I think I’ve been avoiding this post a bit, as the words you are about to read below are not what I wanted to be writing. I’ve had lots of questions from very sweet and concerned individuals who wonder how breastfeeding is going, and I apologize to all of those I have blatantly ignored.
You see, I’m a breastfeeding failure, and I only wanted to address it one time, right here in this post. I so badly want to make this work, to be the woman who figured out a way to make breastfeeding happen even after breast reduction surgery (I know there are moms out there who have done so and I applaud them for sticking with it!), but eventually low milk production forced me to choose between my sanity and my desire to provide my baby with the best nutrition possible.
I chose sanity, and in that choice I think I also found a way to have a healthy and happy relationship with my newborn where I might not have otherwise.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what if. What if I had tried harder? (Whatever that means.) What if I hadn’t had the breast reduction? What if, what if, what if.
I had planned to write a post on this even before baby came out, so I took notes on the experience for just under two weeks:
Breastfeeding Initial Experience-Latched on right after I climbed in bed after the birth with help of Sarah-Breastfed on both sides for a significant amount of time the first time-After that he only latched for short periods of time-One wet diaper-Puts mouth over nipple and sucks once or twice but then stop-TH is very worried but he is not acting sick or lethargic, just sleeping a lot-Read through the Jack Newman site and decided to focus on feeding on demand based on his cues-Doesn’t eat every few hours but latches on well when he is acting hungryDay 5Last night we realized something is seriously wrong. Went to pediatrician, gave him a bottle of formula (I resisted strongly but she assured me he really needed to eat), very dehydrated, billirubin levels had to be tested, friend brought over pump for me to borrow, called lactation consultant, loved her, decided to give SNS system a try, bought hands free nursing bra. Two priorities: preserve supply and keep baby fed, try SNS goal of 2 oz of formula every two hours followed by 10 min of pumping. SNS = hell, two person job, P slowly starts to hate it as much as we do, start finger feeding him with tube to keep fluids in him while avoiding bottle, getting 1 oz of formula in at each feeding, the LC sent us home with lots of free formula and explained why this specific brand was her favorite (Enfamil).Day 6Morning comes and I lose it emotionally, we give him the formula in a bottle b/c I can’t take another round of SNS, talk to friends throughout day, lots of reassurance that formula isn’t the end of the world, stress about nipple confusion, wondering what other women mean when they say bfeeding is hard. Were they experiencing what I am? Is my experience harder? He gets bottle throughout day, I pump and give him milk as well, pumped almost .5 oz once and it felt like a lot, until his jaundice is reduced the goal is full stomach for him and breatfeeding takes a backseat. Talk to friend and she tells me about the schedule they set up with her baby girl preemie, suddenly the clouds part and I see a new plan that brings a lot of peace and optimism. Plan to nurse him first then finish him off with bottle while I pump, so much stress is removed with this plan, He latches and stays on for 30 mins and the experience is entirely different, I kiss his head and smell him and stroke his skin and I am in love and breastfeding feels good and when he finishes with me I feed him a bottle in the upright position in an attempt to help him work harder for his food. I pump the next time and my nipple cracks open and the pump container fills with blood. I decide to let my nipples rest and let him have the bottle through the night, good choice also because he is wrapped in the jaundice blanket and we want to keep him in as much as possible before our pediatrician appointment on Monday, I still worry About nipple confusion but we tried to find the best bottle possible for avoiding that. I go to bed feeling less stress and loving being a mom more than I have any day this week, I find that my Twitter and Facebook networks are amazing for asking questions and getting support.Day 7Pumped a half oz! Then only pumped a quarter oz the next time loving the new system we came up with at friend’s suggestion. Wouldn’t say my milk has “come in” yet.Day 11Pumping an average of .75/ pumping session if I don’t breastfeed first.Still no change in the way breasts feel.
By the 14 day mark I still hadn’t ever felt any difference in my breasts and despite taking some crazy expensive pills recommended by the lactation consultant, mixing nasty Brewer’s Yeast into my protein shake, focusing on drinking over 100 oz of water a day, trying to get as much protein as possible, and feeling like a cow after being hooked up to that dang pump all the time, I still didn’t see an increase in my milk supply. At best, I estimate I was producing 8 oz/day, significantly less than half of what he needs to survive. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want to breastfeed for 30 minutes or more, feed him a bottle, then try to find a way to set him down so I could pump for 30 minutes. Doing so would provide me with something like 20 minutes to myself before he was ready to start feeding again. Maybe, just maybe, if I had a bit more of a guarantee that all of that effort was going to go somewhere, I would have been willing to endure it for a bit longer. But the thought of attempting such a system for weeks on end, with no improvement at all felt like a crushing weight on my shoulders. I wanted to look back on my first few months as a mother and remember his smiles and kicks and all of the different ways he made me laugh, not the endless rounds of attempts at feeding him at the breast combined with attempts at increasing my milk supply.
So I set a deadline. If, by the time my sister left, I had seen my output of breastmilk increase to at least half of his daily needs I would keep going. Otherwise I was going to walk away and never look back. Yes, I certainly could try to keep breastfeeding him as long as possible, even without pumping, because the argument can certainly be made that every drop counts. But because I just don’t know how much every drop counts, it wasn’t worth it to me personally. Every single woman out there who dealt with the SNS system, who fought through low milk supply issues and won, who persevered through weeks and months of the emotional and physical pain I was only able to endure for a few days… those women have my deepest respect for making it through.
If you read the intro to this post you know the outcome. I saw no change, and so we bought the bottles and the sterilizer thing for the microwave, and started pumping money into what we decided was the best formula possible for his development. Between the thousands of dollars we paid for my prenatal care, the birth, and now the formula, this parenthood thing is turning into a much more expensive adventure than we bargained for! T1 is officially a formula baby, as were me and my sister, and as were my mom and her siblings. It’s been over a week since I switched but it still leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth to say so.
One benefit of not producing a lot of milk? When you stop breastfeeding you don’t experience any engorgement or pain because there really isn’t a whole lot of milk in there to cause any feelings of discomfort! The biggest benefit of formula is the freedom it affords me to be away from T1 and not have to worry about feeding him or storing pumped milk for the next feeding. I can travel, shoot all-day weddings, sleep through the night if TH is able to take over the childcare duties, and others can indulge in the pleasure that is curling up with a hungry baby and feeding them until they nod off into a milk-drunk stupor.
This doesn’t mean I don’t believe (rather passionately) that breastfeeding is best. Not just breastmilk, but actually putting your baby to your breast and having him or her suckle. Protective antibodies are exchanged, maternal weight loss increases, milk production is higher, babies who are breastfed are on average smarter and healthier later in life, the incidence of SIDS is lower, not to mention the beautiful bonding time you are afforded with your child. Breastfeeding would have been best, breastmilk from a bottle would have been better than formula, and formula is just plain old good. I made an effort for best, but ended up with good and I’m working every day to accept the choices I made that led up to my ultimate outcome of a formula fed baby.
I’ll be giving breastfeeding another go with T2, T3, and beyond if we are blessed with more children. It’s possible that my ducts and brain just need a little bit more time to connect back up again and start communicating with each other. I hope it works out in the future, but for right now I’ve got to focus on being content with the present.
Maybe I’m wrong with this assumption, but I think there might be some out there who will read this post and offer advice on how they think I can start trying again right now and somehow make it work. If you have suggestions for what I can do with my next baby, I’m all ears, but for T1 I’ve decided that formula is the way to go and I hope all will accept that. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many women willing to lend advice and support and I’ve certainly benefited greatly from that in the past!