Tag Archives: tongue tie

About the Time I Tried To Sell My Newborn On the Internet, Or, Postpartum Depression

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Jack's few-day-old feet

Jack’s few-day-old feet

I’ve ruined my life.

The thought thundered, endless as the tide, in my ears.

I’ve ruined my life.  I don’t know how to do this.  I just want this creature to go away.  

I was a week into my new existence as a new mom.  What was supposed to be the most precious time, full of adoration and cuddling a darling new baby, was turning out to be the darkest time of my life.

Upon birthing a tiny human, everything was suddenly different.  Routines in which I’d been comfortable for decades were altered by the nonstop needs of my son.  I couldn’t find time to brush my teeth or drink a cup of tea.  Being out of work and home alone with a baby felt isolating and scary.  I missed being alone with my husband.  I hadn’t slept in days, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to balance my checkbook.

I sat, at our dining room table, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me– a chore I’d done hundreds of times in my adult life.  I knew the shapes in front of me were numbers, but there were black holes in my brain where I was supposed to know what to do with them.

In desperation, I looked up as my husband appeared in front of me with Jack in his arms.

“We have to sell the baby!”  I cried.  “I can’t make these numbers make sense.  We’ll never be able to afford life.  Do you think we can sell the baby?”

It is a fortunate thing I married a level-headed individual.  “We don’t have to sell the baby,” he said calmly.

My eyes were bleary from not sleeping as I looked at him.  He swayed with our son in his arms.  Why was Jack so peaceful with him?  I felt clueless when it came to comforting him.

Nursing was excruciating, not at all the tender and nurturing experience I fantasized about while pregnant.

In fact, nothing about motherhood was what I expected.

My pregnancy with Jack had been idyllic.  I had never been happier or more emotionally balanced.  I slept great and was barely uncomfortable, even at full-term.  In all honesty, I could have stayed pregnant with Jack forever, it was so awesome.

But now he was on the outside, and I felt devastated.

His cry sent me into tailspins of panic the likes of which I’d never known.  Somehow, my husband had the patience to rock and coo at our son in ways that calmed him, but instead of reassuring me that it was possible for us to have a content baby, it infuriated me.

It was like the two of them were conspiring to make me see what a failure I was as a mom.

“It must be nice being the fucking father of the year!” I sobbed, enraged that my husband was already a better parent than me.

It is another very fortunate thing I married someone who didn’t take this sleep-deprived insanity personally.

And we were so very sleep-deprived.  We hadn’t slept more than 45 consecutive minutes since my water broke at one a.m. and a 22 hour labor and birth ensued.  I was totally prepared to follow the advice of “sleep while the baby sleeps,” but Jack did not sleep for more than an hour at a time, and it was shocking how much he wanted to nurse.  My nipples were inflamed and raw.  This pain plus sleep-deprivation equaled the revulsion I felt towards this tiny being who never ceased caterwauling.

I felt a despair at being a new mom and it was shameful.  Fury grew as I internalized it.

I never wanted to hurt my baby.  Never.  I did adore him.  I thought he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.  But sometimes when I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I just kind of wanted to open up the window and quietly slip him out.

I felt like the shittiest person in the world for feeling these awful feelings, hence my desire of looking into selling Jack on the internet, which at the time seemed like a totally plausible epiphany.

Postpartum depression is a complex combination of factors.  As a social worker, I could give you a bunch of clinical jargon and criteria.  But I’d rather talk to you as a mom who has been the fuck through it.

For me, a hormonal roller coaster met my history of anxiety and depression, acute sleep-deprivation, and the result was a sense of epic failure.  Though I have no evidence to back it up, I also believe having pain meds during my labor complicated my recovery and was an impediment to successful initiation of breastfeeding.  The poor breastfeeding relationship fed insecurity, and deepened my sense of failure.

Motherhood seemed a trap in which I had ensnared myself and my husband.

