Warning: this post may not be suitable for male family members (Hi, Dad!), male friends (Hi Dave, Hi Jim!), or friends who just don’t want to hear about it… Don’t worry, I’m not offended!
I’m writing this not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, so if the topic doesn’t interest you, come back another day! There is a lot of information out there about breast-feeding versus formula-feeding, so I wanted to add my firsthand experience to the information floating out there. It’s a very personal choice and I would urge you to research your options and figure out what is best for you. And, be prepared to change directions, if needed. As I’m quickly learning, life with a baby doesn’t always go as planned!
Ahhh… breastfeeding. The natural way to feed your baby. It gives your baby lots of nutrients and immunities to protect them in the earlier stages of life and development. Promotes bonding between mom and baby, which will eliminate any problems when they are teenagers… I’ve been hearing all of this since I got knocked up and I was committed to giving it a try. Sounds great, right?
How hard could it be?
My first attempt at breastfeeding wasn’t all quiet music, dim lights, comfy chair with a deep emotional connection with my baby. Rather, my baby was put on my chest in the OR, as I was transferred to a different bed and wheeled down the hallway to the recovery room. We got there, the nurse put the brakes on the bed and basically yanked my top down and shoved Maddie onto my exposed boob. Nothing happened- except a look of terror from some random man in the opposite recovery area, frantically trying to find some cold water for his recovering wife.
Since nothing happened, the nurse started to tug on areas that are usually covered by my bathing suit, all while I tried to wrap my head around this squiggly baby that I was holding for the first time and answer the questions from the steady stream of medical staff that marched through the recovery area (anesthesia, OB, nurses, etc). Brian stood by looking shell-shocked (he should have gone with the guy across the room and gotten a beer…).
Did I mention that the nurse is still tugging on me at this point? Torture. I’m a pretty private person, and nothing about this process was private. If I could do it again, I would have had Brian tug the curtain closed tightly and stand outside guarding the ‘door’, while the nurse and I took a quiet moment to try and get the baby to latch. There was too much going on. I was too embarrassed and self-conscious for it to go well. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that I was more then a little drugged from the procedure. Plus, as I’ve learned, I’ve got flat/inverted nipples, so there’s not too much to latch onto anyway…
Anyway, she didn’t latch and enough time had passed that now they had to take a blood glucose test. For infants, our hospital looks for test results over 40. Maddie tested at 20. The nurse insisted that we offer a bottle, which I had barely cracked open before a neonatal specialist walked in and said that Maddie needed to be taken to the NICU for immediate treatment and monitoring due to the blood sugar reading. She grabbed (ok, that’s what it felt like, but it was probably more like gently removed?!) her and before I could even really speak (past the lump in my throat) she was wheeled out of the room (and the guy across the room was left looking at both my naked boobs…).
And, that’s how Maddie (and Brian!) ended up in the NICU, one floor below, while I sat alone in recovery waiting for text message updates from Brian and doing everything I could to get released from the OR floor and into our postpartum room.
Once I got settled into my room, I was given permission to go via wheelchair to the NICU floor to visit Maddie. It was hell getting out of the bed, but I am so glad that I was given incentive to move so quickly after the surgery. I think it really helped my personal recovery.
Anyway, we made it up to the NICU, where a kind nurse took one look at my boobs, deemed them unworthy and slapped a nipple shield on me before basically plowing Maddie’s head into my chest. And, I looked out the wide-open picture window at the cityscape of downtown Boston. It was a very frustrating process. I wasn’t really knowledgable about nipple shields, how to use them properly or what impacts they might have on future milk production (a lot!). We ended up doing a lot of snuggling and not much nursing while in the NICU, and instead she was fed formula by bottle to ensure her blood glucose levels remained stable. She was also offered a pacifier at some point in the process (couldn’t tell you when!)…
We made it through the first day, managed a little sleep downstairs in our postpartum room and were back up in the NICU early the next morning. (Side note of humor: Did I tell you that the second morning, Brian called the NICU and ordered coffee, since he got the numbers confused when dialing in his tired state…)
Again we tried to nurse with the nipple shield and Maddie gave a minimal effort, but really preferred the bottle! And, she had a low blood glucose in the evening and was held even longer in the NICU, so we were supportive of them providing her formula at regular intervals to ensure that her levels stayed even. At some point on Tuesday a breast pump was wheeled into my room, and I was told to pump regularly (what does that mean?!) and given a crash course in how to operate it. Now, here is the really hairy part. At this point, my long-lasting pain meds are fading and I’ve got a headache building that beats all headaches I’ve ever had. I start taking the pain meds offered, pretty much solely for the headache and minimally for discomfort related to the c-section.
