Finding My Strength: Jessica's Breastfeeding Journey

I grew up with my mom always talking about how she breastfed my brother and me. I was surrounded by it, and breastfeeding always seemed just to be the natural option. During college when I began working as a nursing assistant caring for infants, I saw the struggle. I remember always asking myself, “Why are they having such a hard time? Isn’t this supposed to be natural?”

Fast forward to when I was expecting my first child. My OB asked my plans for feeding baby, and I thought it was obvious…breastfeeding, of course! When I had a male delivery nurse, I thought “Great. There is no way that he is going to be able to help me with this…” But to my amazement, he taught me to breastfeed my daughter. He was more knowledgeable than I ever expected and was there through my whole hospital experience.

After discharge, I was happy to be in my own environment where I could be comfortable…until my milk came in. Queue missile boobs! Holy smokes! I was not busty at that time, but these babies were massive and rock hard! Little did I know that this would be the start of my troubles. I was blessed with an oversupply and overactive letdown. I say blessed because I was truly blessed to have an abundance of milk for my baby. But the onslaught of issues began.

Clogged ducts, one after the other, led to mastitis over and over again, which led to me feeling crappy and more tired than I already was caring for a newborn. I regularly leaked through my breast pads, soaked the bed, and drenched my shirt. My daughter would choke on my milk and pull off my nipple- causing her to be drenched as well. I was an emotional mess. I felt like my oversupply wasn’t something I should complain about because SO many moms don’t have enough milk, but this was affecting my quality of life. I honestly couldn’t keep up with my laundry and I didn’t want to be intimate with my husband because it was like I had hoses strapped to my chest.

I quickly became depressed. With my husband’s encouragement (bless him), I found a support group, but I was too embarrassed to share or ask for help because it didn’t seem like I had an issue compared to these other moms that couldn’t breastfeed at all. So I told my pediatrician. And he laughed at me! “You seriously went to a lactation support group for an oversupply issue?!” Those words are still burned in my head 7 years later. I left his office, in tears yet again. I decided to manage it myself (which I do not recommend, at all). It was a daily, if not hourly struggle, to be at peace with myself and grateful that I could feed my baby. With the support of other moms I breastfed her for 2.5 glorious years.

Fast forward several years and we decided to have another baby. After 5 losses (inclusive of a complete molar pregnancy, a 10-week-old with a heartbeat (My angel Reilly), 1 ectopic, and 2 early losses), we decided to give it one more try. I was filled with anxiety- the fear of loss and the acknowledgment that this would be my last baby. He arrived safely and I quickly realized that this would be my last breastfeeding journey. It still brings me to tears if I think about it.

In the hospital, lactation visited with me multiple times and said that everything seemed to be going well and that I must know what I was doing since I was a second time mom. However, things were not going well. His latch was painful. Toe-curling, bring me to tears, anxiety inducing, painful. My nipples were turning white during his feeds, and began peeling and bleeding. I begged to be seen, literally, as I was walking out the door for discharge. She took a look and simply said, “it seems he may have a shallow latch. Just take your time with him and you should be fine.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I was livid and felt so lost. I told my husband that I didn’t think that I could do it this time. It broke my heart.

Out of desperation, I started using a nipple shield. My OB told me to throw it away the minute he found out, but that was the only way I was able to breastfeed without it hurting. We went to his first pediatrician appointment and he was losing too much weight for the doctor to be comfortable. I was instructed to start pumping and feeding him a bottle at every feed so that we could accurately measure the amount he was consuming. I was also instructed to buy a home scale and weigh him after every feed. If that doesn’t make a new mom freak out, I don’t know what would! I felt like such a failure. How could I, a mom of now 2 children and an RN educated in maternal-newborn care, not be feeding my child effectively?!

We started seeing an LC to work on latching and getting him to transfer effectively. She was helpful, but just like a car that you take to the mechanic, none of the issues came to light while we were in the office. After a lot of work and patience, we finally fell into our rhythm. I was blessed to be able to stay home for 5 months and work with him at every feed. I still struggle with oversupply and have had mastitis 4 times, but feel prepared to handle it this time.

I began working 2 weeks ago, and that has brought its own issues with breastfeeding. I am now on my 4th bout of mastitis from the pumping and him being finicky with eating due to teething. However, there is nothing like coming home at the end of the day and nursing my baby. He empties my breasts so much more effectively than a pump, and the oxytocin release is so relaxing. Nothing compares to holding my baby, knowing that I am nourishing him inside and out, and looking into his eyes. It always feel like he’s telling me “thank you mom.” What a gift!

Looking back, I’ve had a lot of bumps in my breastfeeding journeys, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it. I learned a lot about myself and my willingness to persevere. The beginning can be tough, but once you find your groove, you’re unstoppable. From having to support my babies’ heads to eat, to them holding my breast in their mouth, to them undoing my shirt by themselves, to them being able to tell me they want to nurse…it’s just amazing. I don’t know how to put it into words. My husband and I often talk about how incredible it is that I was able to grow our children independently in my body and then sustain them with only my body for 6 full months. Because of my body and my strength, they thrive. I have a lot to be proud of, and I will continue my current breastfeeding journey as long as my little man will let me. These moments are precious.

~Jessica


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