Nothing prepared me for motherhood.  I had worked with children for over 15 years, but nothing prepared me for the exhausting onslaught of new responsibilities.  Jack was what you would call a “high-needs” baby.  He wanted constant holding, needed lots of soothing, and was incredibly alert.  Meeting the needs of this kid while still recovering from birthing him was intense.

I really can’t over-state how fucking miserable sleep-deprivation is.  I’m not talking about pulling an all nighter, staying out partying until 3 a.m., or having an occasional bout of insomnia.  I’m talking about not sleeping for days and nights on end, to the point where your nerves are so frazzled if you actually got a couple hours in which to sleep you would be too anxious to even put your head down.

Sleep-deprivation has been used as a form of torture, and I learned first hand why it is so effective.

It was like I could hear Jack crying, even when he wasn’t, and it would startle me out of my skin, flood me with anxiety.  I’m sure this hyper-nervous state also did nothing to help my milk supply, which in turn frustrated my ever-hungry baby.

Two weeks after Jack was born, my husband had to return to work.  He had really been holding me up through this disaster we were calling- air quote- parenthood, and I dreaded him leaving us, even for a few hours.

I paced around the house and refused to hold Jack.  It pains the deepest core in me to admit this, but I wouldn’t even look at my beautiful, new boy that morning.  I wouldn’t nurse him.  As luck would have it (not) I had burned off half my areola in an unfortunate attempt at using my breast pump, so I had no pumped milk for the critter.  My husband had to mix and give him a bottle of formula.  Jack guzzled it down in breathtaking cooperation, but I sank deeper into the abyss of self-hatred.

I want to note this intense refusal to parent my son lasted a few hours at most, but it was awful.  I still feel guilty when I remember turning away from Jack to lie on the couch, my breasts engorged and soaking the front of my tee shirt.

Jack was never alone, my husband or other family held him, and I know that connection to other humans was really important.  I can’t help but think of other women who don’t have this kind of support network, who suffer without help, and who’s babies claim the unfortunate side effects of maternal depression.

Jack and I were lucky.

Of course my husband could not leave us like that.  Something had to be done, so he basically shoved me into an intensive therapy program where I went, with Jack, every day for two weeks.  It was almost immediately helpful.

There was a poster on the wall that said something like, “It isn’t always about stopping your baby’s crying, but learning to tolerate it.”  Seeing that poster was an “ah-ha!” moment for me.  I slowly learned to stop taking it so personally when Jack was crying, as long as I was attending to his needs and he was safe, warm, fed, and in dry clothes.

I saw a psychiatrist and was started on a very low dose of an SSRI, considered safe and compatible with breastfeeding.  Jack and I were evaluated by a competent lactation consultant who diagnosed a tongue tie in him and mastitis in me.  Once we got these issues treated, we were on track with our nursing, and my self esteem soared each time I put him to my breast without pain.

I participated in group therapy with other women and their newborns and learned I was far from the only woman experiencing this crazy confusion.

I also learned it didn’t make any of us bad mothers.

Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy went a long way, but another thing that really helped was learning to sleep in shifts with my husband.  We altered our schedules so I would go to bed each night from seven to midnight.  If Jack needed to be fed during this time, my husband would give him a bottle, which allowed me to get at least a five hour chunk of sleep.  Then he would bring Jack to me and I would nurse him whenever he woke for the rest of the night.  This allowed my husband to get a chunk of sleep before he had to get up and go to work the next day.

It was amazing what a few hours of sleep did for all of us.  Within a month of Jack’s birth, we had gotten into a routine that was not altogether convenient, but did work.  I continued to attend weekly therapy, which helped me keep my thoughts in check, and also helped me feel supported and connected.

A couple other things were really helpful for my growth as a new mom.  At the suggestion of my best friend, who’s daughter was three months old at the time, we signed up together for a baby yoga class.  It was a fun way to interact with our babies, and was great for getting us out of the house and among other new moms.

