Guest Post – Erin’s Breastfeeding Story
Suzanne asked me a couple of weeks ago if I could write about my experience with breastfeeding so that she could share a different experience from her own. Initially I was really excited about it, but then I found myself putting it off. I had really thought that I had come to terms with my decision, to give up on nursing and feed from a bottle, and was surprised at how emotional I still was about it. Apparently I had just been trying not to think about. Having to sum it up just seemed like trying to make excuses for my failures. I’m really not trying to be melodramatic or go fishing for sympathy; I just wish I had known how emotional this was going to be. That someone had been able to warn me that so much of my confidence as a mother would be wrapped up in this experience. So here is what happened to me…..
I had my first baby in July. I had made the decision to breastfeed without giving any thought to anything else. I wanted to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. I wasn’t sure about a whole year, wanted to wait and see. I had read all the books and taken breastfeeding classes. I had told my friend when she asked that I wouldn’t need to buy more than a couple of bottles because my baby would be breastfed. I was committed.
When Reid was born he breathed in too hard and punctured a tiny hole in his lung. He spent the first 3 days of his life in the NICU. The first day we were not even allowed to hold him. He had to stay on his right side with a big oxygen bubble over his head and a feeding tube. The separation and that feed tube were our first set back. Sure I had the pump, but I was no part of his feeding and he was no part of mine. By the second day, Reid was out of the woods and doing much better. They let me try to nurse him, since they knew that I was planning to breastfeed and they told me not to be discouraged that my milk hadn’t come in. They gave me a nipple shield and told me to use it help him because he would not open his mouth wide enough to latch. Then they would take the baby and feed him whatever I had been able to pump with a little syringe.
Then the nurse actually said to me “How stuck are you on breastfeeding?” I didn’t really even get what she was asking. I just said “What?” And she said “If you let us give him a bottle now, then he will be able to get out of here faster.” …..and of course I said yes. That’s right, she asked a mother with no milk; who had just held her two-day-old baby for the first time; whose baby had to get off the feeding tube to be discharged and hadn’t eaten yet, if she could give him a bottle. If any of you think that you would have said no, then you are sorely mistaken. It was nothing short of emotional blackmail. Plus, she wasn’t going to sit there and feed him a whole bottle using a syringe and I wasn’t allowed to stay there with him.
He really liked the bottle. We left the hospital with a baby who had never nursed and who had a strong preference for the bottle. We were assured by the doctor that it was normal that my milk hadn’t come in yet since he hadn’t been with me and that there was no such thing as nipple confusion. He assured us that as soon as my milk came in he would take the breast. Oh, and give him 20mls of formula with each feeding. Two days after we got home I realized that we would have to go cold turkey on the bottle. My milk was coming in and he still wasn’t nursing. At that point I don’t think he even knew how. I was bitterly disappointed about everything that had happened (and that I had let happen) at the NICU. I felt robbed. I hadn’t even realized how badly I wanted to breast feed until then, when it looked like we wouldn’t be able to. We decided to ignore the doctor’s order for a supplement (a really hard decision for a baby with jaundice). I nursed and pumped and nursed and we gave him breast milk with a syringe and things started to turn around. I started to feel like you could fix any breastfeeding problem if you researched it and then you worked at it, CONSTANTLY.
Over the next couple of weeks I worked and fought to improve things. Getting him off the nipple shield was really hard, and it made our nursing sessions so much longer. But I was afraid that it was affecting my supply. I had to get him to take my nipple. He was a lazy nurser. He would fall asleep most of the time, or he would only suck just a little bit, only when my breast was really full. He had his two week appointment and he had only gained two ounces. I researched. I read. I used sucking exercises. I let him nurse for two hours. I did latching exercises. I re-latched and re-latched and re-latched. I let him nurse all day. I used compressions. I researched and I worked and I fought with him and I worked at it some more. He was gaining weight but it was only on the minimum side of normal. About the time he was a month old I felt like we finally had it down. He definitely had a good latch even if he was a lazy nurser. And the articles I read said that that should get better real soon.
