Milkmaker | Donna Zuñiga
Thinking back, it’s safe to say that I knew I would breastfeed even before I became pregnant. It was just something I would do. I had no idea how to do it, but if it was best for baby – it’s what I would do.
So as any good type-A person does, I dove into my research. I read all the parenting books and diligently signed my pregnant self up for the obligatory prenatal and breastfeeding classes. My husband and I cleared our schedule for all things baby-related. Then we went to the classes, and my already-exhausted self (pregnancy insomnia is no joke) nearly fell asleep in every class. (It didn’t help that they were just so, so boring.)
A few weeks later, my beautiful, healthy baby boy was born! I was officially a mother, and after the 33-hour labor, I was a mix of deliriously happy, exhausted, and confused. Luckily for me, Zander latched like a champ and we were off to the (breastfeeding) races.
Once home, things got rough. Without the support of the nurses, I felt lost, and for the first ten seconds or so of each latch, it felt like I my nipples were on fire. My husband was amazing during this challenging time, but I knew I needed extra help and advice. Since our little one had mild jaundice, I was setup to go to the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital each day for the first week postpartum, to do weighted feeds.
Luckily, one of the lactation consultants observed the feeding session and helped me with positioning, latch, and taught me how to unlatch and start again, if needed. This information was invaluable. Thanks in large part to this help from a lactation consultant in Zander’s newborn days (and my days as a “newborn parent”), our breastfeeding journey started off on a positive note. I went from not being sure if I could make it past two weeks due to the pain involved, to planning to breastfeed for four months. (I do well with goals and four months seemed like a good number, so I went with it.)
Four months quickly came and went, and I set a loftier goal: one year. I knew if I made it to one year, I would be happy with my accomplishment, and it would be best for my baby. Who knew I would come to love breastfeeding, too? I knew it was good for me and good for Zander, but prior to actually doing it, I thought it would just be another task I would “ace” – but it became so, so much more. Things were going really well. I was feeling exhausted and having some other symptoms too, but I figured that was normal for a sleep-deprived new mom.
Then, right around five months, Zander started to drop off his growth curve for weight. He was already a tall, thin baby, so I became extremely concerned as I watched his weight percentage drop. At the urging of my family and others close to me, I reluctantly fed Zander his first bottle of formula while frantically trying to figure things out. I cried that day. I felt like a complete failure. Thankfully, he immediately began to put on weight, and seemed a lot happier, too. This made me both happy, and sad. I had worked so hard to exclusively breastfeed, feeding him around the clock, never being away for more than an hour or two at a time, so I struggled hard with this decision.
Since I am stubborn and refused to give up, we kept breastfeeding because I knew my supply would dip severely otherwise, only supplementing with a few ounces of formula per day. It was helping. I was relieved. So…why the dip in his weight gain? I made it my mission to answer that very question. Hours turned into days – which turned into weeks – of research. (What a welcome resource this site would have been!)
Then, several blood tests (on me) later, I had my answer. I came to find out that a pre-existing health condition (thyroid disorder) that had been well-controlled during pregnancy was suddenly thrown out of whack due to my medication dosage not being adjusted back to my pre-pregnancy dosage, postpartum. I was dangerously overmedicated without knowing it.
Apparently it’s common for thyroid issues to go haywire postpartum (or even for new ones to crop up). So one of the (many) unfortunate side effects I was experiencing as a result – was
decreased milk supply. I then had to come to terms with the fact that no one on my medical “team” had warned me of this possibility or followed up with me postpartum. I’ve always been my own health advocate and I know now, more than ever, how vitally important it is.
So, in the short-term, I supplemented with organic formula and for us, it was medically necessary for a few weeks as my body adjusted back to proper thyroid hormone levels. This was not my plan, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan and you have to make a new plan.
Once I confirmed I was feeling better and my levels were good (or getting better, at least), I tentatively tried eliminating the formula and going back to just breastfeeding. He transferred back to just the breast, seamlessly. Luckily, my supply seemed to stabilize and I was finally feeling like myself again. My persistence had paid off. I’m so glad I didn’t give up! I had never felt so relieved. Right around seven months, we really hit our breastfeeding stride. Zander was gaining weight like a champ, breastfeeding exclusively again, and enjoying his purees, too.
Fast-forward to today, and Zander is a healthy, happy 2-year-old (as of yesterday!) who continues to breastfeed several times throughout the day and night. He loves his “milkie” and asks for it or points to our breastfeeding chair whenever he’s ready to nurse and nap with mama. I’m proud to say that with time, my confidence in breastfeeding has skyrocketed. We are officially now well into “extended breastfeeding” territory. (I cringe at this term, because it implies that breastfeeding beyond one year is somehow unnatural, when it’s anything but!)
Our new “obstacles” on our breastfeeding journey are now society-based, instead of physiological (or medical). So, I’ve learned to speak up when necessary, educate when needed, laugh when it gets ridiculous, and leave when it gets to be too much.
Because one thing’s for sure: our breastfeeding journey will end when we – not society – are ready. And until then, I will continue to treasure every moment, because I worked damn hard for us to get here.