I first met Diedre at Yale-New Haven’s B.A.B.Y. Program. Our sons were born mere hours apart down the street from each other (she delivered at the St. Raphael’s Campus).
Diedre stuck out to me in those early days because was so warm, caring and honest. As new moms, we had a lot of questions, and she seemed unafraid to be honest in sharing her experiences and trials. Like me, Diedre struggled in the beginning to get nursing off on the right foot, but she was so willing to listen to other moms and offer sympathetic words of encouragement or a similar anecdote. I loved her honesty. Here is a little bit about Diedre:
Connecticut mom Diedre Murch set out to breastfeed her son from the beginning. What she didn’t expect was how hard it would be to get started and how different it would be from what she imagined.
Diedre’s mother breastfed her and her three siblings. Coupled with her mother’s support, Diedre read a wealth of research that supported breastfeeding as the best option, whenever possible, for nurturing her baby, so she knew it was something she wanted to do.
“My goal in the beginning was to do it for at least a year without supplementing with formula” said Diedre.
To better understand what to expect, Diedre reached out to her mom, friends who had breastfed, and her doula, and read parts of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Armed with her newfound facts and advice, Diedre felt ready.
Labor began on a Friday. Diedre weathered many contractions at home before heading to the hospital that evening. To her huge relief, Ezra arrived in the wee hours of Saturday morning, May 18, after an unmedicated labor.
“I imagined that the minute I saw him I would feel an immediate bond, but in reality I was just so relieved and sort of in shock,” said Diedre. “And then, the first time he latched was really painful. It didn’t feel right. The lactation consultant wasn’t available because it was one in the morning, so I had the nurses look at his latch. They told me, ‘it looks fine.’ So it looked OK, but it was really painful and just not right.”
The pain continued whenever Ezra latched on. “It was excruciating,” said Diedre. “Those first few days felt more painful than labor. I didn’t anticipate that.”
So when Diedre finally got to meet with the lactation consultant on Sunday, she was more than relieved. Irene, one of St. Raphael’s IBCLCs, helped Diedre re-position Ezra so that the latch was more efficient. She showed Diedre and her husband, Simche, how to hold Ezra close to Diedre’s body and how to get him to open his mouth wide to encourage a deep latch.
“Irene was just so wonderful and reassuring and unfailing positive and it gave me hope,” said Diedre. “I remember leaving the hospital and thinking, ‘there’s no way I’m qualified to care for this human being.’ I was overwhelmed to think that I had to figure out breastfeeding on my own. It kept me calm to know I could see Irene in a couple days. I kept telling myself, ‘I just have to make it through tomorrow, and then I can see Irene on Tuesday,’ so that was really helpful.”
Once she got home, Diedre continued to struggle to figure out her new role as Ezra’s mom and improve their new skill of breastfeeding. “Those first couple weeks I was surprised and frustrated that I couldn’t figure it out,” she said. “I felt overwhelmed by how unintuitive it seemed.
“My milk came in really early, on the day I went home from the hospital, and I was so painfully engorged. The next day I said to my mom if it didn’t get better, I’d quit. I never anticipated I’d want to give up that easily.”
Determined to meet her goals, Diedre resolved to take it one day at a time. She sought the help she needed; her closest allies were her husband, mother and lactation consultant.
“In those first couple of weeks, Simche was a really central part of those first nursing sessions,” said Diedre. “It would take both of us to help get Ezra positioned and latched correctly, and having him there to support me made all the difference.”
“I think Simche was surprised how much work it was to help Ezra latch on. Sometimes he would say – jokingly but there’s an edge of truth – that Ezra only wants me and has no interest in him because he can’t produce milk for him.”
While the beginning was a struggle, with patience and support, Diedre and Ezra figured out their new skills and fell into a routine.
“Every day, it got a little better,” said Diedre. “Every visit to B.A.B.Y. Group with Irene got a little better. Somewhere between ten days and two weeks, the pain gradually lessened, and from there on out it’s been easy and enjoyable and complication free (knock on wood).”
After four months, Diedre returned to her job as a union organizer. Her work brings her all over Connecticut, often with long, late hours. Without a permanent pumping arrangement, Diedre had to get creative in finding places to pump (the car often doubled as a pumping “room”) and storing her milk in cooler packs. The biggest challenge, however, was producing enough milk while she was away from Ezra.
“I wasn’t pumping as much as he was drinking,” said Diedre. “Sometimes I’d be gone for 12 hours, and he was drinking 18 ounces and I was only pumping about nine.”
To compensate, she added extra pumping sessions during the night and on weekends. “I was running on a milk deficit, and he stopped wanting to sleep in the co-sleeper. So we’ve had him in the same bed since four months. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that route, but nursing during the night keeps up my supply. My midwife who is a lactation consultant reassured me, saying said it was perfect for the challenge I was having for milk supply. So, I’m away for 9.5 to 13 hours a day, but we have the physical contact at night.”
As Ezra grew, their nursing relationship evolved. Their nursing relationship is much different now at 16-months-old than when Ezra was a newborn.
“I stopped pumping at work in July when he was 14 months old,” said Diedre. “Now he’s 16 months and we nurse when we get home, and we co-sleep and nurse over night. Sometimes we nurse in the morning. Other times he just goes straight to eating. So, he eats two to three times in a 24-hour period.
“Nursing a toddler is like wrestling an alligator! He’s wiggling, moving his foot, moving around. It’s still enjoyable, but it’s less peaceful than when he was a newborn. When he wants to nurse he’ll pat me on my clavicle area, saying ‘huh?’ as if to say, ‘can I?’ He doesn’t seem to want to wean anytime soon.”
Diedre is living proof that even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry – but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
“I think when you’re pregnant, you’re doing a lot of planning and trying to figure out the right thing to do, but then when you actually have the baby, you end up just finding whatever works. You throw ‘should’ out the window and just figure out how to get by.
“My mom talked about breastfeeding me and my siblings like it was so natural and second nature and so easy. So when I was in so much pain, I went back to her and I said, ‘you never told me about any of this!’ And she was like, ‘Oh, yeah, of course it was like that for me, too.’ So, since then I decided I should talk about it so that people aren’t surprised by it.
“I think it’s really important to join a support group with a trained lactation consultant. The professional support was critical for things like engorgement and latch problems, but equally important were the other moms and the connections we made with each other. Getting together in person in those early days was so helpful. Breastfeeding group was one of the only things I went out for those first couple months. So much around pregnancy and childbirth is talked about, but not the postpartum. Seeing a bunch of people who had babies the same age and to see what they were going through was really helpful.
“I want women to realize that it’s hard in the beginning, but that it’s normal and to not be surprised. Those first few weeks and months seem a world away. Now it feels enjoyable. Finding support was the key. It does get better quickly. It gets a lot better.”
Did breastfeeding turn out differently for you than you had imagined it? What kinds of creative solutions did you come up with? Who supported you through your journey?