A personal and challenging story about relactation. Since I was a little girl, as silly as it may sound, my life’s goal was to be a mother. Someday I would have a baby whom I would love with all my heart and, naturally, I would breastfeed. My mother was heavily involved with the La Leche League, a Q global breastfeeding organization, and breastfed my brother and I until we were 6 and two and a half, respectively. When she fell ill with breast cancer it was more important to her than ever that I understood the importance of breastfeeding my own child one day; not only to reduce my risk of cancer but to bond with my child too. Before she passed away I assured her that I understood.
In 2007 I became sick with fibromyalgia. I stopped believing that I had the strength within me to be a mother let alone breastfeed. I was constantly tired and knowing little about the comparative ease of bed sharing and breastfeeding my confidence was so downtrodden by the onset of illness. I felt there was no way I could raise a child.
I became pregnant at the end of January 2010, completely by surprise, while travelling the world with my husband. I was terrified of how we’d manage as parents but my husband reassured me that we could and would. I had to have faith that he was right.
A Complicated Pregnancy
I was moved and inspired by the breastfeeding posters I saw at the hospital in Ireland but still doubted that I would be able to manage the seemingly Herculean task of mothering and breastfeeding. My pregnancy was riddled with complications, including hyperemesis, and I had no friends or family nearby besides my husband to support me. I feared birth itself (a fear I now feel unfounded) and feared I’d lack the capabilities and the strength I so needed. My husband was very supportive but knew as little as I did about the complexities of parenting.
Then something amazing happened. In November 2010 I birthed my beautiful son Osrid Olov. A wave of love washed over me deeper than anything I had ever fathomed in my life. I wanted to give everything of myself to this wonderful little soul that had come into my world. But getting there was a greater challenge than I could have ever imagined.
A Traumatic Birth
After a highly traumatic birth for both my son and me, unsupportive hospital staff made things go from bad to worse. Due to the hospital’s policies, my husband was forced to leave us alone in hospital on the verge of my life with a septic infection, the nurses urged me to formula feed my baby boy. Because of the medications I was on they insisted I was risking my son’s life by continuing to breastfeed him past that first incredible latch. I believed in my heart the exact opposite but felt I had no choice but to comply. I shed my tears in disappointment and placed the plastic imitation to my son’s lips.
I returned home with my baby and with a frighteningly large amount of antibiotics. I laid in bed for several weeks as my body fought to heal. My heart pined to nourish my baby who, unsurprisingly, developed colic and was losing weight quickly. I didn’t think to contact the La Leche League, not realizing the wealth of information held by the network of experienced mothers, for I thought that they existed only as a support network for women who were already breastfeeding and would have little to offer me.
I decided to contact a doctor I had gotten to know while in Ireland, who I knew would have more information than what the nurses had given me. Indeed, breastfeeding was a safer option for Osrid Olov. But weeks had past and by then my milk had run completely dry. Nevertheless, something inside of me didn’t want to give in.
I bought a cheap breast pump and thought I’d give relactation a try, knowing little at all about it. My nipples chafed and bled as I pumped for hours every day. I only managed to produce drops of milk but those drops were enough to inspire me to continue. Every bit that I could give my son felt like a very small victory yet I couldn’t bring my son to latch back onto the breast.
I did a bit of reading online and bought some herbs to increase my supply. I bought a better pump. I stumbled upon a product called Milkflow, which overnight helped me increase the output of my milk by a staggering I 0 daily ounces. It continued to help me, but I was still supplementing and couldn’t bring my son to latch no matter how I struggled. I wondered how long I could continue this uphill battle to pump breastmilk for my son.
Contacting La Leche League
Finally, I contacted the La Leche League. A woman named Karen with a heart of gold listened thoughtfully to my every woe and concern and answered with support. The advice I was given opened so many doors for me. I was determined to make pumping work but I still lacked the confidence that I could bring him back to my breast. I focused only on pumping, holding my baby and napping. Finding better fitting nipple shields, using oil to lubricate before pumping and hand expressing after every session not only increased my output, but made me more comfortable as well. Soon I was making everything my son needed and then some! What a victory the three of us celebrated.
Despite how incredible it was to nourish my son exclusively from my own milk (and to heal him of his digestive discomfort) I was not satisfied. I yearned desperately to breastfeed him. I did not want to spend what seemed like an impending eternity pumping.
Trusting my Instincts
Using my instincts, research and my most trusted means of support, I decided to do everything I could to help my son connect with me so he would latch again despite what medical professionals tried to scare us out of. That meant making my breasts available to my son and giving him skin to skin as often as was possible. My husband agreed to help in this process and whenever available he tended to O.O.’s cries so he would not associate my breasts with whatever troubled him. We also brought him from the crib in our room into our bed to help us connect as a family.
Despite my exhaustion I giggled and played with my son and kept things as lighthearted as possible. I brought his sweet face to my breast whenever he would laugh. I gave up trying to make him latch because I soon realized the key was not in trying but in loving and laughter.
One day, as my son cuddled me my most primal instinct screamed inside of me. I put my son to my breast and he latched on and had a full feed, the first time we’d nursed since leaving the hospital. I was overwhelmed with joy, pride and Jove for my baby.
I continued to pump but eventually my babe latched more and more until one day he was nursing exclusively. We delayed solids introduction (child-led) to heal his digestive tract. We went through several nursing strikes and more bouts of mastitis than I can count but my intuition (and the advice of the dear La Leche League Leader Karen) led me through it every single time.
Breastfeeding at Almost Two Years
Osrid Olov is nearing two years old now and despite our many trials and tribulations we are mutually enjoying our loving breastfeeding relationship and I plan to nurse him until he self-weans. I am so happy to have had the resou