Breast feeding: Thoughts and confessions

With the exception of the situation with my dad, which I blogged about previously, breast feeding has probably been the most emotional aspect of my post-partum time.

I’ll just cut to the chase: It has been rough, and it has not been what I expected.

With Noah being in NICU for six-plus days, we were a little behind the curve to start. For the first few days, we were feeding him through two little windows in an isolet. Then we had to sit a few feet from his NICU cradle so as not to disturb his IV and monitoring wires.

Breast feeding was very important to me, so it was upsetting to me that I couldn’t get going with it immediately. I wanted to be able to breast feed immediately after I had Noah (knowing it’d only be colostrum, but that skin-to-skin bonding time is pretty important, in my opinion). My doctor warned me that because of the amount of meconium there’d been when they broke my water I might not get to hold him right away, depending on whether he cried immediately and what the nurse in charge decided. He did cry right away and even scored an 8/9 on his Apgars, but once they’d weighed and measured him, they sent him to NICU almost immediately. I’m not sure I would’ve even gotten to hold him if I hadn’t specifically asked. Bobby didn’t get to.

For that first week, I pumped as often as I could manage. I was in recovery mode, which made it more difficult to keep up, and I also found out later that I had an infection that was causing a lot of the body aches and fever I experienced. We finally were able to breast feed the Friday after he was born, at the hospital, with the help of a lactation nurse. He latched on almost immediately, and it was such a relief because I’d been worried about nipple confusion. “I can tell he’s going to be a great breast feeder,” the nurse commented.

Bobby and I tried again later on Friday but had a hard time gauging the success because we couldn’t get the hospital scale to work properly. Still, Noah latched on, so that was reassuring.

With all the pumping during the week, I’d been feeling a little iffy, mostly because of the small amount of milk I seemed to be producing. So when I say it was a relief, it really was a relief.

We came to the hospital on Saturday morning before Noah was released to try to breast feed again. We showed up several minutes before his scheduled feeding time only to find a nurse neither of us had ever seen feeding him a bottle of formula. I lost it. I mentioned this in a previous post, but I ugly cried. It was terrible. Bobby managed to get me redirected to the breast feeding room to pump, and I sat and cried while the stupid Medela pump yanked on my nipples. And, of course, I didn’t produce very much.

Unfortunately, bringing Noah home didn’t magically make breast feeding easier; it only made it harder. There was no one there to help me get him latched on. I wasn’t sure if I was doing things right, and Bobby and I could only let him cry for so long before we gave in and turned to formula.

After that first attempt at home, I was incredibly discouraged. There was more crying. I just felt like I was failing to provide something that could help my baby a lot, and I was helpless to do anything. I couldn’t do breast feeding; I was bad at it. I was a failure.

Not true, but it was how I felt. And my seemingly ever-waning production when I was pumping made me feel that much worse. To spend 20-25 minutes pumping and only product half an ounce of breast milk was discouraging, and it made me just want to call it quits completely. I spent several nights earlier this week crying about this.

Thankfully Bobby stuck with me through it and said the right things. He made sure I knew I had his support and that he believed I could do it, that we would keep trying and that every little bit of breast milk helped the baby. He made me promise not to give up before I could meet with the lactation consultants again.

It was also reassuring to visit Noah’s doctor on Monday and find out that he has been gaining just the right amount of weight. He was up something like 6.5 ounces since birth, and the doctor seemed pleased. But he also seemed more concerned with my health than with Noah’s, admonishing me that I needed to take it easier, eat better, drink more water, etc.

I’m not a good take-it-easier, and with Bobby going back to work and things piling up around the house, I’ve had a hard time following these orders. I have definitely upped my water intake and have finally gotten back into a decent rhythm of remembering to eat meals at the right times (have I mentioned having a newborn sort of turns things upside down?).

I also e-mailed the mom group I am a member of to ask for some stories and encouragement, and hearing from several women who had similar experiences helped a lot. Particularly that there were several moms who either supplemented with formula or ended up having to go exclusively to formula made sure to remind me that I’m doing what I can and that I am not a bad mom for having to give my baby formula. Also, talking with my friend Natalie helped my perspective a bit, too, and made me feel better.

