FFF Friday: “To hell and back.”

Joanne’s FFF Friday submission mentions the supplemental feeding system, of which I was enthusiastically singing the virtues in my last post. However, she brings up an important point while I feel that the SNS is a great option for women whose milk has trouble coming in, or whose babies cannot latch in those valuable early days of infancy, it is not necessarily a viable long-term solution. Solving serious lactation issues can take an intense toll on energy, resources, and mental and/or physical health, and it is always okay to say enough is enough. Feeling like your child associates you with pain and frustration is an experience I’m well acquainted with, and I am so glad Joanne and her daughter were able to escape from that particular hell.

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“To hell and back” is how my husband and I describe the first 8 weeks of our daughter’s life.  Sad but true.  As we prepared for her arrival, we knew it would be hard and exhausting but with the 10+ hours of classes we took – including a breastfeeding class for me – and all the books we read, we thought we knew what to expect.
Labor and delivery was awesome.  I walked into my OB’s office 2 days after my due date to find I was 5 cm dilated.  I checked into L&D to be induced and went into labor on my own 15 minutes later.  Six hours after I checked in, I was holding my darling, much awaited daughter.  
We started nursing soon afterward.  The nurse peeked at her and said she looked great.  I strained, listening for the gulping I was supposed to hear.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, but the nurse said all was well so I took her word for it.  In retrospect, I should have known something was wrong by the lack of discomfort while nursing, how lightly my daughter was sucking, and how hard it was to keep her awake.  At the time I kept replaying what the lactation instructor had said in my class: “It shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right.”  It didn’t hurt, so I figured we were on course.
My daughter was 4 days old when we took her for the first check-up since we were released to go home.  Immediately the alarms were sounded.  My daughter lost 13% of her birth weight.  We were referred to a lactation consultant.  We had numerous consults and phone calls.  Ultimately we learned that she sucked at sucking. She wouldn’t open wide enough, had a weak suck, fell asleep at feedings despite our best efforts to keep her going, and preferred to gum-and-chew rather than the proper trough-with-your-tongue method.  

Feedings were horrible.  We tried every position known to woman.  My daughter screamed and cried just being near me.  She fought and pushed away, but was fine with my husband.  At a week old she was starving and I hardly had any milk to speak of.  I was so heartbroken…and so exhausted.  The lactation consultant suggested nursing, eventually supplementing with formula, and pumping at every feeding. Then I was cleaning parts and bottles (by hand – no dishwasher), sleeping for maybe 40 minutes and starting the whole cycle over again every 2.5 hours.

Fenugreek and the pump helped my supply but it was also inadequately expressing and I began suffering from multiple, chronic plugged ducts daily.  I could barely function.  We were referred to Children’s Hospital when the regular LC decided there was nothing else she could do.  The craniofacial occupational therapist (with an emphasis in breastfeeding) was reassuring; she was sure we could turn it around and sent us home with a supplemental feeding tube.  While the tube was possible with 3 adults, it was barely an option with 2, and completely impossible solo with a screaming newborn who wanted nothing to do with nursing.  I was sure my daughter hated the very sight and smell of me.  

Toss in the fact that the same week my husband went back to work and our cat was emergency hospitalized for a week and almsot put to sleep.  Can anyone say post-partum depression?

By 8 weeks I was a wreck and I threw in the breastfeeding towel.  My supply tanked with all the stress and lack of sleep.  I returned the pump to the hospital, crying.  Giving the last bottle of breast milk mixed with formula killed me – I bawled.  And bawled more when she spit half of it up.  I felt like a complete failure and I mourned the loss of the breastfeeding experience I so desperately wanted.  

A few weeks later I had to return to work.  I became bitter that my whole maternity leave had been so miserable; nothing like my friends who were out at the park, going to see friends and family, and going on small adventures with their little ones – nursing with no problem, or formula feeding.  Things slowly started to get better after we turned to formula completely.  My husband took some feedings; I got more sleep; and my daughter was happier and stopped screaming around me.  
At work people kept asking if I was breastfeeding.  I felt compelled to defend myself in the face of their disapproving responses.  Several times I told our whole tale to people I barely knew, which was the only way most of them backed off.  To some I had tried hard enough to make it work…but not to everyone.  I started avoiding the topic of feeding at all costs so I wouldn’t have to hear how others thought I was in effect lazy and a bad mother.

