Shelley C. is a clean(ish) eating & cooking fro-yo lover with California roots and a gypsy soul. Her early breastfeeding journey is a special one as she continues to nurse her 20 month old, Tanner, today!
With a background as a small business owner as a wedding planner, Shelley has always had an eye for details and planning events. Taking her styling background from the wedding world and her continued interest in event planning, Shelley plans local health & fitness Meetups in North County, San Diego, and runs online fitness calendars & local bootcamps. She also offers meal + fitness planners, workouts of the day, a ten-day meal plan + grocery list, and so much more via seashellsandsitups.com. Her Meet Up group, North County Health and Fitness, focuses on fun local events featuring health & wellness in San Diego. Check out her Instagram account @seashellsandsitups for more info :)
Thank you Shelley for sharing your amazing breastfeeding journey with our Boobie Baby Community!
Oh breastfeeding …. No one warned me about what my future would hold between my son and my nipples.
I remember hearing my mom’s glorious breastfeeding stories with no troubles to report. I assumed my little one would arrive and latch right on with no problems. ‘Latch’ is the word I never thought I would hear so much in the coming months. Unlike my mom, my breastfeeding experience was quite a challenge. After an extremely painful and rough start, and lots of confusion, my emotional journey was intertwined with anger, frustration, and doubt. Luckily I came to realize that I was not alone amongst my breastfeeding struggles. With time and support, I was thankfully (eventually) able to create a beautiful, positive, blissful breastfeeding relationship between my son and me. This took a long three months to accomplish, but worth every second.
It was so magical when they finally brought Tanner (my son) to me in the recovery room after my C-section. Placed on my chest for skin-to-skin he pecked his way over to my boobies right away. It was amazing to see my tiny guy have such a natural instinct for his food supply. Tanner latched right on, and I thought everything would be great!
The hospital lactation consultant, Cari popped into our hospital room on day 3. I was absolutely exhausted. My nipples hurt beyond belief and I would do anything for the pain to be gone. She observed Tanner nursing and I explained how painful it was (excruciating!!), but she was certain his latch looked great. She went on to tell me that the pain should only last a couple weeks. A couple weeks?! How will I ever survive?! Little did I know that it would continue for THREE more months, yes, three!!!
The pediatrician did a weigh in and Tanner’s weight was okay, but he had orange pee crystals. This was the first red flag he wasn’t getting enough fluids. At this point no one in the hospital tried to help me continue to breastfeed, rather they said the only option was to add formula to some of his feedings. I did not want to use formula since I am kind of a health nut. I was irritated and confused, but after all they were the doctors and making a recommendation for what’s best for my baby…right? The hospital staff ensured me that they would only use organic formula and not to worry because “not every mom can make enough milk.” Looking back on this I get so upset because at the time, I started to hate myself for not being able to naturally provide for my son. Their lack of support made me blame myself. Luckily, Cari my LC, said I could ditch the formula and stick with breastfeeding, because babies only need colostrum the first week.
Each feed I would cringe
After two weeks of painful breastfeeding I had a breakdown. I was completely sobbing to my mom about how badly it hurt every time Tanner fed. My nipples were blistered, cracked, scabby, and bleeding. I would cringe every time he would feed and I just knew that something just wasn’t right! Everything I read on Google said that nipple pain should subside after 2 weeks. I was super frustrated and embarrassed to reach out for help. At Tanner’s follow-up pediatrician visit his weight put him in a low percentile, and the doctor labeled him as “failing to thrive.” To me this meant that my boobs were failing to thrive. More frustration and anger, especially after all my hard work! The doctor sent me home with more formula to “bulk him up”. She said things like, “you’re hurting his brain growth!” and “some people just can’t produce enough milk.” Like what the hell!? What was I doing wrong?!
No one understood what I was going through and the outside pressure was irritating. Most of my family and friends all bottle-fed or didn’t have breastfeeding issues, therefore they did not have any advice to offer. The classic phrase coming from the bottle feeders was “just give him a bottle, it’s easier.” This was not what I wanted!! No one understood me!
After our “failure to thrive” appointment I called Cari and asked her to come for a private lactation appointment at my house. She cringed at my nipples. We decided to test my brand new breast pump. After 20 minutes of pumping only one single drop came out. It was devastating. She determined that all my milk ducts were clogged and had me get in the shower and try to massage my boobs as hard as I could under the hottest water I could tolerate. Cari squashed the life out of my boobs to get my milk to come in. After another pumping session, nothing more came out. Pitiful. She explained it would take time and that my milk would continue to come in.
