A long, long road to Exclusively Breastfeeding my Baby

Vanessa Simmons, Photographer

Ever since I was a little girl, my plan was to follow in my mother’s footsteps by birthing naturally and by breastfeeding my babies. I am extremely grateful that she provided this example for me because it has fostered health and wellness in my life as well as the lives of our children.

In November of 2007, I gave birth to my first son at 37 weeks at Best Start Birth Center in San Diego. Breastfeeding was difficult from day one because he was only 4 lbs 9.5 ounces at birth. His mouth was so tiny and he was unable to open it wide enough to get a deep latch. We immediately sought out breastfeeding help and support at a small boutique called Milkmade At Home, which has since closed. I nursed around the clock for the first 48 hours and then my left nipple blistered and bled. I was confused about why we were experiencing so much difficulty to pursue something that was so natural, especially following an incredibly empowering natural birth. I felt disempowered and never really had the chance to process all that had happened during my labor and delivery.
I started wearing my baby to stimulate milk production and provide him skin to skin contact throughout the day. We were asked to come back to our Bradley Birth Class, by Jan Whitcomb, to see the IBCLC, Ann Russell, for a consultation after she presented breastfeeding information to the class. She recommended me to Craniosacral Therapist, Bridget Chelf, DC in Solona Beach. We were advised that my son had some stiffness in the muscles in his neck and that he would need more treatments to help him to relax those muscles that assist with breastfeeding. Our son received treatment for 8 weeks while I pumped exclusively, and implemented a nipple shield to bring him at the breast. At his last appointment, he was in his car seat while I was being adjusted and he started to get fussy. Dr.Chelf removed him from the seat and put him on my chest. I remember saying, “I need to grab the nipple shield,” and she reassured me that he would be fine without it. I was in awe as he breast-crawled over to my right side and latched on without assistance for the first time since birth and I began to cry tears of joy. I was excited for our breastfeeding relationship to begin!

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I wish I could say that it was a happy ending because of all was well with breastfeeding, but unfortunately it was not. During those first days after birth I slept a total of 10 hours in the first 10 days. I continued to only sleep about 3-5 hrs a night for the next 6 months. My body decided that to restore order, it needed to shut down completely. During the next 4 months I suffered from Severe Postpartum Depression and Psychosis without a supportive doctor to make such a diagnosis because they didn’t believe that I could get postpartum depression so “late” after my birth 6 months prior. Due to prescription medications in my system, our breastfeeding relationship was forcefully weaned, leaving us both traumatized, and without any options. I remember trying to secretly breastfeed my baby when I would come home, only to go back into a manic state, be hospitalized again. I was also pumping and dumping while I was hospitalized to keep me milk supply from drying out, hoping to return my baby to the breast at all cost. My husband was caring for our son while I was in the hospital and the Warm Line at Postpartum Health Alliance was an answer to his many prayers. They counseled him and reassured him that I would eventually return to my normal self if I stayed in the hospital to get the help that I needed. When I finally returned home, adjusting was hard. Baby wearing during feedings made a huge difference as we shared skin to skin contact during this thime. It was formula provided to our family by the WIC program, and I was upset that I would never get that time back again, but I felt blessed to be rested and back home with my family.

(All images copyright NormalizeBreastfeeding.org -do not copy or print, thanks)

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In 2010, I gave birth to my only daughter, at home 5 lbs 9.5 ounces at 38 weeks with the midwives of Birth Roots Women’s Health and Maternity Center. This whole pregnancy was spent preparing for a better postpartum period. We decided that a home birth would be ideal. Her birth was beautiful and she was born in our living room. My daughter latched on well, but she had ( and still has) an over sized overbite. She also had trouble opening her mouth wide, so I called Ann Russell again. She was able to determine that she was getting enough milk during a feeding, but Ann suggested the use of a nipple shield, to protect myself until she grew so that she could open her mouth wider. We placed receiving blankets under my large breasts to give support to the weight so that my daughter’s jaw would tire too quickly while eating. Although I knew that my daughter was (and still is) in need of Craniosacral therapy to help her overbite, my husband was out of work and I was a stay at home mom designing baby wraps – before they were popular – so there just wasn’t enough income to go around to invest into it, especially because we had no car at the time either. So I tried something that I had only heard Ann speak about in theory, she would tell me, “You’ve done this before so you can teach your daughter the right way to breastfeed!” I was intrigued by this concept and I felt the need to explore my curiosity because of our financial situation.
I would watch my daughter’s feeding cues and begin to breastfeed her. She would shake her head to pursue latch on and I would use my thumb and index finger and thumb to open her mouth wide and say, “BIG open mouth!” When she lifted her tongue up while nursing, I would break her latch EVERY time until she learned to keep her tongue down. With the action I would gently say “Keep your tongue down!” and even use my finger to gently press down on her tongue. It took several weeks, but once she learned I could just say those words and she would listen because her flow of milk and overall comfort increased. We nursed around the clock those first 10 days and due to my lack of sleep fear set in! I started to remember the horrible events that occurred during my postpartum and the traumatic separation of my breastfeeding relationship with my first son. When my daughter was only two weeks old, I called my Midwives Darynee Blount and Sarah Davis of Birth Roots, and told them that I was going to supplement with formula to be able to sleep since my husband was available to help with her at night. Before they agreed, they came to our home to offer us some alternative methods to help calm her. We learned all about the swaddle, white noise, the power of the shhhhh, and skin to skin. It was funny because although those things worked for a few days about a week later I still wasn’t sleeping so I decided to put my baby on my back, take the bus to the grocery store, and buy…..formula. Not just any formula. Organic baby formula in a shiny box! My husband refused to give it to her, but when I insisted that I needed to sleep, he gave in. She breastfed on demand, except when I needed sleep I would pump such a small amount and that was where my idea of supplementing with formula came from. Because of this experience I NEVER judge women about their feeding choices, I only try my best to share the possible information with them and then support whichever decision they make. I am proud to say that my baby stayed home with me and breastfed for 8 straight months. When I put her in daycare, to go back to school for photography, I decided to use the formula provided by WIC while she was in daycare and then from the moment we came home until the next morning when she returned, she was at the breast. The consequence of that decision was that she weaned early, completely on her own and I was devastated. I believe it had to do with too much time away from me, eating solid foods, and of course the baby formula. I don’t regret the decision, but the consequences left me feeling blue for a few weeks after she weaned, and honestly – brokenhearted.

