When it Feels Like Nothing is Going Right: Colleen’s Story of Perseverance

Mother sitting on sofa, nursing her baby, with the father looking over mother's shoulder at the babyBy Colleen K.

Ella was born at 7:40 p.m., a happy, healthy baby girl. I proudly lay with my daughter skin to skin during our golden hour and attempted to nurse… and attempted… and attempted. I soon convinced myself that my breasts were “broken.” I felt like they were failing to fulfill their natural purpose. The following morning, I sobbed to the lactation consultant that my baby was starving because my body wouldn’t make any milk. She reassured me and helped Ella and me work on latching.

We were discharged the following day with a small supply of donor milk to use until my milk came in. We kept trying, but Ella never seemed satisfied and cried and cried. The following day, a weight check showed that Ella was losing too much weight and not transferring milk well. We were given a nipple shield and instructed to continue nursing and also to pump and syringe feed. Ella began to hate the breast. She started crying hysterically and refused to latch at all. We were instructed to take a break from nursing, in hopes that Ella would reacquaint herself with the breast as her happy place. During this time, we met with a pediatric dentist, and Ella was diagnosed with a lip- and tongue-tie. She had her oral ties released, and I hoped that this would fix our problems, and that our breastfeeding journey would improve.

This was not the case. Any attempts at nursing became an incredibly frustrating experience for us. We were often both left in tears. I was overwhelmed with the guilt that I could not provide for my baby’s nutritional needs in a natural way. With the support of my husband and with much consideration, we decided to move to exclusively pumping. We were entering unknown territory, and I felt really daunted. Everyone I knew either breastfed directly or formula fed. Exclusive pumping was a foreign concept to me and to most of my support system, yet I threw myself full force into it. I was in every Facebook group I could find related to pumping. I went to all of the local support groups. I tried anything I could do to keep the motivation to pump around the clock.

I had so many emotions. I felt angry that I hadn’t known that some babies have difficulty latching. I felt anxious that I wouldn’t clean my pump parts well enough, and Ella would get some superbug infection. I continued with exclusive pumping and thankfully had a great supply. But I just couldn’t handle the “failure” anymore of her not nursing directly at the breast and stopped attempting to latch altogether. My family was a great support to me and tried to help make pumping enjoyable. I was determined to pump as long as possible.

When Ella turned five weeks old, she surprised me by rooting for the breast. She made her way to my breast but then acted like a woodpecker – bopping around and not latching. But I felt encouraged that at least she was interested! I reached out to my La Leche League Group to ask if anyone had gotten their baby to latch at this age, and I heard a few stories that gave me hope that this was possible. My heart ached for it to occur for us.

My mother, who exclusively breastfed all three of her children, suggested seeing if there were any nipple shields that were thicker and more like the bottle nipple we were using. I found one online whose purpose was to help bridge the gap for babies who needed to transition to bottles. I was hopeful that it would work in reverse. The first time I used that shield, Ella latched on immediately. I was so excited! It wasn’t direct nursing, but it was a start! But then, I began to feel pain and unlatched Ella. To my horror, the shield and my baby’s mouth were full of blood. I called my mom, our lactation consultant, and my local La Leche League Leader all in a panic.

The next day we tried again with our lactation consultant who showed me how to avoid further nipple trauma while using the shield. Ella got a full feeding using the nipple shield that day! At this point, she was one day shy of two months old, and I was hopeful that this would be our stepping stone to direct breastfeeding.

We continued using the shield for several weeks. It was definitely better than pumping, but I still felt uneasy. Out of the blue, Ella began to get frustrated with the shield. She would constantly unlatch after only a few sucks, and it was taking ages to trigger a letdown. When I reached my wits’ end during one feeding, I spontaneously took off the shield, and Ella latched immediately! It was as if that moment was what she had been waiting for. At 15 weeks and two days, my daughter directly breastfed for the first time.

It’s about a month and a half later now, and we are still going strong. I hope that my story can give hope to others who are struggling with their breastfeeding plans. No journey is easy, no matter what it looks like, but the reward of a happy, healthy baby makes it all worth it for us.

Share your stories with Kylie at [email protected]


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