Nursing: the struggle continues

3 Oct

I am using Daphne’s hard-won morning nap time to pound out a long overdue blog post, rather than dealing with the laundry bomb sitting in front of me. Our sweet baby is just over three months old and is a total delight. She spends more and more time awake and alert. She smiles readily and has developed this hilarious and adorable squeal/laugh. Caitlyn and I are actually getting a reasonable amount of sleep (usually no more than two wake-ups) and I am slowly returning to a reasonable level of fitness. That is, I was until I threw out my neck last week. While I am starting to feel more calm and competent as the parent of a small baby, one issue still nags at me and remains unresolved. It’s also the cause of my seized up neck and shoulders.

I’m not going to lie. Breastfeeding is still really hard and I am not sure how long I am going to stick it out for. It’s the one aspect of parenting that fills me with anxiety and doubt. I know I am doing the best under difficult circumstances, but I question myself daily, wondering if I am still doing the right thing for both of us.

The great thing is that Daphne is thriving on my milk. She is gaining weight steadily and is more and more alert every day. But every feeding is a struggle and it’s exacting a significant toll on my mental and physical health. At 15 weeks old, she is still using a nipple shield and insists on being held on a pillow, in the exact same physical position. This means that I must contort myself into a really uncomfortable angle to get her to stay on the breast. I threw out my neck last week and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I don’t think it will until something changes.

We solved part of the mystery a few weeks ago when we put her on medication for reflux. She stopped arching her back and pulling away during most feedings. At first it seemed like she would be more willing to latch without the shield because she was suddenly more relaxed. I booked a session with a wonderful lactation consultant and it looked like we were about to have a major breakthrough. But the LC confirmed a suspicion of mine — the tongue tie has grown back. And since then, she has been totally resistant to any change. I can see her struggling to stick her tongue out and her tears of frustration tear at my heart.

On top of all of this, nursing in public has become a complete nightmare. She is now more easily distracted, leading to a lot of flailing. We had to leave a restaurant on the weekend when she became hysterical with frustration when I attempted to feed her. She was screaming, I was crying, the nipple shield kept falling off, and my boob was exposed for everyone to see. Fun times.

It didn’t help my morale when I received a condescending and ridiculous response to my plea for help from an internationally recognized breastfeeding expert. He told me that the way I’ve been feeding my baby is “an illusion” and that nipple shields “should be banned.” How helpful. Shaming women is an excellent way to promote breastfeeding!

So we are at a standstill. The status quo is unsustainable and not good for my mental and physical health. The current plan is to take Daphne to have her tongue tie assessed one more time. We will have it zapped if necessary and hope that this proves to be the final step toward a functional and enjoyable breastfeeding relationship. And if it doesn’t make much difference, I am going to to start mixing in a couple bottles of pumped milk and/or formula per day, to help protect my back and my sanity.

I have received nothing but support and encouragement from the people around me. But I still feel such pressure from the medical establishment and the breastfeeding advocacy community. My original goal was to nurse her for a year, but now I have my sights set on six months. Because the nursing mother’s mental and physical health is just as important as the food source.


6 Responses to “Nursing: the struggle continues”

  1. cmkl October 3, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    I bet I can guess who that internationally recognized breastfeeding expert was. Don’t let the condescension of the breastfeeding fundamentalists get you down. You’re working hard and you’re going with what works.

    And it is working, dammit.

    But as they say, happy mom, happy baby. You need to look after yourself too because after all you’re the food supply.

    People like that expert always want to downplay or dismiss the real challenges a lot of women face which usually means pretending there are no real problems.

    But there are. I’m just an observer but even on my limited stint on the infant care playgroup circuit showed me ample evidence.

    Breast feeding problems and ‘what are you going to do for day care when your leave ends’ were the two main topics of conversation.

  2. Patricia Antonela October 3, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Don’t beat yourself up about it and try to look at the big picture. All that matters is that the baby is well and sometimes it’s ok to give formula/pump if it’s going to make you feel better at the end of the day. It’s important for Daphne to have a well-rested, healthy mom. If she can take a bottle, it will help her bond with Caitlyn and when you need a break that will come in handy. I went through the exact same thing and when I accepted that breastfeeding just wasn’t worth the frayed nerves/pain/anxiety/guilt, I relaxed and felt much better about my decision to give the babe formula and some breast milk (I had very little to begin with). Today she’s healthy and well and that’s all that matters!

  3. Pam October 3, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    Whatever works for you and your family and brings the most comfort IS the right answer. Your baby is thriving despite difficult feedings, you’re getting through each day and even managing some time for yourself – that’s a LOT to accomplish. We struggled with feeding and reflux for many long months and it is very powerful when people share their challenges – with real people – Dr. Nippleshield can suck it.

  4. Jenn Hardy (@mama_naturale) October 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I feel you, mama. So much. We had a very similar struggle. 19 months later we are now navigating the waters of breastfeeding throughout this second pregnancy. It got easier. It got so much easier. It got hard, then harder, then easier.
    There is no illusion, your baby is breastfeeding and thriving on your milk. Sounds something similar to a male ob-gyn trying to tell me what labour feels like. Whoever this guy is, it’s irrelevant. You need proper support to help you get to a more comfortable place with breastfeeding. Many women before have been where you are right now, and their stories have happy endings.
    My advice is to keep trying. The best you are able. Keep offering the bare nipple and keep offering her different positions. The one sure thing about babies is when you think you have them figured out they change. Have you tried side-lying? Once we got the hang of that position, our lives changed and things have never been the same.
    I do understand the need to stay sane, but am not the best at it. I tend to push, push, push and usually succeed, going a bit bonkers in the process. So maybe I’m not the best to be commenting here.
    But your goals are not unattainable. If you get to six months you will get as far as you want. Maybe figure out if you really detest the nipple shield or if you can just make peace with it?
    Breastfeeding is a journey. I wish you the best of luck and am always there to help however I can. You know where to find me! Good luck!

    • Queer Femme Mama October 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I tried side lying with her a few times and she was having nothing of it. But you are right — babies change all the time. Once my shoulder heals up, I think it’s time to challenge her (and me!) a little more.

  5. Isa October 4, 2012 at 10:11 am #

    Bullshit. Total, complete bullshit. That’s like saying that eating a hot meal isn’t really eating because anything that’s been cooked isn’t really food because it isn’t in its pure, natural state. Excuse me and my expletives, but fuck that. A healthy, growing baby is clearly eating. I hope you can find a way to make that comfortable for you, but if you can’t, please don’t feel that doing things differently (I know women in the blogosphere who have fed their babies only expressed milk, in addition to lots of moms who use formula completely or partially) is wrong. You are putting her needs over your own ego, and that’s exactly what a good parent does. No one should make you feel guilty for not doing exactly what THEY think is best.

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