Noah and I met with the lactation consultants again today, and it was very positive. They didn’t offer some magical solution (I wish!), and they honestly told me that it was likely the stress of the situation with my dad, plus having a NICU baby, being sick, etc., that was making my output be pretty low. There’s an outside chance it still could increase, and they told me to keep trying to BF him since he still latched on really well in the office. At the same time, when he latched on there, he only got about 12 ml … less than half an ounce.

The consultants also mentioned that if I am trying to breast feed and get him to latch on but it isn’t enough not to feel bad about giving him formula to make up the difference. They also suggested that, with all the stressful stuff going on, I might just consider pumping about 3 times a day (in addition to trying to BF him at feeding times).

Honestly, and I know it might be a little selfish, the thought of cutting back on the number of times I pump each day appeals to me because of the freedom it offers. And that makes me sort of balk at the idea. But I also need to find something that works well for us and for the situation we’ve found ourselves in. I don’t think breast feeding is easy for most people, and I know some of the circumstances I’ve got going are particularly difficult. And I need to maintain my sanity.

So we’ll keep pressing on and see where it goes. I have no idea how long my milk will last, if it will actually still increase or if I will even ever be able to get Noah to latch on at home. Any thoughts, encouragement, suggestions, etc., are greatly appreciated.

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9 responses to “Breast feeding: Thoughts and confessions

  1. I think you are aware of this, but I can’t remember for certain. I had similar issues with my milk production while trying to BF Harper. I thought that it was because I had a c-section, but when I met with the lactation consultants, they told me that I didn’t have enough mammary glands. I was only producing about an ounce – from both boobs – whenever I would pump or feed him. The LC told me that even though my production was low, it was like Harper was getting a concentrated amount – so even though I was supplementing, he was STILL getting what he needed, as far as antibodies and all that stuff go. Eventually my body stopped producing milk altogether though.

    I remember feeling so guilty because I couldn’t BF him. I’m not sure why I felt that way since it wasn’t something that was really in my control, but it broke my heart not being able to do that for him. I can’t tell you how many times I cried about it. I sympathize with you greatly.

    I would encourage you to keep trying for as long as you can, because even if he is just getting an ounce, it’s still an ounce. I also know that BFing is harder then FFing though, and while it IS important, so is having a sane momma. In the end, you have to do what works for Noah AND you.

    You are doing a fantastic job sweet friend!

    Love you!

  2. I hope things get better with the whole BF thing. You might start to produce more if he is nursing more. I had the same issue with not producing enough milk around a month or so after Elijah was born. I ended up supplementing with a formula that has the live cultures… The stuff that boosts the baby’s immune system, so that made me feel better about doing it. After I went back to work I had to just put him on formula and stop pumping because it was just too much. But anyway, all that to say it is what it is and I have found that part of being a mom is to roll with things, cause things are hardly ever how you imagine they will be be after the baby is born.

    Try to take it easy. It’s not the end of the world if things don’t get done. Noah is counting on you to take care of him and if you are sick and/or tired, you won’t be able to give 100%. Just my POV. Good luck with everything!

  3. Granted it has been 20 years since I did this, I did have some trouble with my first child. I remember being really uptight about things simply because it was the first time to do this and it really wasn’t what I expected it to be. For one thing, I was really surprised at how much it hurt, but that will get better, too. Another thing I remember that caught me off guard was taking a hot shower made my milk drop. If you have the opportunity you may want to try that and see if that helps. A relaxing way to nurse is to lie on the bed with the baby lying beside you. Make sure Matt is at home in case you fall asleep but you will be more relaxed and things just seem to work a little better when you are relaxed. You’re doing a fantastic job and I promise you will start to relax a little more everyday.

    • I am so sorry!! I meant to say Bobby, not Matt!! 🙂 I had just read a post about another friend whose husband’s name is Matt.

  4. hang in there misty bell!!! booby or no booby you are a great mommy!! all that baby needs is your love and care. breastfeeding is NOT easy and regardless of how easy it may or may not come – everyone still has challenges. you are doing the right thing by giving it all you can and continuing to try but at the end of the day if it doesnt work its more important that Noah has two happy healthy parents than one upset over the food he is getting. love you and call or gchat me anytime you need to talk, vent or ugly cry!!!

