I found out that I was pregnant in November 2018. I had just gotten married the month before, and I knew next to nothing about breastfeeding. All I knew was that I wanted to do it, so I told myself that I was gonna do it. Somebody mentioned that it was best to breastfeed exclusively for a year, so I said “Okay, I’ll do it exclusively for a year.” Why? Because I wanted to be able to say that I could. Somebody else told me I had to get a breast pump, so I got a breast pump (and not a very good one). I had done all my research about my pregnancy, labor and delivery, but I had absolutely no education on breastfeeding. I guess at the time, it all kind of seemed so straightforward. Baby comes out, you give ‘em the breast, and that’s it, right? I just assumed that when my daughter was born, she would know what to do.… I was so wrong.
In July 2019, Moriah was born after a 9-hour, uncomplicated labor. I delivered her vaginally, without pain medication, and quite honestly, I felt pretty good. The nurses asked me if I was ready to try breastfeeding, and I said yes. I had learned soon before giving birth that my nipples were flatter than most, which might make it harder for Moriah to latch, but I didn’t think about it too much because, again, I assumed it would be okay. After just a couple minutes of trying, I was given a nipple shield. I now know that these shields are given out a lot more often than necessary in hospitals because it’s an easy way to get the baby to latch quickly so they can clear the room for the next mama. We tried again for a few minutes, but she resisted my breast and started crying. She was tired, and so was I. I remember thinking, “Okay, this is harder than I thought.”
The next day, three different lactation consultants tried to help us. Each one attempted to get Moriah to
latch with or without the shield, but no luck. It wasn’t until the third consultant actually looked in Moriah’s mouth that we learned she was born with a tongue tie. This meant that the piece of tissue underneath her tongue was shorter and tighter than most, and she couldn’t get the proper tongue extension to breastfeed. The consultant told us that the tie could also lead to speech development issues, so we were advised to take her to see a pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor to get it clipped. “It’s a real simple procedure,” she said. It took nearly a month, three different doctors, and a laser procedure before we were told the tie was finally loosened enough to breastfeed. And even after all that, she still couldn’t latch properly.
All while this was happening, I was pumping every few hours around the clock and kept trying to breastfeed Moriah at home; it never went well. Every time I tried, she would get upset, and then I would get upset. She would cry, and then I would cry. There were moments when she would latch for maybe a minute or two at a time, but it was insanely painful! I couldn’t understand why it was turning out to be so difficult, but I knew I didn’t want to give up. Not yet, anyways. So I kept going back to the lactation consultants at the hospital to see what else I could do to try and make this work. I was hopeful for answers, but the more I became educated about breastfeeding, the more challenges I uncovered in my journey with Moriah. I was already discouraged and wasn’t ready for the next challenge I was about to face: chronic low milk supply.
We had been supplementing Moriah’s diet with formula, but I figured that would only be a temporary arrangement. I knew that my supply was lacking, but I never realized how much. I have a specific memory of being in the lactation consultant’s office at the hospital. Moriah was almost a month old by this point. I told her that I had been pumping at home, and she asked me what was the largest amount of milk I had ever pumped at one time. I proudly told her that the day before I had made 50 milliliters, which is a little under two ounces. She told me that I should have been making more than double that amount per pumping session. I was so disappointed because I wanted so badly to be able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, and now I was part of the reason why it wasn’t happening.
But again, I wasn’t ready to give up. At every lactation appointment I went to, I asked the infamous question: “How do I increase my supply?” I was told that I needed to get a better breast pump, pump
every two hours, drink tons of water and eat lots of oats. By this point I was five weeks postpartum, and I was getting ready to start working again… Yep, you read that right. I had been taking an unpaid maternity leave in between jobs, so I started working again after just five-and-a-half weeks. Luckily, I work for a university that is super supportive of nursing moms and has multiple pumping rooms on site.
I’d go to work in the morning, pump as many times as I could throughout the day, pick up Moriah from day care, then try to latch her at home. Everyday, no matter what I tried, it seemed like we could never get the latch right. I tried without the nipple shield, she wouldn’t latch. I tried with the nipple shield, she would latch too tight. After a few minutes, she would always end up fighting against me. One night, I tried to latch her again, and Moriah screamed louder and harder than she ever had before, and in that moment, I felt so defeated that my fighting spirit gave up. “Alright,” I said, “we won’t do this anymore. We’re done.” I told myself that with what little supply I had, I would be an exclusively pumping mom.
