I want to encourage you that it is possible to breastfeed, even in this formula-saturated culture, and even through multiple nursing problems (unless you have a condition like my friend that prevents you from producing milk in the first place, or some other medical issue: if you struggle with being unable to breastfeed, please don’t read this post as a condemnation; you can only do your best, and you are still a great mom). What you absolutely need to make that happen, though, is good support, and I’m going to tell you how to get it. Without good support, we wouldn’t have even made it a week breastfeeding, much less through a solid year of thrush. Here is how you give your baby the best through tough times.
When I was pregnant, we took a Bradley method childbirth class, which emphasized healthy eating, exercise, and natural childbirth whenever possible because of the health risks and trauma involved with many interventions. Part of the class involved attending a La Leche League meeting, to connect with other moms who were breastfeeding their babies. La Leche League is a non-profit organization that offers free lactation consultation and support, and if you attend a meeting while you’re still pregnant, you can exchange contact info so you know whom to call if you need help after your baby is born. Breastfeeding problems won’t wait a few days for a fix when your baby is a newborn, so it is essential that you have the phone number of a lactation consultant or a La Leche League leader before you need it.
My baby girl had a bad latch when she was first born, resulting in painful nursing. We stood on the brink of cracked nipples, but I had the phone number of my local La Leche League leader on hand, and she walked me through some fixes. But that didn’t completely solve the problem, so she actually drove out to my house in the country and helped me in person. The final element was a simple fix, but she had to see me nurse in person to figure out what I needed to do. First hurdle cleared!
Then, baby girl got jaundice—bad enough to require a billy blanket—and she only nursed every 5-8 hours if it was up to her. The pediatrician said she had already lost 10% of her birth weight and needed to eat at least every 2 hours to get enough nourishment. There I was, trying to wake a sleepy baby and pump every 1.5-2 hours around the clock with the help of my husband and mother, and she just wasn’t eating. Again, my local La Leche League leader walked me through some techniques for getting baby to eat. All of this was while I had a small hemorrhage and then a re-hemorrhage after giving birth, plus I later found out I had multiple torn muscles and ligaments from the pregnancy, so I was kind of out of it and needed a lot of help.
Then, I developed a uterine infection and needed antibiotics. No way was I switching my baby to formula after such a hard-won breastfeeding relationship, so she got those antibiotics through my milk and it killed off all her good gut flora. She got thrush. And not just average thrush, which requires some home remedies or a prescription cream and a few weeks to clear up. She got persistent thrush that gave her a bleeding diaper rash and me sore nipples. We tried all the prescriptions, we tried all the home remedies, I stopped eating wheat, white flour, and sugar to keep from feeding the yeast, and still it persisted. The doctors even recommended that I switch her to formula to give me some relief, but what good would that do my baby girl? They didn’t realize how determined I was to give her the best start in life. Breast milk gives her perfect nutrition, immune support, and even protects me from future cancers, so I wanted to nurse as long as I was humanly able, but also, formula is chock full of sugar and even corn syrup, so while quitting nursing would give me relief, what do you think feeding my thrushy baby corn syrup would have done to her poor gut? I don’t think so.
A year in, we are still nursing, and the thrush has finally faded away. I had my first ice cream cone in a year last night—a celebration of success! Nursing has meant so much more to me than just nutrition for my baby. Nursing is a tricky relationship, one that now has to weather teething and toddler independence, too, but it’s still worth it. You will probably have an easier time than I did breastfeeding, but if you struggle, know that you can do it, and there is help available—for free—to get you through tough times if you are determined to breastfeed.
My mother always told me I was too stubborn, but you know what the flipside of stubbornness is? Steely determination, and boy has that paid off for my sweet, healthy baby girl and me. Blessings!
Laura K. Cowan is a professional writer and editor and a SAHM. She blogs at 29Diapers.com, where you can learn all about cloth diapers and how to save up to 70% on baby gear, and enter giveaways for free diapers.