By Julie Twedt
Looking back on our 26 month breastfeeding journey, there were so many pitfalls and challenges that I still to this day stand amazed we made it to this point. Today, my dear daughter and I enjoy a carefree, effortless, clockwork, nursing relationship. We’re old pros and despite how easily this comes to us now, breastfeeding continues to nourish both of our souls. Many ask if we have an ‘end date’ in mind. They want to know when I’ll wean her. And I’m proud to say that I’ll leave that decision up to her. Despite the whispers and raised eyebrows. When my dear, sweet girl decides she’s emotionally ready to sever this bond, it will be on her terms.
But it wasn’t always this easy. Oh, no. After a fairly uneventful, easy pregnancy, Layla was delivered at 38 weeks & 3 days via c-section, following a 36 hour induced labor due to pre-eclampsia. It was not the birth that this natural minded mama had hoped for. But she was here and she was healthy, and… nope! Less than 24 hours post birth, we were visited by the neonatologist who informed us that our 1 day old baby girl had neonatal sepsis (bacterial infection) and a dangerously low white blood cell count. They let us have a few more minutes cuddling her and then transferred her to the NICU floor. I was numb. Literally and emotionally. My baby was just taken from me! She’s not well. We hadn’t even breastfed yet! The previous night I was more exhausted that I’ve ever been my entire life and reeling from the pain of my c-section. No, breastfeeding was not a top priority that night.
So I began pumping right away. The amazing labor & delivery nurses and my husband kept me on a pumping schedule and then ensured that my colostrum and milk was delivered straightaway to my baby girl in the NICU. But my pre-eclampsia did not subside post birth. I was taking a zombifying mix of BP and pain meds (all breastfeeding compatible) to help me heal and was only able to gather enough fortitude to visit my girl in the NICU twice a day. During those visits, the NICU nurses and hospital LC would help me latch her. They encouraged me as we fumbled our way through those initial awkward days. And slowly, we got the hang of it!
After being discharged from the hospital on day 4 postpartum, my full milk came in. My husband continued to champion my pumping schedule, despite the full night’s sleep that we both so desperately wanted. We took multiple trips daily to deliver my pumped milk to Layla, who was still in the NICU. On day 8 postpartum I was readmitted to the hospital with stroke level blood pressure (197/120). After an awful magnesium drip, more BP meds and much discussion about what to do with me (OB, or cardio?), I was sent to the cardio floor of the hospital.
I was a mess emotionally. How much more of this could I take? Not only was my baby in the NICU but I was dealing with my own very serious health issues. My trusty hospital grade pump and I soldiered on, with my husband by my side.
On Day 10 of Layla’s NICU stint, she was finally released! I was still hospital bound, so hubs spent the first night alone with our new baby at
home. It was heartbreaking for both of us. This was supposed to be a beautiful, shared moment of joy – our little girl was finally home. But life dealt us some shitty cards.
Day 11 postpartum I was released. Again. I worked very closely with my OB to monitor my BP and only administer meds when necessary. Slowly my body released fluids and my BP returned to normal after 6 full weeks. During those weeks, I made it my goal to eliminate the formula supplementation that the NICU had established. I wanted my girl exclusively breastfed. She had a rocky start to life and I wanted to ensure that the upcoming months would be filled with mama’s best. The transition was hard. Engorgement, cracked nipples, growth spurts, sleepless nights… I found support and solace in a local FB group of like-minded breastfeeding mothers. Any inane question I had, others had gone through the same thing! Moms were cheering other moms on as they met each breastfeeding goal. It was and is a
beautiful thing! And finally, by 8 weeks of age, we met our goal of exclusive breastfeeding!
We had a few challenges after that. My return to work at 4 months postpartum. Pumping 3x day while balancing a full meeting schedule. Figuring out how to get some rest during the night with a breastfeeding baby (thank you co-sleeping, you saved my life!). A couple bouts of mastitis. Pffffftttt. It was all manageable because I had the support of my husband and online mamas.
A few of my girlfriends have recently become new mothers. If asked for breastfeeding and parenting advice and I always tell them two things. 1) you can read all you want, decide how you want to parent, say you’ll never do this or never do that: but until that baby is earth-side, you don’t know shit! lead with your instincts mama. 2) if you want to breastfeed your babe, find support: spouse, partner, online groups, La Leche League, local breastfeeding support groups, friends, family. Just ensure you have support – because you will need it – guaranteed.
Yup. I look back now and I see those huge pitfalls which could have very easily been our breastfeeding demise. And those gaps were filled in with loving support from nurses, LC’s, online groups and my dear husband.
26 months strong. And counting.
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