Sunday, August 4, 2013

Re-lactation- Breastfeeding Success: Guest Post

breastfeedingcafecarnivalWelcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of the Breastfeeding Cafe's Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today's post is about breastfeeding success stories. Please read the other blogs in today's carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 22nd through August 4th!

We've reached the last day of the Breastfeeding Cafe Blog Carnival! I'm amazed I was able to post everyday. :) If you're local, come visit the Breastfeeding Cafe at the Main library downtown; check their calendar for upcoming events!

Today's post is about breastfeeding success, and as I type and nurse my beautiful 6 month old and watch my smart, funny, healthy 2 year old, I feel grateful for my successful breastfeeding relationships. However, when I saw this topic I knew whose story would be perfect to share.

So, today's post comes from my friend Elisabeth. She took my classes before the birth of her daughter in 2011, and she's an amazing person and incredible mother. I admire her so much.  Elisabeth is currently anticipating the arrival of her second baby! The rest of this post are her words.

When I found out I was pregnant, I already had a plan.  I was going to have a home birth, and I was going to nurse by baby until she was at least aged 2.  And I didn’t have my head in the clouds about it; I did my research on home birth, and I attended every La Leche League meeting until the birth of my baby.
But my plan began to fall apart when, after 22 hours of labor, we were surprised with a bottom, rather than a head, in the birth canal.  I ended up transferring to the hospital and had a c-section about 4 hours later.  But immediately following my daughter’s Cesarean birth I was still a lucky Momma.   Maybe it was the 24 hours of natural labor that came before, or just plain good luck, but my milk came in fast and there was plenty of it.  But the next 8 weeks were difficult, as I had imagined within days of giving birth that I would be walking up and down the street with my new baby in my arms.  I felt a little sorry for myself, but I knew we had done everything we could to have a natural birth.   I was mostly angry for the thousands of mothers given C-sections for the convenience of their doctors.  It was a terribly difficult way to start motherhood, and made breastfeeding more challenging than it otherwise would have been.

While my wounds healed fast, my overall health was deteriorating.  I had terrible back pain and spasms that came and went.  I was finally diagnosed with a bulged disc, and was told time and rest would improve things.  I temporarily gave up nursing when my baby was 2 ½ months because I could barely hold her anymore, and for some reason lying on my side to nurse hurt more than anything.  I cried the first time she took a bottle, even though at first it was still breast milk.  The months went by and the medications increased to keep up with the increasing pain.  I lost weight.  

The doctors didn’t know why I wasn’t getting better, and they gave me more painkillers and valium to help me sleep.  Eventually we had to hire someone to take care of our baby because I could hardly take care of myself, let alone her.  Those were dark days, and added to the list of medications were two anti-depressants.  Post-partum depression was thrown around and I wanted to scream.  I wasn’t depressed because I just had a baby, I was depressed because I was sick, I was sure I was dying; I just had a baby I loved more than life itself and couldn’t even take care of her.  The fact this was happening “post-partum” had nothing to do with it; something was physically wrong with me, and nobody could tell me what it was.  I was 15 pounds under my already thin pre-pregnancy weight, and I finally had to stop pumping milk.  I lost so much weight I wouldn’t let anyone take pictures of me and would only let a couple of close friends see me.  I couldn’t sleep because of the pain.  I would cry into my baby’s outgrown reindeer snowsuit from loneliness as she and my husband slept together in the next room. 

Eventually my new and brilliant doctor identified one definite problem: I was addicted to the pain medications.  I put myself on a three-week schedule to wean off the Lortab and Vallium, and experienced a month of pain and anxiety while detoxing that was unimaginable.  But it was worth every second of knowing we had a plan and were closer to figuring out what was actually wrong with me.  When my baby was about 5 months old, the anxiety attacks stopped and I was off every medication…Trazadone, Lortab, Valium, and Celexa.  I was still in pain, still barely able to sleep, and still dependent on Jane’s nanny for her care, but the pain was different, and I went to see my doctor again, proudly bringing in my purse the leftover pills for disposal.

