From Breast Aversion to Breastfeeding - One Mother's Journey

A recent client gave me permission to share her story along with some youtube videos she made. Her videos document the process she went through and you can read her story in her own words in the “About” section of each video. To protect their privacy I will call mother Amy and baby Trina (not their real names) in this post. Amy and Trina had a rough start to breastfeeding. Trina was born full-term by emergency cesarean and spent her first week in the NICU receiving IV antibiotics. She was also mostly fed by bottle during this time and began receiving formula. Nurses in the NICU were feeding her bottles of up to 4 oz at a time. Latching on wasn’t going well and a few nurses suggested Trina might be tongue tied.

When they were finally discharged home Amy called me to see if I could help them start breastfeeding. Amy was pumping and giving Trina breastmilk by bottle, along with formula because she was not producing enough breastmilk. Trina had had her frenulum clipped at her pediatrician’s office, but was not really willing to latch to the breast, even with a nipple shield and extra flow from an at-breast supplementer. Her tongue still seemed somewhat restricted (posterior tongue tie) and her labial frenum (lip tie) was also somewhat tight.

Amy worked hard to increase her milk supply by pumping regularly with breast massage and renting a hospital grade pump. Before long she was producing more milk than Trina needed. But still Trina wouldn’t latch, or the times she actually seemed to latch she wouldn’t drink, despite there being plenty of milk available.

The video below shows Trina refusing to latch despite Amy’s great milk supply and extra milk provided by the at-breast supplementer:

Amy also took Trina to a specialized dentist for further evaluation of Trina’s tongue and he recommended laser frenectomy for Trina’s tongue and revision of her labial tie as well. Amy had both procedures done the same day.

Despite the improved tongue mobility, Trina remained unwilling to latch. Amy tried offering her breast with an at-breast supplementer to increase to immediately available milk, but still little to no success. After a while, Amy began to feel that Trina was developing an aversion to the breast.

The video below shows Trina refusing to take the breast despite laid-back positioning and a nipple shield:

Amy persevered with pumping, spending time skin-to-skin, chiropractic care for Trina, and even borrowed a neighbor’s bathtub to do remedial co-bathing with Trina. It was during one of these baths that Trina latched to Amy’s bare breast for the first time. Amy made every effort she could to make sure Trina’s experiences at the breast were positive, not stressful.

A while later, Amy decided to spend a day offering only the breast with the at-breast supplementer, even if Trina was unhappy about it. During this day, Trina only got about 6 oz of expressed breastmilk from the supplementer and may have spent the day hungry, but by the end of the day, Amy felt she was becoming more accepting of the breast.

The next day, when Trina was 7 weeks old to the day, Amy came to a breastfeeding support group and after calming Trina with a few swallows of breastmilk from a bottle, she latched her to her bare breast and Trina breastfed for several minutes, sucking and swallowing effectively at the breast for the very first time!

The video below is from that very first successful feeding during the support group:

Amy says there were only four days between the breast refusal video and the breastfeeding video, and that when she was making the breast refusal one, she never would have believed that she and Trina were only days away from success.

Since that day, Amy and Trina have been exclusively breastfeeding. Amy worked so hard and read so much about situations like hers online, that she decided she would like to share her experience with other mothers both for the camaraderie and support, and any helpful ideas her story may provide to other families in similar situations.

Every breastfeeding story is unique and I hope Amy’s will be inspirational for other mothers. She showed great patience and wisdom in her approach with Trina. Her instinct told her when she needed to pull back her efforts and give Trina only positive experiences at the breast. Her instinct told her again when Trina was ready to be challenged to take the breast. Time spent skin-to-skin and bathing certainly helped, as did taking the process one day at a time. She has a team of wonderful supporters and cheer leaders including her husband, several lactation consultants and her other healthcare providers. These and her own dedication and unwillingness to give up all certainly contributed to her success.

Amy sent me a compilation of her favorite web resources from all of her online searching:

  • The latch technique that did the trick.
  • A story similar to ours that helped me a lot. I got the idea to use Breastflow bottles from this article and went with the Lact-Aid because of her experience.
  • This post helped me understand that I needed to make my boobs a happy place! It shed light on how the stress of trying can be the undoing of ever getting your baby back to the breast and it also articulated the emotional pain of the whole situation very well.
  • A great page on Kelly Mom with tips about what to do with a baby who won’t nurse.

I would like to thank Amy for sharing her story. I’m sure it will encourage many families facing difficulties with breastfeeding. Your courage and perseverance inspire me and I have learned so much from you. I feel privileged to have been able to support and cheer you on during your amazing journey.

Please note: I have worked with other mothers whose babies refused to latch long-term. Some have gone on to breastfeed while others have made peace with exclusive pumping. There is no one right solution in these difficult situations. I trust that each mother knows her own situation best and will make the best decision for her and her family.