I have always been a big proponent of breastfeeding, a "lactivist," as it is sometimes called. My first 2 children were breastfed until they were each a little over 2 years old. There were a few hiccups early on from latch issues with one to fore-milk/ hind-milk imbalance with the other, but we worked through it, and I was able to share a beautiful nursing relationship full of cuddles and bonding with each of them.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting baby number 3, I admit I was dreading the impending nausea and other symptoms of pregnancy. And I can't say that I was excited for the countless sleepless nights and exhaustion ahead of us that first little while after a baby is born. But one thing I was looking forward to was the sweet bonding experience created by nursing and comforting my baby in the way that only a nursing mother can.
After a very fast labor, I found myself gazing at my perfect little newborn, my heart overflowing with love for this miracle. She latched on well, but let go after just a few sucks. I wasn't worried, though. She was less than an hour old, and probably exhausted from her journey to get here. Besides, I knew she could latch, and that was the main thing, right? She continued to latch well, initially, but wouldn't stay latched beyond 3 or 4 sucks. I was continuously getting her re-latched, up to 30 or more times per nursing session, and the more I had to do this, the more she began resisting.
By day 4, she was no longer latching well. When I would put her in the position I normally nursed her in, she would fuss, and arch her back away from me. She would turn her head away from my breast. I tried nursing her in different position like the cross-cradle hold and the football hold.
I scheduled an appointment with a chiropractor, thinking that maybe she was having pain or discomfort from being born with her hand up by her face; had that torqued her neck? Maybe she just wasn't comfortable enough to snuggle in for a good nursing session. The doctor said that she did seem to have a little issue at C-7 and he gave her a gentle adjustment. She did fuss less after that when not nursing, and we continued to take her in to ensure the problem stayed fixed. Unfortunately, it did not change anything with nursing.
When she was 6 days old, she was losing weight. I know it's normal for babies to lose weight and regain it, but my baby did not look to be healthy and thriving. I went to the store and bought a bottle. I had already been pumping some to make sure that engorgement wasn't inhibiting her latch, and I had milk stored up. I gave her some of my milk in a bottle. She took it easily, and gulped and gulped. She looked so relieved, and ate until she passed out, milk-drunk, like my other babies had when they nursed. I continued to try to get her to nurse first, but when she would fuss and arch away from me, I would stop and just give her a bottle of breast milk. She started filling out, and gaining weight. Her skin and eyes took on a healthy glow.
She was a happier baby after that, except when I would try to nurse her. I reached out to lactation consultants, as well as to knowledgeable friends. I followed up on each of their suggestions. I ended up taking my daughter in to be evaluated for lip and tongue tie. She did indeed have a fairly severe lip tie, and a posterior tongue tie. I scheduled the appointment to have them both revised. I was a little nervous about putting her through the procedure, but was assured by many that it was very quick, and that their babies had hardly cried. Well, my baby was different. She screamed like she never had before. And I don't blame her, the procedure looked painful. And we had to "stretch" the tissue with little exercises daily for 2 weeks following to prevent the tissue from healing back down and having to have the revision re-done. She cried hard every time I did the tissue stretching. She whimpered in her sleep for the next several days. And it still didn't help with breastfeeding.
But we continued trying. I would try to get her to latch when she was sleepy. We did lots of skin to skin time. We took warm, relaxing baths together and tried to nurse while in the bath. A few times, we had success. She would stay latched for longer once every couple days, but still never enough to get even one full meal. I continued to pump, and follow up feedings with a bottle, which was where she was getting the vast majority of her food.
One day when she was about 2 months old, I had a bottle of pumped milk at the bedside, and was going to try to nurse her first. As I got her into position to nurse, the little smile fell away from her face. Her body tightened up, and she looked up at me. Her eyes were filled with fear and pain. She made a heartbreaking whimpering sound. I started to cry. What was I doing? I had a little conversation with myself. Why was it so important to me to nurse her? I wanted to have the same sweet nursing relationship I'd had with my older 2. I wanted the benefits of bonding that nursing brings. And I hated pumping. Who was I doing this for, her or me?
The answers came flowing to my mind, almost as if they weren't coming from myself. She was not one of my older 2 kids; she was her. I needed to treat her as herself. Bonding happens when you respond to your baby's cues and communications to build trust. Her cues and communications were all telling me to stop trying to make her nurse. I gave her the bottle which she happily took. I didn't even try to get her to latch first that time. In fact, I never tried to get her to latch again. I think she must have known that something big had just happened because as I held her close and fed her from the bottle, she paused and smiled at me before cuddling in to finish eating.