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They Don’t Call Her The Boobie Whisperer for Nothing

by Lara Deloza

If you’re a subscriber or even a regular reader of this blog, then you’re most likely not the target audience for this post. You already know the value in finding a quality lactation consultant (“quality” being the operative word here). You’ve probably already worked with one.

But let’s say you know someone who’s pregnant, like a coworker who’s asked you questions about pumping in the office. Or maybe you know someone who’s just had a baby, like that friend on Facebook who confesses that she’s struggling with the whole breastfeeding thing. Perhaps you’re the one who’s pregnant or struggling postpartum, and someone you know recommended that you connect with an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) like Katie Madden, and you’ve stumbled across this post through a Google search. That’s who this post is for.

Full disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of the Katie Madden Fan Club. She was the first lactation consultant I worked with and she’s the last one I’ll ever work with, because yes, she’s every bit as good as everyone says.

Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to work with Katie.

My first encounter with Katie happened when I was around 30 weeks pregnant with my son. I registered to do a prenatal consult with her at my OB’s office, based on the recommendation of several practitioners. I wanted to breastfeed but had known so many women who were unable to do so for various reasons that I’d developed a good deal of anxiety around it.

Before our consult, I was sent the Balanced Breastfeeding Risk Assessment form, designed to help Katie spot my potential pitfalls. As part of that, I was a sked to email her a picture of my breasts. Since giving birth, dozens upon dozens of people have seen my naked boobs, but at the time, my modesty was more intact. It wasn’t a problem; those squeamish about sending topless digital snapshots can opt to disrobe in front of Katie in person.

At our initial consult, we started my talking about my breastfeeding goals. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about breastfeeding in a goal-centric way, but in talking to Katie I was able to articulate what I was hoping to get out of it:

  1. Bonding with my baby.
  2. Giving him the best possible nutrition for at least six months.
  3. Saving money by not purchasing formula.

(That third thing on the list? It’s kind of laughable how naïve I was. Between all of the money I’ve spent on supplements, gear, pumping supplies, and copays… As Katie likes to say, “there’s nothing free about breastfeeding.” But that’s another post for another day.)

So here’s the thing about Katie: she is firmly pro-breastfeeding, but she’s not one of those hardcore lactivists who make you feel badly about anything—particularly things outside of your control. She’ll tell you this up front. With breastfeeding, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Her job is to help women reach their goals, but at the same time, she’s also there to support them when those goals are out of reach, for whatever reason.

For me, talking to Katie was instantly like hanging out with an old friend. We share the same sort of dry, semi-sarcastic sense of humor. She’s also a straight-shooter; her office is a no-bullshit zone. That kind of honesty, coupled with her warmth and palpable passion for what she does, makes you feel like you’ve got this awesome cheerleader/coach in your corner. And when it comes to breastfeeding, this is exactly what (who) you need.

At the end of my 30-minute consult, Katie gave me a personalized breastfeeding plan. I left feeling energized and empowered. I could do this! I immediately purchased the gear she recommended (for the record: a Medela contact nipple shield and a My Brestfriend nursing pillow), and couldn’t wait to take her breastfeeding class at The Birth Center.

Can we talk about The Birth Center for a minute? This is Katie’s home base and where she exclusively meets with her clients now. If you’ve never been there, let me give you a little overview.

First of all, it’s situated in Wilmington proper, right around the corner from St. Francis Hospital. There’s (thankfully) a small parking lot right across the street, so you don’t have to worry about finding street parking. (To someone who listed ease of parking as one of the criteria she had for finding a pediatrician, this is no small thing.)

Second of all, the building itself is made of brick and situated between residential housing. It actually looks like a house from the outside, so if you don’t catch the purple sign out front, you might miss it. It’s three stories high and (wait for it) doesn’t have an elevator. Climbing those tall, narrow stairs as a super-swollen 33-week preggo was akin to climbing Mt. Everest (although to be fair, my 6’4” husband who wears a size 16 shoe still struggles with them, if only because he has to walk up and down them sideways to accommodate his Hobbit feet).

So of course the classroom area and Katie’s office are both on the third floor. It’s probably a good idea to mentally prepare yourself for these stairs before you ever set foot in the place, or else you’ll waste a lot of time (as I did) looking for an elevator that doesn’t exist.

I can’t recommend Katie’s Breastfeeding Basics class enough. The two-hour session is jam-packed with valuable information about establishing a breastfeeding relationship with your newborn, and it’s all delivered in KaLara1tie’s signature, straight-talk-with-a-smile style. Partners are encouraged to attend, and I’m so glad my husband came with me, as he retained more information than I was able to recall in my post-birth state (for example, he remembered how to hand express colostrum, whereas the epidural from my emergency C-section left my brain a muddled mess).

The hand expression came a bit later. For the first 12 hours of my child’s life, my baby was a breastfeeding champ. I was soDSC03711 incredibly relieved. I felt lucky that we were going to be able to do this thing I wanted so badly to do, and without the struggles so many of my girlfriends had faced.

Then it all went south… and fast.

My boy started to fall asleep every time he was near me. He’d literally fall asleep with my nip in his mouth. Then, as my milk started to come in, those nipples flattened and made it hard for him to latch. Everything that had come so effortlessly those first few hours? Gone.

I worked with three or four different lactation consultants at the hospital. I lost count, in part because I never worked with the same one twice and because there were nurses trying to help as well. There was even one nurse who grabbed my boob and shoved it in my kid’s mouth so hard he spluttered. It was all very traumatizing, for me if not for him.

