Alexandra Lyons is mummy to two beautiful girls and director of Oui Bebe – she makes amazing modern cloth nappies and more! Today happens to mark three months of exclusively breastfeeding her second daughter which is a wonderful, hard-won milestone- one of many to come, I’m sure.
I began my second journey into breastfeeding on the 4th of May 2014 after the very speedy labour and delivery of our second daughter. Throughout her pregnancy I spent hours researching breastfeeding – from techniques to positioning, to getting the perfect latch.
Making more milk was always at the front of my mind after I failed miserably at breast feeding our first daughter. That journey came to an end at 12 weeks after an emotional roller coaster of breastfeeding, expressing and comping with formula.
Insight into my first foray with breastfeeding is important as it helped to lay the foundations for this relationship. During my first antenatal appointment I met my midwife, I broke down in a river of tears when she asked me of I was going to breastfeed. I spluttered my way through the experience I had with big H. She assumed I would say no, but “Absolutely!” was my response. I was going to make it work this time. I had always assumed that I had very low supply. What I now realise is that I may have a small storage capacity coupled with smaller than average supply. But still adequate to feed my babies.
The real problem was a huge lack of support. I lacked the pep squad who stood behind me telling me what to expect from a newborn, I was an uninformed new mum, struggling to feed my baby. I’d made the decision earlier in my pregnancy to encapsulate my placenta as evidence suggests it supports lactation. I had fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, nursing tea, frozen lactation cookie dough and Domperidone at the ready at home. So on the 4th of May when Mini H came hurtling into the world during a completely natural birth – with not even so much as a paracetamol passing my lips- our journey began.
I picked her up and placed her on my chest where she lay until she found the breast, rooted and self attached. The first 24 hours were hard. Mini H was attached to the breast for about 23 of those hours. I was exhausted. She was a sleepy feeder. She would suck feverishly for seconds and exhaust herself. Falling asleep on the breast only to come off and wail in desperation if I took it away. I remembered this behaviour from our eldest. I cried. She had a strong suck and her latch looked good.
That was the first point at which I thought why am I putting myself through this again? But I pushed through. I wanted so desperately to succeed. My milk came in about 36 hours after her birth, my breasts were hot and swollen but not painfully engorged. It felt as if I had a good deal more milk than I had experienced previously with Mini H’s big sister. Mini H was a very unsettled newborn. She fed for anywhere between 18-22 hours a day. She didn’t sleep anywhere but short catnaps and only ever at the breast. She couldn’t be put down, I did not have a sleepy newborn. I’d been ripped off. “It’s normal newborn behaviour” was the word from the many different healthcare professionals, so I persevered. My midwife was excellent, visiting every few days, sitting and chatting while I sat in a haze with this tiny pink bundle attached to the breast. Mini H was weighed for the first time since birth at 10 days old. She was only 50g off regaining her birth weight. “My boobs work” was my immediate thought, “I can do this”.
Mini H continued to gain slightly under the ‘ideal’ amount for two weeks – she started falling down the percentile charts. I was getting worried. However, her output was good, and she was alert so there wasn’t cause for alarm. I persevered. She would still fall asleep on the breast, was constantly feeding and I couldn’t put her down. She hated the car and the pram. She was not a happy, settled baby. Doubt started to creep into my mind. Maybe I couldn’t do this? Maybe the boobs didn’t work this time either. I pushed through another two weeks. It felt as if my milk supply was dwindling. I wasn’t engorged anymore, but I did know that as the weeks progressed my body would adjust. Maybe my body had started adjusting already? I put it down as normal. Her weekly weight gains were still decreasing every week. I was trying not to be concerned, but the seed of doubt was growing.
A girlfriend had suggested seeing a chiro to see if they could help as she may have been out of alignment causing her pain or affecting her ability to feed effectively. After the first visit I felt like all my questions had been answered! Our chiropractor was also a midwife with expertise in tongue and lip ties. Mini H had an undiagnosed upper lip and posterior tongue tie affecting her ability to drain the breast effectively. The ties meant she had to work overtime and would tire easily, fall asleep at the breast despite not having a full tummy, thus the constant feeding cycle perpetuated.
The next hurdle was trying to find someone in town who was qualified to release them. Living in a regional centre made this difficult. For obvious reasons I wanted to get the procedure done ASAP to give us the best possible chance at a successful breastfeeding relationship. I opted to see a private dentist as the public pediatric surgeon wasn’t available until the following week. I spent hours researching ties prior to our appointment and decided that if he agreed to release them that I would get them done then and there. The first feed post release was so different to the 5 and a half weeks prior. She had a deeper latch and better suck. I continued with the post revision stretches for 2 weeks, we had twice weekly chiro appointments working on her soft palate, spine and sacral-cranio area.
Then I noticed an increase in feedings and fussiness again. My mummy gut was telling me something still wasn’t right. Breast feeding shouldn’t have to be as much of a struggle as I was still finding it. We were 8 weeks in. My milk was supposed to be established by now – it was supposed to be easier. The posterior tongue tie hadn’t been taken far enough. The tongue was still restricted. Her ability to drain the breast effectively was still being affected, thus the fussiness. At 8 weeks and 3 days I took her back to the dentist to see if he would revise further. When he assessed mini H he admitted he didn’t release the tongue enough. He had taken a portion of the anterior tie that she had. Frustrating for mini H and I, as we had come to him for a posterior release- not an anterior one, but like I said our options being in a regional centre were very limited.
Once home and recovering again from her release we had our first breastfeed where Mini H unlatched herself when she was full. I was optimistic but cautious. It happened again at the next feed, and again. She had never unlatched voluntarily before. The following morning I woke up with what I can only describe as the worlds most natural boob job. I was engorged again. She was draining the breast well and my milk was coming back. Relieved would be an understatement. At the time of writing this post Mini H is 11 weeks old. Her weight gains have increased, her fussiness has lessened, she unlatches herself and she spends less time at the breast.
Whilst some babies and mothers can nurse successfully through a tongue and lip tie I honestly don’t think we could. I never had the plentiful supply that some women are blessed with, I always had just enough, and the ties were causing us problems. I still continue to take an artillery of herbal supplements and Domperidone but I hope in the near future to wean off them slowly. I have every confidence that we’ll continue on in our breast feeding relationship and I look forward to a day where weaning is a mutually agreed decision; not one I have to make for my sanity or due to a failure to thrive diagnosis.
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