What I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding

What I Wish I'd Known About BreastfeedingThe Backstory
My daughter, Madeline, was a very poor nurser as an infant. From birth to two and half months old, she would breastfeed, clicking her tongue the whole time, for about three minutes (through my heavy let down) and then pull off screaming (seemingly in agony) and shaking her head. You could not get her to latch back on. My nipples were cracked, constantly sore and nursing was never pleasurable. It was always stressful. “It’s not supposed to be like this,” I’d say to my husband through tears. “Some babies fall asleep nursing!”

We were convinced there was something wrong — that I wasn’t producing enough, that she was starving, that there was a food allergy. I tried fenugreek supplements (which she ended up being allergic to), tried nursing more frequently, tried elimination diets — none had any effect on her nursing habits. Many moms in my life told me that this was so common — that a lot of babies just cried for no reason. Maybe she even had colic.

One night, in a moment of desperation after another failed attempt at nursing, we gave her a bottle of formula (one of the ones they send you home with from the hospital). The instant difference in her demeanor was night and day. Our baby was finally content. From that night on, I became a pumper. I ended up exclusively pumping for her between two and a half and four months old, before my supply dwindled and I finally switched her to just formula. She was an infinitely happier and chunkier baby girl (and we were happier, too!), but my goal of primarily breastfeeding my daughter as long as possible was a thing of the past.

The Turning Point
After Madeline’s first birthday, I happened upon an article on Facebook about upper lip ties. Recognizing all the classic symptoms instantly, I ran to check her. Since that day, I have been convinced that an upper lip tie was the reason for our breastfeeding issues. And at age two, when I started itching to have her evaluated for speech (she was struggling with articulation problems), I had a nagging suspicion that this suspected upper lip tie was to blame.

Frenectomy - Madeline Upper Lip Tie

Madeline’s Upper Lip Tie, Age 2.5. (Please excuse the mustard on her face!)

History Repeated Itself
Fast forward to the birth of my son, Benjamin. Armed with the research I’d done on upper lip ties and tongue ties (here‘s a good place to start…and here…and here), which I now knew go hand in hand, I had a plan for my breastfeeding relationship with my newborn — I wasn’t going to leave the hospital without having him evaluated for ties. The day after his birth, the on-call pediatrician checked him out and said all looked good to her. I disagreed, but my husband insisted that the doctor knew what she was talking about. Ready to go home, I hesitantly relented.

By one month old, nursing Benjamin still wasn’t “coming naturally,” nor was it “pain free.” So I made an appointment with a lactation consultant at the on-post hospital who thought his latch looked good, but noted he was gumming my nipple while nursing. While we nursed in front of her, he actually consumed three ounces from one breast in less than ten minutes (the LC remarked that I was producing enough for triplets at that point). She ended up suggesting some different holds to accommodate him better aka we had to nurse with him sitting up straight on my knee. Not ideal. Not cozy and comfortable for either of us.

By two months old, we had suffered two cases of thrush and I had had one agonizing case of mastitis. Benjamin was an extremely gassy baby who audibly swallowed air while nursing, sometimes clicked, bit down on my nipples (I suspect to slow my heavy let down), pulled off every thirty seconds to either gasp for air, shake his head or just re-latch more shallowly (which I constantly tried to adjust) and who spit up two to three times after every feed. I used to describe his nursing experience as him being waterboarded, but he did seem much more patient with the experience than Madeline was. He very rarely fell asleep nursing, often sitting up whining/crying until I could calm him down enough to get burps out. He would only poop once every day or two (mucusy- even when I cut dairy from diet for a month) and usually seemed to be in pain until he was able to go. My nipples were red/purple and super sensitive.

At his two month check up, I told the nurse about his issues and, after bearing witness to his “pain cry,” she recommended an upper GI. The result was that his anatomy was normal, but he showed evidence of acid reflux. He went on a daily dose of Prevacid — a total nightmare each day since the taste was so bad. Our insurance even stopped covering the liquid compound, which had offered him much gastro-relief. But the meltaway tabs that we substituted with proved much easier for him to tolerate and cheaper, as well.

At almost three months old, Benjamin started to refuse to nurse. He might nurse for one to two minutes on each side but seemed to get frustrated easily and was constantly pulling off, kicking and fussing. After trying cluster feeding (to no avail), I eventually caved and supplemented with formula for the first time. Again my baby was somewhat relieved and happy. Again I was torn between wanting to breastfeed and wanting a happy and healthy baby — the two did not seem to go hand in hand for me. Again I suspected that an upper lip and tongue tie was part of the problem.

Frenectomy - Benjamin Upper Lip Tie

Benjamin’s Thick Upper Frenum

Frenectomy - Benjamin Upper Lip  and Cupped Tongue

Benjamin’s Upper Frenum and Cupped Tongue While Crying

Frenectomy - Benjamin Tongue Tie

Benjamin’s Lingual Frenum

The Plan
By this time, Andrew was about to deploy to Iraq, and I was nearing my wits’ end. Benjamin had been a challenging baby up to this point, and now my husband was about to leave. I’d be parenting an infant and a two year old alone. Panic was rapidly setting in.

While I had gotten Benjamin evaluated for a tongue and lip tie at birth and gotten feedback that he looked normal (HA!), I never had Madeline evaluated. On my Deployment To Do List — get both of my children formally evaluated by a pediatric dentist for lip and tongue ties.

