by Kelly Warner
Meet Samuel. This is my rainbow baby, who we welcomed with joy in January, 2014. After struggling with infertility for 5 years, my doctor in Houston told me it was unlikely that we would ever conceive. When we moved to St. Louis we started seeing a fertility specialist, who discovered a few factors that were either keeping us from getting pregnant or not allowing us to sustain pregnancy (an underactive thyroid, being a carrier for MTHFR and either not absorbing folic acid well or clotting after conceiving, and low progesterone). Once we addressed those issues we got pregnant right away, which was so encouraging after having our arms ache to hold a child for years. Unfortunately, we miscarried at 9 weeks and would later miscarry a second time at 6 weeks. We were in a very dark place but continued to trust God with our fertility. A few months after our second miscarriage we found out we were pregnant again. 40 weeks later, after a snowstorm and before another one shut down the city for a week, our sweet Samuel Bennett was born!
I was so focused on maintaining a healthy pregnancy and having a natural birth that, admittedly, I didn’t educate myself on breastfeeding. Our Bradley Method instructor encouraged me to attend LLL meetings while pregnant to meet other like-minded moms, but I didn’t make it a priority to go. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed for a minimum of 12 months and had hoped that I would be able to make it for 2 years, but I figured I would have the baby first and then it would just naturally come to me. You know, because so far my story has been so natural and easy that it makes sense that I would just figure it out.
We had a beautiful natural birth and our nurses were great about immediately putting Samuel on my breast and delaying all newborn procedures until we had time to bond. He didn’t latch right away but found comfort sleeping on my chest. (In his defense, he did have a pretty long and intense birth that included 4 hours of pushing, his cord wrapped around his neck twice, and the threat of a C-section before I pushed so hard I broke my tailbone and his head came out before the doctor was even suited up to catch him). I kept trying to get him to latch and had just about every lactation consultant and nurse helping too. We were adamant about not using bottles, sugar water, or formula, so when he started showing signs of dehydration, we all panicked. The LC informed me that the combination of my flat nipples and large breasts were making it difficult for Samuel to latch and she recommended we use a breast shield. I was a nervous first time mom, who just wanted her baby to eat, so I took her at her word and began using the shield. I have since come to learn that there are absolutely medical situations that warrant the use of a shield . . . but mine was not one of them. Samuel began “latching” and getting colostrum, but it was so frustrating, painful, and messy for me. Worried that I would give up with breastfeeding, the LC convinced me to rent a breast pump to take home, pump my colostrum, and feed with bottles until my milk came in. Although she unnecessarily encouraged me to use a shield, I have to give her credit for pushing breastfeeding. She showed me how to use the pump and was shocked when I pumped 2 ounces of colostrum in a few minutes. At the time I was super confused why she was all giddy (and felt the need to show my liquid gold to everyone working in the maternity ward) but have come to learn that colostrum is not typically measured in ounces. That gave me hope that I was going to be able to feed my baby – it was just a matter of figuring out how.
My milk came in a few days after we got home from the hospital and my already large breasts became so engorged I didn’t know what to do with them! Seriously, they practically had their own zip code (38-K)! I had a serious oversupply problem and a fast letdown that Samuel did not find nearly as amusing as my husband and I. He’d pull off the breast and get super-soaked in the face or just grimace as a stream of milk shot halfway across the room. I guess when you’re an exhausted new mom you find the humor in anything, because everything else is just so, so hard!
We continued to use the nipple shield but struggled. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit. Thankfully, my husband knew, deep down, I didn’t really want to quit and I just needed to be encouraged to continue. He was up at every diaper change and night feeding with me, sitting at my feet, praying for me. I remember one time in particular: It was 2am and I was exhausted from nursing Samuel around the clock during a growth spurt. My husband and I got up to feed him and I burst into tears when Samuel latched and I felt the “60-second sizzle.” I said I didn’t want to mess with the shield anymore and that I just wanted to feed my baby. He comforted me in that moment and said he had read that night feeding was a good time to try to wean off the shield. So, figuring it couldn’t get any worse, we took off the shield, and together, we re-latched Samuel. I’m talking, all 4 of our hands were trying to hamburger my nipple so Samuel could latch! There were more tears (by me) and more words of encouragement (from the hubs), and finally Samuel latched! This was such a small thing but felt like such a big breastfeeding victory!
I continued to pump out a few ounces before EVERY feeding to soften my breast tissue so he could latch better. It was really annoying to be tethered to my pump and time-consuming to have to constantly be cleaning out pump parts (and during the winter, which made my hands crack and bleed), but it was worth it to be off the shield and begin having a successful nursing relationship with my son. Plus, it allowed me to build up a good stash of breast milk that I donated to my friend to give to her adopted newborn.
