Breast is Best-Put Mommy to the Test

From before I ever got pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed if I ever had children. I always felt “why should I pay for formula when my body makes all the food my child needs for the first six months of life?” Yeah, Yeah, I didn’t know much about it then, but I always felt it was the right thing to do and it would be less expensive than having to buy formula (seriously, have you seen the price of formula?) and in addition, I have a huge chip on my shoulder about formula. I’ve seen formula stain the paint on a car, why would I want to put that into my child? (And before I get all the complaints that Coca-Cola will do the same thing, I don’t much approve of drinking soda either, I much prefer water.)

Once I got pregnant I researched breastfeeding. I have two pregnancy books and one breastfeeding book (which I plan to review soon) that I referred to for information. In fact, I read a chapter of the breastfeeding book each night in my final months of pregnancy. I firmly believe that if I wasn’t so well-read on the subject breastfeeding would have been a pipe dream for me. Throughout my pregnancy I was worried I wouldn’t be able to produce milk (or enough milk.) I was worried our child wouldn’t latch or latch correctly. I was worried about nipple confusion. And I researched all the tricks and hints on how to avoid all these things.

When I first put our son to my breast and he latched almost immediately, without any pain or such ( a perfect latch!), I was thrilled (or it was the rush of oxytocin, I can’t say for sure.) Most of my worries were laid to rest. We were off to a great start. As I mentioned in my previous post about the NICU, once our Bug was moved to the NICU he stopped nursing. He would cry, arch his back and react to my breasts as if I was shoving cat litter in his face, but I persisted. I tried to nurse him every time he was hungry to no avail. For three days I tried. I was patient, relaxed, I cracked jokes about his refusal. The nurses praised my resolve. They said I was doing great by continuing to try to nurse, by remaining patient and relaxed and not getting upset. They assured me that if I kept to it, he would come back to nursing. I continued to try, but inside, I was disappointed and afraid.

Finally I called in a lactation consultant to help.  I placed Bug into position and *boom* he was back to being a natural. Tears welled in my eyes and I had the most blissful ten minutes of nursing with our son. The consultants cheered me, they gave me further tips and pointers and told me to contact them any time I needed help.  For two days Bean nursed at every feeding and was down to one 2 oz bottle of formula a day (the rest of the night he got milk I pumped at night.) It was great, I was on my way to my original plan of having Bug exclusively breastfed.

Then they moved Bug and we lost all progress. It was like he never nursed. I tried everything. We tried to trick him by squirting milk while he was near the nipple, but it didn’t seem to stick (he’d latch for a swallow or two and then it was over.) I was sure the bottle nipples were just too damn easy for him and he didn’t want to work so hark for food.

Once we got home, much didn’t change for Bug. For me, gone was that patient, relaxed mom trying to nurse her son. The first day when he rejected my breast, I was devastated. I was in tears. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t nurse my baby. Worse, I felt like he didn’t even like me. Not being able to nurse weighed heavily on me. Part of me practically gave up for a while and just grabbed a bottle of milk or formula. My husband tried to help, he purchased a nipple shield, in hopes that it would be a good transition between a bottle and the breast. Bug loved the nipple shield (well, chewing on it), but we couldn’t make it work towards actual nursing. But, we kept at it, dribbling formula or milk while trying to get him to  latch. Occasionally, he would latch for a minute or two, or a little longer and we considered it a win.

A little over a week after Bug came home I sat down to nurse him and *bang* it was like he’d always been nursing. That Monday he nursed once for about 15-20 minutes (as far as I could tell, I always forget to time it.) I couldn’t get him to nurse again that day, but that one time was the best achievement I’d had since he came home. On Tuesday he also nursed once, same on Wednesday. On Thursday, Bug nursed twice. I was so excited I texted my husband about it. On Friday it was back to once, but I wasn’t giving up. By the end of the weekend, Bug was nursing at every feeding during the day. At night I would pump while my husband fed Bug milk  from a bottle. After a few days of all-day nursing, I decided to try nursing Bug at night too. We had great success at this, though I still haven’t tried the lying on my side position, so my sleep is still pretty disrupted. We’ll try that soon.