It was then that she asked me about ulcers, and I said yes, I had them before, a long time ago.  So she put me on Prilosec.  That night I took it before bed, and finally fell asleep.  In the past, I would sleep for a maximum of 2 hours before pain would wake me.  But this time, I woke up 4 hours later in no pain.  Alone in bed, I waited for the pain to start, but it never did.  I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.   I could hardly believe my luck.   Was it possible I just had a mad case of ulcers? 
I did some research and discovered that yes, peptic ulcers can cause back pain (and all those medications only makes them worse).  I was so thrilled to be alive and well and cured I just focused on my baby.  It didn’t occur to me for a few weeks to be angry at the stupidity of it all.   Within a day it she remembered who I was, that I had been “gone” before, and she wouldn’t let me go.  We all started to sleep together again, and I just wanted to move on from my terrible experience. 

But within a couple of weeks I was crying all the time again.  I was angry at what had been stolen from me, months of my baby’s life I would never get back, and losing the nursing relationship I had worked so hard for.  I had attended every La Leche League meeting I could during my pregnancy.  I was proud of how long I had held on to nursing, but it was a far cry from what I had hoped for.
So as soon as I discovered that re-lactation was an option, I knew I had to try it.  I couldn’t get back those months with my baby, but if I could nurse again, I believed I could put my pain behind me.  I was not worried about my supply.  I knew I would produce enough milk and in the off chance I didn’t, I knew every little bit I did was important for my baby.  The problem was helping my baby remember how to nurse.

I pumped for a couple of months while trying the many wonderful suggestions from my friends at La Leche League.  I took Fenugreek and ate oatmeal.  I stayed well hydrated.  I slept skin to skin with my baby, not only to help her remember to nurse, but also because just being close to your baby helps your body produce the hormones needed to make milk.  I pumped in the middle of the night, when those hormones are highest.  Progress in my supply was noticeable, but although Jane showed some promising early signs such as relaxing against me when we were skin to skin and even turning her head to my chest, she hardly noticed or cared about my breasts.  My heart broke at her excitement to be given a bottle.

The SNS was a disaster for us.  She would play with the tubes and not try latching, even with a nipple shield.  She was too old not to find them entertaining.  I must have tried it several times before I decided that if every session would result in a sobbing baby and me chucking the SNS across the room that it just wasn’t going to work for us.  I had to figure something else out, not just to help her, but for my own sanity.  I had to figure out something realistic that I could handle.

After doing some reading and talking to La Leche League some more, I found an article online which would end up being one of the most useful tips I came across.  It was about re-lactation for adopted babies.  As far as teaching baby to nurse, it reminded mothers that nursing is an intimate act that is part of the trusting relationship between Mom and Baby.  It really resonated with me.  I felt that my baby, in being abruptly weaned at a young age, then hardly being held close by her mother for two months, that I had to rebuild that basic relationship with her.  I stopped worrying so much about every attempt to nurse but focused on just bonding with her through bottle feeding, diaper changing, and just everyday activities together.  I promised her over and over that I would still love her as much as ever if she chose not to nurse again, but if she did that I would always be there for her, that she could trust me, that I was sorry about weaning her before and not being able to take care of her before.  I would talk to her like this very calmly and softly at night before going to sleep, but often I would have tears running down my face in the dark.

Finally, we went on a long vacation and I needed to figure out exactly what I could handle while we were away. Just in time, I had an email from an old high school friend who is an IBCLC in Australia who reminded me that lots of skin to skin was most important.  So I made a decision: I would do what I could on vacation, things that were working for us already, but focus on consistently continuing to a) keep my supply up by maintaining a pumping schedule, b) provide as much skin to skin as I could considering we would almost constantly be around relatives and c) “nurse” her during bottle feedings by putting her face against my bare skin (even if it wasn’t actually my breast) and looking at her and smiling at her like we were nursing.  Even though by now she could certainly hold her own bottle, these were things that I knew I could do without going crazy on what was supposed to be a relaxing and enjoyable vacation.  I also packed my nipple shield, just in case, but had no intention of using it.  I just knew if an opportunity presented itself I would be sorry if I didn’t have it.

