The Fussy Feeder: My Breastfeeding Journey Continued

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Megan Church HeadshotMeagan Church is a writer, children’s book author and the brainpower behind Unexpectant.com, which explores the realities of birth, babies and beyond. She lives in the Midwest with her high school sweetheart, three children, two cats and one dog. Her passions include running, black coffee, and simple, yet intentional living. Connect with her on Twitter @unexpectant or Facebook/unexpectant.

Before the birth of my third child, I had a certain amount of fears that my luck had run out. My first two births had gone well and both babies were excellent nursers. As I prepared for baby number three, I worried that something would go wrong. Would this one end in a c-section? Would I be able to handle natural birth again? What if we encountered nursing problems?

I’m happy to report that despite my concerns, the birth went smoothly. I had a beautiful and quick water birth. Adelyn let out a small cry and then immediately began to fall asleep on my chest. She awoke a few minutes later to breastfeed for the first time. I let out a sigh of relief. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

While still in the hospital, our doctor mentioned that Adelyn had a slight tongue tie. He said he didn’t think it was a concern because she was nursing fine and she could extend her tongue beyond her lower lip. Soon enough we headed home and all was well. Until she was six weeks old.

When Adelyn hit the six-week mark, something suddenly changed with her feeding. My good, content nurser began to fuss at the breast. I remember the day it first happened. My mom had come to visit. Adelyn was hungry, so I sat down on the couch to breastfeed her. I put a cover over me for privacy, but the baby didn’t seem to like it. She struggled to latch or hold the latch and began to fuss. I decided to move to the privacy of my bedroom where I could take off the cover and better focus on her. I eventually got her to feed and assumed it was a one-time event. Unfortunately it was not.

The next few months were wrought with fussy feeding sessions. It got to the point where I couldn’t sit down with her until letdown occurred. Instead, I would walk, bounce, sing and/or shush her. She’d suckle briefly, unlatch and cry. I’d coax her back on, just to have the cycle repeat itself. Once my milk began to flow, she would nurse just fine and I could sit down. I tried to view these sessions as an extra calorie burn, but I was getting frustrated and began to dread feeding her.

My first two babies fed often and whenever the breast was offered. If we were heading out to dinner or church, I could offer the breast to “top them off.” They always accepted. Adelyn did not. She would only feed when she wanted to and she began spacing her feedings out at an early age. There were days when I was concerned by the fact that my two-month-old (for example) hadn’t fed in six hours. And then when she did seem hungry, it took quite an ordeal to get her to nurse. The quick letdown that I had with my first two suddenly became slow and difficult. There were sessions when I would pump to get my milk flowing and then put her to the breast. But, there were also times when even the pump couldn’t stimulate letdown.

I was becoming exasperated and frustrated. I talked to our doctor and he suggested that I not feed her so often. His assumption was that I was attempting to feed her when she wasn’t in fact hungry. I decided to back off and watch her more closely for hunger cues, but the feedings were still fussy. The good news was that she was gaining weight and growing fine. So, even though she was fussing, she was getting the nutrition she needed.

One day, I finally decided to go to a lactation clinic. I never wanted to deal with the hassle of packing up the baby to head out the door, especially in the winter and when I had two other kids at home. But, one day I finally did it. By the time I arrived, Adelyn was beyond hungry. Unfortunately there was only one consultant there and a line of women in front of me. So, I took my baby to the corner and attempted to nurse her. By the time letdown happened, I was sweating profusely and embarrassed because my screaming child had distracted every other baby from their peaceful feedings.

Finally a consultant came over to me. I explained what our nursing sessions entailed. But, since Adelyn had already eaten, the consultant couldn’t see it in action. Finally she looked at me and said, “Well, some babies are just fussier than others. The good news is that they say fussy babies sometimes grow to be very intelligent.” At that point, I didn’t care if she became the next Einstein. I just wanted to sit down, while nursing my baby. Was that too much to ask?

We continued to struggle for the next few months. I tried different holds and positions, watching her cues more closely, and even relaxation and deep breathing to encourage a speedier letdown. I had gotten into the habit of scrolling through social media on my iPod, while I nursed her. I wondered if I was too distracted by the device, so I put it away and tried concentrating on Adelyn. But, then I would be concentrating too much and I’d start getting upset along with the baby when my letdown didn’t happen right away.

We continued to struggle for a few months, but, just as with my first two, I had a goal in mind: I would nurse Adelyn for her first year. I knew that even though it was frustrating, in the bigger picture, this was a short moment in time. This stage would pass soon enough and I would never be able to return to it again, especially because she is the last baby we plan to have.

Around six or seven months, her feeding did begin to improve. We both continued to hang in there and work our way through it. We still delayed solids with her just as we had done with our first two. She started with finger foods around eight months of age. I was afraid to start her too soon, have her catch on too well and then refuse the breast. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Unfortunately breastfeeding her never became the beautiful, peaceful experience that I see in so many pictures or that I had with my first two. But, we did make it to our goal. Adelyn weaned around 16 months of age.

Looking back, I wish I would’ve gotten more support from another lactation consultant. Though we muscled through the experience, I wonder if it could’ve been more peaceful had I gotten different support and advice. To this day I wonder if that tongue tie did affect things. Was she not latching properly enough to coax letdown efficiently? Maybe it had more to do with personality. She is definitely a spirited child who lets her opinion be known (for example, she never allowed us to spoon feed her, but finger foods that she could feed herself were acceptable). Couple her personality with the possibility that stress was causing my letdown to slow and maybe it was just a bad combination.

I don’t know what the answer is and maybe I never will, but I do know that even though it wasn’t easy and even though I still struggle when I remember just how exasperated I was at times, I’m glad I kept my eye on the goal. It has been a few months since she weaned and I am so thankful that I nursed her beyond our goal. It may have been a struggle, but I know that it was for a good reason: no other food could nourish and grow her like my breast milk did.

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