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 during 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 sort of old feeding machine.  I didn’t feel like myself at all. It all seemed terribly unfair. I knew that I didn’t have to do it, but I did want my baby to have the best nutrition possible and 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 sleep for several hours at a time without waking to nurse. And I’m really ready to go out with the Husband and not have to return home or find somewhere to hook up to my pump every two hours.  Right now, I’m just mentally reminding myself over and over (and over) again 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. 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 in a bottle of formula. I fed that bottle to my baby and honestly, I was very happy and relieved to finally see her filled and content. She received several more bottles throughout the course of the hospital stay. The lactation consultant 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, 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. After one such instance, I completely lost it and was barely able to shift her to my mother’s arms in time before running in the bathroom and sobbing my eyes out. Why couldn’t I feed my baby? What in the world was wrong with me?\ It’s extremely difficult not to take it personally when your new baby screams bloody murder when you hold her close and flings her head away from your breast in rejection and (what felt like) disgust. 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 simply could not successfully get her to re-latch. It was all so very disheartening and I was beyond 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.

A few days later I was in with an LC and in that visit she introduced the nipple shield to me. It was a game-changer! 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. And 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. My milk finally started flowing, I was able to feed her and pump enough to freeze.  I had a good little stash saved up by the time I returned to work at three months. Things were finally starting to get easier.

When it was time to go back to work, she had no problems with the transition to a bottle 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, in not knowing any better, I simply didn’t use them enough. In trying to keep up with my workload, I would barely escape at best once a day to go pump and it just simply 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 to me 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 from formula 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, and 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 made sure to take my breaks every two hours to pump. Increasing that frequency allowed me to keep up with supply. I didn’t have to supplement with formula not a single instance the entire time that we nursed. At home, we mastered nursing while laying down, which is probably the single best nursing position ever known to man! And at night, he would wake up only once to nurse for a few minutes before blissfully falling right back asleep. And believe it or not, 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. But as with all dreams, they do eventually come to an end. And unfortunately, I woke up way sooner from this one than I wished to. I experienced some health issues and needed to take a medication that was not approved for use during breastfeeding and 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 30 or so days before switching fully 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 heartbroken nonetheless. Although I recognized the importance of keeping myself well, I had not been 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 for 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 I could possibly be for this third time around and 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 this one actually favored breast milk to formula, and breastmilk was what I clearly didn’t quite have enough of at first! When the SNS was filled with formula, he would toss his head back and forth to work the tubing out of his mouth and then turn away. When I managed to fill the SNS with breast milk, he would eagerly accept it and drink away. As my supply was not fully in, this meant he was spitting out the tubes and refusing the formula more often than he was taking in breast milk, and thus 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.

Even with that initial successful rebound, however, this nursing journey so far 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 has also decided to grow two razor-sharp teeth at only 4 months and so biting has been an issue.

And also at issue is my supply. I take my fenugreek and pump like always, but for whatever unknown reasons, it’s been much harder to keep up with demand this time around. If I miss just one single feeding or pumping session, it takes a full 2-3 days of pumping around the clock to get my averages back. And despite the fact that we were still exclusively breastfeeding and he hadn’t even been introduced to a bottle yet, my cycle nevertheless returned at only 3 months. And I continue to see a considerable drop in supply whenever it’s here. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a huge deal if Baby 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 while we are away from each other during the day, and that is what’s been causing my headaches and stress.

I was never able to store as big of a freezer excess this time around as I was with my other two, and what was stored disappeared quickly once I returned to work at 3 months. Even with constant pumping breaks while at work, at just 6 months, my freezer supply was already gone. Now, 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 when Baby was 7 months old, I no longer had a freezer stash to pull from in order 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 the same thing during every cycle of every month since. At first it would upset me greatly but the Husband talked me down from the ledge, helping me get a grip on reality. That reality being that it is only two whole ounces of formula over the course of an entire day. Everything else is all breast milk. And even if one day the ratios are to tip where it is 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! And furthermore, 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 guess the issue is that I’m still just not quite ready for it all to end. I’m fighting with everything I’ve got in me to hold steady as much as I can. And 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 on only a few minutes before demanding to get down and finish playing and exploring. And while I always first offer the breast, he is now much more interested in the food that we are eating instead. He does still love to nurse at night, but now that he is not doing it as much during the day, his nighttime feedings have now increased. He is waking much more frequently through the night, as much as every two hours to nurse. Needless to say, this leaves me exhausted. But still… 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’s really only the pumping part that has just been way too stressful of 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 nurse him on demand while. If this works for him then the hope is to let him nurse until whenever it is that he is ready to completely stop. We will see where these next few weeks lead us…





5 thoughts on “On Loving and Loathing Breastfeeding

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