“After my attempts to breastfeed my first daughter were crushed by the stress of her NICU stay, I was absolutely determined to breastfeed my second daughter. I had a relatively normal pregnancy this time around, with the exception of gestational diabetes and a little bit of high blood pressure towards the end.
I was induced on Monday, April 9, 2018, because my blood pressure was starting to run dangerously high. My doctor broke my water that morning around 10:30 a.m. and she was here via two tiny pushes at 6:13 p.m. The doctor placed her on my chest and I remember saying, ‘She’s a lot smaller than I thought she’d be!’
We called her Lucy, and she came out much smaller than we had expected– only 6 pounds, 8 ounces and 20 inches long. She was in the 26th percentile for weight. Weeks before, she had read 7 pounds through my growth ultrasound.
I had always heard that babies born to gestational diabetic mothers were born huge, so I was expecting a chunk. (I had diabetes with my first daughter as well, but she had restricted growth and stopped growing around 34 weeks– so she came out a tiny 5 pounds 1 once.) My main concern when she was born was her blood sugar levels, because that is why my first had a NICU stay. I think I asked the nurse 5 times if they had checked her blood sugar yet.
During labor, my blood sugar had dipped down multiple times, once even as low as 38, due to not being able to eat. I had so much relief when they told me that her level was good. We spent the first two hours of her life smiling, taking photos, and breastfeeding on and off…her latch seemed good. Her tiny lips looked to me as if they were as wide as they could go, and her mouth was moving, so I assumed that she was eating well. I had never exclusively breastfed, so I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect.
We met with the lactation consultant before we were discharged from the hospital because I was having nipple soreness. She told me that it was probably because Lucy had a shallow latch, so she showed me some holds and tips to help her get a deeper latch. When we left the hospital, Lucy weighed 6 pounds, 1 ounce. Weight loss is normal in the first couple of days, so I didn’t think much of it. I followed all the rules in the book when we got home from the hospital. I nursed on-demand, which, for Lucy, was pretty often. I ate oatmeal with flax seed. I drank blue Gatorade. I ate lactation cookies and brownies. I was prepared to nail this breastfeeding thing.
She always fell asleep while she ate. I thought it was sweet and assumed she was milk drunk. But for some reason, she seemed to pull away from her latch and scream as if there wasn’t anything coming out. I was starting to get nervous that my body wasn’t making enough milk for her. I told myself that my body was literally made to feed this sweet baby, and knew deep down that it wasn’t a supply issue.
We went for a one week check up to her pediatrician. Her weight had dropped more…. She was down to 5 pounds, 12 ounces. He said she looked perfect, but that he wanted to see her gain more weight. I went home and nursed and nursed and nursed. I was still having pain every time she latched to eat. She was still fussy — as if my breasts were empty bottles and I was forcing her to suck on air.
The next week rolled around and she had gained! Up to 6 pounds, 1 ounce… but not at birth weight yet. I asked her doctor to check and see if she had a tongue or lip tie, because I had read that ties can interfere with breastfeeding — thus interfering with weight gain. He peeked in her mouth and said that she did not have any ties. The doctor told me that he wanted to see her again next week, and that if she hadn’t gained enough by her one month checkup, then we’d have to ‘do something else.’ I knew exactly what that meant. I left the office and cried.
Two weeks later, she had her one-month appointment. My sweet girl had lost her chubby cheeks. Her eyes were dull and sunken in, and I was STILL having pain every time she nursed. I stripped her down to a dry diaper and walked her to the scale. The numbers seemed to take forever to stop scrolling… but when they did, they read 6 pounds 7 ounces. My heart sunk. Still not at birth weight. I fought against thoughts of failure as we walked back to the exam room. My throat hurt from holding back tears that tried so desperately to escape. I sat down, holding Lucy in her pink and white blanket. I quickly scrolled through my phone to find my firstborn daughter’s one-month weight… she had gone from 5 pounds, 1 ounce at birth, to 7 pounds, 8 ounces by her one-month appointment. On formula. I choked back the tears as I gazed down at my sweet Lucy, her skin just sagging off of her. Why was I failing?
The doctor came in and examined Lucy. He said she looked fine, but that my milk probably didn’t have enough calories in it for what she needed. It felt like someone had taken a knife to my chest when he said that. He might as well have said, ‘your milk isn’t good enough for her.’ I knew in my head that my body makes exactly the kind of milk that she needs, because I had researched. I knew that breastmilk is a living substance that changes day to day, or even feeding to feeding in order to meet baby’s needs. He opened the cabinet in his office and there were dozens of cans and types of formula. The first one in the cabinet was the high calorie formula that my daughter had in the NICU… I figured he would go for that. Instead he pulled a little yellow can out and told me to offer her 2 ounces after each time she nurses. I asked if we could fortify my pumped breast milk instead of doing straight formula, and he said maybe eventually we could ‘work up to that’…. Work up to that? How bad of shape was my baby in, exactly?