I also took Jack to an infant massage class, and learned some new ways of bonding with him.  Since it turned out Jack had reflux and was a bit colicky, massage was a great way of comforting him when he was uncomfortable, and proved to me that I could meet the needs of my child.

In this process of childbirth, postpartum depression, treatment and recovery, I learned many women share a similar experience.  My depressed brain drowned me in the belief that I was the only shitty person who had ever thought she’d ruined her life and would never learn how to be a good mom.  The truth is, none of us are shitty, and many of us struggle.  It isn’t an easy world in which to be a mom, what with all the constant judgement, scrutiny, and pressure to balance everything and look sleek and sultry doing it.

And experiencing postpartum depression does not mean we stop loving our babies or love them less for even one second.

The good news is we are getting better at recognizing and treating postpartum depression and anxiety.  The bad news is there are still tons of women who struggle and feel too stigmatized by cultural notions of mental illness or ideas of what makes a “good” mom.

In retrospect, I could be pissed with the nurses who breezed in and out of my hospital room while I sobbed with newborn Jack in my arms as depression stole my soul mere hours after his birth.  Or I could hold a grudge with the crappy lactation consult who gave me about four seconds of her time and didn’t recognize Jack’s tongue tie.

I could berate our shitty system of managed care that has women pop out babies and then tosses them out of the hospital in a remarkably short time span.

And I could rant about how in this country, it is a crime against the human family that women are pushed back into the work force to support their families merely weeks after giving birth, when nursing relationships are barely established.

I could grieve those first few days I “lost” with Jack.

But I’m not going to go there.  Not today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the small victory of all those who championed me through that dark chapter of my life.  I’d like to celebrate all I learned about myself, motherhood, and the strength of my family at this time, and the fact I birthed another baby and did not have even the slightest twinge of PPD with her.

I’d like to share this story in hopes that it might light someone else’s way.

Finally, I’d like to pat myself on the back for not selling my baby on the internet, tempting as the idea seemed at the time.

There’s hope.  Don’t be ashamed.  Get help.  Know you can and will do it because there is nothing in the universe quite as strong as a mother.  And please don’t sell your baby.

It does get better.  We have not ruined our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. . .  Have you experienced PPD?  How did it affect you and your family?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?  What advice would you give a new mom who is depressed?

If you or someone you love are struggling with emotional issues beyond the “baby blues,” please talk to your doctor today and learn what is available in your area for help and support.  

BRING OUT YER BOOBS!! Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week

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International breast feeding logo

International breast feeding logo

Do you have a favorite memory of breastfeeding?  

I do.  

About seven rotations around the sun ago, I was a new mom to a new baby.  My new little son was beautiful and perfect, but not at all what I expected.  He was a grouchy little fellow, and we had an absolutely wretched time initiating breastfeeding.  

Breastfeeding was a norm in my family, so, when I was pregnant with Jack I thought, “How hard could it be?”  I did buy a book and read it through.  This book (which I would not recommend to my worst enemy) had a mantra that went something like, “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.”  I remember actually chuckling (obnoxiously) at someone who shared with me their memories of the toe-curling pain of early nursing days.  Is it possible I actually told them “if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”?  Ugh.  

The question wasn’t “how hard could it be,” but, “how naive could I have been?”  

Anyhoo, after a consult with a sincere and empathetic lactation consultant (seriously, I will NEVER forget how awesome she was), Jack and I were on the path to success.  He was diagnosed with a tongue tie, which we had snipped, and nursing instantly became pain free and enjoyable.  

Flash forward 14 weeks. . .  

. . .  I took Jack to some nearby outlets to do some shopping.  After a bit, I noticed his hunger cues, so we nipped back to the car for some nipple time.  As I was latching him on to my breast, he looked up at me and laughed.  While my grumpy and colicky little boy had started smiling some weeks prior, this was the first time I’d ever heard him laugh.  

It is one of my favorite memories of breastfeeding.  