Bug still needs formula supplementation on occasion, but it’s down significantly (maybe 1-2 bottles a day when he’s super hungry i.e. a growth spurt) and if I can have him nursing (or on breast milk) 90-95% of the time, I’m good with that. I’ll use that minimal amount of formula he gets to administer his vitamins. I’ve conceded that formula isn’t evil. It’s not my first choice, but I’d rather have my child healthy by whatever means necessary than to rigidly try to force something that isn’t working.

So that’s my personal nursing story. Why am I writing this? It helps me process, and if my story helps someone else, that’s great.

What I learned  from my experience is that nursing is not easy, and it’s especially hard when monkeywrenches like NICU stays and bottle feeding are introduced into the mix. The best thing you can do is keep trying, even when you’re feeling miserable and like you are failing. You’re not failing, you’re getting a little closer to success each time. I now believe what the nurses kept saying-that if I kept at it and didn’t stop trying, everything  will sort itself out. I can completely understand why some women give up trying. I was really close to it. It’s really difficult to have your baby seemingly reject you. Breastfeeding has pros and cons.

I love the intimate times I have with our son, and it’s something only I can provide, it’s a unique time for bonding. I know that breast milk provides the ultimate in nutrition and antibodies for Bug, and as a mom I want to provide the best for him. It’s also less expensive than formula, and easier to prepare. Breastfeeding also provides an incentive to keep myself healthy. Another bonus to breastfeeding is the oxytocin boost that occurs when I nurse. It may not be much, but I know that when Bug wasn’t nursing and he would get fussy I handled it much more poorly than on days that he was nursing. That little boost helps me cope when Bug is not as his best, rather than me becoming overwhelmed and frustrated as well.

But it isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are times in the middle of the night where I realize I could get a better night’s sleep if Bug were on formula only, because my husband could take the night shift feedings and allow me to sleep. Because I breastfeed I am on Bug’s schedule, which can be disruptive to the schedule that I want; currently I know I only have about two to three hours in between nursing sessions to get any tasks done. As I’ve said, nursing can be like gambling at a casino, you never know how long you’ve been at it until you’re spent. And I can forget leaving the house for long. If I miss a nursing session, engorgement is an evil monster to deal with, and that’s not counting the leak factor.  I personally can’t bring myself to nurse in public just yet. After all the trials we had, I’m afraid to push it into public, and he’s not always the easiest to nurse. Bug sometimes wiggles a lot and switches from side to side multiple times. Plus I don’t really have any clothes that allow for easy public nursing. As with maternity clothes, I’ve found nursing clothes are hard to come by for a larger sized woman as well. I have nothing to allow for easy nursing access. I will probably buy a nursing cover for public nursing to deal with this.

I’m the primary caregiver, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need a break from time to time. It’s challenging to have to be on-call all the time because someone else cannot step into your role. My husband can diaper, rock, play, etc with Bug, but he can’t nurse him. Breastfeeding can be painful, not just emotionally (from the seeming rejection if you have challenges, or feelings of inadequacy if you’re not producing enough milk), but physically as well, although this is temporary and usually the result of a bad latch which can be corrected. For me, though, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome while pregnant which has persisted and makes holding Bug for extended time very painful.) Although I am thrilled Bug is almost exclusively breastfeeding, this also means that I don’t have many chances to pump and have milk available for those off times I may not be able to nurse. It’s a challenge to balance it all, and I’m still navigating it all.

Breastfeeding your child is a significant commitment. You are signing on to be your child’s  sole source of nutrition for the first six months of his or her life and a primary source of nutrition for some time after. It is a rewarding experience and it can be harrowing as well. Keep in mind that although breastfeeding is natural, it is not innate, that is, it is not an instinct for mothers or children to breastfeed, it is a learned process. Any first-timer will benefit from reading up on breastfeeding at the minimum, and it’s far better to seek out help from the hospital consultants or the La Leche League. Lactation consultants can be the most awesome asset you have in the process, I would not have succeeded with out them.


1 Comment

  1. communiKate said,

    May 27, 2012 at 6:19 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story. I remember hearing so many stories about labor before I had my son but no one mentioned how challenging breast feeding could be. Like you I was adamant I would exclusively breastfeed, we put so much pressure on ourselves don’t we! My son is now 5 months old and I have managed to succeed so far but it has been through A LOT of blood, sweat and tears. Thanks again for the encouragement and honesty.

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