Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
It’s hard for me to read FFF Lisa’s story without wanting to hurl my computer out the window. That’s how angry it makes me. I feel an uncontrollable urge to go punch the people who made her postpartum experience – already a difficult one – so terrible. I hope you guys will join me in letting her know how amazing she is and that she made the right decision for herself and her family.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had every intention of breastfeeding my child. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I felt like I was doing what I could to prepare myself for challenges. The challenge that I never saw coming was a premature baby.
I had an extremely uneventful pregnancy up until the end of my 31st week, when I started leaking fluid. I spent two days in the hospital being pumped full of drugs and delivered my daughter, Olivia, at 32 weeks 1 day. She weighed 3lbs. 9oz.
Minutes after Olivia was born, she was whisked off to the NICU and I was told that if I wanted to breastfeed her, I needed to start pumping ASAP. The plan was to get me a pump as soon as I got to my room and my Labor & Delivery nurse had given me a pep talk about pumping and dedication. She also made the comment that my success breastfeeding would be entirely up to me and my level of dedication.
This would not be the last time I would hear this comment.
I didn’t immediately get a breast pump, it took awhile for them to find me one, but eventually they put one in my room and a nurse gave me the basics on how to use it. I didn’t get a whole lot of instruction on what to expect. I knew that things would be slow going at first, but after a week or so I had some milk to bring to the NICU on our daily trips. It was 30ml or so per session, but seemed to be gradually increasing, so I thought things were going OK. Just OK.
That was, until I met the lactation consultant. One morning as I have my hands in the incubator, about to take my daughter’s temperature, the NICU lactation consultant pops up and starts firing questions at me about my milk production. Apparently my 30ml per pumping was bad. I “should” have been producing more than that. She wanted me to keep a pumping log, noting the times I pumped and the output.
I hated that log with a passion. For one, I felt like I had been assigned this homework because she didn’t believe I was really pumping every two hours. Also, I swear, my production dropped when I started keeping that thing.
When I brought the log back the next day, she quickly looks at it and immediately says I need help and have I ever taken Reglan before? I hadn’t and I had reservations about taking it because I’d heard it should not be used by people with a past history of depression. I had a past history of depression, I was ten days postpartum, and I had a child in intensive care. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, but I trusted her when she told me it was just for fourteen days and that people that suffer the side effect of depression are on it for extended periods.
In my experience, the length of time makes no difference. By day seven I was miserable. Really, horribly miserable. One day I went to fix a bagel and realized the bag wasn’t sealed well and moisture had gotten in and made the top couple of bagels soggy and ruined. I broke down in my kitchen. Sat down in my kitchen floor and cried like the world was coming to an end. I was in a funk that was quickly sliding towards a serious depression and I wasn’t seeing any increase in production.
I threw away the Reglan. I did feel better the very next day, but I was diagnosed with PPD at my four week postpartum checkup. I guess it is possible that I was on the edge of PPD the whole time and that is why Reglan affected me so much. I feel that is something LCs should keep in mind and they should not be casually brushing off the potential for depression while taking Reglan, even if it is for a short time period.
I decided to try Mother’s Milk tea instead, and it did seem to help a bit, I was up to a couple of ounces at most sessions. Until I woke up one morning with my left boob — my good boob – all sore and engorged feeling and I could not get much milk from it. Hot showers, compresses, massage, nothing seemed to help. The pain eventually went away on its own, but the milk production never came back. I was down to about 5ml from that side, bringing my pumping total back down to about 30ml a session again.
The following day we went to the NICU for our morning visit and were told our baby girl is being discharged! The nurse asks if she had been to the breast yet, and when I told her no, she said it was happening today. It was a fairly stressful experience. First she notes that I’m only getting about 30ml a pumping (based on the bottles I had brought in that day) and tells me that she’s taking twice that per feeding. Then she asks the usual questions about how much water I’m drinking and how much rest I’m getting, we tell her that I tried Reglan with no success, and she brushes that aside and insists I should have better supply saying “at this point, I think it has to be because of something you’re doing.”
She looked me in the eye and told me it was my fault. That moment is burned in my memory; I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, as long as I live.
Then we try to nurse. My teeny tiny baby girl, who should have been cooking in the womb for 5 more weeks, squirmed and screamed and the nurse kept cramming her onto my breast in a way that was covering up her tiny nose. It was not a good experience at all.
Then as we’re packing up, she gives me that line again: “Your success at breastfeeding is up to you.”
I hate that line, I really do. I hate using the word success. The opposite of success? Failure, of course. So they might as well say, “If you fail at this, it is entirely your own fault. You could do it if you tried hard enough.” I think it’s ridiculous. I really wish they would say something like “your breastfeeding experience is your own.” It is what you make of it. You exclusively breastfeed? Great. You pump full time? Great. You supplement? Great. The experience is entirely yours, do with it what you will, and know that people will be here to support YOUR experience.
I replayed that line in my head so many times on my daughter’s first day home. I would feed her and then put her down and go pump, look at my measly output, and think about how successful I should be, if I just tried harder. We were running out of pumped milk. I stripped her down to her diaper and held her against my chest and the whole time tears just silently ran my down my face. It was the first time I had really gotten to snuggle my baby, gotten skin-to-skin contact with the child I birthed three weeks earlier, and all I could think about was milliliters in those collection bottles.
I decided I was really going to give this my all. I bought More Milk Plus and Goat’s Rue, I ate oatmeal and drank gallons of water, I rented a hospital pump, and I tried multiple different flanges. I tried nursing at every feeding, but Olivia wasn’t very consistent. Sometimes she would latch and nurse for ten minutes or so, other times she would just thrash and scream. I was pumping every two hours, nursing and bottle feeding every four hours, and constantly washing bottles and pump parts. It was very hard work, and I was still lucky to get 30ml during a pumping session, but she was mostly breastfed. She was only taking one or two bottles of formula a day.
Then we went to the pediatrician for a weight check, where I proudly told the nurse she was mostly breastfed. However, when we weighed Olivia, she had only gained 7 ounces in the ten days she had been out of the hospital. Our ped is amazing and talked to me about my milk production and mentioned taking fenugreek. When I told him what I was doing, he seemed impressed and said I was doing all the right things. Essentially he was the first person to acknowledge how hard I was trying, but he still requested that we supplement more to get her weight up because she wasn’t gaining like she should be. I began to question breastfeeding because it was such a time consuming production, it was taking time away from her, and she wasn’t gaining like she should be.
I spent days agonizing over it, reading countless things online saying any amount of breastmilk is priceless, a precious gift. I finally came to the conclusion that while breastmilk is precious and beneficial, so is time with mommy and the pumping routine was consuming all of my time and energy. I decided I would go with all formula.
I’m still dealing with guilt over the decision. I left the pump parts in the sink drainer for at least a week and I kept my rented pump, all set up and ready to go, for even longer than that. Multiple times I thought about trying again. I thought I had a refill on the Reglan and considered filling it, thinking I would be fine since I was on an anti-depressant now. I considered buying domperidone off the internet. My husband had to take my pump back because I didn’t want to face the LC and her questions.
I still feel a twinge of guilt, like I’m a bad mother, every time I hear someone mention breastfeeding, especially if they remark how “easy” it is. However, Olivia is gaining weight and thriving on a formula for preemies, she gained over 2lbs. in three weeks. And I will admit, the first time that I got to snuggle and rock her to sleep after her early morning feeding, rather than putting her down to pump, I felt more like her mother than I ever did giving her a bottle of my milk.
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