Guest Post: Breastfeeding– When It’s Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

This is a very special blog to me– written by my big sister, a new mom who has been through HELL with breastfeeding, and has stuck with it 100%.

She has faced so many incredible challenges, including low supply, plugged ducts, mastitis, breast abscess, surgery, and an appointment with renowned breastfeeding expert Dr. Jack Newman!

I want everyone to know that this is not the average breastfeeding experience; many women have an easy time with it. But there can also be bumps in the road, and persevering IS possible.  Here is my sister’s story, written by Katie Tee:

“My breastfeeding journey has been filled with twists and turns. I thought I was prepared for anything that my boobs threw at me, but as it turns out, similar to dealing with your first major diaper blowout, you can’t be prepared for everything.

I knew that I would breastfeed before I was even pregnant. I just thought it was so cool that my fun bags could be used to actually feed and nourish a human being! Plus, with the cost of formula now a days, I’d rather spend the money I saved by breastfeeding on something pretty for myself or fun for baby than on a powdery substance that was nutritionally insufficient compared to the goods flowing free from my body!

I’m a huge fan of doctor Google, so as with everything else in my pregnancy, I googled the heck out of breastfeeding. I knew how to get the proper latch, various holds, and potential pitfalls that may strike. I attended my local La Leche League meeting to stealthily creep on women brave enough to breastfeed in public, just to see how they did it. I asked them to give me a heads up on all the stuff that could go wrong and tips to be successful. I was under the care of a midwife who supported my decision to breastfeed and took the time to answer my questions. I hired a doula who taught me how to manually express, something that I practiced in the shower prior to my baby being born. Truly, the most helpful thing I did to prepare myself to breastfeed was to say, “I am going to breastfeed”. I did not say, “I am going to try to breastfeed”. I was adamant that I was going to feed my kid from my body. I stocked up on nipple butter and breast pads rather than bottles, pacifiers and just in case formula. I felt ready and prepared to nourish my little one upon his arrival.

Despite all my preparation, breastfeeding was tough right from the beginning. It started with his latch on day one. My dude had a tiny mouth and my nipples weren’t protruding enough for him to latch on. Luckily, because of my research, I knew my baby didn’t need to be guzzling the good stuff, he just needed a teensy tiny amount. Thankfully I had practiced manually expressing, so that’s what I did. I manually expressed some of the liquid gold and allowed my baby to suckle it off my nipples. I did this for a full 48 hours before I noticed that he was wanting more.

My midwife stopped by and assisted again with his latch. We were able to get some suction, but he just couldn’t stay on. At this point, my milk had come in and I was getting engorged so my midwife encouraged me to pump and taught me how to finger feed him with a syringe. I continued to work on latching him on, and after each attempt at the breast, I topped him off with some finger feeding from the syringe.

My baby was getting fed, but I wasn’t getting to experience the sensation of feeding my baby directly from the breast, and I voiced my disappointment to my midwife the next day. (Side note: Midwives rock! They visit DAILY after your baby is born!)

She suggested I try a shield, which is something I had on hand, just in case. I put the shield on and wa la! That sweet ouchie sensation of my baby actually latching on for the first time! He was eating directly from me! Based on all my googling, I knew of the downfalls of using a shield, and I voiced my concern to my midwife. She told me to just consider it a tool to help feed my baby. Feeding my baby was my number one priority, and this was helping me, so we went along our merry way, my boobs, my nipple shields, my baby boy, and me.

Unfortunately, this was not the beginning of a beautiful breastfeeding journey filled with nipples and unicorns and rainbows. One night, as I was feeding my son, I experienced severe pain. I wasn’t quite sure what the deal was, so I phoned my midwife that morning and she suggested it may be a clogged duct. She encouraged me to feed and massage and heat and I did all of the above but found no relief. That evening I felt like I had been hit by a truck and was running a pretty sweet fever. I knew I had mastitis, so I was prescribed some antibiotics and 24 hours later, I felt like brand new.

