When Peanut was born, she was placed directly on my chest skin to skin. Once we were in the recovery room, she seemed eager to latch so I let her crawl to my breasts and helped her a bit in the end. The latch did not seem great but since we were both exhausted I just let her do her thing.
She did seem quite hungry and I kept on putting her on. My nipples started burning and tingling after a few hours and soon enough I was experiencing pain every time she latched. The nurses set me up with a pump and I started saving all my colostrum and finger feeding her with a SNS (supplemental nursing system).
During the night I noticed that my colostrum was not enough for her, she was clearly ravenous so I asked for some formula. They gave us a special formula without cow's milk protein for women who want to breastfeed. We kept on giving her colostrum as well.
As I kept pumping around the clock every 3 hours, I started to feel more and more pain. The nurses kept on decreasing the suction of the pump but it did not make a difference. A nurse told me that because I have fair skin, it could be why I was experiencing more pain than usual. I had never heard such a thing... I kept on telling them that what I was feeling was not normal. After all I had labored and pushed for 3 hours without pain medication so it was not a matter of me being sensitive...
I tried to put Peanut back on the breast but my nipples were really damaged by that point. They basically had tripled in size and the swelling would not go down. It felt like the tip of my nipples was about to come off every time I pumped.
The nurses had checked the size of the flanges at the beginning but no one looked at them while I was pumping. Finally on day 3, the day we were leaving the hospital, a new midwife checked and realized I had been given the wrong size. The ones I had, had become too small with the swelling and kept on pulling on just the tip of my nipples... ( I Know...) So we tried new flanges and it was such relief, I just cried!
Again I tried to get Peanut to latch before we left the hospital but she pinched down real hard and I screamed from the pain. I felt terrible. The last thing I wanted to do was scream when my baby was trying to feed.
I was told that I could not do the SNS at home and that I was going to have to bottle feed her formula until my milk came in. I was also advised to see an IBCLC because the one they had on staff was only there on Tuesdays... So we left. The plan was to see someone to help us the week after. Pump and bottle feed her my milk. But leaving the hospital on day 3 before your milk comes in is not the best idea... I mention this in my classes...
That same evening, I found myself so engorged that I could barely move. I kept on pumping but the milk was not flowing just yet. I could not have anything touch my chest, my nipples were so raw... I texted a few friends here in the US to get some suggestions: hand express, keep on pumping, cabbage leaves... but how does one find cabbage leaves at 11.30pm when you are in the middle of nowhere? Luckily, my parents have a garden! And the frozen cabbage leaves made all the difference!
On top of that, I had the roller coaster wave of hormones crashing down that night... Here I was, on my parent's bathroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably while my husband was googling 'what to do for engorgement' and probably 'Help my wife is having a breakdown after giving birth'. And he came up with a plan of attack! I was to use hot compresses and massage my breasts before I pumped, then use frozen cabbage leaves after I pumped, this every 3 hours while he would bottle feed Peanut! Gosh he was amazing! I could not have done it without his support.
The engorgement lasted maybe a week... It was so much harder than labor and I was not prepared for that. Of course, I knew it would not last, especially the hormonal wave so I kept on reassuring myself, I mean everything is a moment in time right... But it was HARD... And the fact that I could not get Peanut on the breast...
Meanwhile, very few french women breastfeed and the structure is not there to support the ones who want to. The stuff I heard was so discouraging, I could not believe it, I mean talk about old wives tales...I completely understand why women who want to breastfeed give up without the proper support.
'Your milk is not rich enough that is why she does not latch well'. When I asked how they would determine that, the answer was: "Put some milk in a spoon and tilt the spoon, if the milk sticks to the side of the spoon, it is good. If not you need to give your baby formula."
Breastfeeding is too painful (I can relate obviously, but it is a sign that something is not right), It is too tiring (I heard that from everyone, even our family Dr.). Having a child is tiring period. Nothing to do with breastfeeding or pumping, you dedicate your energy to someone else for a while and it is so rewarding!
It felt very isolating but I was not ready to give up. I had not tried everything yet! I am lucky that I had the support from my NYC friends: Isabella, Janet, Emma, my mother in law, my husband and my mum who was trying to tell me "Don't put so much pressure on yourself". Thank you!
I had checked Peanut's mouth in the hospital for tongue ties and lip ties and it clearly seemed like she had an upper lip tie, which is where I felt the worst pain. I would break down in sweats at the thought of her latching... The nurses knew I was a doula so they really listened to me but unfortunately they did not know anyone who could take care of it. My midwives recommended a Dr who specializes in releasing ties with a laser. So off we went on day 6 after the birth, 5 hours sitting in a car, perineal stitches and all... Quite the drive... and the Dr did not want to do the release... She barely checked her mouth... I had had all my hopes on that visit... She recommended we take Peanut to see an osteopath because of the vacuum.
Peanut could not open her mouth wide enough to latch that was a fact but I felt it was not the only problem. We took her to see a chiropractor and a an osteopath and finally after 3 weeks, when one of my midwives came for a visit, we were able to get her to latch without pain. Gosh that was incredible!
I started to put her on the breast very slowly. I was still breaking in sweats every time from the fear of the pain. Once a day, then twice the next day, then all day whenever she wanted to feed. I really had to work on her opening her mouth wide enough, I still had pain from time to time, her suction was so strong.
Fast forward 2 weeks later and we were finally back in NYC. After the french doc declined to do the release, I had called The specialist in the city Dr Scott Siegel and explained the situation. They fit us in right away and Dr Siegel (stay tuned for an interview on my next blog post) confirmed that she had an upper lip and posterior tongue tie and did the release right away.
I was able to put her on the breast right after and the sensation was so different. I could feel her tongue move and it was a lot softer. After a few days she stopped pulling so hard on my nipples to get milk.
My dear friend Emma who is a lactation consultant came by for a visit and gave us some tips. We found out that I was a one side feeder, naturally this is just how it worked out, that Peanut would almost always feed for 10/15 min and that she took 4oz during a feed.
We have been cruising ever since. Breastfeeding has truly become the easiest thing in the world! Peanut is growing beautifully and is in the 90th percentile for pretty much everything.
To all the non supportive people I encountered in la France, I want to say my Milk is pretty Magic! Merci.