Images and text by Jessica Casey.
Oliver was born full-term, at 37+3 weeks gestation. He was small, weighing only 5lbs 8oz, which the medical staff attributed to the placental tear and pre-eclampsia I had developed. There was some fetal distress during delivery and he was born dusky, but crying. Immediately, the MD who delivered him noticed that he had a significant tongue tie. In fact, his tongue wouldn’t extend past his gums at all. The attending pediatrician brushed it off, but the MD encouraged me to get it evaluated by a dental surgeon upon discharge from the hospital.
I was a first time mom, and breastfeeding had always been a goal of mine. I hadn’t given much thought to how long I would breastfeed, but knew I wanted to give it my best shot. I borrowed a pump from a friend, read up on different techniques for feeding, and hoped I was ready.
The first three days in the hospital were difficult. Ollie would attempt to latch on, but he had a shallow latch (which I now understand was partially due to the tongue tie), and would get frustrated easily. The first nurse who evaluated us surprised me by saying “Oh! Your nipples are flat!”. I didn’t really understand the implications behind that phrase. After all, they were the only nipples I had, and I’d never had a problem with them before. She explained that flat nipples coupled with a small baby would make breastfeeding difficult. That was discouraging, to say the least, and planted a tiny seed of doubt in my mind.
The hospital where I delivered didn’t have any lactation consultants readily available. The nurses would attempt to help, but each had different personal experiences and different techniques. I found myself feeling overwhelmed with the abundance of conflicting information I was given. In addition, because of Ollie’s size, the pediatrician insisted we supplement with formula while in the hospital. He was worried about Ollie’s sugar dropping, and didn’t want him to lose much weight. I’m not opposed to formula by any means, but I recognize now that introducing formula so early wasn’t helpful in establishing a strong nursing relationship. On the day of discharge, I was handed a nipple-shield, and told to use it to help with Ollie’s latch. That was the extent of the resources available to me. I was tired, and ready to get home.
We had Ollie’s tongue-tie clipped five days after he was born. It was quick, and he tolerated the procedure very well. Immediately, I noticed that his latch was better, although still shallow. Eventually, I would find that as he (and his mouth) grew, his latch became better. My milk came in easily, but I found that I had an oversupply issue. Letdown happened so fast and so forcefully that it would cause Ollie to choke. He would pull off, and end up getting sprayed in the face with breast milk. This would happen several times throughout each feeding. By the end of the nursing session, we would both be soaked. We faced other challenges (jaundice, slow eating, cracked nipples, etc) but we kept working at it. I knew it was the best start I could give my baby.
After more than ten weeks, we had settled into a good routine. The sore nipples were (mostly) resolved, and my milk supply was firmly established. Ollie was bigger by then (a whopping 9lbs), and I was mostly feeding on my side, to help control the force of my letdown. We were nursing on-demand, co-sleeping, cloth-diapering and baby-wearing. I was loving my role as a new mother.
As I mentioned earlier, I had always known I wanted to breastfeed, but had never thought about how long that might be. We hit the six month mark and were still going strong. In July, Ollie celebrated his first birthday, and still wasn’t showing any signs of weaning. So, the breastfeeding continued. And then, when he was fifteen months old, I had an accident.
On a warm October day, I went out for a training run. My half-marathon was two weeks away, and I was getting ready. Less than a kilometre from home, I caught my foot on uneven pavement, and shattered my leg. I had surgery the next day, and found myself the reluctant owner of an artificial bone graft, a plate, and a multitude of pins. I would spend the next eight weeks on bed-rest, and the next five months learning to walk again.
Ollie, of course, didn’t understand what was going on. He just saw that I cried a lot, frequently slept, and could no longer pick him up. His way of dealing with it was to seek comfort with my husband and ignore me. He would smile and wave, but wouldn’t come near me. Our breastfeeding journey had come to an abrupt end, before either of us was ready for it. I was happy to have made it for so long, but angry at the way things had ended.
One month after my accident, Ollie started waking up in the middle of the night. He was inconsolable. We discovered multiple teeth coming in. My husband would try to comfort him, but Ollie would refuse the bottle, and other comfort measures weren’t working. One night, he brought Ollie into our bed. He immediately starting nuzzling and rooting for my nipple. My milk had dried up, but I thought, if it could bring him some comfort, then why not? The dry nursing was painful for me, but helped Ollie to settle immediately. This continued for several nights in a row. And then, one day, Ollie unlatched and looked up at me with a sweet smile, as milk dripped down his chin. It melted my heart.
Oliver is now 22 months old. He continues to nurse several times a day, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. There were many challenges in the beginning, and I did think about giving up several times, but I’m happy we were able to persevere. Despite the difficulty of the last eight months, the nursing relationship with my son remains strong. I am so glad I am still able to provide continued nourishment and comfort to my baby.