One of the first challenges I faced after bringing Lachlan home from the hospital was breastfeeding. When Lachlan first came into this world, he was alert and sucking the air for food. In fact, he even had "suck blisters" on his arm from sucking on his arm in utero. These were for sure signs that we were going to have a great breastfeeding relationship.
I do not remember ever seeing anyone in my immediate or extended family breastfeed and because of this, it was a foreign idea and I figured that the whole idea would weird me out and I would not be comfortable, nor confident in feeding my child this way. Although I felt this way, when I pictured myself as a mother and feeding, it was always through breast, never a bottle. To me, breastfeeding was the only way - why give your child something other than what is natural and the best? I would breastfeed until he was at least 12 months old.
As I am learning with this whole process, things don't always go as planned and the level of control you think you'll have isn't always what you think. Sometimes, no matter how much you want something or how much you know it is right, it doesn't make a difference.
Becuase I had the issues with my placenta, I was unable to immediately breastfeed Lachie. I think it was probably an hour or so after he came out that we were first able to have that bond. All of my preconceived ideas of breastfeeding not feeling natural to me were thrown out the window the first time he latched. It was an amazing feeling to know that I was able to feed my child with my body. In the hospital, once latched, he was really great about staying on, but liked to nap while eating. After just one evening of breastfeeding, I woke up the next day with bruises around my nipples and scabs on my nipples. I spoke with various lactation consultants while in the hospital for the 48+ hours that I was there. They helped me with latching since we were obviously having issues in that department. They taught me how to keep him awake since he often liked to nap while "at the dinner table." Although I hurt like no other and curling my toes when he latched was an understatement, I was committed to continuing and breastfed every 2 hours or more while in the hospital. I was sure to wake him up so that we could get on a good schedule. The lactation consultants constantly tried expressing milk (or colostrum) from my breasts while I was in the hospital. Other than one drip the day I left, we were unsuccessful in expressing anything. I feel like at that point, I could sense the worry in the lactation consultants. They began to ask me questions about changes to my breasts while pregnant, and to be honest, other than growing a tiny bit, I did not have any changes.
To encourage Lachlan to suck and send signals to my body to create milk, they put a drop of formula on my nipple to encourage him to suck. The way he went at the formula worried me that he was not getting anything. No matter how long he was at the breast, he would come off sucking my arm, sucking the air, and screaming for his dear life.
When we got home from the hospital, the constant sucking continued. I was constantly feeding him because he always seemed to be hungry. This was emotionally and mentally exhausting for me. Bringing home a baby and the sleep deprivation is bad enough, but when you throw in a baby that seems to be starving, it became unbearable for me. No matter how long he was at the breast (like in the hospital) he would continue to suckle and cry. Some sessions were an hour or more and he was still unsatisfied. This broke my heart. Because we were constantly feeding (and likely still working on our latch) my nipples were extremely sore. I cried and cried through every feeding. I knew that the stress was not encouraging proper production but I was in pain, and my child was "starving."
We went for a check up at the pediatrician (you know, the routine first visit within x days of coming home from the hospital) and found out that Lachlan had lost 9% of his body weight at only 3 days old. A lot of people say that this is normal and that it is what to be expected, but when you've already been doubting your ability to successful feed your child, it is very discouraging. We explained our concerns to our pediatrician and asked what our options were. He was very encouraging of breastfeeding and said we could try topping off feedings with formula. He made it very clear that we needed to breastfeed FIRST and then we could offer him formula until he seemed satisfied. We tried it when we got home and he was a completely different baby within minutes.
The feelings that surfaced when I saw him find great satisfaction in the bottle were overwhelming. I had a great sense of jealousy and guilt. I felt defeated. I felt like the biggest failure of a mother. But, I also felt like I wasn't doing enough and that I couldn't give up. I reached out to everyone I knew that could help me. I started with friends and through that, found both empathy and even more guilt for doing what I was doing. It is hard to feel like you are doing the best thing for your child and what you need to do and be told you're doing it wrong. But, its nice hearing that others experienced what you are going through and that they resorted to the same answers and had success.