Jack weaned shortly before he turned two.  His little sister, Emily, is still nursing at 33 months old.  This week is World Breastfeeding Week.  I realize that next year at this time, I probably won’t be a nursing mom anymore, and since Em is my last baby, this holiday will be seen from a different perspective.  These thoughts make me kind of sad, but also really grateful for all of the family, friends, and professionals who have supported my breastfeeding journey.  

So, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, please share your favorite nursing memory in the comments below.  If you have weaned, what do you miss the most about nursing?  If you had challenges with nursing, what were they, and what advice would you give to new nursing moms who are struggling?  

Everything You Need To Know About Sleep Training (sort of)

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Sleeping like a baby. . .

Sleeping like a baby. . .

Hey new moms:  My baby, Emily, slept through the night for the past seven nights in a row! Jealous much?

Don’t be. She is almost 18 months old, and I have not had a single full night of sleep in all of that time. I shuffle through life in a perpetual state of hazy, memory-impaired sleep deprivation. I identify with zombies in a whole new light that is not quite wholesome.

These past nights when she didn’t wake to nurse, I still struggled with my own sleeplessness.  I woke up, waited for her, drumming my fingers on my pillow.

I’m not sure if I feel thrilled she is sleeping though the night, or offended that she doesn’t want me.

Our son, Jack, didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months either. He’s nearly six now- a great sleeper with the exception of the occasional nightmare. We did everything “by the book” and failed miserably when it came to sleep.

I feel qualified to speak about sleep issues because of the experiences we had with our Jack.  Some families are blessed with the stereotypical newborn who sleeps nonstop.  Jack was what you could call a “non-sleeper”.  He was a very alert baby, forever people watching at the great cafe of life.

As a first time mom, I was not educated on cluster feeding and why it is normal and necessary to breast feeding in those early weeks.  I cringe to admit there were times that I probably should have had Jack on the boob, but didn’t because he had just eaten or “it wasn’t time yet.”  Another part of our perfect sleep storm was a tongue tie caused insufficient latch and poor milk transfer at the breast.  He also had acid reflux.  The poor guy was always fussy and hungry and awake.

We sorted out feeding and reflux issues, then Jack was in his own bed in his own room at nine weeks of age, as was recommended by his pediatrician. This did not help. He continued waking to nurse at least three times per night.

At six months, we tried the “cry it out” method. Every night for weeks, we listened to him cry and cry for hours on end in the middle of the night. We were urged by the books and his pediatrician to be consistent, keep at it. We were told we must be doing something “wrong” or “inadvertently reinforcing his negative sleep behavior.”

To this day, I swear we didn’t do either of those things, and that it was just Jack’s persistent temperament that kept us up all night.

After months of a losing battle, we couldn’t take anymore.  Desperate for some quiet and sleep, we brought him into our bed and co-slept. Not only did we all sleep well, but I loved waking up next to his smiling face in the morning.  We co-slept until he was 18 months and magically started sleeping through the night in his own crib.

It kind of goes to show you can screw up at almost every turn and still come out okay.

When Emily came along, I proclaimed I wanted nothing to do with sleep training.

By then, I knew that like stranger anxiety, language development, and potty training, sleep is a developmental milestone. Jack taught me that some kids like to do things in their own good time, and no amount of pressure will help things along.

Jack also taught me that if you look away for one moment, when you look back your child will be older, altered in many wonderful ways, but never again that same little imp who just wants to be close to mama in the night.

I embraced both Emily’s newborn wakefulness and my sleep deprivation and became an accidental “attachment” parent. I wore her during the day in a sling, nursed her on demand around the clocck, and accepted her every need as my command.

As it turned out, she was a mellow baby, took wonderful naps, and didn’t need all that much “training” to reduce her night time wakings to once per night. I swear it had to do with her being worn for hours a day and having a nice, full tummy.