So I pumped… and pumped… and pumped… and pumped. It became easy enough to develop a pumping schedule for when I was at work; I could leave my desk whenever I needed to and have that uninterrupted time. Pumping at home is a different story. I was still trying to pump every two hours to increase my milk supply, but I struggled to find balance between being a full time mama and a full time cow. I felt tethered to this little machine, and it was quite literally sucking the life out of me. I would even pump in the middle of the night in between Moriah’s night feedings. I wanted so badly to give my baby the best milk that she could have, but I was miserable. Weeks passed, and I was still struggling to make ten ounces of milk in a day. I would cry because I felt isolated and restricted, like what I was trying to do was impossible.
After some time had passed, I was told to join an online moms group called Legendairy Mamas. Legendairy Milk is a lactation supplement company that promotes healthy and sustainable
breastfeeding. This group was administered by professional International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), so I joined, I started learning something new about breastfeeding everyday! I didn’t know that you could get different sized parts for your breast pump depending on the size of your nipples. I didn’t know that hand expression could help boost your milk supply. I didn’t know that the nutritional quality of your breastmilk changes over time to fit your baby’s needs. I didn’t know that IBCLCs existed, and that they’re job is literally to help you fix your breastfeeding problems! I was amazed. The things that I had been struggling with over the past three months were being experienced by thousands of other moms just like me, and I had no idea! Finally, I wasn’t alone.
After I discovered Legendairy Mamas, my hope of being able to breastfeed Moriah was rekindled, so a couple times a week, I would try to latch her again; it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible either. She wouldn’t feed without a nipple shield, but I didn’t mind that so much. It was still so painful from how tightly she would latch, but she wouldn’t scream nearly as often as she used to. I considered this a step in the right direction, and I wanted to keep going. I became much more active in the group, asking questions and reading up on what the other moms had been experiencing. I bought better parts for my breast pump to help me empty my breasts more during each session, and every time I would pump, I would follow it up with a few minutes of massage and hand expression to each breast. Over the couple months, my milk supply slowly increased. I got to a point where I was consistently making about 16-17 ounces of milk per day, but it took a LOT of work. Even though I was making more milk than I ever had before, Moriah was eating closer to 24 ounces of milk a day. I was tired and didn’t know if I could keep up my momentum with pumping, and I still couldn’t breastfeed her without using a nipple shield or without any pain. So I decided to take the next step, bite the bullet, and hire an IBCLC.
Making an appointment with an IBCLC was something that was highly encouraged often in my Legendairy Mamas group. I had always wanted to meet with one, but I knew that it would be an expensive appointment. IBCLCs are different from hospital lactation consultants. They don’t operate under any hospital policies, and they often operate their own practice which means they aren’t always covered by insurance. But I was desperate; I wanted answers about why I wasn’t making progress with breastfeeding. I researched a handful of IBCLCs in my area and chose one that was relatively close to me. I had an appointment set for early December, and I couldn’t wait!
On the morning of my appointment with my IBCLC, I was at home waiting with Moriah. I had taken the day off from work and was very eager. When it got closer to my appointment time, I got an email from my IBCLC that she had been in a car accident that morning, and wouldn’t be able to make it to the appointment. Just my luck, right? She referred me to another IBCLC, Danielle, but when I researched her website, I realized that she was fifty minutes away! I was disappointed that the morning didn’t go as planned, but I figured there wasn’t anything else I could do except call her. I called the number, and it went to voicemail, so I left a message briefly explaining what had happened. I hung up the phone and figured I’d get ready to take Moriah to day care and then head into work. As soon as I got in the car, my phone started ringing; it was the Danielle. She said she has read my intake form from my original appointment, and she wanted to come see me right away! She drive the fifty minutes and came to my house so that she could see me. I was just so thankful that she was willing to come on the same day!