Something was off, I knew it in my mommy “gut”
My boobs just never felt full, and I still did not think I had experienced a letdown. Something in my gut was telling me something was wrong. I looked up the information for a breastfeeding support group. It was so nice to be there with twenty other new moms and babies, all having similar problems nursing and all looking for support. I realized that I was no longer alone and I fell in love with that support group right then and there. These women ended up being some of my closest friends and my only outlet. The only people who truly knew what I was going through.
The LC’s who ran the group would introduce themselves, then ask each new mom to discuss the issues she was having. So many different breastfeeding issues would come up; nursing pain, latch issues, thrush, low supply, oversupply, over active letdowns, nursing twins, etc…I told the group that I was diagnosed with “low supply” and Cari and her team, again looked at Tanner’s latch, which was determined to be good. She gave me a million tips to increase supply and sent me on my way.
I tried everything!! Anything anyone suggested, I tried it. Breastfeeding, and being successful at it, became my life and my obsession. I was NOT going to give up. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. Any time I had to supplement I felt so guilty!!! Slowly, but surely I was becoming mentally and physically exhausted.
After two months of trying all the crazy supply tricks, I was still going nowhere. My nipples were still scabby and in so much pain. We tried a nipple shield for a few weeks, but that didn’t help much.
It was creeping up on Tanner’s three-month birthday when a speech therapist came to my breastfeeding support group. She was there to look for upper lip and tongue-tie issues. Vaguely I remember overhearing moms talk about this tongue and lip tie thing. Another mom had just had both her child’s upper lip and tongue tie corrected with a laser. I assumed it was some rare thing, not something that would be a cause for concern for my sweet boy. I introduced myself to the speech therapist and explained how everyone says Tanner has a great latch, but my nipples were still raw going on three months post partum. She watched him eat for about thirty minutes and immediately could tell he had both an upper lip and tongue tie. Relief….. FINALLY I HAD A DIAGNOSIS!! After so many months of frustration and determination someone was validating that there was a problem!! I knew it! There was a reason for the months of madness and my low supply wasn’t going unexplained. The mom from my group referred me to the pediatric dentist where she went with her son because he specialized in tongue and lip-tie corrections via laser. I did my research and found out that laser correction is considered to be far more accurate than it being snipped with scissors, and is supposed to heal faster. I immediately made an appointment for Tanner to be seen the next morning.
The staff was incredibly warm and friendly, which made me feel so much better. The dentist took one look in Tanner’s mouth and said he had one of the thickest, longest upper lip ties and tongue tie they had ever seen!! They could not believe I was even still nursing. Tanner was put in the funniest, teeny tiny glasses to protect his eyes. They preformed the laser on both ties immediately. He latched right after the procedure and things already seemed better.
I followed the dentists instructions and rubbed his upper lip and under his tongue for a week. It was heartbreaking to do this after every feed, but I had to keep disrupting the tissue growth so the ties would not reattach. I was supplementing with the tiny amount of milk I collected from pumping, rather than formula (only about an ounce and it was MY MILK!!). It seemed as if Tanner’s lip and tongue tie were truly the reason for my low supply issues all along. The poor kid couldn’t properly suck to fully empty my boobs!
Two weeks after Tanner’s procedure I traveled back to California for the holidays. I am not sure if it was the holiday cheer, but my milk came in the second day I was home! Reliving that day brings tears my eyes. It was the first time since Tanner was born that I woke up and my boobs were HUGE. Full for the first time EVER!!! He wasn’t crying for more milk and he seemed satisfied for the first time after nursing. His feeding time cut down to 25 or 30 minutes (from an hour!). Hallelujah, my supply issues were finally over!!! It was his ‘latch’ all along. That silly little word, latch. I couldn’t believe it! It felt so good to know that the longest three months of my life were now behind me.
Today, 20 months later, I am still breastfeeding Tanner in the morning and before bed. I never ever thought I would make it this far. I used to think it was weird for moms to breastfeed toddlers, but it just kind of happened to me, and it feels so good. Sometimes I feel extremely guilty that I spent the first three months not enjoying Tanner as much as I should have because I was consumed 24/7 with breastfeeding issues. I am channeling that guilt into helping other moms suffering from low supply issues or issues related to ties. I do my best to share my story so that other moms don’t feel alone and can use it as an outlet to educate themselves about tongue and lip-ties.
There are so many different reasons for “low supply”, check out Nurse Wendy’s resource page to read more about establishing a good supply.
If you want to continue breastfeeding and seem to be struggling with low supply, find a lactation consultant in your area. Also, seek out a breast-feeding support group! I would recommend attending a few different support groups and seeing a few different LC’s (if your insurance will cover it) because you may need a second or third opinion to pinpoint your exact issues. Lastly, please know that you are not alone. There are other mamas struggling just like you. Don’t give up! Seek support and know that you are doing the best you can! You are one incredible mama!