This is my first post, so please forgive me if I breach protocol. I am posting this in a couple different topics because it seems relevant to more than one… hope that’s ok! This is a long one, so get ready…
I am here to seek encouragement and support while I continue to struggle to increase my milk supply so that I can exclusively breastfeed my son, who is now 7 weeks old.
My son was born on a Friday, and it was 3 days later that I was advised to start supplementing him, and I've had to supplement him ever since. He was a bit jaundiced and lost nearly a full pound in those first 3 days of life, which is why I was advised to start supplementing him.
I always knew I wanted to breastfeed! But I was completely ignorant about breastfeeding, and I had the wrong attitude about breastfeeding: an attitude that basically said, 'How hard can it be? If cave women could breastfeed, so can I.' So I skipped all the breastfeeding information in my pregnancy books, assuming there would be no problems. Looking back, this was the first of many mistakes I would eventually make, leading up to the supplementation vicious cycle that I am currently battling.
I knew a few things. I knew, for example, that it was important to get the baby on the breast immediately. I also had heard babies need a 'big mouthful' when feeding. I figured anything beyond that would be intuitive. So I made sure to get Aidan on my breast within minutes of his birth, and it appeared that all was well. His lips were on my breast, and his jaw was moving, so I figured he was getting all the nourishment he needed. When people in the hospital asked me how my baby was latching on, I answered emphatically, "It looks good to me!" And when the hospital's lactation consultant asked me if I needed a consultation, I declined it, thinking that I had everything under control.
We left the hospital thinking everything was in good order. Aidan breastfed somewhat frequently during those first couple days. However, looking back now I wonder if his latch was off. I just assumed that it was fine. But when we went to the doctor three days after his birth, I was shocked when he had lost almost a pound, and of course the doctor was concerned as well. I didn't know that some of that weight loss could have been due to the fact that I had received a lot of IV fluids during my labor (as I was induced and needed penicillin, etc.). I also didn't know that it's a good idea to check baby's weight right before leaving the hospital and to gauge the baby's weight loss according to that number, rather than the number immediately following the baby's birth.
As it was, we panicked over his weight loss. I assumed that it was due to a flaw in my body - an inability to produce the milk that my baby needed to thrive. I had heard that it would take a few days for my milk to come in, so I waited for that to happen, but it never seemed to arrive like I'd expected. And we had to drive 35 min. (1 way) to the ped for the next three days to keep checking Aidan’s weight.
We saw a lactation consultant the day following Aidan’s first ped appointment. The consultation began by weighing Aidan, followed by a breastfeeding session, and a follow-up weighing. Aidan's weight hadn't changed after nursing, so it was determined that he wasn't taking in any milk while he nursed. It occurred to me at that moment that it was possible he hadn't taken in any milk AT ALL since he was born, and I felt horrible. I thought I'd unknowingly starved my child. And all my emotions were compounded by whacky postpartum hormones and what I now realize were the baby blues. The LC recommended supplementation until my mature milk came in, and we were eager to comply. I wanted to stuff my kid so full of milk that he’d be on the verge of bursting – our little milk tick.
Luckily, we had a source of donor milk. A close, trusted friend who was also lactating offered to pump for us, and we will be forever grateful. (To this day Aidan has consumed very little formula, despite all the supplementation, thanks to her generous gift.) We jolted home and began to stuff our kid with milk.
The ped and LC had showed us how to use the SNS, but after only a few tries, we abandoned the SNS for the less-awkward bottle. I also gave into the temptation to allow my sweet husband to feed Aidan at night a few times, while I rested, not knowing that this choice also jeopardized my precious milk supply. Again, neither of us knew better.
That first week of life, we had to drive Aidan 30 miles to his ped’s office 3 times. All three of us were exhausted and highly stressed. I realize now that all the stress during those first postpartum weeks also probably paid a toll on my supply, but at the time I thought I was doing what was best for my child.
On Tuesday, 4 days after Aidan was born, I attended my first LLL meeting (recommended by my ped). I’ll never forget slowly walking up to the meeting room door, wondering what I was getting myself into, scared to go anywhere without my sweet husband. I was depressed, worried, and SORE from a very difficult labor. I entered the room, and to my surprise, there was a circle of women in various phases of motherhood, several with their breasts out and comfortably nursing babies of all ages. I was warmly greeted, and instantly felt more at ease, but I was so envious that breastfeeding appeared to come so naturally to all these women, when it was proving to be very challenging for me.
I shared my story with the other mothers, who were extremely supportive. They validated my fears but also encouraged me to stick with breastfeeding. They couldn’t believe I was out and about, or had even showered for that matter, 4 days postpartum.
When Aidan woke up, I took him out of his carrier and began nursing him in “public” for the first time. It wasn’t long before he was wailing, absolutely irate about what I now realize was probably an inability in that moment for my milk to let down, coupled with an ineffective latch. (Of course, I thought I just didn’t have any milk for him. I didn’t even know what a let down was at that point.)
I was only slightly embarrassed by Aidan’s screams as the other mothers were very understanding. I mostly felt bad for the older children who looked a little concerned by my distressed baby. The LLL leaders just stood by my side and watched me try to nurse for a while. One of them assured me that I had milk – indeed she could see it. At the time I just didn’t believe it would be enough for him…there were only drops.
The other leader made a suggestion that I try sandwiching my breast in alignment with Aidan’s mouth (as I had been holding my breast perpendicular to his mouth). With this slight adjustment, Aidan latched on, his wails immediately ceased, and he started nursing contentedly. I started to cry. Bawl, really. And again, all the other mothers were extremely supportive, saying they’d been in my shoes, which was hard to believe watching them nurse their babies so nonchalantly. Yet, I felt inspired by them to keep trying. And I knew that I was hooked to LLL from that day forward.
When it was time to leave, the other mothers gave me more encouragement, and the LLL leader allowed me to stay behind about 35 minutes longer to feed Aidan after everybody left. The other leader loaned me The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which I took home and placed my shelf to remain unopened for a couple weeks. This was another mistake.
That first week of Aidan’s life, we boarded the supplementation train and have had trouble getting off ever since. So traumatized by his weight loss, all we wanted to do was feed and feed and feed him to make up the difference. Our ped recommended the SNS, which we attempted to use for the first couple of weeks, but it became so awkward at night and when we were out of the house that we eventually resorted to bottles. I was completely exhausted from the cycle of readying the SNS, feeding Aidan, holding him until he fell asleep, preparing the pumping bottles, pumping, then cleaning up. Usually by the time the cycle was complete, it was time to start it all over again, and I often hadn’t had a chance to sleep or eat or bathe. Thus, we resorted to bottles so that my husband could share in the burden of helping me to get my milk supply up. This was yet another mistake.
Some nights my husband would bottle feed Aidan while I pumped, thinking that there wasn’t much difference in the stimulation to my supply. Wrong again.
Once Aidan became accustomed to bottles, he began to resist the breast. At the time I thought he was resisting the breast because I didn’t have enough milk for him, which was probably true to a point, but his resistance was also probably due to his preference for the fast flow of the bottle. My already compromised milk supply was then further compromised. I knew that bottle preference (or “nipple confusion”) was a risk with bottle feeding, but I was so exhausted and traumatized from his weight loss that I was willing to take the risk at the time.
To be continued....