When I learned that I was going to be a mom, I knew I was going to want to breastfeed. No doubt about it. I always found it fascinating that the human female body can adapt and be another person’s lifeline and primary source of nourishment.
At the hospital as soon as my son was born, the doctor put him on my chest right away to do skin-to-skin. It’s a feeling that I will never forget, a moment that I will forever cherish.
From there, my son seemed like he did not have a problem latching. The nurses that looked after us said it looked like he was latching and feeding well. So I was very happy to hear this because I knew my son was getting colostrum which is super important and healthy for the baby.
After we were discharged from the hospital, we had several appointments at a maternal and newborn care facility because my doctor had to monitor my son’s bilirubin levels. His initial tests at the hospital revealed that he was high risk for jaundice. My doctor did not want to put him under the light just yet. Rather, I was advised to feed my son as much as possible. If he were to poop and pee regularly, he would be able to flush the excess bilirubin out of his system. And so I was more determined than ever to breastfeed my baby.
The first few days after delivery are also critical in establishing milk supply. As the baby breastfeeds, it produces oxytocin which tells mama’s brain to produce another hormone (prolactin) that tells the breasts to keep producing milk. It’s a supply and demand system, a priceless mother and baby bond. And I’ve always been fascinated by that.
So now, aside from wanting to provide nourishment, I was latching and nursing my baby to serve two purposes: a) help him flush out excess bilirubin; and b) establish my milk supply.
My first visit at the maternal and newborn care facility was 2 days after giving birth. They found out that my son’s bilirubin levels kept increasing and were getting close to the level where he would have to be put under the light.
A lactation consultant then came in to meet me and checked how I was breastfeeding. That’s when I found out that my baby had a shallow latch! This meant ineffective and inefficient feeding. This meant my son, no matter how much he would try, would not get that much milk. This meant signals to my brain that my body does not have to produce too much milk because demand was low.
I then had several more visits to the facility and more follow-ups with lactation consultants. It was a great resource for me because they were really helpful, caring and very determined to get me and my baby that perfect latch.
Then came day 7 postpartum.
On day 7, my son went through a growth spurt. Research suggests that newborns go through their first growth spurts anywhere between weeks 3 and 6, give or take a week. My baby’s first growth spurt came in earlier. When a baby goes through a growth spurt, he or she cluster feeds, which means instead of feeding every two hours (which is typically the case for newborns), the baby feeds in clusters of 20-30 minutes with a few minutes of break in between. This could last in blocks of several hours.
My baby started cluster feeding on day 7. I was nursing him for over 3 hours that afternoon. My husband came home from work and saw me crying while nursing our son. He asked me what was wrong and I told him that our baby has been cluster feeding and my nipples have been so sore. When my son fell asleep, I saw the damage to my nipples.
The next day, I had another appointment with the lactation consultant. I showed her the nipple damage and her reaction was a big “uh-oh, that is not supposed to happen.”
Unfortunately, we have not corrected shallow latch. I was told that I can either continue breastfeeding despite the sore and bleeding nipples or I could use a breast pump in the meantime, while I let the damage heal. I went for option 2 because I thought there was no way I would be able to breastfeed properly with those damaged nipples.
So I pumped my breastmilk.
I introduced the bottle to my one-week old baby. For 3 days, my baby was exclusively bottle-fed with breastmilk. In my mind, all was well. I would just go back to nursing as soon as my nipples healed.
My nipples healed quickly and I was ready to go back to nursing and perfecting that latch. To my surprise, my baby no longer wanted to nurse with me! In those 3 days, he quickly developed a preference for the bottle. No surprise there because he was getting more milk more easily. Despite that, I still kept trying to latch him. But he just cried and screamed at the top of his lungs until I would give in and provided him a bottle of breastmilk.
At certain times, when he was super hungry and drowsy at the same time, he would latch and nurse. The pain would still be there for me so I knew the latch was still not perfect but because he was not nursing that often, I had limited opportunities to practice it with my baby. At that point, he was only nursing once or twice per day. I continued on with the breast pump for several weeks. In my head, at least I was still providing breastmilk and I was still able to tell my body to keep producing.
Sadly, I never got my baby back to enjoying nursing. Nursing ended about a month after I gave birth. It still saddens me to this day that I was not able to nurse and enjoy that special mother-baby experience for longer.
However, I find satisfaction with the fact that: a) I was still able to nourish my baby because by day 11 he was no longer high risk for jaundice; and b) I was able to establish my milk supply and I am still producing breastmilk to this day!