A week or so of our trip went by and Jane started exhibiting some strange behaviors.  She started rooting on everything, my 8 year old cousin, my husband, even the bed.  I saw her doing it from out a window when she and my husband were lounging outside on a blanket on the grass.  I knew what she was looking for, even if she still didn’t.  Suddenly I knew she would get it, and she would get it soon.

I had a bottle of breast milk ready for her nap, but when I brought her into the guest room, I took out the nipple shield and closed the door.  By now I had enough of a supply that I was able to hand express some milk into the shield and offered her my breast while we lay side by side on the bed.  On the third try, she latched on.  I did not cry tears of joy, which surprised me.  I  just breathed a sigh of relief.  I knew I only had about half the milk she needed for each day, but I knew the hardest part was over.  She began nursing again, at 7 ½ months old, 5 months after the last time she nursed and about 2 months since I started the process of re-lactation.  When she fell asleep I went straight to my husband with the bottle of breast milk, still full.  It took him a second to figure out what it meant.  Then I messaged my friend and LLL Leader Meghan, who had been my primary source of information, incouragement, and let's face it, emotional sounding board through my entire experience.  As luck would have it, she was on her way to a leaders meeting, where everyone cheered at the news.  I felt blessed with my wonderful family and friends and their support.

At first she would nurse at night and for naps (no more getting up to pump!).  I started nursing her in the Ergo, too, and she took to that well.  Within a few days it was obvious she didn’t need the nipple shield.  We were walking all around New York City, her in the Ergo, my husband peeking in to watch her nurse, even more in awe of the sight than he had been when she was a newborn.  It was even more miraculous the second time around.  I stopped pumping almost immediately because I was so tired of it, but with good breastfeeding management I was up to a full supply anyway when she was about 9 months old.  It was a struggle, but not a day goes by that I am not grateful to have my nursing relationship back with my baby.

I am not sure how to close this up except to share my advice for mothers who wish to re-lactate.  Be realistic, have hope, learn everything you can, try it all, and then use what works for you and your baby.  It also helps to have a supportive friend and knowledgeable person on your side, as well as a supportive partner.  Thank you to La Leche League who taught me everything I needed to know, my friends and leaders Meghan and Megan, and all the other leaders in Salt Lake who were behind us every step of the way. I also wouldn’t have done it without my husband, whose complete faith and support helped me make it through the toughest days.  And to my baby girl, for making me a Mother, the hardest but best job in the world.

--Elisabeth Epperson

Here are more post by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I know this was written several years ago but I cannot explain the encouragement your story has gigen me. There are not many relactation success stories online which involve older babies.
    I am so sorry for the trauma you experienced but utterly thrilled you were able to relactate and relatch so you could nurse your baby again.
    I breastfed my first two babies til 12 and 14 months respectively. With my third baby, I breastfed exclusively (introducing solids at 6 months )and then started supplementing with a little formula now and again at 6.5 months. One thing led to another and by 7 months we were doing alternate feeds with formula. By 8 months I realised my baby was not extracting milk from my breasts but just playing and I'd almost dried up. I was devestated but thought I couldn't possibly get my supply up with such a hectic life, I was already extremely stressed which was why I'd started supplementing (how deluded I was that supplementing would relieve stress) so we went onto just formula for milk. At 9 months I totally broke down and wept. I knew I had to start relactating and I called an IBCLC straight away. This was 2 weeks ago, it's been blood,sweat and tears but I'm now making close to half her daily milk. I am thrilled but my heart is shattered that she won't relatch and gets very distressed when i try. I will keep up the pumping to increase supply, skin to skin and pray for a miracle.
    Thanks again for sharing -you have given me hope X

  3. Sorry, Just realised I was signed in on my husband's account. Ha ha.

    Jane X