by Ali Lawrence
Before Aria was born, I thought I was ready to take on anything breastfeeding had to throw at us. I prepared myself to breastfeed as best as I could. I had friends who had worked with Katie over the past year, and when one of them started forwarding me Katie’s emails I quickly subscribed to her blog feed myself and began reading everything I could. Daren and I took Katie’s class at The Birth Center, and overall I felt like we could do this.
Aria was born at The Birth Center on September 11, 2014. My labor progressed fairly quickly (even if it didn’t feel like it at the time!), until I hit the second stage. Based on the experiences of all of the other women in my family, once our midwife said I was 10 centimeters I fully expected to meet my daughter in no time at all. Aria, however, had plans of her own (our first glimpse of things to come?). I’ll spare you the details, but it was a full six hours later before she finally joined us. Despite the difficult labor, our breastfeeding journey began easily enough. She lay on my chest immediately after birth, and with a little help from the midwife, began nursing within just a few minutes. I was prepared to have some pain while we got used to breastfeeding, but to my surprise it didn’t hurt at all. Aria was thrilled to be there. She stayed latched on for two entire hours, with me finally unlatching her and switching her to the other side after the first hour. Who knows how long she would have stayed on if left to her own devices! I felt so good about the start to our breastfeeding journey, and so happy to finally meet our baby girl.
A few hours later, Daren and I headed home with Aria. Over the next few days, breastfeeding suddenly became more and more painful, until it got to the point where I was absolutely dreading the next time she got hungry. Toe-curling pain is not just a saying; every time she latched on, I was literally curling my toes and gritting my teeth, willing myself to leave her there and let her eat. I hit the point where my nipples were cracked and scabbed, and I couldn’t even stand the water of the shower hitting them.
Since Aria was born on a Thursday, by the time I realized we needed an appointment with Katie I had to wait until Monday to call. Unfortunately, Katie was booked up until the following Monday, so we limped along until then, and things gradually began to get better on their own. In the meantime, Aria was eating like a champ. We were packing in around 15 feedings a day, and she was slowly but surely getting over the jaundice that had developed when she was three days old. By the time we went for our one-week visit at The Birth Center, Aria was already up five ounces over birth weight (about a pound over her lowest weight). I was so happy—I felt so proud of us and of my body for getting her everything she needed.
By the time I got in to see Katie, I seemed to be healing up on my own. While the first minute or so of each feeding session was still pretty rough, the pain eased up after that and I felt like we were doing pretty well. Katie gave me a few pointers about Aria’s latch, encouraged me to come to breastfeeding support group, and sent us on our way.
When Aria was two weeks old, we started attending the Friday support groups every week. Aria continued to gain tons of weight—to the point where I actually asked Katie one week if I was over-feeding her. While I loved going to group and spending time with all the other moms, occasionally I would feel almost guilty for being there. There were so many other moms who were struggling so significantly with things, and Aria and I were doing great. Then, when Aria was about eight weeks old, things took a bit of a turn. Our nursing sessions had always been fairly quick, but Aria was always content afterwards, and her weight gain was great, so I knew she was getting enough. Around this time, that began to change. She started pulling off and fussing fairly frequently while she was eating, and I could never really tell when she was done with a feeding. At the same time, her weight gain began slipping. The first time she only gained three ounces in a week, we didn’t think too much of it since she’d gained so well up to that point. Then, the next week she only gained four ounces, and at one point she even lost an ounce or two. While these weight gain issues were happening, her behavior at the breast also continued to deteriorate. I knew she needed to nurse more to bring her weight back up, but I could never keep her on for longer than a few minutes at a time.
I’ve known other mothers with older babies who would pop off to smile at them, or to look distractedly around the room. In my head, I know that this behavior must be incredibly frustrating at times, but at this point I would have killed to have Aria pop off and smile at me. Because when Aria came off the breast, she was pissed. Like major meltdown, world is ending, losing her shit pissed. Nursing became incredibly stressful. When she was ten weeks old, I checked her mouth and became convinced she had an upper lip tie. I frantically sent Katie pictures of her mouth, and in the few short hours before I got a reply, I obsessively searched the Internet for information about lip ties. Katie said she wasn’t sure the lip tie would be causing our issues, but that she would look at it the next time we met. At that point, however, I was completely desperate to figure out what was going on and to find a solution. I could get an appointment with the pediatric otolaryngologist before I could get in to see Katie, so off we went. And, yes, it was a lip tie, and he snipped it then and there, and no, that did not solve all of our problems. Some latch issues did improve, so I’m glad we did it, but it quickly became clear that that was not the only thing going on.
Katie and I tried hard to figure out what the problem was. Was it a supply issue? Letdown too fast? Letdown too slow? Silent reflux? In the end, we ended up doing 72 hours straight of transfer weighs in an attempt to figure things out. What we discovered was that I had a large capacity for milk first thing in the morning, and that my supply would decrease throughout the rest of the day. At one early morning feeding, Aria actually took 7.5 ounces at once. The rest of the day, she would get anywhere from one to three ounces per feed. We also came to the conclusion that I had a really fast letdown, as Aria would get up to three ounces in only three minutes of nursing, and that Aria liked it when the milk came fast and furious. We took reflux off the table for the time being, since the early morning feedings—where she would get between five and seven and a half ounces—were her best ones, with generally no fussing. So basically, we needed to try and increase my supply to keep the letdowns strong, and we needed Aria to eat more.
I tried everything I could think of to get Aria to feed longer. I would switch her from side to side four to six times a feeding, to try and keep the letdowns coming. I would give her the pacifier when she fussed, and then try and trick her by pulling the pacifier out and slipping the nipple in. I offered the breast every hour during the day. We spent hours laying on the couch skin to skin. We had some good days and some bad days, and in the end we at least got to a point where she wasn’t completely freaking out every time she ate. We also eventually did start Zantac in case silent reflux was a part of what was going on. Now, at four and a half months old, we’re still working through some weight gain issues, and I’ve gone back to work, so we’ve added pumping and bottle-feeding into the mix. Aria often still fusses when she’s done nursing, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, and our overnight and early morning feedings go great. Perhaps more importantly, we’ve bonded so well in so many other ways. I’m her mommy, and I know that she loves and needs me just as much as I love and need her.
My goal through all of this has, of course, been to keep my baby healthy and strong, and to make sure she gets enough to eat. But my other goal has always been to get to the point where Aria loves to nurse. I hear about other mothers whose babies just love it, and I’ve wanted so badly for that to be us. I want Aria to nurse for comfort, not just for milk, and I want to continue nursing for as long as she will have it. I feel like I have just been waiting for that to happen. At our first working mom’s breastfeeding support group, I shared these feelings with the group. In turn, Katie gave it to me straight. She laid it out there that Aria may never get there. That may not be who she is, and that I need to come to terms with that. At the end of the day, it isn’t the end of the world if nursing isn’t Aria’s favorite thing. I’ve learned a lot about breastfeeding from Katie—I’ve learned about maintaining supply, about nursing my daughter, and about pumping for her while at work. But the most important thing I’ve learned from her is to stop trying to change Aria, and to start accepting her for who she is. My beautiful, smart, strong-willed little girl, who can be a handful at times—but I wouldn’t want her any other way.