Then he started to cry between feedings. I let him eat whenever he wanted but he was getting fussier and fussier. At six weeks old, after nothing but the breast for five weeks, we took him to someone’s house for dinner and I broke down and gave him a bottle. He was screaming even as we were putting him into the car and I had just nursed him FOREVER. He drank the whole thing and finally had his first awake and content moments in two weeks. I was horrified! I had read a million times that there is no such thing (or very rarely!) as not being able to produce enough milk. I had been thinking that he was gassy (since his poops were green). I beat myself up imagining how hungry he must have been all that time. Then when we got home I pumped for the first time in a long time and I got less than 2 ounces!!! From both breasts!
I decided to start supplementing. He was dropping drastically in weight percentile and I was starting to worry about him developmentally since all he had been doing was crying. I pumped and nursed constantly for a whole week, literally doing nothing else. I followed all the advice from the breastfeeding experts. I drank the tea and took the supplements. I was able to improve my supply but only to about 3 to 4 ounces every three hours. But now that Reid was getting the bottle again he started to refuse the breast. I tried to get back to the breast and away from the bottle but it just brought increases in crying and decreases in milk. In the end I was just tired of fighting with him. I felt like breastfeeding was not a bonding experience for us and I had started to crave the peaceful easy feedings we had with the bottle. It was the first time I was able to look into my baby’s eyes while he ate.
I decided to give up on nursing and just pump because I could not keep trying to nurse, then pump, then bottle feed. There just wasn’t enough hours in the day. But I beat myself up about it. I felt like I was quitting. That I wasn’t dedicated enough to pump AS MUCH AS IT TAKES to get to where I should be. I felt like I was sabotaging the breastfeeding by enjoying the peace of the bottle. I felt like people would judge me. When I heard other woman say that they went to formula because they weren’t making enough milk I judged them— They must have been doing it wrong and they weren’t dedicated enough to fix it.
I still feel guilty that I didn’t try harder and ashamed when I give him a bottle in front of someone who breastfeeds. I miss that connection and that he had to be with me all the time. I miss the exclusivity, since now anyone can feed him. I get defensive now when people talk about “Breast is Best”. It feels like salt in the wound. I read the quote above the breastfeeding art that Suzanne linked in her blog yesterday that said “Natural feeding is the duty of every mother and the birthright of every child” and cried.
Pumping may sound like an okay alternative, but it has a lot of issues. It doesn’t stimulate milk like the baby does so you have to work a lot harder. My supply doesn’t maintain itself. When you are nursing your baby it is socially expectable to nurse him wherever you are, especially under a cover. But you can’t pump in a restaurant or in some one’s living room. You have to give your baby to someone else to hold and enjoy and go take care of it in the bathroom. Even when you are home, you can’t pump until after your baby is fed and happy and doesn’t need you, which makes it very hard to get all the pumping sessions crammed into your day.
I know I’ve said a lot here, and I don’t really know how to end it. Just that I wish they had prepared me for this when I took the breastfeeding classes. Instead of just saying how great it is when it goes right, I wish someone had warned me about when it doesn’t. Then maybe I wouldn’t be so hard on myself.
I think Erin’s story identifies two really big stumbling blocks in the road to breastfeeding success. First, her trouble in the NICU and the emotional blackmail that horrible nurse used make her agree to a bottle. I cannot believe how many nurses undermine a new mother’s attempts to breastfeed. Even my own non-NICU baby was given a bottle because “his blood sugar was low”, despite having APGARs at 8 and 9 and no medical issues, EVEN THOUGH I specifically asked that he not be given any formula. I can’t imagine how much greater the fear is when your baby is hooked up to machines.
Second, Erin’s experience with pumping brings up a great point. Although I wouldn’t agree that breastfeeding in public is “socially acceptable” (anyone who’s ever gotten a dirty look for nursing can attest to that), pumping in public isn’t even discussed. No one campaigns for a woman’s right to be hooked to their Medela at the park or the mall or in restaurants. When moms pump at work they fight for quite rooms with locks on their doors, not the right to pump at their desks. Once you add that extra step between baby and boob, you lose the right to call it “natural” and thus the protection from society’s disapproval.
Even though Erin is my best friend and I talk to her all the time, I didn’t know just how much she struggled with breastfeeding until she wrote this. I probably wasn’t “helping” at all when I emailed her links to lactivist sites or complained about my overproduction or spouted off the advice from my lactation consultant. And for that Erin, I’m really sorry. You’re doing a great job with Baby Reid, please don’t beat yourself up. I love you!