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Breastfeeding doesn’t suck anymore

Here is my very much overdue post that follows up on Breastfeeding sucks.

I can give you a little spoiler, but basically at 10 months, I’m still fortunate to be breastfeeding my baby. Both because I can and want, and also because my baby wants to. My goal is to breastfeed for 2 years (for its perceived psychological benefits more than the physical ones) but I’m happy if we reach the 1 year mark. One day (and month) at a time.

Then came the storm

On my previous post, I mentioned that Dinis was being slow to pick up weight. And he was. I started noticing that he was quite slim at a certain point, but I thought that maybe he was just one of those slim kids. Not all babies are fat, mine wasn’t.

My mum and mother in law also didn’t look very confident about is slimness, but so far they hadn’t been that supportive of breastfeeding anyway so I slightly dismissed it as over-worrying (like grandmas do). Not that they were against it, but they just weren’t very confident about the whole process. With the lack of information, none of them breastfed for very long and, in their minds, if they didn’t have enough milk, I probably didn’t have it too, due to my difficulties on those first weeks. Also, with formula milk, you can physically see how much they’re drinking and that gives a little more peace of mind, especially to outsiders.

But I then went to weight him at three months and I got slightly worried: he had been slightly dropping from percentile 25 to 9, but that month he dropped sharply from percentile 9 to percentile 0. That was definitely not a good sign. And to my sadness, we started supporting breastfeeding with a top up of formula milk.

Formula milk

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with formula milk. Formula milk is the substitute for breast milk. Whether you can’t figure out how to make breastfeeding work, or you don’t want to do it for whatever reason (and every single reason is a valid one), formula milk is the best option for a baby.

And even though I knew this, I just hated it. So much so, that most of the bottles, until today, have been given by João or other family members. Again, it’s a great solution, but I just hated it and I’m still not madly in love with it.

Mainly because it made me feel like a failure. I know. #Silly. There I was knowing that I had enough milk because 95%-99% of women do but not being able to exclusive breastfeed my kid. And I was sure that I was not part of the 1-5% so I knew I was doing something wrong but I couldn’t figure out what it was. His tongue tie was finally fixed, he was breastfeeding on demand, the latch seemed good from my point of view. I had so much milk at points that had a few beginnings of mastitis. So what was wrong?

And I know that this is not my situation, but I felt like a failure because, in a non “first world” scenario where I have access to formula milk, my baby would probably not have thrived. And that was the most frustrating thought: my baby could have potentially died because I could not breastfeed him like a mammal should be able to. I know this is an #omg #sodramatic kind of thought, but that’s how I felt.

But above my sorrow needs to be what’s best for my baby. And he needed formula to grow healthier. So I gave him formula twice a day (a full bottle around lunch time and a full bottle at night) and he finally started picking up on weight.

The real issue

As I wanted to try and understand what was wrong to finally fix it, I went to a breastfeeding specialist paediatrician in Portugal. And what she told me really helped me understand where the issue was.

The real issue was (#surprise!): the latch.

And I was like: “How come? Everybody always said his latch was good!”. And in the beginning it probably was. But overtime, and probably after the tongue tie procedure, Dinis re-adjusted the latch. Why? For a very simple reason.

The latch after fixing a tongue tie

Babies with tongue ties have their tongues “built” that way since the beginning of their time in the womb. So once they start learning to suck still inside the uterus, they learn to suck with the tongue in a certain position. The problem with Dinis was how late his tongue tie was fixed. With babies that have their tongue tie cut at birth or shortly after, they re-learn to suck and learn to breastfeed (a new skill) with their “new” tongue. So everything is usually pretty straight forward. But if a tongue tie is fixed later in the process, once it is, they might readjust their latch to keep using the tongue in the same position they learnt to breastfeed in. Basically, what happens is: they learn to suck in a certain way in the womb, then they learn to breastfeed with that limitation, and when the tongue tie is finally fixed, they probably find it weird and readapt their position to keep using the tongue in the same way. After all, we’re creatures of habits.

So that’s what happened. Dinis would push his head back to that he was using only the tip of his tongue as he’d been doing so far. And because I never corrected that behaviour up until then, he was still not drinking enough milk to sustain himself.