Note: Upper lip and tongue ties may not be the cause of painful/dysfunctional breastfeeding for every baby, but if your story sounds anything like ours I strongly encourage you to look into it! Please consult with your local IBCLC, pediatric dentist or pediatrician as a starting point. If you would like to know more about our experience with upper lip and tongue ties or the frenectomy procedure, please check out part two of our story here!

Baby’s First Birthday: Throwing An Epic I Am A Bunny Party

Nicholas the Bunny
In my experience, one year olds don’t have a lot of “favorite things” yet, but the book I Am A Bunny is definitely at the top of the list for Benjamin. Following in the footsteps of his older sister, Benjamin loves to find Nicholas on each page of this classic children’s book. So as his first birthday crept up (much more quickly than I would have liked) and after search on Pinterest, I knew there was no other party to throw him but an I Am A Bunny Birthday!

I had our themed invitations printed by Erin at LEX Designs Co. They were precious and set the tone for the entire party.
I Am A Bunny Birthday Invitation

I wanted it to feel like you’d stepped into the forest, so, with the help of my brother-in-law, I hung a dome of green crepe paper — the tree — along with leaves, birds and butterflies from the ceiling. There were a bunch of green balloons to kick around on the forest floor. And a “Happy Birthday Benjamin!” banner (also by LEX Designs) of leaves and acorns was strung up with twine.Woodland Party DecorationsI had my daughter and niece put butterfly stickers onto craft paper, creating a mural –a nod to the “I chase the butterflies and the butterflies chase me” page of the book– which ended up being the perfect backdrop for Benjamin’s cupcake smash.
"I chase the butterflies" mural

I Am A Bunny Food PlaqueIn my opinion a party is only as good as it’s food. Since I planned the bash for 3:30PM, after nap but before dinnertime, I served up heavy snacks (making sure to include some of Benjamin’s favorites) and drinks on thrifted serving dishes.

I Am A Bunny Food Display

The snack buffet, in all its glory.

Woodland Party Snacks

Twigs and Cheddar Bunnies

Toadstool Woodland Party Snacks

Toadstools – string cheese and grape tomatoes, speared with a toothpick rested in a bog of pesto.

Woodland Party Snack Ideas

Rabbit Food – carrots and celery sticks with hummus.

Squirrel Nibbles

Acorns – Nutter Butters and a Hershey’s Kiss topped with a peanut butter chip.

Wild Berries

Fresh “wild” strawberries.

Woodland Party Snack Display

An owl watched over the snacks, ready to swoop!

Mason Jar Drinks

Birthday tags (by LEX Design Co) made our drinking glasses much more festive!

Benjamin is a lover of all the foods, so I knew he’d be totally into his first bite of cake. He didn’t just smash his first “toadstool” cupcake –a nod to the “When it rains I keep dry under a toadstool” page of the book– he devoured it!

Toadstool Cupcakes on Wooden Cake Stand

Toadstool cupcakes on a wooden cake stand, hand crafted by my husband!

Toadstool Cupcakes

White cupcakes, red frosting and white MnM’s made the perfect toadstool cupcakes!

I Am A Bunny Birthday

Benjamin, dressed as Nicholas the Bunny (all eBay finds), with his very first birthday candle!

Nicholas The Bunny

Benjamin’s first bite of cake!

Benjamin’s buddies ranged from age one to five, so we kept the party activities fairly simple — a scavenger hunt outside to collect woodsy items for a collage and a painting project. The kids had a blast!

Woodland Party Craft - Collage Making!

The craft table, set up with supplemental woodsy collage supplies and a Nicholas the Bunny cut-out for each child.

I Am A Bunny Birthday Collage

Crafting their collages!

Painting Wood Stepping Stones at Woodland Birthday Party

My husband cut thin stepping stones from a log that I procured from a tree being cut down near our house (SO THRIFTY). The kids painted their hearts out — even Benjamin!

Each child took home a bundle of kindling aka twig colored pencils.I Am A Bunny Woodland Party Favors

The party went off without a hitch. Benjamin had about as much fun as any one year old could have! Really everyone had such a good time that we ended up ordering pizza, laying a sheet down on the floor and setting up an impromptu “movie night” for the kids to keep the festivities going. We made wonderful memories with our family and closest friends celebrating the birth of our beautiful baby boy, Benjamin Andrew. Happy Birthday, Grizzy! We love you so much!

How To Make It Through Dinnertime With Two Toddlers Unscathed

Things were spiraling fast – food was being thrown on the floor (Benji), people were refusing to eat (Maddie) and everyone was on the verge of mania. A particularly rambunctious dinner time in the Wilhelm household, it was time to pull out my tricks. I sang all of our songs. I promised a fun tubby time. I pitted their eating skills against each other (Benjamin was winning). Finally, I broke out the big guns – a new book!

Daddy FliesDaddy Flies is the sweet story of Katie, a military brat, and her quest to figure out just what her daddy, an airman, does at work all day. Katie wonders across the pages with a darling sense of humor, one that my daughter Maddie (three years old) easily related to. The rhyming prose is effortless, without being too mature. The illustrations are simple but captivating. And when we reached the final page, as she swallowed her final bite of chili, Maddie shouted, “NOW AGAIN!” #winning

Thank you, Brye Butler Steeves, for giving our family a patriotic children’s book that hits close to home without being confusing or hokey (and that gets us through dinner time unscathed)! I can only hope that you make it a series covering all of the military bases (see what I did there)! Daddy Jumps: The story of a proud paratrooper papa, Brye?? Take it and run!!

*A copy of Daddy Flies was provided by the author for review purposes.