Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My Breastfeeding Journey - Trials and Tribulations

Breastfeeding is a topic that evokes a lot of passion in some. I have come across my fair share of die-hards both in real life and online. I would characterize my own experiences with it as rocky yet wonderful.

Before having my son, I had done my fair share of reading up on breastfeeding. Both my hubbt and I were breastfed as babies, and I had several friends who had breastfed. It was the norm for me. I did a lot of reading during my pregnancy. I went through literally dozens of books on pregnancy, labor, and babies. Many of the books had chapters or sections dedicated to breastfeeding. I remember looking longingly at the ideallic photos in the books, wishing for the time that I could be like those moms. The books did make mention of some pitfalls, but they were always made to seem like the exception. . . at least that is how it came off to me. Overall, there was so much sunshine being shoved down my throat on the subject, that I figured that there was no good reason not to exclusively breastfeed for the first year.

My son came into the world via emergency c-section in April 2009. I had labored for a day and a half and pushed for more than four hours. The call for the cesarean had to be made eventually because his heart rate was dropping drastically to almost nothing every time I pushed. Though disappointed, I knew that I had done everything I could at that point and my doctor did not push anything on me. In the end I had my healthy baby and nothing else in the world mattered to me. I'm getting a little off topic though so I digress.

I had wanted immediate skin to skin contact with my son because that is what was supposed to happen according to all the research I had done. That wasn't possible with a c-section. According to much of the literature out there, my hormones were irreversibly thrown off thanks to the c-section, and my ability to bond with my son would be strained because I wasn't able to hold him right away. I can only speak for myself, but that was the biggest load of bull shit ever. The second I was able to hold my son, the world around me stopped, all the stress from the traumatic labor melted away, and I started bawling. These tears were tears of joy, love, amazement, awe, appreciation, pride, and of course hormones. I tried nursing my son and to my amazement, he latched on right away.

The first couple days of Little Dude's life:
Sigh. . . seeing newborn shots of my kids kind of makes my ovaries do back flips.
I think we need one more just for good measure:

Prior to my own experience, I had one close and personal encounter with breastfeeding when one of my best friends had her first child. She invited me to stick around for some of the first hours she had with her daughter. I remember her cringing every time she would latch. This was well before I was pregnant or even considering having a child so I knew nothing about what breastfeeding was actually like. I had no idea that it could be painful. I remember the lactation consultant showing my friends proper latching technique, and I was amazed at how complicated looked. I was amazed there was even a wrong way. For something that was so "natural", it sure didn't look it at first. Since then, I had a few other friends confirm that it could indeed be painful, especially those first few days.

I had that in mind with my son, but amazingly there was absolutely no discomfort that first day of his life. I was on a complete hormonal high with my new little guy. Nothing was going to get in the way of the bliss that was me bonding with my child, and carrying out the role that I was born to play as had billions of women before me. He latched beautifully and I was higher than a college student in Amsterdam; those hormones are crazy strong!

Then came day two. . .

Little Dude was a hungry little baby, as I imagine most newborns are, and he liked to nurse often. Within a day or two, I did start to feel some nipple pain, especially when he latched. By day three I was in a lot of pain every single time he fed. Being in the hospital I had access to many very nice nurses that were very helpful with all things newborn and breastfeeding. They all took a look at his latch, and deemed it perfect. I even saw the lactation consultant and she said that he was opening his mouth nice and wide, his lips were out, and his tongue was positioned exactly how it was supposed to. Basically I was told that my nipples would have to toughen up and then it would improve within a few days because I was doing nothing wrong. I was given lanolin and hydrogels to help ease the pain and prevent further damage but they provided rather limited relief.

I did have the typical scenario with c-sections where my milk came in later than average, my one and only reminder that my hormones had been disrupted at least somewhat. I had a couple of nurses that did push formula on me rather heavily because my baby was unable to gain much weight without my milk those first few days, but I adamantly refused. On day five I was reluctantly released from the hospital under the stipulation that I have a home nurse visit in 24 hours, and that my son have a weight check. My milk had come in that day so despite their concerns, I knew everything would be ok.