Other factors for the lack of weight gain

If breastfeeding is not going well, one needs to look at other factors too. In our case it also didn’t help that it had been one of the hottest summers in London ever. There was also the fact that Dinis was not sleeping during the day and would only nap on top of me or on a sling when we walked outside (and again, hottest summer in London). So he was sweating a lot during the day. At last he also got his first cold. when ill, babies lose weight or don’t gain as much.

So it’s important that these factors are considered before one thinks breastfeeding isn’t working.

Other factors to check whether breastfeeding is going well

We need to look at other symptoms to check if everything is OK and that we’re doing just fine. And Dinis was ticking all the boxes:

  • he was happy,
  • he was smiling,
  • he was not showing signs of hunger,
  • he was peeing more than 5 times a day and pooing 2-3 times a day (I know, just another mum talking a bout poo),
  • he was sleeping 5 hours straight at night (sorry if it sounds like bragging, I just got lucky on that)
  • and he was reaching all his milestones.

Because of this, I didn’t suspect something was actually wrong, until I put him on the scale. And to this day I wonder if the other three factors were not there (the heat, the sweating and the cold), would the result have been the same. Probably a slow growth due to the latch, but most likely not the sudden drop.

Fixed!

So once I knew what was wrong, I started fixing it. Every time he wouldn’t latch properly, I would take him off the breast and start over. He would start with a good latch and then move his head back to the tip of my nipple. But once I stopped that behaviour, things started to get back to normal and I’m glad and very proud to say that at 10 months he’s still breastfeeding and I’m very happy about it.

Breastfeeding tips

For mums

Here are my tips for successful breastfeeding

  • First of all, stop stressing. You have enough milk. You don’t need anything to up your production but simply ensure that your baby has a good latch. If he does, he will ask for enough milk. I took some Fenugreek pills to up production and ended up with beginnings of mastitis a couple of times because his latch was not good enough and he wasn’t drinking the amount of milk I was producing extra. Fortunately, they didn’t develop to full-on mastitis.
  • Ignore the non-supportive comments and trust your instincts. It’s really tough, but remember those comments come from a good place and people are trying to help even when they’re not. Smile and nod, but do what you think is best and do what works for you.
  • Fix the latch. It is the single most important thing.
  • Weight your baby in the same scale: there was a huge discrepancy on the scales I weighed him in on the week that I found out he dropped to percentile 0. So it’s really important for the baby to be weighted on the same scale every time at least until they’re six months.
  • Don’t weight your baby too often: Follow the instructions given by your health visitor on the first weeks, but after that, do it once a month (if you want to). I do it every month because I want to have a record of his weight on his baby picture book.
  • Join support groups online (Facebook has great groups), go to a local Milk Spot in the beginning or join the La Leche League events and meetups. Talking to other mums really helps.
  • Download an app that explains when your baby is going through leaps (I love the ‘Original’ Wonder Weeks). It helps you understand when your baby is cluster feeding or feeding much more often than usual and why they’re doing it.
  • Hang in there for the first three months. They’re the toughest ones and from then on it gets a little bit easier.
  • Breastfeed for as long as you and your baby want to. If any of you wants to stop, respect that feeling and be happy for having done it for as long as you did.

For everyone else

Everyone else needs to understand that breastfeeding is a very personal journey. And for a mum that wants to do it, one of the most hurtful and frustrating things one can do is to discourage it, judge it or create even more doubts in that persons’ head. So when the going gets tough, please just give your support. Offer to cook lunch, offer to do some chores, tell her that she’s doing amazing and that the baby is doing great. Babies cry for many reasons (being the main ones: hunger, sleep, burp, lower gas and general discomfort like nappy, heat, cold, itchy, etc). So when a baby is crying don’t resort to the default “he must be hungry”. Ask the mum what she thinks it is, and if she’s tried a few things, ask her about the other things she might have forgot to check.

If breastfeeding isn’t going well ask that mum what she wants to do and help her achieve it. If she is desperate to make it work, calm her down, tell her the baby is fine and – as long as she gets the latch going well – there’s no need to worry. Help her find support in her local area. If she’s not too keen to keep doing it and would like to move on to formula, don’t judge her. The main thing is a baby that is fed and that both mum and baby are physically and mentally healthy.

Hug,
Millia

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