Breastfeeding Levi Michaelđź’—

Happy World Breastfeeding week! This week has always been a special one for me. I’ve spent the last few years advocating and documenting the #biglatchon during this amazing week. However! This year might just be my favorite one of all. This year I get to participate because I’m currently nursing my sweet almost five month old Levi. How is he already five months? I don’t even know. I thought it would be a good time to reminisce on our breastfeeding journey thus far. I’m writing this during feeds so bear with me. It might be a little choppy but I wanted to get these thoughts down. It hasn’t been the easiest journey but it has been one I’ll treasure forever long after we’re through. If you’re new here I suggest reading my birth story post (you can find it linked below) first to really understand the fullness of our journey and for some details of this post to make the most sense. I started nursing Levi the day after he was born. That might be the most heartbreaking part to me honestly but it’s one we have overcome and I’m working through currently (I see a therapist for PPA- more info in previous post). Due to how early he was and the nature of Levi’s birth, he was rushed to the NICU and hooked up to oxygen and fluids to stabilize him. Because of all of this, getting him latched wasn’t anyone’s top priority. Rightfully so everyone was more focused on getting him breathing properly and for that I’m forever grateful. I got to see him that night and hold his hand but when we tried to move him to have some skin to skin, his monitors went bananas and they ushered us out to watch him from our room while they worked. The next day however, I finally got to hold him and latch him and it was so special but also so hard. Due to the nature of my recovery, even the smallest movement hurt so bad, on top of just normal breastfeeding contractions, my entire body was in so much pain. My milk hadn’t even come in yet (which is normal, it usually takes a couple days). Levi latched well but I could tell something was wrong. We met with the hospitals lactation consultant and I asked if he had a tongue tie, she said he may but that it wasn’t effecting his latch so not to worry. The NICU nurse we had at the first hospital said I was wasting my time and her babies were formula fed and just fine and that he wouldn’t know the difference (FYI this is not something to say to someone desperate to get their baby to eat from the breast), I cried. A lot. But I continued to waddle to the NICU for every feed (it was the only time I was allowed in there because of COVID protocols so I took my sweet time and tried to feed often) he continued to latch but no progress seemed to be happening in the milk department, even my colostrum output seemed low and that was weird considering I had leaked so much during pregnancy. I digress. Long story short, because he was on so many fluids…he was full, so he wasn’t seeking anything when at the breast. So when they weaned him off of the fluids he became severely jaundiced and we were trying to play catch up on feeds even though he had put on weight because of the fluid intake. My body was confused to say the least. My sweet boy even being early weighed in at a whooping 8 pounds 13 ounces. When we left the first NICU he was up a few ounces but then by the time we got to the pedi he had lost some of that weight and his bilirubin levels were through the roof instead. He also wasn’t having very good output so they were worried. They rushed us to another NICU at a more well equipped for neonates hospital and that was hard. It’s hard walking into a different hospital after already spending a week in another. It was hard walking in with them having a team and room already prepped to take your baby. AGAIN. Needless to say breastfeeding was put on the back burner…AGAIN, while they set him up and worked to stabilize his levels. HOWEVER this NICU was way more supportive of breastfeeding and were far more encouraging. I was still waiting for my milk to come in but actively pumping and latching as often as we physically could. One of the nurses took my tongue tie evaluation more seriously and got me a nipple shield and helped me latch him each time to ensure he was properly on there. At this point I was beyond uncomfortable and still just begging my milk to come in faster as I could feel myself swelling up and getting engorged but nothing would come out. Part of what made all of this so hard was the stress. My cortisol levels were so high. You try feeding your baby when anytime you moved him it set off alarms (the microwave beeping in the following weeks being home would make me cry because it was just the worst kind of reminder) or you ran the risk of ripping out the IV in his head…it was all kinds of not the magical breastfeeding moments you see but still they were special in their own kind of way, but they were also frigging hard. Fast forward to later that night being sent down to the emergency room with a severe infection post birth complication and guess what decides to make an appearance while I’m sitting in a bed in the emergency room…in my pajamas (postpartum were truly my finest hours)….my milk. So now I’m leaking…gushing basically as I’m waiting to be examined and have a prescription written out for me. I got scolded for not upholding the two week bed rest I was supposed to be on and more shocking glares that I didn’t “just opt for a csection”and again the push of formula. No one really seemed to care what I wanted for my baby and myself. By the time I got back up to the NICU it was just in time for his next feed and it was starting to get better, I would pump the opposite side I was feeding on and swap the next go around. The nipple shield seemed to really be helping him too. Later that day his doctor came in for rounds and kicked me out. That sounds dramatic but it’s true. He basically told me that in order for Levi to get home quicker I needed to go home and pump if I was committed to breastfeeding and take my bed rest seriously or I would be in worse shape by the time Levi would be allowed to come home (the Dr had heard about my ER stint). He told