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My 8 month old baby boy has a breastfeeding story much different than my other children. His pregnancy was a difficult one. I suffered from lack of support, prenatal depression, gestational diabetes and worked up until i was 37 weeks. My student midwife, Alicia arranged a beautiful Blessing Way for me to help me to feel honored and loved. He was born in the water at the Birth Roots Birth Center in January of 2014. It was an incredibly fast birth filled with back labor. As soon as he was born, after we moved from the water to the bed, he latched on perfectly, and with a rigorous suck he ate for close to 30 minutes. He continued to do the same for the next few days. I dealt with sore and cracked nipples , but other than that everything was perfect. He never even lost a single ounce since birth as he put on an additional 2 ounces per day – 1+ pound per week! Seeing him gain weight so quickly has been a true joy and has brought me much peace this time around.

I have to credit this success to very 3 beneficial things: breastfeeding on demand, placenta encapsulation, and tons of postpartum support! This time around , I knew that my postpartum was going to be different. We stayed at my mother’s house, which is the traditional method for postpartum mothers in Ghana, where my mother is from. We stayed for 7 days and I didn’t even come down stairs until the 5th day!! My Midwives told me to “stay down” after birth for at least 2 weeks because I had a wound inside of my uterus, the size of my placenta! And then everything started to make sense to me. I rested, I ate yummy peanut butter soup and kale shakes, popped my placenta and vitamins, used doTerra essential oils for us both, and I nursed my baby. It was such a blessing to finally be on the receiving end. Family and friends showed so much love to us that the first time I left the house was for his 1 week appointment. The first time that I drove my car was to my 6 week postpartum appointment!
I feel very grateful that this experience up until now has been completely different than what we expected. Not only has breastfeeding been easier, but my son has been extremely agreeable on every photo shoot that he has been to since he was only 8 weeks old. I have since discovered that my baby has lip tie and slight posterior tongue tie, however every time we have struggled I have also worked with him and taught him what I know about breastfeeding,

–fill in– There were a few things that I forgot to mention in the previous stories so i want to do that here:
My 6 year old son still needs skin to skin to get over difficult moments throughout the day. When I offer it to him his whole mood changes. I remember after Rosario was born that he tried to return to the breast at 2.5 years old so I would, and I still do pump milk for him when he asks for it, which is not often. After the difficulties with postpartum, getting pregnant was not exciting and my husband had recently been laid off from work. Stress and anxiety were high and I suffered from severe Prenatal Depression. For the very 1st time in my LIFE, I considered suicide. Thankfully it was only a thought and it never manifested into a reality. I encapsulated my placenta after her home birth, and never looked back! My daughter still seeks attention at the breast and will lap-share while my 6 month old son is nursing. She also has requested breast milk from time to time since my youngest was born.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my heart with you all. It’s funny because NOW it all seems worth it, especially if these stories encourage other mothers to stick to breastfeeding and trust that they are what is best for their babies. I fully support mothers doing their best for their babies, breastfeeding, pumping, bottle feeding, milk sharing, donor milk, supplementing with formula, nursing with and without a cover – if you are doing your BEST then you are the best mom for your baby!
-Vanessa Simmons

8 Months And Nursed until 3yrs+!!!!

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Comments
  1. Jessica says:

    I actually decided to leave the service after I got pregnant because I knew there would be so many obstacles to having a stable family! Everyone around me was deploying, and I knew after 6 months home with my LO I would be on the list to deploy with them. I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby and decided I was finished, after 9 years in. People always ask why I didn’t just stay in for 20 and they don’t understand how hard it is to create a stable family life in the service. I know some people who have done it and I am glad they have people like you to support them. A part of me will always miss being in but a part of me is glad to know I can stay here with my babies.

  2. Sophie says:

    Thank you for adding this article. I breastfed my daughter in the Navy and it was one if the hardest time and the treatment was horrible. I was a welder and also had the same concerns and men just laughed off. This is one of the reasons I left the Navy. I am glad this book was written and it should be issued or accessible to all pregnant females in the Navy. Wish I would have know about it then, but it’s a great resources for all the ladies now. You think breastfeeding is difficult, try it in the service, no fun. I hope this help other service women to keep it up!

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