On Loving and Loathing Breastfeeding

Photo Aug 03, 9 28 41 PM

I can’t think of anything else in my life that has had the power to wield within myself such huge feelings of both failure and of greatness, vacillating multiple times between the two emotions all within the course of a single day.  I’ve never before at times been so over something, yet found myself breaking down in tears once it really was over. In the early days, especially with my first pregnancy when this whole motherhood thing was all so new to me, there were times I even found myself resentful. I had just carried this baby in my body for 9 months, now I have to use my body to feed it too? I felt like a cow, like just some old sort of feeding machine.  I didn’t feel like myself at all. It all seemed terribly unfair. I know that I didn’t have to do it, but I did want my baby to have the best nutrition possible, and I knew that was by breastfeeding, so I decided to push through the negative feelings. Over the years and three breastfeeding stints later, I have learned so much and am now more passionate about it than I ever expected I would be.  Yes, a “feeding machine” is exactly what I am and I love it! But I still have my days (today being one of them) where I would love nothing more than to just be able to sleep for several hours at a time without having to worry about being awaken shortly to feed. And I’m really ready to be able to go out with the Husband and not have to return home or find somewhere to hook up to a machine so I can pump every two hours.  Right now, I’m just holding on to the realization that those days and times will soon return, and in the end, it will have all been worth it.

I knew during my first pregnancy that I wanted to breastfeed. I did as much reading as I could, attended a local breastfeeding mom’s support group, purchased a pump, and sat back and waited for baby. But when she finally came, the milk did not. The hospital lactation consultant was in the room with me the very first time I attempted to nurse. I had no issues with holding or positioning her, it all felt very natural. She would even eagerly latch right away, but after about a day she would begin to unlatch and fuss. When she quickly began losing weight and I wasn’t able to extract even a drop of colostrum or breast milk, it soon became clear that she wasn’t getting enough to eat. I just wanted my baby to eat and be healthy so I didn’t hesitate when the nurse brought me a newborn nurser and disposable nipple. I fed my baby that bottle of formula and honestly was very happy and relieved to see her finally appear filled and content. She received several more bottles throughout the course of the hospital stay. The LC advised me not to worry and that once my milk came in, I would be able to switch back to breastfeeding. But Baby Girl had other plans.

Once home, I would put her to my breast for every feeding but she would immediately unlatch and cry, toss her head back and forth and refuse any further advancement of my nipple. Finally I would cave in and give her the bottle and she would happily gulp away. I recall just handing her over to my mother after one feeding where she had fussed nd cried endlessly at my breast, going in the bathroom and sobbing my eyes out. Why couldn’t I feed my baby? I felt like an absolute failure. I was pumping after every single bottle and still not seeing even a drop of breast milk. It was a full six days before I finally began to pump even traces of milk. And let me tell you, when you have a newborn baby that feeds every single two hours around the clock, six days feels like an eternity. (I learned later my lengthy delay in milk production was likely caused by my diabetes) But even once the milk was in, I just could not successfully get her to re-latch. It was all just very disheartening and I was so ready to throw in the towel and just be done with it all. Fortunately I had the gentle encouragement of my mother and husband to just continue to try nursing her and to at least seek out the advice of the doctor before completely quitting. Our pediatrician got me in with an LC a few days later and she introduced the nipple shield to me. I slipped it over my nipple and baby latched on immediately and nursed! From that feeding on, we were able to ditch the bottles. I had to wear the shield every single time she ate as she flat-out refused to nurse directly on my skin. They were a pain to use at times, always needing to have one near, getting it into position first, having to wash and clean afterwards. But it worked. And other than one excruciating 24-36 hours period in which I suffered mastitis, things started to get easier. My milk finally started flowing, I was able to feed her and pump enough to freeze. And I had a good little stash saved up by the time I returned to work at three months.

She had no problems with the transition as using the nipple shield on me made her think she was on a bottle anyway. She had her bottles at daycare and nursed with the nipple shield while at home. My workplace was pretty supportive of nursing moms even before the Affordable Care Act protections came about a few years ago. There were several dedicated mother’s rooms but, not knowing any better, I simply didn’t use them enough. In trying to keep up with my workload, I barely escaped once a day to go pump and it just wasn’t enough to keep up my supply. My freezer stock was diminishing quickly and so I started supplementing with formula. First it was a half ounce of formula per bottle, then one ounce, then two ounces. Gradually there was more formula than breast milk in each bottle, until the day there was no breast milk at all. I had quickly dried up without even trying. We had gotten through 6 months of breastfeeding, and then we were done. She drank formula from that moment on until her 1st birthday. And while a part of me was sad the journey had ended, at the end of the day, she was fed and she was nourished. Life went on.