By the time Samuel was 6 months old my supply had finally regulated. It was so freeing to be able to feed on demand and not have to pump first. Samuel was healthy and happy and in the 50th percentile for his weight, and an added bonus was that he was a really good sleeper! Shortly after he turned 7 months old, however, he started waking up multiple times at night to nurse. We brushed it off and assumed he was just teething or going through a growth spurt, but it continued for weeks. I called my pediatrician and asked her why she thought his sleeping pattern changed suddenly. We ruled out ear infections, viruses, the Bubonic Plague, and continued to be dumbfounded . . . until my ped asked if it was possible that I was pregnant. I probably offended her for laughing so loud on the phone, but, come on! Me? Pregnant? I mean, sure, it was a possibility I could be pregnant, but I was exclusively breastfeeding, had not introduced solids, and remember how it took the stars aligning for me to have a healthy pregnancy with Samuel? I hung up the phone, dug out an expired pregnancy test from the Dollar Store, and took the test . . . and then proceeded to take another 3 before I believed my eyes! I told my husband and he didn’t believe me, so he went to the pharmacy and bought the most expensive digital pregnancy test . . . which told us the same thing the 4 tests prior did, only in words instead of hieroglyphics. I. Was. Pregnant!
Once the initial shock settled we were thrilled for our news, but clearly my milk supply had already begun to decrease. Ahhhh the irony! My ped suggested starting a supply-boosting supplement that was safe while pregnant, but cautioned that it was likely we would need to supplement with donor milk or formula. Having just donated all of my pumped milk to my friend for her adopted baby, we were forced to supplement with formula. We chose the only organic formula that we can buy locally and hoped that it would be palatable. Only, Samuel wouldn’t take it. Clueless about what to do, I emailed Jessica from The Leaky Boob for advice and was so humbled that she took the time to answer me. She encouraged me to get a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) to keep stimulating my breasts to produce milk while getting Samuel the supplementation he needed. He had lost so much weight he dropped to the 5th percentile, so we were ready to try just about anything. All I can say is using an SNS is like trying to juggle flaming arrows while blindfolded! I feel it apropos to high five any mom that has successfully nursed with an SNS. First off, that thing is impossible to set up alone (thankfully my husband is really supportive of me breastfeeding). Secondly, the tape that is supposed to keep the tube in place is worthless! Thirdly, my son was so offended that I was trying to sneak that tiny plastic tube in with his latch. Needless to say, we gave up.
After giving up on the SNS we tried to introduce a bottle. By this time Samuel was close to 9 months and had only had a bottle when I pumped my colostrum the first few days of his life. If he was offended about the SNS tube, he was not having the bottle either. We must’ve bought one of every brand of bottle on the market only to find out he would rather starve. We tried syringes, medicine droppers, spoon-feeding, sippy cups, open cups and this kid was not impressed. The only thing that he took a liking to was a straw – and not a sippy cup with a straw because that’s far too juvenile for a 9 month old – a straw that you, a grown adult, would get at a restaurant. He’d sip on the formula throughout the day but never really had a “feeding” like he would with breastmilk. We sneaked it in smoothies, made popsicles, and just about anything to get that kid to drink milk.
Keep in mind I’m still pregnant through this . . . I’m tired, hormonal, my nipples are sore, and I’m nauseous! I lost 10 pounds from throwing up and not being able to eat food while pregnant and still nursing Samuel. Those days were ROUGH! I kept telling myself that, “This, too, shall pass.”
We found our rhythm and made the most of our cuddles and nursing sessions until Samuel started throwing fits when I offered him the breast at nap-time or bed when he was 13 months. After a few days of us both crying at every feeding, I assumed he was no longer interested in nursing and wanting to wean. I stopped offering it and we just, kinda moved on. Looking back, I honestly believe he was having a nursing strike from being frustrated from having to work so hard to get any breastmilk.
In May we welcomed our daughter, Felicity Claire, into the world. Once his sister was born he started showing interest in nursing but it was as if he had forgotten how it all worked. He constantly talked about my “ba-ba’s” and wanted to touch them for his sister’s first month of life. 4 months later, he asks for milk at bedtime and smells and touches my breasts asking for more. It breaks my heart that I likely cut our nursing relationship short, but I am glad we were able to overcome so much and still make it 13 months.
So far, Felicity nurses like a champ and I feel so much better prepared this time around. While I wouldn’t wish my struggles with breastfeeding on anyone, I am glad I had to persevere through them. Not only did it show me how much support I have, but it highlighted how important a good support system is for breastfeeding. I hope that other moms find support to help them reach their breastfeeding goals and that my story encourages them in their journey.
Kelly is a mother of two from St. Louis, Missouri, who lived a good chunk of her adult life in Houston, Texas. She and her hunk of a husband struggled with infertility for 5 years and had multiple miscarriages before having their first child in 2014. Prior to starting a family, she taught 7th grade life science at a college preparatory charter school for low-income, minority students in Houston. When she’s not nursing her 5 month old or telling her 21 month old to stop throwing balls at his sissy’s head, Kelly enjoys hanging out with her husband, binge-watching Gilmore Girls, and writing music. Despite many struggles with breastfeeding, Kelly nursed her son for 13 months; 6 of those while pregnant with her daughter. In addition to being passionate about breastfeeding, Kelly loves baby wearing, cloth diapering, staying up to date on car seat safety, and having grandiose dreams of being a midwife someday. In the meantime she’ll stick to chasing her sports-nut toddler around the neighborhood and hoping that she remembers to put her boob away before answering the front door.