The numerous posts on Facebook can’t help but remind me that this month is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. And, as much as I would love to climb to the top of the mountain to exclaim, “I was successful at breastfeeding”–I cannot.
My breastfeeding journey began almost six years ago when I gave birth to my son. We spent months (8.75 to be exact) preparing for his birth. I jumped onto the Bradley Method train fairly quickly and knew I wanted to have the most natural and organic birthing process possible. And, somehow, my devoted western medicine hubby joined me for the ride. Part of the discussions during the Bradley Method trainings focus on the breastfeeding experience. We practiced holding the baby, talked about how often to feed the baby, and discussed the types of poops to expect from the breastfeeding baby. And, quite honestly, I was excited and ready to give the whole breastfeeding adventure a whirl. Unfortunately, my boobs wanted to have an agenda of their own.
My little guy was born three weeks early. We *thought* we did everything right, or right according to our preparation. He laid on my chest the second he was delivered. We waited to cut the umbilical cord. We avoided the eye drops. All the things we planned to happen, did. Except when it came to feeding him. This was when my boobs decided to boycott.
We left the hospital with a healthy, 6.4-pound baby boy who ate well enough for him to be discharged. About two days after arriving home, my little guy started to spit up blood. And he cried. A lot. More than I thought a baby should cry when feeding almost every hour for 30 – 45 minutes at a time. I became suspicious that he wasn’t actually getting any breastmilk and increasingly more stressed. There would be days he would cry, and I would be right there with him crying. So utterly unable to understand why he wasn’t getting “full.” His one-week follow-up appointment confirmed my suspicions when his weight had decreased to a little less than 6 pounds.
The pediatrician asked me how breastfeeding was going, and I told him I *thought* it was going well. He could see all over my face that it, in fact, was not going well at all. My son also lost a few ounces since our hospital discharge, and that was a warning sign he wasn’t eating enough. I showed the pediatrician our schedule which confirmed I was trying to feed him consistently. But, something was amiss. Our doc recommended heading to a lactation consultant…so off we went.
The lactation consultant seemed helpful while asking all of the textbook questions. Was he latching correctly? Was I holding him in a comfortable position? Did I drink enough water and eat enough food? All the answers a resounding YES! But, for some reason, he still was not getting enough to eat. Now, it was time to take a look at myself for the answer. For this, I had to head over to my OB/GYN. She encouraged me to keep at it even though I wanted to give up every single minute of the day. I tried various supplements and, eventually, a prescription, to help increase my milk production. Increase my oatmeal intake…sure! Have a good stout beer in the evening…why not?! But, even then, nothing would work.
I tried. And tried. And tried. I tried through tears, pain, mental exhaustion, screams of hunger, and physical exhaustion. For eight weeks. I tried. All while repeatedly telling my son, “I’m sorry.” I felt like a horrible mother. And, all I could think about was letting down this tiny little human being that couldn’t fend for himself. Finally, at my son’s eight-week appointment, our pediatrician took one look at me and said, “Maybe it’s time to take a look at formula.” These were, to me, the worse words to hear at this point. I knew, at that point, I needed to put his health and my mental health first. And, you know what? My little guy thrived! He started gaining weight, and I no longer felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. But, boy I was pissed at my boobs.
When I became pregnant with my daughter, I still had a burning desire to breastfeed successfully. This time, I rotated in pumping more consistently to create storage of milk just in case she didn’t get enough in a feeding. Turns out, my boobs didn’t want to cooperate yet again. This time around though I realized it much sooner and saved myself from the extra stress. We started our daughter on a homemade formula at about 5 weeks, and it was smooth sailing from there. My daughter caught up quickly on the growth chart even though she was a preemie!
I now have to fairly *healthy* kids with *normal* brain development and *normal* growth patterns. My little guy is now almost 6 and excels at math. My little girl jumps, dances and twirls her way through the day. Looking back, I can say it wasn’t easy to make the decision to switch to formula. But, for the health of my family, it was the right one.