She sleeps in a little crib pushed right up next to my side of the bed. So, when she wakes I pull her into bed with me, nurse her, and put her back.  Although I would love it, we do not sleep with her in our bed because she is too wiggly and would probably make her way out of bed to make mischief.

I have persistent mommy-guilt about those nights that we let Jack cry on and on. I wonder how confusing, lonely, and enraging it must have been for him. Everyone we talked to swore by the cry it out method, and as first time parents, we thought we were doing the “right” thing.

I don’t think the “right” thing should feel so “wrong” when it comes to parenting. I wish I had been more in tune with the voice inside of me that said I was doing something dubious to my child.

On the flip side, I’ll never regret getting up to tend to Emily, even the times when I was exhausted and miserable and swearing a little bit about it.

Society makes moms feel like crap if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night by three months.  This is another one of those rush-rush-get-it-done issues that makes our culture so warped, in my humble opinion.  Truth is, most babies don’t sleep through the night until they are much older and there is nothing wrong with that.

I realize a lot of women are not like me. Some women want their bodies back after they have a baby or don’t believe in co-sleeping (whether in the same bed or just the same room). I also know that many babies do cry it out in three nights and everyone lives happily ever after.  I get it. I respect it.  But life does not “go back to normal” after having babies.  They are awfully exhausting and inconvenient little critters.

We don’t do anyone any good trying to force solitary sleep on a tiny being who was used to being rocked for nine months in a warm cradle of water within us.

I am awestruck by how profoundly fast babyhood passes.  I want to savor every moment, even in the middle of the night.

The evil power of sleep-deprivation can not be understated.  Once when Jack was only a few weeks old, I was so exhausted I could not balance my check book properly.  I freaked out and ran around the house trying to convince my husband that we needed to “sell the baby.”

Thankfully my husband was the voice of reason, but it made me realize why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture.  It does feel like torture, and can be dangerous if you are driving around like a drunk, or so impaired you do something to hurt someone.  If that is the case for you, get help.  Real help.  Fast.

Lying there awake next to sleeping Emily, I realized that it is pretty simple.  As long as everyone is getting enough sleep to function safely, then these are the only words that you really need to know about sleep training in those early days, months, and years:

This too shall pass.  

Because it will pass in its time, and everything will be okay.

Nipple Trauma and Healing

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One breastfeeding topic about which I can claim to be an expert, is nipple trauma. If you ask me, nursing a baby with a damaged nipple is like trying to climb a mountain with a compound fracture. It hurts like hell and makes the journey a nightmare.

(Note: I am not actually an expert, and this is not meant to be diagnostic or prescriptive, but merely to share my experience in the hope that maybe it will help another mom.)

There are different types of nipple issues the breast feeding mom encounters: soreness due to poor or shallow latch, a wound due to a bite, vasospasms caused by a circulatory disorder called Renaud’s Syndrome, and the pain caused by thrush (a yeast infection of the nipple and/or milk ducts) to name a few.

I have had all of these issues, plus I burned off half my areola with a breast pump.

Flange Burns and Tongue Ties

My first born, Jack, had a tongue tie that was not diagnosed until a couple weeks after his birth. Due to the tightness of his latch, my nipples cracked and bled. Thinking that pumping would be less painful, I dispatched my mom to the baby store to buy me a premium breast pump. Desperate to get the milk out of my jugs and into my baby boy, I strapped on the pump and enthusiastically started pumping.

After 15 minutes of frantic pumping, there was not a drop of milk in the little bottle. I still remember my horrified gasp, then screech of pain as I removed the flange from my breast along with an inch of pink flesh.

In hysterics, I called the maternity hospital’s “warm line” and described my situation. “Oh, you gave yourself a flange burn,” said the nonchalant nurse on the other end of the line. What?! I thought. A flange burn? This is a thing?

As it turns out, yes, there is such thing as a flange burn. It happens from the friction of the pump on the areola. The lesson learned: use the correct size flanges, do not put the suction on your pump too high, and use plenty of lanolin before pumping. (I’m pretty sure that this story is the female equivalent to a guy hearing about another guy getting kicked in the nuts.)