Even before I had my little boy, I knew I’d make an appointment with Katie as soon as he was born. It was in my husband’s “Instructions for Daddy” document I’d prepared for him (other to-do items included making the baby’s first pediatrician appointment and calling the insurance company to get our son on his plan). So we were going to do this no matter what.

But once the problems set in, I kIMG_9043new it was even more imperative to get into see Katie. We set up an appointment with her before we left the hospital, but when we saw the pediatrician the day after discharge, she was so alarmed by our son’s weight loss that she said we had to get in with Katie sooner. When that wasn’t possible due to Katie’s demanding schedule, I ended up working with a different IBCLC (one not affiliated with The Birth Center).

This was the first in a long chain of events that led me to almost becoming an exclusive pumper. I say “almost” because when my son was 8 weeks old and still refusing to latch, despite multiple sessions with the IBCLC and trying everything from a nursing vacation to a 48-hour “boob camp” to get him back on the breast, I was ready to stop trying. Outside of increasing my initially low milk supply and getting my boy’s lip tie revised, virtually no progress had been made to reestablish my nursing relationship with my son. So I’d all but resigned myself to bottle feeding him my breast milk, instead of feeding him from the tap.

Then Katie published her blog post on nipple confusion. When I say reading it was an epiphany, I’m not exaggerating. I emailed Katie immediately to tell her my story and to see if she thought I was a hopeless case. She didn’t, and we set up an appointment for the following week.

We started that session by talking about my birth story (traumatic, for the record) and my early experiences with breastfeeding (great, then not-so-great, then nonexistent). We talked again about my goals, which by then had changed somewhat. I was still determined to feed my kid breast milk as long as my body allowed me to, but I also knew that if I didn’t establish a nursing relationship before I returned to work full time at 13 weeks, it wasn’t going to happen. He was already 9 weeks old, which didn’t leave us a lot of time.

IMG_9758But Katie wasn’t daunted. She rolled up her sleeves and we got to work.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to work with Katie, but let me try. She’s the kind of person who can talk to you about your lack of side-boob support without making you blush. Who can IMG_8506squint her eyes at your bare breast, not because she’s judging it but because she’s trying to figure out what kind of “shenanigans” are needed to overcome any anatomic challenges. She’s the kind of person who can see that normal nursing pillows are useless for a thick-in-the-middle momma with massive mammary glands and then, a week later, look at one made for twins and think, “Problem solved!” She’s seriously like the MacGuyver of breastfeeding.

Before the end of our first session, Katie had my strong-willed, bottle-fed baby nursing on my nipple shielded breast. And not just for a minute or two, but for twenty-minute stretches on each boob.

To recap: I’d had 8+ weeks with next to no progress, but after 60 minutes with Katie, my son’s and my nursing relationship had been rekindled.

As someone in Katie’s breastfeeding support group recently said, “They don’t call her The Boobie Whisperer for nothing.”

IMG_9757In our second session, Katie got our extremely nipple-confused child to latch on my bare breast. I think I cried right there in her office. My husband, who’s held my hand through every step of this heartbreaking process, said, “She really is The Boobie Whisperer, isn’t she?”

Cutesy monikers aside, I have to tell you that what Katie was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time feels like nothing short of a miracle. I mean, I was convinced the window had closed on us, but in just two sessions, Katie helped me get the thing I’d been working toward since before my baby was even born.

Recently Katie asked me about the moment I realized that breastfeeding was never going to be what I imagined it to be. I didn’t have just one; I had two.

The first was in the hospital, in the recovery room after my C-section, when my son latched perfectly and all I could think was, “I never knew it could be like this.” Because remember, I went into breastfeeding waiting for the problems to show, only I didn’t have them for the first 12 hours of his life.

The second was that day in Katie’s office, when my son nursed for the first time since before leaving the hospital. Because by that point, I’d mostly given up on ever getting that connection back.IMG_9579

I don’t want to give any false impressions. My son’s and my nursing relationship is far from ideal. Those “shenanigans” I alluded to earlier? They include a massive twin nursing pillow we’ve nicknamed “the kitchen table,” boob support pillows, and the dreaded nipple shield (because my “little plastic fiend,” as Katie calls him, still prefers that to bare boobie). Because of this setup, the only places I can really nurse him are A) on my living room couch or B) in Katie’s office. It’s most definitely a labor of love.

But despite all of that—despite the missteps and mistakes, the stops and starts, the weeks I missed out on bonding with my boy at the breast—we’re in a good place now. We’ve come so far, so fast. Honestly, I feel incredibly lucky that I’m able to nurse him at all. That I didn’t give up, even when other people encouraged me to.

And yes, I’m a stubborn, stubborn woman. I don’t like to fail at anything. Even so, if I hadn’t started to work with Katie again when I did, I would have likely capitulated. I would’ve felt okay with that decision—after all, I tried almost everything there was to try in those first eight weeks—but still, I would’ve missed out on something so wonderful, I can’t even put it into words.

I’m writing this post for all of the new mommas like me: The ones who desperately want to breastfeed their babies, but for whom the obstacles seem insurmountable. The ones who may have worked with a lactation consultant, but not the right lactation consultant. The ones who are this close to giving up, but have one last fight left in them.

Go see Katie Madden. If you can’t see her in person, register for one of her online classes. If you live within an hour of The Birth Center, get yourself and your babe to one of those support groups she runs. I don’t care how you get to her, just make sure you do.

You won’t regret it.

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