We covered a lot in the appointment. It took us over two hours to get through everything, but it was so worth it. She watched us try to breastfeed for a while, then she inspected Moriah, and then me, explaining everything as she went. She was a sweet, humorous woman. She made it easy to feel comfortable with her. Turns out, we were dealing with more issues than we thought. She shared that Moriah’s gag reflex was ultra-sensitive, and because of this, she was keeping her mouth extremely guarded from anything that was trying to get in. She wasn’t allowing the nipple to reach back far enough to get a decent latch, so the latch that she would manage to get was always shallow and tight. Not only that, but because of it, I had been getting vasospasms on my nipples (basically white coloration on the nipples from loss of circulation). I also learned in the appointment that I have Raynaud’s Syndrome. This usually happens in people’s hands and feet making them turn purple and/or become very sore, but I’m lucky enough to have it in my nipples. It happens especially after I pump or if I’m too cold. Danielle also speculated that my low milk supply may have something to do with my thyroid. Thyroidism runs in my family, but I had no idea that it could contribute to milk production issues. I had never been officially diagnosed, but in my head, it all made sense. I was overwhelmed and thrilled all at the same time. I was finally getting answers as to why all of this was turning out to be so hard. I was comforted to know that the reason for our struggle was something we could have controlled or predicted.
Danielle gave us a series of exercises to help Moriah gain proper tongue extension and get her gag reflex to relax more. She gave me some home remedies to help with my pain and discomfort and said that we should continue to breastfeed as much as I was able. I asked about the nipple shield, and she said that now that Moriah was already five months old, she didn’t think it was likely that I would be able to wean her off of it. However, she didn’t make me feel bad about needing to use it, which I really appreciated. It wasn’t a hindrance at this point, it was helping us to keep going. As for my milk supply, Danielle helped me to create a pumping schedule that would help me to pump seven or eight times in a day. It felt like a lot, but I was willing to do it. She also suggested that I make an appointment with my doctor and ask them to do some bloodwork to test my thyroid levels. I thanked her over and over again, and we made a follow up appointment for two weeks later, right before Christmas.
Over the next couple weeks, everyday we practice the exercises at home. Slowly but surely, I noticed that Moriah was more at ease at the breast. She didn’t fight me as much as she used to, and it wasn’t excruciatingly painful to feed her. It was working! It didn’t feel impossible! I pumped as closely to my new schedule as possible and made an appointment with my doctor for the thyroid tests. When two weeks had passed, Danielle came back to my house and asked how things were going, and I told her about all the progress we had made. She examined Moriah’s mouth again and said that her tongue
extension and gag reflex sensitivity had definitely improved. We were on the right track to a healthy rest of our breastfeeding journey. When she asked about my thyroid tests, I showed her the results. My doctor had said they all came back within a “normal” range, but Danielle noticed that they were all on the lower side of normal, which may have been contributing to my difficulty to build supply. At that point, I had been fighting my battle with my low milk supply for almost 6 months. I was ready to surrender to the fact that I was going to need to keep supplementing with Moriah, and I felt at peace about it because I knew that I had tried everything in my power to make it work. Besides, I was so pleased with the progress that we had made with Moriah’s latch, I knew we were still heading in the right direction.
After those appointments with Danielle, I continued to breastfeed Moriah progressively more often. Each time, it became a little bit easier, for both Moriah and me. Even when Moriah grew teeth, we figured out how to keep going. I kept pumping, but I no longer stressed about trying to build my milk supply. At the end of the day, Moriah was still getting fed, and I was happier because of it. Now we breastfeed every single day. Moriah turned one year old in July, and we’re still going. We made it to my original goal of one year, but getting there was a journey, one of the most trying and transformational journeys I’m sure I’ll ever experience.
My daughter is growing into a very strong-willed, independent little girl. Her confidence and determined personality will serve her well in life, but because of it, there are some days when she sometimes doesn’t want to nurse. I’m learning to be okay with it, but it’s not easy. After spending all that time fighting to get where we are, it’s hard to be willing to let that go, but I can’t be mad at her for wanting to grow into her own person. For now, we’ll keep going until she’s ready to be done, and I’ll cherish every second I get to hold her. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll go, but I know that we can be proud of how far that we’ve come.
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