"But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure." Psalm 71:14-15

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's not about how hard you try

There are many things that I wanted to give my child before I actually became a parent. I wanted a drug-free, natural labor. I ended up with a C-section. I wanted to use cloth diapers, and that's actually going very well. But more than anything, I wanted to breastfeed my baby. In my mind, breastfeeding had to be the best part of being a mom. All the women in my family breastfed their babies. My mom always talked about how much she loved breastfeeding me, and how much she cried when I weened myself at 6 months. As much as I ached to have a baby, I looked forward to breastfeeding more than any other part of the experience.

I admit, I was a bit of a breastfeeding snob. I found myself judging women I saw in public bottle-feeding their babies. Wondering why they would settle for second best for their babies. When people had problems breastfeeding and chose to switch to formula, I just thought they didn't try hard enough to make it work. I assumed that there were things you could take for milk supply problems, techniques to try for lazy eaters, etc. If you were willing to try hard enough, anyone could make it work. Boy was I wrong.

From the moment Levi was born, I loved breastfeeding. It was everything that I thought it would be. We had a great first feeding, even after all the commotion of Matt's seizure. After that he was much lazier. He was in that newborn comatose sleep for a few days. There was 12 hours or so when he didn't have a wet diaper in the hospital (day 2 or 3, I can't remember), and that's when we first started supplementing. I cried so much. I hated giving him formula; it made him puke. The day I was discharged, my milk started to come in and I don't think we even brought any formula samples home with us. I was done with it, I thought.

At Levi's 1 week check-up he was not back up to birth weight, but the doctor wasn't too worried. He wanted to see us back for a 2 week to make sure he was gaining. In between those visits, the damage and pain from breastfeeding had really set in. It was difficult to let him feed as long as he needed to. I had also read a book that suggested single-side feeding, which I was doing to try to help myself heal. So he was only eating from one side each time, and I am not a large breasted woman so there isn't much storage space. Looking back, it was my fault he wasn't gaining weight. I was starving him, but I didn't know that. He was still losing weight at his 2 week appointment, he lost down to 7 lbs 2 oz from 7 lbs 15 oz at birth. I did nothing but nurse him and cry from the pain for the next 4 days. I saw a lactation consultant who did pre and post-feeding weights on him and said that it was "fine" for him to only get 1.6 oz in a 40 min feeding (we'll get back to that). When we went back on Friday (his weekly appointments were on Mondays), he had only maintained his 7 lbs 2 oz. Levi's pediatrician had me begin supplementing with formula or fortified breast milk. Each feeding I would nurse him as long as I could (25-40 min), then give him a bottle, then pump for 15 minutes. By the time I washed bottles and pump parts it took nearly 2 hours and he was eating every 3! The pediatrician said we not only wanted Levi to gain weight, but we wanted him to learn the difference between full and hungry so that he would be a more vigorous eater. I followed this routine from Friday to Tuesday and Levi gained a whole pound! I was a zombie though.

We decided to back off to supplementing every other feeding for the next week (I pretty much gave up the pumping though), and he continued to gain. I was still in a lot of pain. Everyone had told me that the pain goes away by week 3 or 4 and it hadn't. My husband was telling me to give up because he hated seeing me in so much pain. I've told everyone, I had more pain from breastfeeding than I did from the surgery. I called and made an appointment with another lactation consultant. She gave me some pointers on how to deal with the pain (nipple shields really help when you know how to use them!). She also did a pre and post-feeding weight and said that I had a low milk supply and that I would have to start supplementing with every feeding because Levi wasn't getting enough calories from me. At this point, Levi was 5 weeks old and I had seen the first LC at 2.5 weeks. I was so frustrated because I felt like I could have dealt with this issue a long time ago if she hadn't told me it was "fine." I was put on a strict breast-bottle-pump schedule every 3 hours to stimulate my supply. I was also on an Rx to help with milk production, one that my LC said she had only seen not work on 2 women in 15 years (both had PCOS, which I don't have).

Over the next few days I saw my milk supply plummet. I guess it was the increased supplementing. I panicked. I waited a few days for the Rx to kick in, nothing. I went back after a week with no improvement. She said give it another week, I did. I began to hate the breast pump. I loved nursing Levi, and I didn't mind as much giving him a bottle, but I always had to put him down right away to hurry off and pump. I hated it. I did this ridiculous routine every 3 hours, even trying to wake up in the middle of the night to pump while my baby slept, for nearly 3 weeks. I cried, and mourned and generally felt mad at the world. I was mad because my body was failing to do what it was made to do. I can't make enough milk to feed my son. It doesn't matter what I try, because I've tried it all (herbal tea, oatmeal, fenugreek, power pumping, Rx).

I finally decided that I needed to accept that I was a "formula mom" (something I NEVER wanted to be). I decided that I was done with the pump. I couldn't go anywhere or do anything because I was tied to a breast pump. I could nurse my son and give him a bottle while I was out, but I can't pump just anywhere. I only pump like a normal person, 3 times a day. I nurse Levi and he gets all I have to offer, but the bottle makes sure he gets enough food. Yes, I'm disappointed, mad, jealous of moms who can feed their babies. But I've made peace with the fact that I tried everything, for a long time, and nothing worked to bring my milk up to a full supply. I know I did everything I could to give my baby the best, and maybe next time it will be different. Some people may think I'm nuts for not giving up completely and just bottle feeding. But just because I can't feed him a whole meal doesn't mean I can't feed him anything. Anything he gets from me is good for him. And as long as we both enjoy it, who cares what other people think?

I have learned not to be so judgmental of those "formula moms," because I don't want someone to judge me. They don't know my story or how hard I tried to make it work. Maybe this post will help someone who was like me to be more understanding when their friends give up on breastfeeding. Because sometimes it doesn't matter how hard you try, or how bad you want it, it just doesn't work the way it's supposed to.


Mommy Attorney said...

Hey Jill - this is Laura Watts (Harper now) and I just want to send you a HUGE virtual hug. I had major breastfeeding problems with my first and I suffered so much guilt and agony and pain for it, so I know exactly what you mean. I cried so much. Keep nursing Levi for as long as it works for both of you in addition to supplementing - it doesn't have to be one or the other. You definitely did everything you could, and that's all you can do as a parent. What Levi needs most is love.

One tiny piece of advice, just because you were in so much pain - have you had him evaluated for tongue tie?

I'm sorry you had trouble with LCs. I had a really awful one as well, who told me my supply problems were because I was lazy.

Keep up the great work, mama!

mrsgriff said...

EXACTLY what happened to me with both of my boys... only with B it didn't hurt. I had to mourn that I couldn't breastfeed because I wanted to so bad. You're doing awesome... you have to make you and your baby happy... that's all that matters!! love you!!

A Southern Girl said...

This is a very brave post. Thanks for sharing. He's just perfect anyway :)