I recently received this FFF Friday submission from Amanda, who shares her unique perspective after having three incredibly different experiences with infant feeding. At least for me, her story suggests two truisms: one, that babies are individuals, as are mothers – and we can’t assume that what works for one person will work for another; and two, that just because you have one bad breastfeeding experience, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at nursing in the future.
I had my first child when I was 2 weeks away from turning 20 years old. At the beginning of my pregnancy, my husband asked if I planned on breastfeeding and I was totally horrified. Breastfeed?! Seriously?! Why would I do that when there are perfectly good bottles available? My mom didn’t breastfeed, my grandma didn’t breastfeed, it was not normal in my world. But then I met a few women in our new home town who were breastfeeding their infants and, by the time my due date rolled around, I was firmly on the breastfeeding bandwagon!
I had a smooth labor and delivery and a healthy baby boy, but I left the hospital with the beginnings of PPD and with PP anxiety in full swing. Only I didn’t know enough to recognize that. Once at home, my milk came in full force, my little boy had the latch of a champion and all should’ve been well. Unfortunately, the fact that we were physically very successful at breastfeeding didn’t compensate for the fact that I was emotionally in a downward spiral and battling panic attacks round the clock. By the time my son was 3 months old he was fully formula fed and I was beating myself up daily, telling myself what a failure I was. But, after a month or so of formula feeding, the guilt went away and I never really gave it much thought after that. Formula feeding is the norm here and was the norm when I was growing up, and blogs and mommy forums weren’t around at the time, so I wasn’t living under the assumption that I was being judged for my choices.
Fast forward 4 years to the birth of my daughter. I was older, I was wiser, I knew breastfeeding would work this time. I gave birth at home to my 10lbs 4oz little girl and was on a birth high for months. PPD/Anxiety was nowhere in sight and I was breastfeeding like I’d been doing it for years. Life was good!
I happily breastfed my daughter for 3 years, never giving her a single bottle.
I was thrilled.
I was arrogant.
Fast forward another 4 years to the birth of my second son. I had another planned home birth (which actually ended up taking place in a hotel, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!) and I was fully prepared to sail through another few years of breastfeeding. It never once occurred to me that I would ever have breastfeeding troubles. Like I said, I was arrogant.
I noticed when I latched him on, moments after birth, that I couldn’t get much more than the tip of my nipple in his mouth. I didn’t give it much thought. I fed him on demand, as I’d done with my daughter, and assumed that all was well.
In those first few days, it became obvious that he had a very shallow latch and I became acutely aware of the lack of wet diapers he was having. Aside from explosive meconium, he wasn’t doing much of anything in the diaper department and I began to fret. I called my midwife and we came to the conclusion that he had a tethered tongue. She assured me that as soon as it was clipped, all would be fine. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. That’s it! The magic cure! We’ll get the clip done and the anxiety that had begun to creep in would disappear because our feeding issues would be solved!
My mom (who has never breastfed, but has been my biggest breastfeeding cheerleader and an endless fountain of support) loaded the baby and I in her car and drove me over an hour one way to get to my midwife so we could get the tongue clip done. After the procedure was done, his latch was improved but not great. I didn’t fret too much because I just knew that this would be the cure for all of our woes.
My mom had to go back home (4 hours away) after the tongue clip was done and her absence quickly triggered the anxiety that had been lurking so close to the surface. After three days of near constant panic attacks, I ended up in the ER desperately seeking some relief. I dealt with an extremely caring and knowledgeable ER doctor who gave me an anti-anxiety shot and I had my first night of sleep since my son had been born. The next day I saw my doctor and he put me on an anti-depressant and an emergency anti-anxiety med.
Finally! Relief! This, I thought, would finally be the answer to our problems. My milk, which I had yet to feel come in, would be able to come in because I wouldn’t be stressed and anxiety ridden.
Then I started really looking at my sons wet and dirty diapers – something I hadn’t been able to focus on prior to getting my anxiety under control. I quickly realized that his diapers weren’t right. His poop was dark green and foamy and there were no yellow seeds that I knew were the sign of a baby who was getting enough to eat. I started frantically doing research and learned that this was a tale tell sign of a foremilk/hind milk imbalance. Ok, I thought, no big deal…I can fix this! But, after three days, it became obvious that I couldn’t fix it.
