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World Breastfeeding Week: My Journey

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I want to document my breastfeeding journey with my firstborn, my sweet Gabriella who had the patience to let me figure things out.

There was never a question about if I would breastfeed; it’s been a part of my life since…well, since I was born and breastfed until I was 2.5 years old. After my sister was born, my mom became a La Leche League leader and some of my earliest memories are of gatherings with moms and babies talking about breastfeeding. She went on to become a doula, holistic healthcare center owner and later a licensed midwife which meant I was well-versed in breastfeeding and all things crunchy. Or so I thought.

Minutes after my daughter made her entrance into the world via Cesarean section after 32 hours of labor, I realized how woefully unprepared I was to manage the Herculean task of learning to breastfeed a new baby. As I lay there in the recovery room, drugged and barely coherent, my mom and husband helped me nurse for the first time. Once I had my wits, I had to contend with a painful recovery that left me unable to lay flat, walk upright or even pick up my own baby for several weeks.

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Learning to breastfeed is no easy feat. It easily can take five hands to get boob and baby situated in a position where things work like they are supposed to. During the early days, nighttime feedings involved all hands on deck with my mom and husband helping to get me set up and baby latched properly. Looking back at this almost comedic routine I can laugh now, but oh how desperate things seemed at the time!

After about a week, things were improving and I was gaining confidence with getting baby latched without such a production. Just when I thought we were in the clear, my sweet, precious baby decided to bite off my nipples. If you think for one second that just because a baby doesn’t have teeth that they can’t bite,  you are mistaken- ouch! After several days of having her chomp on my nipples, a visit to a lactation consultant determined that I had an oversupply of milk and she was clamping down to slow the flow so she didn’t choke.

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Nursing and laughing when Gabriella was about a month old.

With some tips and tricks to manage my oversupply, the biting stopped leaving only what I lovingly referred to as “the Grand Canyon” behind. This huge gash in my nipple bled and burned and hurt like heck. Every time I looked at it I cried in disbelief at what such a little baby could do to me. A regimen of lanolin, all purpose nipple ointment, air drying and saltwater rinses ensued to heal the my poor nipple. I reluctantly and with many tears used a nipple shield for a couple of days to let the trauma heal.

With my nipple woes behind me, I thought for sure our struggles were over, but that wasn’t my fate. I began feeling pain deep inside my armpits every time Gabriella would latch on. It was an excruciating, curl my toes, bite on a washcloth pain. It felt like someone was stabbing me with a dirty knife, over and over. A phone consult with another lactation consultant helped determine that I had thrush, a yeast infection that can affect the baby’s mouth and a mother’s milk ducts.

Thrush isn’t pretty. It’s a beast to get rid of because it can live on clothes, burp rags, pacifiers and anything it touches and is easily passed back and forth between a mom and baby. It took a lot of sanitizing and natural remedies plus a two-week course of Nystatin for Gabriella and a four-week course of Diflucan for me before I was finally able to nurse without pain. I remember that morning like it was yesterday when I was nursing and realized the pain was completely gone. I cried tears of joy.

Beforeandafter

Me at 2 years old nursing my doll Fern and me nursing Gabriella at 1 week old before a photo session

Despite a rocky first six weeks of breastfeeding, the rest of our journey was pretty smooth and uneventful, though it wasn’t without challenges. From just a few days old, she showed signs of a dairy intolerance by projectile vomiting when I drank milk so I spent the next two years mostly dairy free so that I could continue nursing without making her sick.

I went back to work when Gabriella was six weeks old and while I was blessed to work for a great, family friendly company who allowed me the time and space to pump and even let me work from home some days, it was a challenge to balance an already hectic work day with pumping, which left me feeling inadequate to my employer and my family. We also struggled with Gabriella taking a bottle, and she only reluctantly drank milk while I was away until about nine months when she refused completely. One bonus about pumping is that since I was blessed with an oversupply, I donated about 2000 ounces of milk to four precious babies during that first year nursing.

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Pumping backstage while directing a bridal fashion show for celebrity wedding planner David Tutera’s gown line

Gabriella was a very polite and predictable nursling. She nursed every three hours during the day and every two hours at night until we night-weaned at about 18 months. Then she just nursed to sleep for naps and bedtime. She was a distracted nurser after about four months which meant that we always nursed either in her room with the lights out or in the car if we were out of the house.

I nursed her almost halfway through a pregnancy despite an increasingly painful latch and then through the eventual loss of our angel Eliott Jacob. When my milk came in, I was never more thankful that she was still nursing. I got pregnant again and when I was about 12 weeks along, weaning happened without fanfare, gradually as nature intended. I encouraged her some by offering distractions when I could because nursing was incredibly painful again and I knew I didn’t want to nurse for the entire pregnancy or tandem nurse. One day, which I don’t remember, she nursed for the last time, closing the chapter on that special part of our lives.

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Breastfeeding is a challenge, and it takes commitment and support from an entire village. When I think about all of the struggles I had, I can easily see why so many mothers decide to quit. I have so many people to thank for my breastfeeding success including my friend Monica, who was my inspiration. She was a single, working mom and was the only friend I knew who had breastfed her baby. She taught me that nursing was more than about feeding your baby and that it’s a way to connect and create bonds that cannot ever be broken.

I am so thankful for my husband who never wavered in his support of breastfeeding, even when it unexpectedly turned into extended breastfeeding. I’m thankful for my mom and her hands on support in the very beginning and moral support throughout our journey. I’m thankful for my village of mom friends I met while breastfeeding who courageously nursed in public and talked openly about nursing their toddlers and preschoolers.

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Gabriella nursing baby Belle while I nurse one-day old Preston

Though it can feel never-ending at times, breastfeeding is such a short blip in the span of our lives. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but my daughter will turn four in a few weeks (cue the tears!). She now nurses her babies while I nurse her younger brother and before I know it, she’ll be all grown up and nursing real babies, getting to experience the same magical moments that make all of the struggle completely worth it.

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