Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In celebration for #worldbreastfeedingweek we partnered with Bravado Designs to share the reality that breastfeeding can be much more complicated, painful and messy. A journey worth the determination but also a gentle reminder it’s okay if you aren’t successful at first try don’t blame yourself.
My Imperfect Breastfeeding Journey
Words by Tess Vi Norman
My breastfeeding journey has been nothing close to perfection. The image I conjured up in my head while daydreaming during my pregnancy on what life would be like with her here on the outside with me has never been fully imagined.
I remember during my pregnancy feeling so determined to get breastfeeding right. While I believe fed is best, I also believed breastfed would be the only way for us. I believed so much that I wouldn’t be pumping that I never bothered to even buy an electric pump. I only assumed we would be together, never far apart, and I would only feed her at the breast as if it would be innate.
That was until her birthday came. I had Amelia earthside with me and was ready to begin our magical journey of breastfeeding together. I thought it would be just that, magical at the first latch, and that we would get this thing together like an instinctive alchemy.
Shortly after her birth, multiple hospital staff members noted my daughter’s tongue tie. At one point, another nurse was in our room saying to another, “she’s the one with the tongue tie”, as if she was a circus freak. I thought to myself, “what does this mean?”, and why is everyone so surprised by this? Her tongue is perfect. MY baby is perfect. Her tie aside, we never did have latch problems, which was a blessing, and she was able to latch right away.
While she was getting small amounts of colostrum, I was assured by my midwife and the nurses at the hospital that my milk would eventually come in, and to be patient and kind with myself. The days went on, and there were still no signs of milk production. I continued to breastfeed her so she could get what nutrients she could through colostrum, and after a very long hospital stay (from being induced in the hospital, my entire labour, delivery, and being kept post-birth for what felt an eternity), we were cleared to go home.
That evening as we had just gotten home, I noticed my daughter wasn’t quite her newborn self, and I saw some white residue around her lips. My mama instincts kicked in, and something told me to put my finger inside her mouth to check if it was dry—to my dismay it was. Her tongue felt like sandpaper, and my heart instantly sank as I filled with worry.
My husband was unpacking the car of our belongings from our hospital stay as I frantically called the nurses’ line to gather information on what could be going on with our sweet girl. The lady on the other end of the phone informed me she thought my daughter could be dehydrated and advised me to take her into the hospital to be assessed. Not even a half an hour of bringing our angel home had passed, and we were back in the car and en route to a children’s emergency.
Upon a very quick wait to be seen by a paediatrician, we were given formula to feed our daughter, which completely devastated me. Her very first food source aside from her mother’s colostrum would not be her own mother’s milk but a brand of non-organic hospital formula. I felt I was already failing as her mother. Heartbroken and in tears, I was hysterical to my husband at the thought of never being able to give my baby the very essence of nourishment my baby needed from my own body.
On the way home from the hospital, I began smelling strong oat scents. It sounds so insane, but it’s all I could smell, this highly sweet oatmeal-like intoxicating fragrance pulsing through our car.
The very next morning I woke up and my breasts had leaked through my shirt, and my side of the bed was even a little wet from the drips. My milk had come in! I was beside myself with excitement that our time to get this journey going was beginning.
My midwife came for our home visit that same day and helped me get on with breastfeeding. My supply started off low, and we began supplementing with some formula after her feeds, but we worked towards exclusively feeding.
I also started taking herbal supplements and tinctures made of fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel—all recommended by my midwives. I ate oatmeal daily and made lactation cookies to snack on. I drank mother’s milk tea and added moringa leaf powder to smoothies.
You name it, and I took it in hopes of increasing my supply.
After a few months of this, I had built enough of a supply, and we got to exclusively feed for some time until my supply dropped again, and I suspected my daughter was becoming colicky.
The constant questions of whether I was breastfeeding did not help with the pressure I was already under. While I’m sure those asking were genuinely curious or meant no harm, it was heavy on a struggling first-time mom to face something that was already deeply personal. Had I said, “no, I am not”, would they think differently of me as a mom? I found myself having to justify why we were supplementing with formula and sharing that I had a low supply when it was really none of anyone’s business in the first place. The pressure of not getting this right kept igniting inside of me.
That is when I decided to look into possibly having my daughter’s tie corrected. Could this help my supply? The thought of any invasive procedure on my little baby ached my heart, though I wondered…if she was fully breastfed and reaping benefits as a result, would it outweigh any harm from this procedure? I decided to make her an appointment, but the hospital was not offering it due to COVID-19, and they wouldn’t be for the time being.
I then called my doctor to inquire about a lactation medication that I was given a prescription for. After trying the natural way to increase my supply and still not getting it where I wanted to be, I was determined to try everything I could to get there. I was so excited at the pharmacy, picking up my new lactation prescription, and feeling filled with optimism that after months of determination, my daughter and I were finally going to get the journey I so desired for us. As the pharmacist was going over the medication with me (as they always do), she mentioned the prescription was black-labelled, meaning that it had serious side effects and could potentially cause cardiac arrest.
I fought with myself on taking this medication despite these warning labels for some time. I thought of my chances and whether I should try it anyway. Rationalizing with myself became an internal battle, and in the end, I realized that even if it were rare, my health was more important than breastfeeding and I would be failing my daughter more if I wasn’t here walking this earth with her and by her side. This, to me, was so much more important than exclusively breastfeeding her ever would be.
Baby girl is five months old now, and we have not gone back to exclusively breastfeeding and are still supplementing with a bottle or two during the day when my supply tends to be at its lowest. I am not killing myself over it anymore. While I still feel some sadness that it didn’t go as I once hoped for us, I do know that with most things in life nothing goes according to plan and this is just another part of the art of letting go that I am trying to master for myself.
We still snuggle together at the breast in bed for our lay down feeds in the mornings, and I nurse her during the night, on-demand as she likes. I love that I can comfort her when she is upset, teething, or not well, simply by nursing, and I will savour these sweet moments that bond us together for as long as we can. I don’t know how long we will be on this journey together, but for as long as it will be, I will try to take in what I can at best and know I gave it my honest go.
Muse. Tess Vi Norman wearing Bravado Designs