Then, at 9 days old, my son made it clear that he was starving. After several hours of constant ‘nursing’ (sucking, but not swallowing) he began to scream and scream and scream. Through uncontrollable sobs, I told my husband to go to the store and get a 4oz bottle and a can of formula. I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried harder than I did at that moment. In my mind, this was an all or nothing venture. If I was going to give him one bottle, I might as well just give up. And that started a string of thoughts about how this would effect us down the road and I had visions of sitting in a restaurant feeding my son a bottle and being judged by everyone around me.
I made my husband give him the bottle in another room because I couldn’t bear to watch and I spent the next hour sobbing on the phone with my mom. She assured me that this did not have to be the end of our breastfeeding relationship and encouraged me to call my lactation consultant the next day. When my husband brought my son to me that night, he was more soundly asleep and more obviously content than he’d been since his birth…and my heart broke even more.
The next morning, we went to see my lactation consultant and I was confident that we would leave with a positive game plan. It was a new day and I was feeling great!
And then she put my baby on the scale.
My son, who was born at 9lbs 8oz, weighed in at 8lbs 3oz at 10 days old. I felt like someone had punched me in the face. I couldn’t argue with what the scale told me – I had been starving my baby. My lactation consultant was very reassuring, but I could tell that she was worried. She spent the next 2 hours talking to me, watching the baby nurse, and giving me a plan of action. I went home with a hospital grade double electric pump, a supplemental nursing system (sns), and instructions to pump after every feed and use the sns when needed. I felt good. I could do this!
We went back the next day to do another weight check and I was feeling great. We had only used the sns twice and I felt like he’d been pretty satisfied on the breast. Then we put him on the scale and he had lost 2 more ounces. I completely broke down. I have never cried like that in front of virtual strangers. I couldn’t even focus enough to hear what anyone was saying to me. All I could hear, in my head, was “You’re starving your baby. You failed.”
My lactation consultant sent me home with strict instructions to use the sns at every feeding. I was more than happy to do so because, at that point, I was confident that I would never be able to fully breastfeed my son again, so I would hang on to anything that allowed even a minimal amount of nursing.
An interesting thing happened at that point. I began to feel like my son didn’t want me and wasn’t comforted by me because I wasn’t able to breastfeed him. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for him. And not in a guilt ridden sense, but just in a factual sense. It made perfect sense to me that he wouldn’t want a mother who couldn’t feed him.
The next 2 weeks were a blur of learning how to use the sns, pumping, giving up on pumping, and just trying to survive. I couldn’t leave the house because I couldn’t use the sns discreetly in public, so my whole world revolved around sitting in my recliner with tubes taped to my chest and bi-weekly weight checks with my LC. My son began to quickly gain weight and I was happy, yet sad that I couldn’t do it ‘the right way’.
In those 2 weeks I’d begun to take Fenugreek and Domperidone, supplied by my mother who was fighting this battle right along with me. Then, in the 3rd week, I noticed that he was eating less and less out of the sns. Finally, I took the plunge and went an entire day without supplementing and he seemed satisfied and I could actually feel my breasts filling up with milk between feedings! I couldn’t believe it!
Then, after five full days with no supplementing, we went in for a weight check. I held my breath as the numbers on the scale began to move and screamed with joy when they stopped on 10lbs 8oz! 4 days earlier he had weighed in at 10lbs 2oz so he’d gained 6oz in 4 days with NO SUPPLEMENTING! I couldn’t believe it! And I cried. And my LC cried and we hugged and I thanked her for carrying me through and she thanked me for putting in the hard work. Then she sent me on my way and told me to call if I needed anything. And that left me feeling thrilled…and scared. Because I no longer held any confidence in my own body.
That last weigh in was 2 days ago and I still definitely feel very unsure of my body. I no longer believe that I can feed my son without intervention, even though the scale and the diapers and the fat rolls say otherwise. I don’t know that I’ll ever regain that confidence. But, what I do know, is that I’m thankful. Thankful that I’ve been on so many sides of this feeding journey. Thankful for the people and the resources that have gotten me to this point. And very, very thankful for the invention of formula that sustained my oldest child for the first year of his life and prevented my youngest from starvation.
If you have a story about formula feeding or breastfeeding that you’d like to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the club. No membership dues!