  5. Oh honey, I know the feeling. When I was pregnant, I didn’t even care that much about breastfeeding – I just said I would try it and see. But then, when it wasn’t working, when she was screaming bloody murder every time I tried to get her to latch (which I partly blame on the hospital pushing me to give her a bottle there), when the nipple shield slipped off yet again and again and again, when I had to resort yet again to the bottle, somehow, I wouldn’t – couldn’t – give up. I cried, she cried, we all cried. I scoured the internet for magic solutions. I went to the lactation consultant. I peppered my friends and her pediatrician with questions. It was the pediatrician who said it took her daughter 4 weeks to catch on and suggested I just keep trying. At week two, I was thisclose to giving up. At week three, I was even closer. For a week there, she got almost nothing but the bottle. But then, on the day she turned four weeks old, something clicked, and she latched like a champ from then on. It was a miracle because my husband was starting work the next morning, and I was going to have to get up at night and pump and somehow feed her, too.

    If you want more details, here’s my blog post on the topic: http://1902victorian.com/blog/2010/06/17/excited-ineffective/

    And then the hallelujah-its-working post: http://1902victorian.com/blog/2010/07/01/one-month-today/

    That said, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I think it must be something in the hormones that makes us feel like we’re going to be a total failure if we don’t make breastfeeding work, even me, who didn’t originally even want to breastfeed! I’ve enjoyed breastfeeding (we’re weaning now, by her choice, at 10.5 months), and it sure was nice not having to wash a million bottles (it’s so irritating to keep up with that now), but formula is really good these days. Your child will be beautiful and healthy and perfect either way.

  6. Did the lactation nurses give you (or tell you about) a supplemental nurser? It’s a bag with a tube that goes to your nipple, so the baby “nurses” while mostly getting formula or pumped milk but at the same time stimulating your body to produce more milk.

    They are right that the outside influences are affecting your milk production, but I wouldn’t say there’s an “outside chance” of it increasing. It’s possible to relactate even after completely quitting, so it’s obviously possible to increase your milk supply when you haven’t ever stopped.

    Oatmeal helps boost milk supply, and so does fenugreek, but you can’t take fenugreek if you have a history of diabetes, migranes, or asthma. Also, you have to take fenugreek with food or it really hurts your tummy.

    But… you aren’t a failure if you can’t do it or even if you choose not to continue. The baby will be fine either way. You’re good mom no matter what the baby eats.

  7. I haven’t gone through this myself but I can imagine how hard it must be on you. You are doing a great job and I admire you for continuing to try even though it isn’t easy and things aren’t going perfectly for you. Sara’s comment about the lactation nurser sounds like a a really good idea. I have heard of adoptive moms that take hormones to make them produce milk and use something like that to stimulate help stimulate their bodies to begin the breast feeding process. I also agree based on information from my dear friend Valerie (whom I consider a nursing guru) that it is much more than an “outside chance” that your supply can still increase. Our bodies are made to do this and I believe in most cases that if you keep at it long enough your body will do what it is supposed to do. That being said, I also don’t think you are bad mother if you choose or must go to formula feeding. Like Kristin said, formula is much better than it used to be and your sweet angel will be perfect either way! Keep up the good work! Can’t wait to love on that sweet baby boy!

  8. So sorry you are going through this. So much of what is supposed to be easy ends up being stressful. And the things you worry about can sometimes be no big deal. I can only offer a few tips, so here they go.
    First, the MAIN thing is that you enjoy feeding time with your son. No matter how he gets his nourishment, it’s you feeding him and that’s what’s clicking in his little mush brain. However, I don’t think you are looking for a pep talk about how it doesn’t matter how he eats.
    I agree with some of the other posters that sometimes it take a little while. For me, it took a few weeks to settle into it. I found that drinking a lot of water helped. So did warm compresses, warm baths, anything warm! Back in the day my mom insisted I drink dark beer but I don’t know if they still go for that!
    You definitely got off to a rocky start so maybe, just go with it for a while, don’t make any hard and fast rules. Just feed on demand and see how it goes. Your milk may not totally be in and it can definitely ramp up if things settle down a little.
    Good luck! You have a beautiful son. He will grow no matter how he is fed.

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