When Everyone Told Me To Quit Breastfeeding, My Lactation Consultant Saved Me

Just as I began to lose all hope, these wonderful women helped me succeed

“If you pick him up every time he cries, you’ll be creating a monster.”

The NICU nurse had strong feelings about my parenting. In fairness to me, I had only been doing it for five hours at the time, but I was already screwing up.

My son was born healthy, but because I had experienced a fever during my long, intense labour, they had both him and me on IV antibiotics. Trying to learn how to breastfeed is hard. Trying to learn how to breastfeed when you are both attached to tubes and machines, when your room is three long corridors and two locked doors away from your baby, and when no one will help you go between them (fun with stitches) is extremely hard. But our biggest obstacle was the lack of support I received.

I had read everything before he was born. I met with a lactation consultant, I joined groups. Jack Newman and I were practically BFFs. I had this breastfeeding thing down. All of that went out the window after 34 hours of labour, sheer exhaustion, and second guessing myself at the advice of my nurses.

“No! I just fed you! I feel sorry for your mother!” I listened as the same nurse who warned me of my monster in the making chastised a preemie down the hall. When I fed my baby each time he cried, another nurse told me that he wasn’t hungry and suggested I give him a pacifier. When I declined and said I was okay with him nursing whenever he wanted to, I was told he was crying because he was starving and needed formula.

By day three, I broke. I was exhausted. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or get my medication because returning to my room was so difficult. I agreed to give him formula, but I didn’t want to use a bottle. They allowed me to use an SNS which was essentially a tube taped to my breast so he was suckling formula as he nursed. When I asked to take the tube home, I was informed that wasn’t allowed.

I am not anti-formula. I do not judge mothers who stop breastfeeding or never start. I am highly against pushing breastfeeding on mothers. But it was important for me to breastfeed and I was not willing to give up.

By the time we got home, breastfeeding was so painful I cried while I did it. I was bleeding so much that my baby vomited blood. My blood. That was the final straw. We were getting to the bottom of this or we couldn’t continue.

Some of the medication prescribed to cure thrush left Heather and her baby with a purple mouth

We made an appointment with a lactation consultant through the government of Ontario. The consultants there were amazing. They helped us with his latch, they helped reassure me he was getting enough as my milk started to come in. They made me feel competent and confident that we were going to succeed.

It soon became clear that in addition to the latch issues, one or both of us had thrush; the cause of the extreme pain and bleeding. My poor skin also needed a chance to heal. They referred me to an outstanding clinic run by doctors who were also registered lactation consultants. We went several times a week for a while. They prescribed different medications to cure the thrush (one of which left both me and my baby 90s-rave-purple) and they got me fitted with a nipple shield to allow my injured boobs to heal. They answered all my questions. They allowed me to feel heard. They didn’t pressure me about anything. I credit them with allowing me the opportunity to breastfeed.

When my baby was 9 months old, they saved us again. He refused all solid food and I suddenly had a major supply drop. He was losing weight. My baby was starving and my family doctor deferred to the lactation consultants.

They told me that babies his age can deal with a supply drop if they are eating solids, or they can thrive on ample breast milk with no solids, but not both. We had to either get my supply up, or start him on formula, and as he had refused a bottle since he was 6 months, getting my supply up—fast—was paramount.

Through counseling and medications, they boosted my supply, and I went on to nurse him until he was two (and his brother until two after that). We both thrived.

Qualified lactation consultants are worth their weight in liquid gold. While of course not everyone can or wants to breastfeed, and no one should feel pressured to, a lot of women desperately want to, but feel they have to stop because of issues like I experienced. I don’t think I would have been able to continue breastfeeding without their help and support.

If you are nursing or want to nurse, find that support, while still pregnant if possible. Check in during the first week post-partum. La Leche League, your midwife, and IBCLCs are fantastic resources. If the first one you try is not helpful, and you really want to continue nursing, find another one.

Nine years later, I still think back with tears of gratitude to those women who saw me through those difficult weeks as I learned to be a nursing mother.

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