The Women Who Taught Me to Breastfeed

On May 12, 2007 I attempted to breastfeed for the first time. My treasured newborn daughter, groggy from the drugs I was given during a failed induction turned c-section, was mildly interested but could not latch. I knew nursing in that first hour was important to getting the breastfeeding relationship off on the right foot and was anxious to do so, but my arms were numb from a too-high epidural. The nurse held Aria to my breast, surprised that I was still unable to move my arms more than an hour after the baby was delivered. It was not an ideal beginning to say the least.

Breastfeeding Aria in the HospitalOver the next couple of days I struggled to figure out how to breastfeed. Aria could not get latched and no one seemed to be able to help without her becoming extremely distraught, which only made matters worse. Nighttime was even more challenging. I wanted to keep her with me but could not lift her due to the incision, my husband was not allowed to stay overnight and I worried about her getting the care she needed with me so out of it from the meds. So, I reluctantly sent her to the nursery while he was gone, with the understanding they would bring her to me when she needed to eat. By the time the nurses would bring her back, though, she already so hungry and upset that calming her enough to focus on latching was difficult. The nurses recommended a nipple shield to help her latch, then pumping when she lost “too much” weight (most from water retention from the induction and my saline IV). Thankfully my milk came in quickly but with the continued pumping (recommended b/c I was using the shield, which can mess with supply in some) within a short time I had an oversupply, adding yet another challenge as Aria would choke on the large volume of milk. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to turn. Breastfeeding for my mom was a breeze; plus, she was far away. I didn’t know anyone else with experience breastfeeding.

Then, I happened upon The Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington, on the ground floor of our pediatrician’s building. Desperate for help, I made an appointment with a lactation consultant there, realizing that the not-inexpensive fee would be worth it if it could help me breastfeed successfully. (Note: The Center has discounted rates and grants for low-income individuals or those in need.) Making that appointment ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The consultant I saw, Margaret, spent a lot of time with me, asking and answering questions and listening to and validating my concerns. She helped me figure out how to better assist Aria in latching on and helped me developed a plan for ending use of the nipple shield and weaning off my frequent pumping. She was calm, gentle and encouraging. I felt cared for, almost mothered. In the weeks and months that followed she spent time with me on the phone, following our progress and helping me through a nasty bout of mastitis. She always had something positive to say, a statement that celebrated the accomplishments I was making and helped me feel like less of a failure. Since that time she has continued to provide assistance whenever a need has arisen, including recently, when my second baby got a severe case of the “let’s-use-mommy’s-nipple-as-a-chew-toy-itis” and threatened to end our breastfeeding relationship early. Margaret’s advice once again proved invaluable and we made it through that challenge, our breastfeeding relationship very much intact.

In addition to the priceless advice offered by the lactation consultant, the Breastfeeding Center provided something equally as valuable: a support group for new moms. A free, weekly event, this group of moms with babies newborn to four months came together to share their problems, solutions and ideas that worked for them, and was overseen by Pat – another rock star lactation consultant – that could advise as needed. It was a place where moms could breastfeed comfortably, without fear of gawkers or judgment. A sophisticated baby scale was provided to these and any that visited the center, allowing moms to monitor baby’s weight gain to the ounce and giving us much needed reassurance that our babes were, in fact, getting enough milk. Those that needed to monitor closely because of low intake/weight gain were immensely helped by this. Afterward, the moms would often go to lunch together, getting to know one another and providing the camaraderie and understanding that only another new mother can. Some of my best friends were gained through this group.

In the end, the women that run the Breastfeeding Center taught me not only the mechanics of feeding my baby but that I was NOT ALONE in my struggles. They reassured and supported me at a time when everything I did felt wrong and helped me become more confident in breastfeeding and mothering as a whole. To this mama, that was everything.

So, THANK YOU, LADIES, for all you do. You are changing lives and making a difference to countless mamas and babies and you are very much appreciated.

Donations can be made to the Breastfeeding Center here. Money donated helps the Center provide lactation assistance to low-income mamas who cannot pay any/all of the usual fee.

Today is IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) Day. Have you thanked your lactation consultant lately?


2 thoughts on “The Women Who Taught Me to Breastfeed

  1. I heart lactation consultants! My first baby struggled to latch in the beginning too.I find it interesting that you say the baby went to the nursery…our local hospital insists that the babies stay in the room with us (which I love)unless the mother insists that she needs a break. Is it usual to have a nursery for new borns?

    1. In the US, a nursery is quite common. Some hospitals require that the baby go to the nursery; others, like the one I was at with my first, give you the option (but with restrictions that make can make it difficult).

      If I had it to do over again, I would insist on keeping her with me and just bug the nurses when I need help. But at the time I was naive and worried and not thinking super clearly b/c of the epidural…not ideal.

      Another reason homebirth is sooo much better, if you can do it!

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