Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Breastfeeding James - a journey of pain and joy
Breastfeeding my daughter Elise was a wonderful experience (once we got past a rough first few weeks). I loved nursing her and she breastfed until she was 14 months. The only reason we stopped was because I got pregnant with my second child and felt so sick in the first trimester. It felt too much to support both this new growing baby and my nursing 1 year old when I could barely handle eating. Breastfeeding my first son Joel was awesome. He loved to nurse and went all the way to 14 months when one day he just wouldn't latch on anymore. I guess he had other things to do :). Anyway, I assumed it would go the same with my second son, but let's just say it was an absolute miracle we made it to 13 months still breastfeeding and me still sane, but that story is for another time. Today I would like to share my experience breastfeeding my third (and last) son James Nikolas. In two days James is turning 9 months and today is emotional as I think it is my last day of breastfeeding him.
I gave birth to James on August 4th last summer at home. It was a blessed day! James latched on to breastfeed beautifully. After the tough journey with our third son Erik I prayed and prayed James would be a good nurser and for the first six weeks that seemed to be the case. He was gaining weight like crazy and I had absolutely no pain. However, something started to feel not quite right. He started all of a sudden taking a lot more time to nurse, he wasn't sleeping well even though he had been for weeks, and then my milk supply started dramatically dropping out of nowhere. I had experienced this a little before so I knew to pump to keep my supply up, but I was at a loss for what was going on. Was something wrong with me? Was something wrong with him?
Well the short of it was that James had a tongue tie. We knew this but the doctor said it was minor and because he had been growing so well we weren't concerned. I later learned that for the first 6 weeks or so a woman's hormones play a huge role in breast milk production. So thanks to my hormones and the fact that I had previously nursed 3 babies, my body was taking charge in producing an ample amount of milk. However, it is around that 6 weeks that I think babies demand takes over to determine in greater measure how much milk you produce. (Now this is just the research I have done and it proved true in my case, but don't quote me on all this - I am no professional). Now that it was up to James to drive my supply, things were not going well.
When things started going south we hired a lactation consultant Renee Beebe (seriously the best decision we could have made). She was very experienced with tongue tie and felt that it was definitely affecting his ability to nurse. She referred me to a highly qualified doctor who specializes in tongue tie. This doctor cut James' frenulum (twice actually), but at this point James was 8 weeks old and I don't know if it was just that he was already too set in his nursing ways, but he didn't get better. We saw a cranial sacral therapist and a chiropractor but still no improvement. So finally off to Children's Hospital we went to see a feeding therapist. She told me James simply did not have the sucking ability to nurse full time. As a mother, I already knew this in my gut, but this information helped me to look at our options and move forward.
The whole journey to this point had been so painful and disappointing. As mothers we feel the responsibility and longing to provide for our children. When for whatever reason you can't do that it feels horrible! I spent many hours over the first 3 months of James' life in tears and at quite a loss. I felt like I could identify in a new way with moms who had breastfeeding struggles and had a new understanding and compassion that I had previously lacked for moms who in the challenges turn to formula.
I seriously considered putting James on a home made meat based formula. I decided I just couldn't bring myself to put him on a commercial formula if I didn't have to (but seriously this is not said to invalidate those who do use commercial formula - I totally get why some moms do). But as I began to get in the groove of pumping and got in touch with some exclusively pumping support groups - you seriously need support to go this route! - I chose to pump for James. And an extra blessing came in that I was able to continue to nurse him twice a day as long as I pumped afterward since he was unable to efficiently drain my breasts. This was by no means the easy route. I had three other kids to take care of and to do this required pumping 2 + hours a day, plus nursing him twice a day, plus the time it took to give him bottles throughout the day. I was probably a little crazy, but I loved James and wanted to give him that same nutritious breast milk my other babies got. I decided that though it was a huge sacrifice, this was in reality just a short season in our life. At different times we all have to sacrifice for the welfare of one family member or another, and this was our chance to all give a little for our precious James.
James has had to work very hard to breastfeed at all and he has been slowly losing interest for a few weeks now. I had hoped he would make it to a year or at least 10 months, but it is clear he is done. As I come to this crossroads I am taking this time to reflect on our journey with both sadness and joy. It is disappointing that things didn't turn out as I had hoped. I didn't get that wonderful nursing experience so many moms have. At the same time, against all odds I got to nurse this precious boy for 9 challenging, yet glorious months! What a gift God gave me in this! I have treasured this and what can I be but thankful?!
I will continue to pump so James can have my milk until he is a year and then I will put him on the home made formula I mentioned above. But my breastfeeding journey has officially come to a close. Man it has been a long road - a very painful yet sweet road.