The underlying issue that needed to be fixed in order for us to nurse effectively and painlessly was Jack’s tongue tie. A tongue tie is when a baby’s frenulum (the membrane under the tongue) is too tight. Jack was not able to get his tongue out past his lower lip, and could not latch onto my breast and suckle well.

This condition causes pain for the mom and frustration for the newborn, who may not be able to stimulate proper milk production due to the poor latch. Left untreated, tongue ties can also cause speech impediments. From what I understand, tongue ties are fairly common. My daughter Emily had one too. Emily’s tongue tie actually made her tongue appear heart shaped at the tip.

Thankfully, with both children, I was seen by kind and competent lactation consultants who diagnosed the tongue ties, and referred us to an ENT to release the frenulum. The frenulectomy (snipping of the tongue tie) sounded like a scary ordeal, but really was nothing more than a second of the doctor clipping the membrane under the tongue with a little pair of surgical scissors. In most cases there is barely any bleeding. The baby comes to the breast straight after. Although it sounds like a scary thing to put your child through, I can’t recommend it enough, if you plan to continue breast feeding.

Bites and Wounds and Infections, OH MY!

With Jack, my nipple issues were resolved within two weeks of his birth, especially after the tongue tie was released. I went on to nurse him until he self weaned at 23 months. With Emily, my nipple trauma was much more complicated. I had both bacterial and fungal infections that made my breasts burn and buzz with pain like they were stuffed full of broken glass and bees.

Correcting her tongue tie did not seem to help with the pain. Her latch looked picture perfect, and yet nursing continued to be excruciating. I took medication for the infections, and still, discomfort. Our LC suggested that her latch would loosen up as she grew, and that she needed time to get used to her released tongue. (This did prove to be the case, but not for some weeks.)

Around three weeks, Emily bit me. Even though she didn’t have teeth, she still tore open my already fragile nipple. Every time she nursed, her suction opened the wound. It bled.

The good news is that if your nip is bleeding, the blood will not harm your little one. The bad news is, blood can upset baby’s stomach and cause a scary-looking, bloody spit-up.

You might be thinking that when you get to the point of gaping nip wound and bloody-spit-up that breast feeding is just a little too cray-cray for you. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think this as well, but the desire to feed my daughter from my own body, as I had when she was in the womb, was so great that, as the saying goes, I kept calm and latched on.

Vasospasms

It was recommended that I use cool gel pads for my sore nipples. You can buy these at Target or the baby store. Initially, these seemed soothing. But then my breasts started burning so intensely that I couldn’t sleep through the pain. I thought I was going insane at this point, because the cold compress was supposed to be healing.

Through some research and consultation with my lactation consultant, I learned that I had a circulatory condition called Renaud’s Syndrome that causes the nipple to blanch and then turn purple as it fills back up with blood. I am not qualified to get into all the science behind this condition, but I am over-qualified to tell you that it hurts like a bitch.

Using warm compresses and covering up my nipple as soon as I finished nursing helped to relieve some of the burning associated with the Renaud’s. I also swear by the palliative and healing properties of extra virgin coconut oil. You can buy this solidified, white oil in your health food store. It liquifies as it warms up, and smooths onto your skin much more gracefully than lanolin, which I personally find gloppy. Coconut oil has both antifungal and antibacterial properties too, so if you are gunning for an infection, it might help to stave it off.

Desperate Measures

While I got these other issues sorted out, nothing helped with the gaping gash on the side of my right nipple. Every time I nursed it opened, and pumping made it even worse. (I blame my nip trauma on the difficulties that my body has had responding to a breast pump.) My left nipple looked like a perfect little pearl, but the right looked so damaged that I became nauseated every time I looked at it. I was taking fistfulls of ibuprofin to help with the pain, and started to worry that my stomach would resemble my nipple before too long.