Information provided over Tuesday and Wednesday is a complete blur. Nothing clicked. I kept going through the motions, doing what I was told and feeling completely miserable and disconnected from the entire process. I was just getting ready to cry to Brian on Thursday morning that something else was wrong with me, when the most amazing nurse on the floor, stopped by and started asking me a million questions (I think she got that the fact I was lying in bed, unshowered and crying was not normal!). Before long she had a team of doctors in the room to evaluate me and was wheeling me up to the labor and delivery OR for a secondary spinal blood patch procedure.
A freaking miracle. They take your own blood and inject it into your spine to heal the leak (caused by the spinal block). It was the only time in the hospital that I said really bad words directed to the medical staff. The rest of the time I was on my best behavior, but at that particular moment, the pain in my back from the procedure and the pain in my head from the pressure got the best of me. Again, my apologies, Dr. Mike from Madison, WI.
So, now it’s Thursday afternoon, by the time they release me from recovery and I’m just starting to clue into the information that’s been floating around me. Oh, and I start pumping and trying to learn how to nurse with Maddie. We gave it an honest try. I met with a lactation consultant at the hospital and took home a plan that involved nursing 8-12 times a day, supplementing with formula when she screamed her head off and pumping for 5-10 minutes after each feeding to boost my supply.
Man, that sounds great on paper, but it is a helluva lot of work in real life. We gave it a good girl scout try. For 3 weeks. I fed (with the shield each time), supplemented (after each feeding!) and then pumped. It took about 1.5-2 hours per feeding and then we started over again. I was told to look for cues after nursing that she might still be hungry and then offer a bottle. I’m no expert, but I took screaming her head off at an extreme volume as ‘still hungry’. So, we fed bottles, pretty soon it got to be after almost every feeding and a little more each time. And, then I got sick.
Mastitis. You know anything with *tit* in the middle is going to give you problems!! ;-) A 102 degree fever, a flaming red boob and pain like needles every time we nursed. And, the cure, more nursing. Ouch. It took 2 days for it to clear up the first time. And, then it came back with a vengeance. The day after my mother flew home. Our first day on our own. I spent it sleeping on the couch while poor Brian brought Maddie to me to nurse several times a day and he set up the pump next to me on the couch so I didn’t even have to move. Pain. Ful.
All that nursing and pumping should have increased my milk supply. After all, milk is a matter of supply and demand. It didn’t.
My tits are like the Sahara Desert of milk production. I’ve worked with my local La Leche League group leader, I’ve met with a private lactation consultant. I’ve followed their plans to a T (2200 calorie diet, 150 oz of water, nursing/pumping every 2-3 hours, etc).
It didn’t work.
For whatever reason, and there are many that we could name: Maddie’s time in the NICU, her poor latch, our delayed ‘rooming in’, my flat/inverted nipples, the nipple shield hindered the supply, the spinal leak, stress, delayed milk due to diabetes/c-section, crappy milk ducts, nursing just didn’t work for us.
So, after doing everything I could (and I feel strongly that I’ve given this my all!), we have gone to formula.
And, get this, it’s not the end of the world.
Maddie is happy, she’s gaining weight, she sleeps, she smiles, she gurgles and hopefully she’ll still get into Harvard (if that’s where she wants to go!). While I do believe in supporting breastfeeding Moms, I believe even more in doing what’s best for you, your baby and knowing when to throw in the towel and say ‘I gave it my best shot’.
So, this is a really long post, that will hopefully help some new mom or mom-to-be feel confident in whatever decision they have to make, in whatever circumstances are thrown their way. You go girl. You do whatever is best for you, your baby and stand strong.
I would suggest that you do a few things differently then I did though.
First, YouTube has great information and wonderful videos on breastfeeding and proper latching, but honestly, splurge on the appointment and meet with a local lactation consultant before you deliver. Know your body and your challenges ahead of time and navigate a game plan with their guidance- if you decide to go that direction.
Second, don’t be afraid to speak up at the hospital if things aren’t going the way you want them too. It wasn’t until Thursday afternoon when I told Brian that I needed an hour without any interruptions and to ‘catch my breath’, that I started to feel more confident about the situation and the best way to handle some of my concerns.
Third, if you feel strongly about breastfeeding versus formula, stick to your guns. As long as it makes sense for you. Then, adjust as needed. I was dedicated to breastfeeding, until I realized that poor Maddie was burning more calories trying to nurse and she was actually losing weight after a month of breastfeeding… shit happens. Don’t be afraid to go full speed in one direction and then realize that it isn’t the right choice for you and your baby. Do what is best for both of you. And, ask for help and support along the way!
And, with that, I’m tucking my mommy guilt away (I figure there is plenty more time for that!), grabbing a bottle for Maddie and snuggling up on the couch for some quality mommy/daughter time.