am an awesome kid!”