A few months later I was back in the hospital with baby #2 and another LC. I described to her my first ordeal, how my milk was very slow to come in and that once baby had the bottle, I could never again get her to successfully latch to me. She acknowledged that not only was it easier for baby to get milk from the bottle but that she probably also preferred the smoothness of the silicone nipple. She agreed the new baby needed formula to sustain him until my milk came in, but she didn’t want him to feed from a bottle or a nipple shield in order to avoid the same preference from developing. So she introduced me to the Medela Supplemental Nursing System and it definitely made all the difference. Once again it took a full 5-6 days before my milk started to even trickle in, but this time baby received formula through a tiny tube taped to my breast while he was latched directly on to me. I received the needed stimulation, he received nourishment with a mix of whatever breast milk he was able to extract. Once my milk was flowing, we ditched the tubes and never looked back. He had perfect latches, he was always satiated, I was able to pump and store excess milk. I returned to work again at three months and this time, I made sure to do things differently. There was the same busy workload this time around, possibly even more so, but regardless, I took breaks every two hours to pump, and increasing that frequency allowed me to keep up with supply. I didn’t have to supplement the entire time that we nursed. We mastered nursing while laying down. He would wake up only once during the night, nurse for a few minutes, and then blissfully fall right back asleep. And I loved getting up in the middle of the night with him for those few minutes because it was truly such a special bonding moment. I snuggled with him, stroked his hair, watched his little baby lips suckle, and smiled over the cute little baby sigh he would heave right before falling back asleep. It was all so beautiful, a true breastfeeding dream. Unfortunately, the dream didn’t last as long as I wished. I experienced some health issues and really needed to take a medication that was not approved for use during breastfeeding, so I had to make the difficult decision to wean at the end of 9 months. I had enough milk stored to get him through an additional month before having to switch to formula for the final two months of his first year. It was all a greater achievement than my first go-round, but I was devastated nonetheless. Although I recognized the importance of keeping myself well, I was not ready to stop and it pained me greatly to do so. I said then that if I ever had another, I would do whatever it took to nurse as long as long as I could.

And then there was Baby #3. With several years of motherhood under my belt and after two rounds of breastfeeding, I felt as prepared as possible the third time around and I was excited to nurse again. With the diabetes now coupled with the trauma of a C-section, I experienced yet again another milk delay. I was grateful to use the SNS again to get me through the first week, although it did not quite go the same as before. It was more challenging to supplement those first few days because he clearly favored breast milk to formula. When the SNS was filled with formula, he would work the tubing out of his mouth and turn away. When I managed to fill it with breast milk, he eagerly accepted it and drank. But because my supply wasn’t fully in, he was spitting out the tubes and refusing the formula more often than he was taking in breast milk, and he ended up losing a considerable amount of weight that first week. But finally the milk came in, he quickly regained his weight, and we were off. This nursing journey, however, has not been as dreamy as the last. While I avoided a full-on bout of mastitis, I did experience 24 dreadful hours of a clogged duct, and really, it’s not that much easier to deal with. This latest little baby also decided to grow two razor-sharp teeth at only 4 months and so biting has been an issue. So has my supply. I take my fenugreek and pump like always, but it’s been much harder to keep up with demand this time around. If I miss a single feeding or pumping session, it takes a full 2-3 days of pumping around the clock to get my averages back. Despite the fact that we were still exclusively breastfeeding and he hadn’t even been introduced to a bottle yet, my period still returned at 3 months and I continue to see a considerable drop in supply whenever it’s here. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if he were with me 24-7; I think his direct stimulation and extra-effective milk retrieval would have me easily bounce back from these temporary dips each time. But it’s much harder to recover and maintain the supply through pumping, and that is what’s been causing my headaches and stress.

I was never able to store as big of an excess as before, and what was stored disappeared quickly once I returned to work at 3 months. At 6 months, my freezer supply was already gone. His next day’s meals are only what I’m able to pump the day prior, which means that when I experienced the usual decrease in supply during my cycle in month 7, I no longer had a freezer stash to pull from to make up the difference. And so first the first time I had to open formula for the additional two ounces needed to top off his bottles. I had to do this three days in a row before my supply bounced back, and have had to do it the same time every month since. I was very upset about it at first, but the Husband talked me down from the ledge, helping me get a grip on the reality that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. It was two whole ounces of formula over the course of an entire day. Everything else was all breast milk. And even if one day the ratios were to tip where it was mostly formula and just an ounce or two of breast milk, well, that’s still an ounce or two of breast milk he’s getting! It still matters! Even if tomorrow it were none, every ounce I’ve given him until now still matters. He is happy. He is healthy. He is fed. Period, end of story.

I get it, and I’ve tried to relax over it and not stress, but I’m still not quite ready for it to end. I’m fighting with everything I’ve got in me to hold steady as much as I can. So of course this is the baby that is already showing signs of slowing down. He doesn’t want to nurse as much during the day, staying only a few minutes before demanding to get down and finish playing and exploring. And while I always first offer the breast, he is much more interested in the food that we are eating instead.  He does still love to nurse at night though, but because he’s not doing it as much during the day, his nighttime feedings have increased. He is waking much more frequently through the night, as much as every two hours to nurse. I have been exhausted lately because of this but I’m determined to see this through as far as we are able to go. We are almost at the one year mark and I am hoping to make it at least until then. At that time I may make the decision to at least stop pumping. It has just been way too stressful an endeavor this time around and I would really like to get back to this being an enjoyable experience. I think I would get that by letting him move on fully to the table food that he clearly wants at daycare and during the day, and then just simply nursing him on demand at home when he wants it. If it is working for him then the hope is to let him nurse until he’s ready to completely stop. We will see where these next few weeks lead us…






2 thoughts on “On Loving and Loathing Breastfeeding

  1. Pingback: On Normalizing Breastfeeding | TheEveryAll.com

  2. Pingback: Keep Calm and Breastfeed | TheEveryAll.com

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