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.