Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Breast Feeding Story

With this being World Breast Feeding Week it seems appropriate to share my breast feeding story. Sadly, it's not a long story but I did learn some important lessons and I think my story may be very familiar to other new moms as well as working moms.

Before my daughter was born I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I was worried it would feel weird and that I would feel differently about my body. But, I wanted to do it anyway because I knew it was the right thing for her. So, I told my doctor that I wanted skin to skin contact with my daughter immediately after birth, that I wanted to breastfeed right away and that no artificial nipples should touch her lips.

After Allie was born, the hospital staff pulled my gown away and placed her right on my chest. They wiped her down while I tried to comfort her. Then they took her away to be weighed and measured. She came back to me a few minutes later, bundled warmly and with wide open eyes taking in the world. I held her close to me and she nuzzled against my skin.

I remember clearly saying "should I try nursing?" The nurse asked if she was hungry and I told her I didn't know. All I knew was that other mothers, more experienced moms had talked about their babies nursing right away. I don't know where the nurse went after that but she certainly didn't come over to help me nurse for the first time. I felt stupid for asking, stupid for wanting to try so soon.

Later that night, Paul and I were sleeping soundly when the nurse gently shook me awake. She helped me to sit up and told me my baby was hungry. I sat in a rocking chair and the nurse helped Allison latch on. I was right, it did feel weird but not at all in a bad way. Allison didn't nurse for long but she seemed content and the nurse said that newborns don't require much.

The rest of our stay in the hospital went well. Allison never really acted hungry but every 2 hours I sat down and let her nurse from each side. My milk hadn't really come in yet but I knew she was getting the nourishing colostrum. I felt pretty confident about breastfeeding but the lactation consultant asked to see me the next day. Allison had mild jaundice and they were worried she wasn't getting enough milk to help clear her system.

Our first night at home was hell. Suddenly, the baby who didn't care about eating was starving! Allison's appetite had finally arrived but my milk hadn't. She would desperately suck for a half an hour on each breast, sleep for 30 minutes and wake up screaming, hungry, miserable. It was the longest night of my life.

The next morning I wanted to kill Paul. He'd slept soundly all night while I hadn't gotten any sleep. His parents were due to arrive that afternoon to meet the baby but Allison and I were due back at the hospital at noon. I remember snapping at Paul, listing off things that needed to be done before his parents arrived. He had no idea why I was so mad at him.

At the hospital the nurse told me Allison had lost almost 2 ounces since the day before. She wasn't eating when I nursed, she was just sucking. Somehow, I'd been doing it all wrong. Then, the bilirubin test came back even more elevated than it had been previously. The nurse told me they were going to readmit her and I just lost it. I felt like a failure as a mom.

As it turns out, that extra time in the hospital ended up being a wonderful gift for all of us. Paul's parents came up to see us there and his mom was able to really calm me down. The nurses convinced me that for the time being, Allison should be given a few bottles. She needed the calories and she needed the fluids to wash the bilirubin from her body. Seeing my child miserable and hungry was more powerful than any desire to breastfeed and I agreed.

Once they got Allison under the bili lights I felt a lot better. She was content, at last and no longer starving. While Allie rested under the light I got to work pumping with the hospital grade pump. Nothing came out at all that first time.

Every time Allison was hungry the LC would have me suckle from each breast first and then we would give her the tiny bottle. Eventually, I had pumped enough milk that we were able to put breast milk in the bottles. By the time we left the hospital, Allison was successfully nursing every other feeding. Gradually, we were able to ditch the bottles altogether.

Allie and I had a good breastfeeding relationship after that. It never stopped feeling weird and it did change how I felt about my body but only because it made me feel more powerful. Breastfeeding is a pretty awesome super power if you ask me!

Unfortunately, I had to go back to work 2 months after Allison was born. I made sure I had a place to pump at work and I did it faithfully. But, pumping is just not the same as baby feeding and my supply started to decline. To top it off, my little pig, Allison was really enjoying how fast she could eat when she was given the bottle at daycare. She started refusing the breast in the evenings.  I continued to offer it to her and when she started screaming we would give in and give her the bottle. I just didn't know what else to do!

By the time Allison was 3 months old she was almost exclusively bottle fed and we had to start using formula to supplement my dwindling supply of breast milk. We continued to enjoy a n early morning nursing session everyday but she refused me at all other times. It was such a frustrating and painful time in my life. I felt like my daughter was refusing me, I felt like a failure for not being able to make it even to 6 months without formula.

But, even after Allison gave up the morning nursing I continued to pump. I pumped until I thought my breasts would fall off. I pumped until the pumps stopped producing even the smallest amount of milk. If I couldn't produce enough, I at least wanted to make sure my baby got every drop that I could produce.

Allison received her last bottle with breast milk when she was 4 months old. I was at peace with it by that point. I felt like Allison had made the choice and I had done the best I could.

The next time I have a baby I will be better prepared for the struggles of breastfeeding. After the baby is born I will feel confident in directing her to my breast as soon as she starts rooting. I will know when she is not latched properly and will be able to guide her to a proper latch so that she doesn't starve. Hopefully, I will not be working when we have our next child. If I am, I will be diligent about pumping every two hours. I will not let my coworkers make me feel bad or weird about it.

I know that each baby is different but I think having more confidence will be one of the biggest factors in successfully breastfeeding my next baby.

Chime in! Did you breastfeed your babies? Was it frustrating? Exhilarating? Exhausting? Fabulous? All of the above!?

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