Picture this: it’s early March in New York, so the nights are still very long, very cold, and for whatever reason, very dark. (Really, they are just as dark as any given night in July, but at two days postpartum with my first baby, it’s quite possible the intense darkness was more my perception of things than actual lack of moonlight.) So, there I am: crouched at the edge of our sofa with a laptop propped up on a throw pillow. I’m watching a YouTube instructional video on how to self- express breast milk from my incredibly engorged breasts. I don’t know the word “engorged” yet, though. In fact, looking in the mirror at my breasts before heading to the sofa, I say to my husband, through panic- tears, “Oh my god, if this is what breast implants look and feel like, I am never getting them. They are so hard!” What I don’t realize yet is that my daughter, Leila, has a tongue and lip tie that has left my nipples with small fissures which is, of course, why I can’t tolerate even a soft cotton tee touching my breasts let alone a suckling newborn. Now, my milk has ‘come in’ (a term I also don’t know!) and I have absolutely no idea what is happening.
So, I sit there, with a sad plastic spoon pressed under a tender, chewed- on nipple, while I try to squeeze liquid goodness onto said spoon. I know nothing of a “let down” or that I should have been attempting to empty my breasts every two hours or so since her birth. I can’t remember exactly, but it’s likely hours have passed since I had last put little Leila to my breast. In fact, earlier that evening, desperate, we remembered a sample of Enfamil a coworker had passed along to me, so we nervously prepared a bottle with which to lull her to sleep. Nope, we didn’t have any formula in the house besides that serendipitous sample. In addition, my awesome insurance- covered breast pump and all parts were still in the box. Directions unread.
I truly believed breastfeeding was a matter of commitment, physical and mental statina, and frankly, dedication to the decision. I had those things. I had the stories from my mom who tried but was unable to breastfeed (a story for another blog post!). It would be different for me, though! I had over twenty years of competitive long distance running under my belt. Stamina? Tolerance for physical discomfort? Yes and yes. Complete, unequivocal desire to baby wear, cloth diaper, and breastfeed my child for at least the first year? Check, check, and check.
And yet… there I was. Exhausted, confused, in pain, and walking the first steps of what would be a years-long road of feeling inadequate, disappointed, and frustrated in the role of “mother.”
Two days later, a lactation consultant sits beside me on the couch, assessing Leila’s latch, recommending a prescription cream for my injured nipples, and providing two possible answers for my low milk supply. One, (and the answer that turned out to be the correct one) the lack of adequate milk removal for the first four days of Leila’s life signaled to my body that I was not breastfeeding and thus, it began the process of shutting down milk production. I needed to make up for lost time. Two, she thought it possible that I had hypoplasia, which is essentially a lack of sufficient glandular tissue, which inhibits or severely limits milk production. It was a devastating possibility.
So, the next bunch of weeks, I give it my all: I use SNS nursing systems and nipple shields; I power pump, drink brewer’s yeast, and eat lactation cookies. I read and research far too much, take breastfeeding baths, and shed many, many tears as my husband and I try to decide whether or not to let a doctor put a laser in her tiny mouth (by the way, its called a frenotomy, and for our family it turned out to be the right choice). Because of my lack of education, preparation, and mostly, lack of professional guidance from the first moments of Leila’s birth, the fourth trimester is tainted with unnecessary stress and despair.
When I had my second child, I handled things very differently. My midwife assessed a poor latch and possible tongue and lip tie only hours after my son’s birth, had me using a hospital -grade pump before I even left the hospital, and when my (new) lactation consultant met with me the day after we arrived home, (the appointment was already scheduled before his birth!) I was in much better shape and though we still had some issues to deal with, I was able to exclusively breastfeed him for the few months I was home from work, and then supplement for another three months afterwards. More than anything, though, I felt more present, calm, capable, and knowledgeable. I was supported and cared for by a professional who had all the info, all the ideas, and most importantly, provided emotional support when I second guessed myself, was worried, or had a personal success to share.
Depending on where you live and whether the contact will be primarily in-person or virtual, a certified lactation consultant costs a mere $300-$600. A generous friend or family member– or a group! – can easily pool that fee together the same way they would for a crib or fancy baby rocker so their loved one does not experience the darkness as I did, but instead gets to live in the warmth and light that only support and care can provide.
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