After feeding Lachlan through a syringe because of all the criticism I received for introducing a bottle, I called my Bradley teacher who is a lactation consultant. Well, Morgan called her because I couldn't stop crying enough to call her myself. I spoke with her for at least an hour and a half and followed the tips that she gave me, which included continuing the formula feedings (after breastfeeding) but to make sure I am pumping close to 10 times a day. I did just that.
After being close to a week since giving birth, feeling even more defeated when I could only pump one drop from each breast, I called the lactation consultants at the hospital for help. I ended up meeting with a consultant there and they had me pump through a hospital grade pump thinking that it would help. We did a weigh-in before and after his feedings and realized that he was receiving absolutely nothing from either breast. Devastating. I was understandably upset and crying but she made me feel a little better by reassuring me that I am doing the right thing - first and foremost, my child needs to be fed. If formula is the only way that he can be fed for now, then that is what it is. She encouraged me to continue breastfeeding before offering formula and gave me information of a free support group where they do weigh-ins and help with any issues that you are having. As well, the midwives decided to do labwork to see if my thyroid levels were off to see if that is what was causing my lack (or absence) of supply.
I went to the support group. It wasn't fun being the only woman crying in front of a group of women but I was there to get the help I needed, so whatever it took. I fed him and they weighed him and once again confirmed that he was getting close to nothing from either breast. I believe he gained like 2 grams from one breast and 0 grams from the other. I spent a couple hours talking to a consultant after they realized that he was not receiving milk. They encouraged me to pump at the group. I did. I produced almost 2 ounces after 30+ minutes of pumping. I've never been so proud of my body. I felt so motivated to keep going. I insisted to Morgan that I needed to rent a hospital grade pump so that I could continue to pump and encourage my supply. So, we did that. As well, I spoke with Lachlan's pediatrician (who I love, btw) and he suggested that I take Fenugreek to try to increase my supply. I went out and bought tea to drink. Later, I bought the capsules to take as well.
I went back the next week to do a weigh-in before and after feeding and once again, he received close to nothing. They had suggested using a shield, both to aid in him sucking and receiving milk and for relief for me. But again, no success. I sat there giving my screaming baby a bottle of formula while everyone else went up to do a weigh-in, finding out they had successful sessions and their baby received ounces within two 10 minute sessions. While it was discouraging and I was close to throwing in the towel, I told myself that I couldn't give up. I cried the whole way home.
I've continued, since that day, to breastfeed and to pump. Some days I am able to produce 2-4 ounces a day, sometimes I produce .5 ounces throughout the day. I give him whatever expressed milk I am able to pump.
It's been a really difficult battle with many days spent crying. But, I will continue to feed him in the way that I can. While I have dealt with many negative feelings and feeling like a failure, my child is happy. My child is fed. My child is going to be JUST fine even if he receives formula. I am not feeding my child poison, I am doing the best that I can. If I am never able to exclusively breastfeed like I dream about, then I can't. If I can only breastfeed for another day, then that's all I can do. Supposedly only a small percentage of women are unable to breastfeed - unable to produce milk. Maybe I am a part of that small percentage and maybe I am not. Maybe I messed it up by supplementing with formula early on. But, I am a mother. The most important thing to me is that my child is healthy, fed and happy. In that sense, I've been a successful mother. I've done what I can do. I haven't given up. I am doing the best with the cards I have been dealt. Maybe I'll never be a part of an elite exclusively breastfeeding crew. I'll never be able to say that my child was never given a drop of formula. But, dammit, I've done a good job; I haven't given up when others would have.
I continue to do what is best for MY child and MY situation. While the breast is best, sometimes the best is not an option, and unfortunately, exclusively breast is not an option for me. I will be just fine. My child will be just fine. I did not fail as a mother. What is natural to most, isn't natural to all. Unfortunately, I am one of those. But, instead of continuing to dwell on what may never be, I will keep on trucking and continue to be a mother to my happy and fed child, and that is all ever anyone could expect.. myself included.
Some may be able to take away my pride and confidence, but no one can take away my efforts and the amount of "the best" I've been able to provide. I cherish every moment we are able to bond through breastfeeding as I know that it may be the last. While I dread that day and cry at the thought, I am thankful for every new feeding we share.