A couple of weeks later, baby and I were getting this breastfeeding thing down! I was beginning to remove my shields and he was able to latch on without them. One day, I felt a painful lump in my breast as I was feeding him. I knew this was a clogged duct, so I hit it hard with everything I knew to do. I fed, I dangled, I massaged with a vibrating tooth-brush, I heated, I poked, I prodded, but unfortunately, the dang fever struck and I knew I had my second case of mastitis. My midwife prescribed another round of antibiotics, but this time it was stubborn, and 48 hours later, there still wasn’t a change. At this point, I would have preferred to be waterboarded than to endure a breastfeeding session, but the kid had to be fed, and I was hell-bent on not resorting to formula, so I clenched my teeth and continued to feed. My midwife paid me a visit and she prescribed a broader range antibiotic and also took a sample of my breast milk to get cultured so we could see exactly what was causing this infection.

Fast forward another 48 hours and I wanted to chop my boob off. I swear that would have felt better than what I was dealing with.  My boob was hard as a rock and literally on fire. My husband couldn’t deal with the tears and encouraged me to go into the ER because it appeared that my boob was about to explode. I went, and luckily for me, they had just received the results of my culture, so the doctor explained that I had a highly resistant form of staph infection, so he prescribed ANOTHER antibiotic that was designed to slay this dragon. On the way home I was thrilled to have finally solved this problem. I stopped at the drugstore to fill my prescription and rent a hospital grade breast pump so I could fully drain my boobs and try avoid this situation again.

Another 24 hours and my boob was reaching a breaking point. I could no longer breastfeed from it because only pus was coming out; I could literally see the pocket of pus under my skin, above my areola. I phoned my midwife, and she had me go to the ER again. They immediately started me on an IV drip to try kill off some of the infection. There I sat, in the ER, hooked up to an IV, breastfeeding my son from my one good boob. I insisted on meeting with the pharmacist to confirm that it was safe for me to breastfeed while on the meds, it was, so I kept calm and breastfed on! The doctor explained that they suspected the mastitis had progressed to an abscess. They instructed me to return the next day for more IV treatment and an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis. The next day, I discovered that I had an abscess the size of a baseball. They wanted me to continue my twice a day, two-hour IV therapy treatments and scheduled me for surgery under a local anesthetic to insert a drain to remove the abscess. My son came with me to my IV therapy so I could feed him from good ol’ righty. The body is amazing and although lefty was out of commission, my boy was happy and getting fed plenty. I made sure to take probiotics and give my son them as well during this treatment to protect our guts, although I was told by a doctor that my breastfeeding was giving him all the protection he needed.

Prior to my drain insertion I was told I would have to pump and dump for about an hour after the procedure before feeding my son due to the loopy drugs they would be giving me, so I fed my boy right before the procedure and following my drain insertion, my husband gave him a bottle I had been able to pump. I was proud that up to this point, through all the swollen, clogged up boobs, and pus, that my boy was still exclusively breastmilk-fed. He continued to accompany me four hours each day as I received my IV treatments to combat the infection so I could feed him.

My boob felt amazing after the procedure, and aside from the gross bag of pus I had to carry along with me strapped to my leg, I felt like things were on the upswing. Unfortunately, the unicorns and rainbows don’t make their appearance yet in this story.

About 48 hours after my procedure, my boob stopped draining and began to get sore and red again. The surgeon explained that there was a chance of this happening due to the severity of the initial abscess and that I would need another surgery, this time with general anesthesia, in order to clear out the abscess so the antibiotic could take effect.

I was devastated when the anesthesiologist said breastfeeding after the procedure would be a no go due to the drugs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pump enough to provide for more than one bottle. After I was admitted, I requested they bring me a hospital grade breast pump and I fed and pumped, fed and pumped, hoping that I would be able to pump enough to give him after my surgery. This was the first time that I told my husband to go pick up some formula. I had him splurge on the organic stuff, and he was prepared to mix up a bottle if the need arose.