I finally took an extreme measure, in collaboration with my lactation consultant. After reading about women who are able to nurse exclusively with one breast, I decided to let my right breast dry up and use only my left. I was concerned that I would need to supplement with either formula or donor milk, but for my sanity, it had to be done.

The first day was painful. I used ice packs and cabbage leaves to help with the engorgement. I was able to hand express enough milk to relieve some of the pressure. And finally, I used a bowl of warm water that I leaned my breast into, which also helped to release enough milk to make me comfortable.

Happily, Emily seemed fine with just one breast. The true miracle was that my nipple healed in mere days. After about 10 weeks of nursing with excruciating pain, I felt comfortable again. The nipple trauma had made me physically, emotionally, and mentally miserable, but with its healing, I started to feel like myself again. Since it had been less than a week, I was able to ease Em back onto the damaged nipple and re-establish my supply without too much effort.

With both kids, the pain of nipple trauma left me feeling robbed of a part of my maternity leave. I had to give upt the fantasy of the perfect nursing relationship to deal with seemingly endless problems. But the other day, as my 15 month old Emily tucked in for her night time nursing session, I thought about how perfect it is now. We nurse in bliss, and she pats me and shows affection. She has infinite patience for those days around my cycle when my milk is a little slower, and there is never any pain. In the end, I did get a perfect nursing experience. It just came in a slightly different form.

For more information on ways to deal with nipple trauma, (from an actual professional) go to http://www.kellymom.com, or contact your local La Leche League. If you have any other questions for Charlotte, please feel free to comment, or email at cp.momasteblog@gmail.com.

Breast Feeding Support– More Than Just a Good Bra

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Today my daughter and I are going to a breastfeeding support group.

Emily is 13 months old and we are doing fine with our nursing relationship.  Em still enjoys her mama milk four to six times a day, and we are content with this.  But when we get a chance, we like to pop in at this group.  We meet up with friends, chat, and play.

While I was on maternity leave with Emily last winter, I had the good fortune of attending this support group, a free, but priceless, service provided by the hospital in which I gave birth to my daughter.

Prior to Emily’s arrival, I fantasized about breastfeeding her.  With Jack, I had a lot of nursing issues.  He had a tongue tie that went undiagnosed for several weeks, and my nipples got torn up by his shallow latch.  Additionally, I burned off half my areola using a breast pump with flanges that were too small.  True story.

With Emily, I imagined I was super-duper educated on all things breastfeeding.  Her latch would be as light and tender as a butterfly alighting on my nipple, and my milk supply would be robust enough to nourish a small nation of newborns.

If you have read my previous lactation related posts-Badass Breast Feeding– Nursing with Teeth, or Cluster Feeding– Wise Words of Warning, or Pumping: the Agony and the Ecstasy– you already know that this was not the way things went down.

Like Jack, Emily had a very tight latch and a tongue tie.  I was sore within hours of her birth.

Our lactation consultant, or as I nick named her, our Patron Saint of Lactating Mothers, was one of the first people to meet Emily.  She held me while I cried in post-partum, hormonal frustration, and validated the fact that my nips were indeed red and raw.  She advocated for me to get my breast milk cultured for infections, of which I had both bacterial and fungal.  She also invited me to attend her weekly support group for nursing moms.

Although we attended group regularly, my nipple problems got worse.  An open wound on my right nipple would not heal, no matter how it was tended to.  I also had Renaud’s Syndrome or Vasospasms, a crazy-painful circulatory condition in which the nipple blanches after nursing then turns purple, and burns like hell.  Some nights the burning was so bad it kept me from sleeping those precious few moments when Emily wasn’t on the breast.

At home, my nursing sessions were crying jags of devastation.

But at group, I was able to nurse nearly without pain.

How could that be?

I did a little research and found that our hormone, oxytocin, is miraculous.  I believe oxytocin got a bad rap from its synthetic step-sister, pitocin which is used to induce labor, and causes the most demonic contractions known to the female race.