Now my daughter is almost 18 months old.  She is a genius (of course!), beautiful and full of spirit.  She is my ultimate joy.  We adore each other; she often wants to sit with me or be near me…a far cry from the early months of her life.  While it wasn’t what I wanted, stopping breastfeeding and pumping was right for us.  I could not be the mother she needed had we kept up that impossible regimen.  I still mourn the loss of that breastfeeding relationship but I’ve cut myself some slack.  I did the best I could for my family and myself and in the end that’s all that matters!

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Want to contribute to FFF Fridays? Send your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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7 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “To hell and back.”

  1. I'm so glad you were able to move on and bond with your daughter! I hope that you can continue to move past not having been able to BF like you wanted. It can take awhile.

    It is truly annoying when people think they can decide when someone other than them has tried or hasn't tried enough on the breastfeeding relationship. Especially when they then share their horror story and how they overcame it in the end. It's great for them, but they seriously need to back off and realize everyone isn't like them.

  2. I'm so sorry you had such a difficult time and sorry you got flak from people about BFing. I've been through it, so understand how difficult it is to deal with other people's disapproval when you're dealing with your own guilt and regret. I'm glad you got past it and everyone is happy and healthy now!

    I was interesting to hear about your experience with the SNS. My LCs never suggested this as an option for me when I was struggling with supply issues. A friend later told me we should have tried it. Of course, this made me feel guilty for not thinking of the SNS – like I didn't completely exhaust all options before giving up. I asked one of my LCs why they didn't recommend it for me and she said that she thought I had enough to deal with premature newborn twins. She thought it would have been impractical to suggest it.

  3. To the anon poster… the SNS with premie newborn twins would have been a nightmare! Don't feel guilty at all.

    The SNS is not some high tech method, it involves a small tube that runs from a bottle of formula or breast milk to your baby's mouth while they are latched onto you. So you are holding the baby, and the tube won't stay put so that needs to be held and the bottle needs to be held as well. Women are not equiped with enough hands for this. My BFing experience involved minimum of one other person holding the bottle and trying to get the tube in position. If the tube wasn't in the right spot and if the baby wasn't properly latched there wouldn't be enough suction so we'd have to keep readjusting until it worked.

    The SNS can be a wonderful thing for some people. If my milk had come it I would probably have thought it was worthwhile but for me it was just adding to the stress and frustration that was breastfeeding.

  4. I totally hear you about the SNS needing a multitude of hands to make it work. The first time, it took my LC and my husband nearly an hour to get it working, with my hungry daughter screaming the whole time, and I remember wondering how on earth I was going to do this by myself at night when my husband needed to sleep so he could get up for work the next day. The tube running from a squirmy baby to an open bottle on the coffee table always seemed to me like an accident waiting to happen. I was using the thing in the first place because I've had breast reduction surgery (with no regrets, by the way), and the SNS is widely touted as just the thing in situations like mine, but no one told me how awkward it would be to use.
    One question: before my baby was born, I read about a different kind of SNS that you wear around your neck; it has a little receptacle that you fill with formula or pumped milk and the tube runs downward from your sternum along your breast and into the baby's mouth. My LC didn't mention this, and I was too exhausted to ask, but it seems to me as though it might stay in place better than the tube running from bottle to baby's mouth variety. Has anybody found this to be the case? Just curious.
    ANyway, I ditched the SNS, along with the futility of pumping, pretty quickly and never looked back. My daughter has been pretty much exclusively formula fed from the beginning, and she is a beautiful, happy, bright little girl! SHe is the light of our lives!

  5. Hi Joanne. Thanks for your story. You had commented that we had similar experiences, and I can totally relate to all of this. It was actually helpful for me to hear that the SNS wasn't really that practical because I felt bad that no one had presented that as an option for me when I was so desperately seeking for choices. Sadly, I am still in the midst of the funny looks and the questions, but am reminding myself that it will get better. So good to hear about the joy in your relationship with your daughter now. I am sure she is every bit a genius and as beautiful as you say!

  6. Thanks for taking time to read my story. To Anon #3, the SNS I had sounds a lot like the one you described. It was pinned to me but the tube going into the baby's mouth is still floppy and (for me) hard to keep in place while trying to latch. In her worst moments of fighting me at the breast, my daughter would sometimes tear it loose anyway.

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