Our Real-Life Breastfeeding Struggles and Victories

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As I sit in my airplane seat breastfeeding my daughter during takeoff, it feels like such a victory to be able to easily feed her during a moment of what could be discomfort for her. It definitely has not always felt like this. As I hold her in my lap I think back to that first night when we took her home and the breastfeeding struggles and victories we went through.

As a pediatrician I’ve counseled numerous expecting parents to expect that breastfeeding is difficult, but it has been another experience entirely to be on this journey.

Beginning Breastfeeding Struggles

I can still hear my newborn daughter’s wails, shrieks, and ear-piercing cries on that first night home from the hospital. That next morning, we went to our pediatrician. I had my suspicions about what was leading to my daughter’s apparent misery. My suspicions were confirmed. Our daughter was starving. Her weight had nose-dived since birth and was dangerously low, despite my fervent attempts to breastfeed. Our pediatrician recommended supplementing with formula until my milk came in.

This was not what I pictured. I sat at home rocking our daughter, crying softly while my husband went to pick up some formula. Thankfully, this was early winter, so he had no trouble finding a supply.

A Poor Latch & the Frenectomy Decision

I remember how upset I was that right out of the gate I would not be able to feed her entirely with breastmilk. While my supply picked up and I was able to stop supplementing, a new issue became clear. I struggled to get her to latch that first month. The pain would sometimes bring me to tears while she cried in frustration.

After a few appointments with our pediatrician who is also an IBCLC and The Breastfeeding Center of DC, it became clear that the best course of action would be for her to have a frenectomy. With my husband back at work, I was tasked with driving her alone to the hospital for the procedure. My doctor brain told me this was no big deal, but my newly cemented mom brain had me wondering what in the world was I doing inflicting any pain on my child. Things went well and within days my daughter was breastfeeding like a champ. We were both so much happier, but oh how I had agonized over that decision.

My Return to Work

Several months later returning to work would bring new challenges. I struggled to keep up the cycles of pumping, cleaning, and storing the milk to keep up my supply while balancing patient care, meetings, teaching, research, and the other demands of work. While I feel like I have things under better control, it still feels like a daily juggling act.

My goal is to make it to her first birthday, but if my supply does not hold up or something else occurs, I have made peace with it. Breastfeeding has hands down been one of the most rewarding and simultaneously challenging things I have ever done, I suppose much like parenting in general!

The benefits of breastfeeding are too numerous to count, but so are the benefits of giving yourself grace in this process. As a Black woman I felt like I won an Olympic gold by having a healthy and safe pregnancy and birth, but was not prepared for the hurdles breast feeding would throw.

I think looking back and maybe also forward my breastfeeding advice is:

  1. Celebrate any and all milk you produce for as long as you are able to. Some women will make a fridge full of extra milk, some will make just enough, and others might need to always supplement. All milk for your precious baby is a gift.
  2. Find your support people! Make sure that you have a lactation consultant, a pediatrician, and family and friends who can help advise you and keep you going.
  3. This is such hard work. Nobody discusses that enough! Do whatever you need to do to recharge and reset to keep going as long as feels healthy and beneficial for yourself and your baby.

I’m really proud of how far I’ve come in this breastfeeding journey already with highs, lows, and hard work. The breastfeeding struggles and victories are real!

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Tamara Gayle Blackwood, MD, MEd is a board-certified pediatric physician. Prior to medical school her passion for education led her to complete the Teach for America program, serving as a high school biology teacher in the Bronx. She completed her Master’s in Education at Pace University in New York City, NY. Following her time in the Bronx, she completed her MD at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, FL. Dr. Gayle Blackwood stayed in Miami for her residency training completing her training at Jackson Memorial Hospital. After her residency Dr. Gayle Blackwood went on to pursue a Hospital Medicine Fellowship at Children’s National in Washington, DC. During her fellowship training she was awarded a grant as a RAPID Scholar to research food insecurity and asthma in disadvantaged Black children. Dr. Gayle Blackwood is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at George Washington University. She is on faculty at Children’s National Hospital as an attending in the Hospital Medicine Division and an Assistant Professor through George Washington University. Dr. Gayle Blackwood lives with her husband in Northeast DC and enjoys cooking, traveling, and volunteering in her community. She also has virtual classes for expecting parents to teach them everything they need to know to feel ready for their newborn. You can follow her on instagram @realtalkwithdrtam.

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