me that my main job right now was to make milk and I wouldn’t be doing that to the best of my ability if I wasn’t taking care of my healing as well. I was devastated but knew in the long run it would be best for Levi so I went home and pumped around the clock. Every 2 hours, both sides, for 30 minutes to be exact. I was insane, but nothing short of stubborn and determined. Determined to give Levi the best nutrients and help to get home sooner. Determined to prove the nurses who told me I was wasting my time wrong, determined to breastfeed, I had dreamed about it forever and determined to do what was best for Levi and in those moments I was determined to have one thing in my postpartum journey go the way I had envisioned. It didn’t and that’s ok, it happened the way it needed to but still those were my thoughts. So for the next couple of days, Austin drove the milk (and me) back and forth between the NICU and home, washing pump parts in between and helping me. Now that my milk was finally in, it was in with a vengeance LOL I was beyond engorged and nothing brought relief. I was going up to the NICU for as many feeds as I could in between being home pumping and trying to rest in between sessions. I couldn’t wait for Levi to be home. I hated the pump. I wanted my baby. My nipples were sore, I was swollen and I was just in so much pain but didn’t have time to be. When Levi finally got to come home, that’s when things started ACTUALLY getting better. I was able to latch him and spend all the skin to skin time with him I felt like I had missed out on in those first few days. My midwife came over and assessed his tongue tie and we looked over what stretches and different latch positioning to work with. I spent day after day practicing without the nipple shield to finally kick it to the curb and be comfortable without it before going back to work. Now, almost five months into our journey we are doing so much better end are loving it. He seems to have outgrown his tongue tie (as in it is no longer causing any sort of hindrance to his nursing stance), I have an oversupply which has been such a blessing but also means I deal with clogged ducts on the regular and have had a case of mastitis. I still wouldn’t change it for the world. I love the bond. I love the way he smiles and giggles while he eats. I love the snuggles in the middle of the night and the way he reaches for my face. I also have had the immense honor of donating my milk to two other babies and that’s such a precious gift I don’t take for granted. My hope is to nurse as long as Levi would like and to donate as often as the occasions arise between now and whenever Levi weans himself after a year.

All of this to say that this world breastfeeding week, this year, means so much more to me than I could ever express. We have come so far in our journey and I can’t wait to see what the rest of it holds. It’s pretty cool to know my body is still nourishing and growing a whole other human from the outside now. Levi is excelling too which makes my heart soar. He went from my baby that nurses told me I was wasting my time trying to nurse, to my baby that the pedi tells me is off the growth charts because of my nursing. It’s a sweet flipped script moment and I don’t take a second of it for granted or lightly.
All in all, going from being a breastfeeding advocate and support person to now being both an advocate/support person as well as a nursing mom, I hope you feel beyond celebrated this week and seeing both sides of the journey is something beyond words. Thank you for taking the time to read a little of our story. I hope it was encouraging, as all over the place as it was. Below are some photos of our journey so far đź’— some of my favorite and not so favorite but still special to us and our journey moments frozen in time đź’— I hope this encourages somebody else in theirs.

as always,

Mariana đź’—

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