Oxytocin is a kinder, gentler hormone that we make in our own bodies.  It does cause labor contractions, but it is also released by our brains during orgasm and when a person is cozy and comfortable, such as during a massage or cuddling.  Oxytocin is also responsible for the milk release, aka, let down, when we nurse our babies.

This was an amazing fact to me–  that our milk is let down not merely by our babies suckling at our breasts, but by a chemical reaction in our brains!  Without this oxytocin release in the brain, breast feeding would be nearly futile because our milk wouldn’t let down.

The book, Breast Feeding Made Simple, by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC (New Harbinger Publications, 2010) was a godsend to me.  In it, Morbacher writes, “The oxytocin response triggered by both skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding may have many far-reaching effects. . .  It causes a decrease in aggressive and defensive feelings, making you feel more open to the new little “stranger” to whom you have given birth.  Oxytocin influences your mood, makes you calmer, and promotes a closer relationship with your baby. . .  The effects of oxytocin may also help with relationships outside your family.  This may be one reason why many breastfeeding mothers love the atmosphere of mothers’ groups, where those with high levels of oxytocin gather and befriend one another,” (p. 43).

BINGO!!  Could our bodies be any more amazing?

Being at group calmed and soothed me.  Emily and I made a lot of friends, with whom we kept in touch over the past year.  When I see these women and their lovely babies (who are now toddling around on two feet!), I swear I can feel a surge of oxytocin course through my veins.  In layman’s terms, I get all warm and fuzzy.

I was educated, organized and prepared when it came to breastfeeding.  I bought the most recommended breast pump, milk storage baggies, and nursing bras.  I was armed to the teeth with lanolin, nursing pads, books and apps on my smartphone.  None of this prep mattered after I actually had those babies in my arms, looking up at me with hungry eyes.

I share these stories, because I’d like to save other women from the discomfort and depression of nursing issues.

I also share because I want women to know they are not alone.  The postpartum days can be hectic and lonely.  Fuzzy fantasies of nursing your little darling in the shade of a rainbow with little bunnies frolicking around you because you are such a mother-loving-milk-goddess can be rapidly dispelled as your hormones rage and sleep deprivation tortures you day and night.

My point is, as educated and prepared as you may be, there can still be pitfalls.  Support is everything.

In nursing both of my children, I have had amazing support and guidance, not just from groups, but also from my family and my friends.  Not every woman has this.  After I had Jack, I was shocked at how difficult breastfeeding was, and at how much help and nurturance I needed along the way.  I thought that I would be an old pro by the time I had Emily, but once again, I could never have continued nursing through all the pain, confusion, and frustration without a support network.

If you are a mom who is in toe-curling agony or just mild discomfort with your nursing relationship, my recommendation is to find a group and go to it.  There is something powerful about nursing in a room full of moms and babies.  You can often find a group through your hospital or local La Leche League.

In some more remote or rural areas, there may be very little access to in-vivo support groups.  There are also a bunch of online forums, including groups on Facebook, where you can chat with other moms, post questions, and get a pat on the back when you need one.  Two of my favorites are http://www.theleakyboob.com and http://www.thismilkmatters.org.   They are both warm and non-judgemental places where you can share and care.

Even if you are just feeling somewhat isolated and disoriented with your transition to motherhood, these groups can help to connect you to a new network of peers who are experiencing a similar situation.  And if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t help, find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to help evaluate your baby’s latch and give you some pointers.

When Emily and I get a chance to go to group now, she is far too curious and busy to actually nurse with me.  That’s okay.  It is still a blessing to see our Patron Saint of Lactation, and to talk about all the various challenges that arise with toddler-hood.  It is also nice to meet new moms and newborns, encourage them, and let them know that nursing is so worth it in the end.

And I’m not going to lie; I ride that warm-fuzzy oxytocin high for the rest of the week.