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.
“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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