Sweetness, Hiccups, and Breastfeeding: A Mama’s Journey

By D’Anne Dougherty

One of my sweetest memories is of something I heard the day my daughter was born. It was my husband. He said, “Wow! How does she know how to do that?!”

He was reacting to the nursing my few minutes-old daughter was doing, even before being able to open her eyes. It had not been the birth we had expected, as is true with so many of us. Instead of the peaceful birthing tub in the dimly lit room, I found us in a surgery prep room in the other end of the hospital, with glaring lights and lots of commotion. Both my daughter and I were exhausted, battered and bruised. But there was this moment, after asking and asking, that my naked baby was put on my chest. I was too tired and out of it to think. There was an instinct that kicked in. It felt similar to the reflex to blink in bright light or to smile when you hear something funny. I found my hands putting my baby to my breast. And she latched on. I just laughed when I heard my husband’s comment. It was sweet and honest. He was in awe. Later, after some rest, I would be as well.

I kept my baby with me all the time. She slept with me, and I learned to make my breast available to her while we were sleeping. After some time, it didn’t even wake me. It was blissful.

Then we had our first “hiccup”.

After such a rough entry, my little one was severely jaundiced, and had to be hospitalized in an isolette under the bilirubin lights for a week. Probably the longest week of my life. I was not allowed to take her out to hold her, and so she did not nurse that week. The hospital brought in a few different types of breast pumps for me to try, but none of them worked for me. No milk. I was engorged and in pain, and extremely emotional. I felt like I was failing my baby. My husband ran to the store and bought an inexpensive battery-powered breast pump in desperation. And it worked. I pumped and pumped and pumped. The nurses laughed at me as they collected the bottles over the next few days and stored them in the fridge, because they thought I was overdoing it. But somehow, I knew that I had to keep it coming. I fed my milk to my daughter with a syringe, and was grateful for being able to give her what I had to offer.

The day I was finally able to take my little girl out of the box and hold her and nurse her is seared into my brain. Never had I ever felt such relief. And she and I such nursing naturals! Now we could go back to our lovely babymoon of a life.

No. She wouldn’t latch on. She tried. She tried and tried. I moved her to many different positions, even the ones the nurses recommended that felt extremely awkward. Nothing worked. She grunted and cried. And I cried. A nurse came to me and let me know that this was quite common, for a baby to “forget” how to latch on after being fed by something other than a breast.

My baby wanted to latch on. She wanted to connect with her mama in this most primal way, to be nourished by her as she fell asleep. And there wasn’t anything I could do to help her do it? I didn’t accept that.

I was devastated. I felt so cheated. Why had no one told me this while I was sitting here all week feeding her with the syringe? Would I have been able to do anything different? What was there to do?

I was told there was nothing to do.

What a helpless feeling. My baby wanted to latch on. She wanted to connect with her mama in this most primal way, to be nourished by her as she fell asleep. And there wasn’t anything I could do to help her do it? I didn’t accept that. When we got home, I just kept trying and trying. Somehow I just felt that eventually we would get back there. I would let her keep trying, I would express milk into her mouth as she tried, and I would quietly encourage her. When she got too frustrated to keep trying, I would give in and give her expressed breastmilk with a bottle. As the days went by, the trying went on longer and longer, until the bottle wasn’t needed at the end anymore. We did it

I became a nursing pro. I wore her in a sling, and learned to wiggle my shirt up inside the sling and let her nurse while I was going about my business out in the world. After a while, I hardly noticed when she was nursing and when she wasn’t, if I was busy.

I remember one day being at the checkout at a department store, and chatting with the 20-something man behind the register. I walked away and heard a sound from inside the sling from my baby. And I laughed. I felt rather cocky. Here my baby had been nursing throughout our little chat, and he had no idea.

And so it went, for what seemed like forever. But was actually only about three months or so.

Until we hit our second big “hiccup”.

It was just a normal day. I was taking a little break in the middle of the day, and sat down on the couch, listening to music. I pulled my baby over to nurse when she asked. She began to get very frustrated. She would latch on, nurse for a moment, let go, and cry. Over and over again. And the most disconcerting thing about this… I knew that cry. It was the hungry cry. How could this be? I could feel that I had milk. I had felt the letdown happen as she started. I had heard her swallowing. But now she was trying, and not getting any more.

I panicked. Every part of me just wanted to satisfy my baby. To help her to stop crying. I tried to tell her that I understood what was wrong. I understood the cry. I just did not know what to do about it.

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