Breastfeeding can be blissfully easy. I know because I have seen it done. But for me it was not easy. We had a lot of issues with breastfeeding that made it hard to get a good breastfeeding relationship established once my daughter was born.
Despite all of that, we managed to breastfeed exclusively for just over 2 months and 90% of the time until she was 6 months old. While I would have preferred to nurse her longer, I am so glad we were able to make it work for as long as it did. I am telling my story here so can see how a less-than-perfect scenario worked out for us.
I do want to add one caution here. Whether you are a champion nurser who makes it to three years of nursing while filling your freezer for less fortunate babes, or whether you formula feed from day one – you are the most important part of how your baby is fed. Being held, loved, warm and close to mom or dad is infinitely better than propping a bottle – no matter what is in it!
Day one was rough on both of us. While I was able to avoid the threatened C-section, other parts of the birth were far less natural. I ended up with 5 IV bags, pain medication, and finally, an epidural during the 30 or so hours I was in labor. When my daughter was finally born, she was nearly rushed off to the NICU because she was not breathing well on her own. By the time I was finally able to hold her, she and I were both pretty wiped out.
She was not able to nurse right off and I knew it was ok so I tried not to worry. After a few hours she was making nursing attempts, but she got angry when nothing happened fast enough for her. Meanwhile, the nurse on duty was threatening to take her and give her a bottle against my wishes. She angrily told me that I was going to give my baby brain damage if I did not get her to nurse immediately. I stayed awake most of the night trying to get my baby to nurse and keeping an eagle eye out for the nurse. Due to my gestational diabetes, the baby needed regular blood tests to be sure she did not experience a common side effect of low blood sugar.
The next morning our pediatrician assured me that all was well and that it was ok that my daughter was not eating yet. Around 10 that morning I finally got a good latch and it looked like baby was nursing like a pro. Just then the hospital lactation consultant showed up and since everything looked ok, she left. Then baby got mad again. Every attempt to nurse after that ended in her sobbing and me close to tears. My milk had not yet come in and she was not thrilled with the small amount of colostrum she was getting. She refused to try nursing any more. We went home with a bili light since she was severely jaundiced.
The bilirubin light is an amazing invention. It allows babies to go home instead of staying in the hospital for jaundice treatment. However, it requires baby to spend most of their time in the light case and when you hold them you have to keep the light belt on the baby at all times. Not the easiest set-up for a reluctant nurser. By now she was hysterical every time I attempted to nurse her. My milk had come in, but she would not even try to nurse. I gave birth to one stubborn child and she was not going to be tricked into anything!
I spoke with a second lactation consultant who helped me figure out some more tricks to try and assured me that things would work out. But my daughter was now more than 4 days old and she was not eating. I could see she was losing weight and her diapers were not wet enough. I finally caved. Not for formula (although those dreadful premixed formula bottles the hospital sent home were very tempting at that point!). Instead, I decided to pump and give her a bottle. Nipple confusion be danged, I was feeding this baby.
But, the handheld and small electric pumps I had bought as backup did not work at all. So, we made a midnight run to a big box store and came home with a good quality pump. Hallelujah! I had a bottle of milk for my baby in just minutes. And she drank it! My baby was eating.
After two feedings with the bottle, she happily accepted nursing. She was still not a text-book nurser, but she got the job done. She would nurse for only about 5 minutes at a time but her latch was good and she started gaining weight so I knew she was getting enough. However, I could not get enough pumped milk to feed her the one bottle a day that was necessary for me to work.
Then her tummy aches started. Then the occasional streaks of blood in her diapers. The doctor assured me this was normal – but it did not feel normal! After almost 2 months of frequent tummy aches and never sleeping more than a few minutes unless she was held, we figured out that she was allergic to dairy when I ate it and also in formula. Since I did not eat dairy often (being allergic to milk myself), it took some time to piece together my occasional dish of ice cream or yogurt with her frantic screaming. When I stopped dairy and switched her to soy formula she became a much more pleasant baby. Until her teeth started coming in….
At 4 months, to the day, she popped out two teeth. And she started occasionally refusing to nurse. Around that time several major stressors started in my life. Not the least of which was my mother’s diagnosis with terminal lung disease. My stress lead to lowered milk supply. Despite using some herbs and regular pumping, I lost my milk every night around 6 PM. I had no choice but to bottle feed since there was simply no milk for her.
I tried making a formula with goat’s milk because I hated giving her soy formula, but she had a very bad reaction to goat’s milk too!
Finally, the day she turned 6 months she got two more teeth. She decided she was done nursing. When I tried, she would bite me and turn her head. No matter how long I waited and how many times I tried, she was done. Pumping was not enough to keep up my supply, so in a few days it was gone.
Now, I sometimes question myself, wondering if there was something I could do to get past her nursing strike or to lower my stress so pumping would work better or whatever. I know this is crazy since I did the best I could at the time and under the circumstances – but it was a huge disappointment to me when I had to feed my baby nasty soy formula.
Despite the obstacles, we succeeded in breastfeeding most of the time for 6 months. I am proud of that.
Even with difficulties, breastfeeding can work. I am grateful that we were able to make it work for so long. My daughter is healthy and that is really what matters most. If you have problems with breastfeeding, find a good lactation consultant or attend a La Leche League meeting. Get support, because it makes all the difference!
I am participating in a Mothering blogfest for breastfeeding, see more here: http://www.mothering.com/community/a/blog-about-breastfeeding-and-win