After the surgery, I slept. I woke to find that I had leaked everywhere since I hadn’t fed my son for so long. I pumped and dumped as my husband fed him the precious few ounces I had been able to pump from a bottle. I knew not to take a doctor’s word for it, so I hopped on some very reputable breastfeeding websites and researched if I truly couldn’t feed my son due to the anesthesia. It turns out that it was simply a dated precaution, and after confirming my suspicions with the lactation consultant from the maternity ward, I popped the kid on my boob about 6 hours after the procedure. I’m so glad I went with my gut and didn’t give baby G formula in those few hours after the surgery.

For about a week after the surgery, I continued to receive IV therapy twice a day, but this time it was coupled with wound care. The surgeon had removed the abscess, which was the size of a baseball, and the wound had to be unstuffed, cleaned and restuffed. This was a very painful procedure that I had to undergo daily. When I asked my surgeon if old lefty would ever be able to function as a nursing boob, she said she was really unsure and only time would tell. It was still producing milk, but the milk didn’t come out of the nipple, it drained from the site of the incision on the side of my boob. Lovely, I know.

Me and G continued on in our nursing relationship. I started to take Lecithin daily to thin out my milk and help prevent any future clogged ducts. I was vigilant about draining my boobs. G was now off the shield, and after he fed, I pumped to get every last drop out.

About two weeks after my surgery, we moved across the country. I know! As if a bunk boob wasn’t bad enough! I had consciously chosen our move date because it was about two months postpartum and I had read that it can take that long to establish a good breastfeeding relationship. Little did I know at the time what would happen to me on my breastfeeding journey.

Luckily, after arriving at our new home, my breast no longer needed wound care. It had healed up well and I only had to bandage my incision site, which no longer leaked. I was able to manually express some milk out of the nipple, but it wasn’t a lot and due to the trauma to my breast, my nipple was in no shape for G to latch on, so he continued to feed from one breast only. Unfortunately, due to a variety of things, G’s growth, the length of time I was on antibiotics, the stress of the move, and the stress of surgery and infection on my body, I wasn’t producing enough milk anymore. As luck would have it though, I was near the esteemed pediatrician and breastfeeding guru, Jack Newman. I scheduled an appointment and was seen by some wonderful lactation consultants and Dr. Jack Newman himself.

After my first appointment, G and I were educated on a proper latch and I was given an SNS (supplemental nursing system) to supplement his feeds with pumped breastmilk. I also began taking Blessed Thistle and Fenugreek supplements to try increase my supply. A couple of weeks later, and the supplements weren’t working, so Dr. Newman prescribed Domperidone. Since I’ve been on that, G has been getting plenty to eat and I’ve ditched the SNS.

My breastfeeding journey did not go the way I had hoped. In fact, after having a peaceful and powerful homebirth, the last thing I expected was daily stays at the hospital due to infection and surgeries. I most certainly believe that in the beginning, had I said, “I’m going to try to breastfeed”, I would have given up. Going out and buying formula would have been a lot easier than nursing through the pain and hauling my five-week-old to the hospital two times a day just so I could feed him from my body, but I knew in my head and heart that breastfeeding was best for him, so I was determined to stick with it. Many moms struggle with low supply or poor latch or frequent bouts of mastitis and immediately make the switch to formula, panicked that their little one is not getting enough to eat or they can’t handle the pain any longer. Most of the time, these problems can be resolved with professional help and extra support. Rather than running to the grocery store to buy formula, I ran to trusty old Google and searched for the help and support I knew was out there.

Next time, I will hire a lactation consultant IMMEDIATELY after the birth if I notice there is a problem. Lactation consultants cost money, but they are worth their weight in gold! My midwife was wonderful, but she was not trained specifically to help with breastfeeding problems. Her suggestion of using a shield was a crutch that allowed me to feed my baby, but was a crutch I used too long and was a likely factor that led to my clogged ducts in the first place.  Dr. Newman diagnosed my son with a tongue tie, which my midwife missed. Had that been diagnosed early on, it could have been snipped and his latch probably would have been more efficient in those early days.

Now that everything is said and done, I can look back and say, “I wish I had known…” however, the long story short is that, while we struggled with poor latch, pain, clogged ducts, mastitis, abscess, and low supply, we persevered without the hindrance of formula and four months into our lives together, G and I have a great breastfeeding relationship, unicorns and rainbows included.”


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