Emily and her mom, Jennifer.

Emily and her mom, Jennifer.

Beautiful Emily and her mom, Jennifer, are the definition of breastfeeding superstars. They fought every challenge they encountered and now have the sweetest, most loving relationship. Their story will put a smile on your face and is a testament to the strength of mothers. 

Emily was born at Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, Rhode Island but was quickly transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Women and Infants in Providence, Rhode Island with pulmonary hypertension, a ventricular-septal defect, an atrial-septal defect, anemia, thrombocytopenia, and congenital hyperthyroidism. After she was born, she stayed in the NICU for 16 days. Because of her health challenges, Emily was lethargic at first and didn’t wake up to feed. She would get tired easily while breastfeeding and her low tone made it tricky for her to get a good latch. She just needed some support—literally and figuratively (lots of pillows were used to help prop her up)!

Jennifer worked every day with an occupational therapist and lactation consultant to help Emily establish a latch, because she believed nursing Emily was a huge gift to her daughter. She wanted to breastfeed Emily to help them bond, for the antibodies to boost Emily’s immunity, and for the speech therapy benefits, since breastfeeding improves tongue coordination and strengthens the jaw and tongue.  

Emily was first able to direct nurse at two months old. Jennifer found holding her in a “dancer hold” the most helpful in breastfeeding her. Jennifer help Emily in a clutch, supporting her head with one hand and using her other hand to support Emily’s chin and cheeks. After sticking with this hold for awhile, Jennifer was able to improvise and find something even more comfortable for both of them. She rolled a small towel and placed it under Emily’s chin, which helped to support her lower jaw.

Jennifer’s most helpful strategy was to breastfeed at the beginning of a feed, since Emily was most alert during that time. After she began to get tired, Jennifer switched to a bottle of pumped milk so Emily didn’t have to work as hard. Each feeding took an hour and a half between nursing, pumping, bottle feeding, and cleanup, but Jennifer said the reward of being able to breastfeed Emily made it all worth it!

Though Jennifer was committed to breastfeeding, some people were not encouraging of her goals. Two nurses told her it would be too difficult for her to breastfeed Emily and that Emily wouldn’t grow fast enough, which “fueled the mama bear” in Jennifer and made her even more committed to success. 

Finding support systems was critical to Jennifer and Emily’s breastfeeding journey. At one point, her supply seemed to drop, so she asked her family to help with her older children so she could focus on pumping and nursing Emily, which helped increase her supply. She also attended a local breastfeeding support group.

“The support has been amazing,” Jennifer said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Breastfeeding superstars like Jennifer show that challenges can be overcome. “My biggest advice would be to go for it,” Jennifer said. “There could be bumps in the road but there is support out there and it can be done."

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