I left the doctor feeling completely defeated. I knew in my head that my supply was fine… but couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t gaining proper weight. I headed to the grocery store and nursed Lucy before going in. When she was finished, I snapped a picture of her ‘milk drunk’ expression and posted in a Facebook group explaining our situation and seeking support. One woman commented, ‘Just in the photo you’ve shared, I can see that her hand is in a closed fist. That is typically not ‘full and content’ but actually fatigue from inefficient nursing. They just tire themselves out.’
Great. Mom of the freaking year. My baby was wearing herself out trying to eat because my boobs were defective.
More mamas reached out to me on my post encouraging me and suggesting that I see a lactation consultant. One woman even messaged me the phone number of her friend in my town who was a lactation consultant.
I texted my friend, Taylor, who had been a huge support in my breastfeeding journey. She recommended I try to find a lactation consultant before resorting to formula. I felt like I didn’t have time to waste… my baby was hungry NOW. What was I going to do until I could see someone? I went in the store and walked the aisles to get my mind off of it. Her percentile for weight had dropped from 26% at birth to 0.6%. My baby was failing to thrive… and she wasn’t thriving because I failed her.
I reluctantly reached out to a lactation consultant named Amanda, a boss mama who is not only a lactation consultant, but a doula through her service named Grateful Moms Doula Service. We texted back and forth for a few hours and she told me that she could see me that night or the next morning. She asked if I’d be open to supplementing Lucy with donor breast milk. I asked her if it was free, and she explained that it was and that she would really love to help us, because she saw a picture of Lucy and was concerned for her. It made me nervous that someone who sees lots of babies for a living was concerned for my baby.
The next day, I met Amanda. Within minutes of meeting Lucy, she had diagnosed a tongue tie and a lip tie. She watched Lucy eat, and even commented that it ‘definitely wasn’t a supply issue.’ I felt immediate relief. Amanda’s presence, reassurance, and bags of donor breast milk brought me such a peace. Amanda made sure that I had enough donor milk to feed Lucy every two hours. By 9:00 that evening, I could already see a difference. We weighed her with our home scale, just out of curiosity…7 pounds… She had gained 9 ounces the first day. For the first time in her life, Lucy was content.
Amanda referred me to someone who performed tongue tie and lip tie revisions. With Amanda’s referral and the urgency of Lucy’s situation, we were able to have the revisions performed the next day. Immediately after the procedure, I got to nurse Lucy. As soon as she latched, I could feel a difference. It didn’t hurt anymore. Everyone had always said that ‘breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt,’ so I thought maybe I was just a wimp.
I spent the next week allowing Lucy to nurse. We tried using an SNS (supplemental nursing system) but Lucy was NOT a fan of the feeding tube. I pumped, but also supplemented with donor breast milk. My family and friends prayed for Lucy through her recovery, and that she’d start packing on the weight quickly. Prayers were answered and exceeded as I continued to make side by side comparisons of Lucy’s progress. Every day she was looking different. She had good color, her skin had cleared up, and she had a sparkle in her eye again. She started spending more time being awake. But now, her awake time looked vastly different. This time around, she wasn’t awake and screaming. She was the most content baby.
Her weight check appointment rolled around. Once again, I stripped her down to a clean diaper, and carried her to the scale. Tears welled up in my eyes as the numbers settled. 7 pounds, 8 ounces. She was one whole pound beyond her birth weight. I felt like I could breathe again. I told the doctor that we hadn’t been using formula, and that we were using donor breast milk instead. He was more than pleased with her weight gain, and commented that he didn’t know that donor breast milk was available in our area.
As I reflect on our journey so far, I can see so many times where I could have given up. I 100% believe that there needs to be more awareness to these underlying issues that complicate breastfeeding. We need more lactation consultants. We need more ‘Amanda’s’ in the world that will help us access resources like donor breast milk, or someone who can revise ties. We need someone in our corner that we can text at 11:00 at night and get help. We need more support so mamas don’t feel like giving up is the only option they have.
It’s not that I have anything against using formula… it’s that I have everything FOR breastfeeding, and no logical reason to not give it all I have. As a mama tribe, we need to unify for the cause of feeding our babies and educating each other. Why are we so afraid to seek help? Why do we get offended if someone offers help? The greatest lesson in this is that I was not failing my baby. It wasn’t her fault, nor was it my fault that she was not able to eat properly. Had I not reached out, I imagine I would have given up entirely. I would have continued to feel as though I had failed myself and my daughter, leading me down a path of depression and mom guilt.
One week prior, I left the doctor’s office feeling completely defeated. This day, I walked out of that doctor’s office knowing that I had fought for my daughter and our breastfeeding journey. One week prior, I thought it was the end, but now I know: we are just in the beginning.”
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