The next day we did have a weigh-in, and sure enough, Little Dude had gained a few ounces. I felt validated that my milk was indeed doing its job. My nipples however were not doing nearly so well. The pain from nursing was only increasing and it was getting rather unbearable. That night, the hubs and I headed over to Target, and we purchased a Medela Pump In Style breast pump. That pump has been my saving grace. I can honestly say that without it I very likely would not have made it past that first week. I would alternate between nursing him myself, and feeding him pumped milk with a finger feeding system. I was completely unwilling to do a bottle at this point because I was terrified of him losing interest in nursing from me. Alternating with pumped milk worked well for giving my achy, stinging nipples a rest. I figured I would continue this for a few days and by then breastfeeding would improve and I could skip the pumping. To my frustration, the nipple pain lasted roughly 6 weeks. It wasn't just mild discomfort either. I felt like someone was taking a razor blade to my nipples each and every time he nursed. I would sit there with my fists clenched tight, trying to breathe through the pain. This was the furthest thing from those idealic photos in the book but I was more stubborn than the pain. I was going to make breastfeeding work no matter what.

By the time I hit my 6 week post partum check up, the pain had subsided considerably and I was on track to having a great breastfeeding experience at last. At the check up, Little Dude was weighed, and the doctor advised me that he was not gaining particularly well. That felt like a slap in the face. I remember taking this so personally since I was his soul source of nutrition. That doctor suggested I supplement with a bottle a day of formula and I just about spat in her face. . . did I mention I was hormonal? I told her that there was no way I was going to do that and she conceded, but suggested that I bring him in again at the two month mark to check his weight again. I made all sorts of excuses for his weight in my mind and continued doing what I was doing. He breastfed almost exclusively and I was also a pumping machine. I built up a pretty nice stash for the freezer. Since the pain was gone by now, I truly was loving the breastfeeding.

My son as a healthy 8lb newborn just a few minutes old:
Slimmed up considerably at 3 weeks old:
He HATED the bath the first couple of months.

Still on the slimmer side around 6 weeks old:

Unfortunately by the 8 week mark, he was still gaining on the slow side. After looking at the numbers, I had to admit defeat and total failure. . . at least that's what it felt like. That night I gave him his first bottle of formula. I cried the whole feeding. I guess it was a mix of all that I had overcome to get to that point of exclusively breastfeeding, the pride I had in it, the fanatical attitude my reading had towards breastfeeding, and of course the hormones. It wasn't rational, but I felt like I was feeding my son liquid poison. I felt like a total failure as a mom and as a woman. I hated the formula, but his weight started thriving once again within a couple of short weeks so I couldn't deny that it was at least doing him good. I slowly got past the hatred I had for formula. Unfortunately for the breastfeeding, I also enjoyed the freedom I had by being able to choose formula or breast milk and I started using more and more of the powdered stuff. Within a few short months, my milk supply had dropped considerably and by the 4 month mark, my son had nursed for the last time. Thankfully I had a stash in the freezer that allowed me to supplement his formula diet past the 6 month mark.

One of his first bottles at 2 months old:
A much chunkier Little Dude just shy of 4 months:
Overall, I didn't reach anywhere near what I thought I would and I was a little ashamed of it. I wasn't so crazy hormonal anymore, but I still felt a distinct feeling of regret regarding the situation. Today I have a bittersweet view on our breastfeeding relationship. I wish I had put more effort into going longer, but I am also proud of the time we did have. I can't regret the timing in the end; had I not stopped breastfeeding him when I did, chances are I would not have gotten pregnant again quite so soon and I wouldn't have my Baby Boo today. Once I did find myself pregnant again, I knew I would give breastfeeding everything I could but I was terrified that the new baby would also not gain well enough on my milk alone. Though I had come to terms with the way things went down with my son by then, I dreaded possibly repeating it. My resolve to at least try my best, was only made stronger thanks to my experience. Not trying my hardest, was definitely not an option.

In the interest of not writing a mammoth post that no one has the attention span to read, I'm going to throw in a "To Be Continued" until tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I'd love to hear from you!