I come from a family of breast feeders. I was breastfed, I grew up watching my aunt breastfeed her 2 daughters, my cousin breastfed her son. I can remember being very curious when my aunt had her first baby. We were very close at the time, I was around 11 years old and the whole thing was very interesting to me. The pregnancy itself and also the changes the breast goes through, the phases of milk production, the whole thing. I was a curious child and we are a fairly open family.
I also saw at that young age just how very difficult breastfeeding could be. I can vividly remember seeing my aunt sobbing in her hospital bed after having her daughter because she couldn't get her to latch correctly. Even at that young age I recall thinking it must be such an emotionally painful thing to be going through. I saw my Aunt persevere and successfully breastfeed her daughter. The women in my family have always talked openly regarding issues with waiting for milk to come in, struggling at first to get the baby to latch and generally get the hang of the whole BF thing. I understood that it was worth the effort, seeing my cousins snuggled up to my Aunt, both mother and baby just spending time being relaxed together. I think all this helped to make me so determined to be successful at breastfeeding when my turn came. I seemed to be in the minority with this determination. I'm fairly certain none of my friends BF their babies. Some for medical reasons and others for reasons I'm not sure of. We never really discussed it since I wasn't really interested in this sort of thing until I had my daughter. (I know horrible right.) From what I understand it's pretty common to just opt out of BF because of convenience, lifestyle or just not feeling comfortable (which is just wrong when you think about it). I know women who never really had the desire to do it, some that thought it'd get in the way of gong out or drinking (I know, I know, the baby kinda does that anyways) and some that just grew up with formula as the norm and BF being completely alien to them. They're not bad mothers; don't get me wrong. The way most BF is thought of by most people today it makes total sense. I just felt differently.
Not only did I grow up thinking BF was the norm but you have to live under a rock not to be informed about all the benefits of BF for the baby and for the mother. It’s common knowledge that breast milk provides the baby with maternal antibodies. The mother makes antibodies specific to what she is exposed to in her environment. The baby then gets the protection it needs most against the infectious agents it is likely to be exposed to in the first few weeks of life. It also supplies the babies gut with "good" bacteria or flora that can crowd out the "bad" bacteria therefore offering another measure of protection and helping to prevent diarrhea. It also encourages skin to skin contact which has been shown to help regulate the infant’s body temperature after birth, and it also helps the brain with stimulating neural pathway development. It's more convenient then FF (no warming up bottles for your 2am feeding) not to mention much much cheaper then FF. The average parent spends approx $1400 on formula in the first year. It also saves a great deal of environmental waste being produced not only through production of the formula itself, but also its packaging and transportation. Breast milk is easier to digest for your baby then formula. It is also good for a myriad of uses like treating diaper rash, eczema, stuffy noses and eye irritations. This site even has 101 uses for breastmilk. I even used breast milk to clear up my daughter infant acne in a matter of days.
That all being said I was not prepared to deal with the pain and emotional stress I was in for after my daughter was born. I had planned to try to get her to latch immediately after birth. I had read several studies describing how baby’s right after birth if placed on the mothers abdomen would locate the nipple and spontaneously attach and suck. The studies described how even short separations between the baby and mother after birth could affect this. With all the flurry of activity after my daughter was born I was only able to attempt to have her latch momentarily. Then came the weighing and what not and then the relatives passing the baby around taking pictures. I don’t regret one thing about how my daughter’s birth went. That being said I think I would prefer to do things differently next time, but that’s for a whole other post. By the time they wheeled us into our shared room it had been over an hour since she her birth. I still had yet to attempt to have her latch and we had even more visitors come to see her. I let my shyness win and didn’t even consider attempting to feed her in front of the people visiting. This was really stupid. I can’t believe how much shame I felt about something so natural. I felt like I don’t care who you are but you don’t just take your boob out in front of people regardless if they are family or not. I hate that I felt this way. I can’t help thinking that I may not have had so much trouble if I had just ignored everyone else and tried to have her latch right at the beginning. Although I have a friend who did attempt a latch right away and still had about as much trouble as I did in the first few months (which she graciously told me and made me feel a bit better). It took me a long time to really feel comfortable feeding in front of people. I definitely think there’s a stigma to overcome for first time moms. Since I was prepared some degree of difficulty getting started I requested an appointment with the on staff lactation consultant that morning for 10am.
Over the course of the morning I made numerous attempts to have her latch and was convinced I was doing something wrong. I was told that breastfeeding doesn’t hurt and if it does she’s not latched correctly. So I continually broke her latch again and again attempting to decrease the pain I was feeling. Guess what kids. Breastfeeding hurts at first!! The BF consultant came in and barked something about getting my entire nipple into the baby’s mouth and left. I instantly didn’t like her and felt discouraged. That day in the hospital was awful. Lots of visitors which was great but it didn’t really leave me much time to work on BF’ing. I will tell you that it takes practise to get this BF’ing thing down, for you and for the baby. I appreciated all the visitors but I had no idea just how awkward I would feel even thinking about trying to feed my baby in front of them. These are close friends and family members we're talking about here. It was something I really needed to get over and fast. Honestly it took me months to feel comfortable feeding in front of most people. I'm sure the difficulties I was having didn't make it easier. I had always been proud of my commitment to breastfeeding but I never thought about the way I'd feel doing it front of people. It really caught me by surprise.
If I thought the first day in the hospital was rough I was not prepared for that night. Between our baby and the family of the baby in the room with us we probably got about an hour’s sleep. I tried all night to get her to latch because it was pretty obvious that she was hungry and upset. She finally settled beside me and fell asleep...right before the nurses on morning rounds woke us up. I immediately requested another appointment with the lactation consultant. When she came in she took one look at me and my nipples and something changed in her. Her entire demeanor shifted. It was pretty clear from my attitude that I had been trying all night and I was determined. I can only imagine how many mothers she deals with on a daily basis that don’t make it through the first night and opt for formula, I can see how this might harden a person so passionate about BF. (It still didn't make her former attitude right, or helpful but just maybe a bit more understandable). She showed me how to hand express and cup feed and told me to take a “nipple holiday” for 24 hours. I did as instructed and after nagging the nurses all afternoon and promising to come back in the nest day for a blood test we were finally discharged.
I honestly can’t even remember the first night home. I think she slept pretty well and I expressed and cup fed her that liquid gold religiously. We got up and off we went back to the hospital. In addition to her blood test we had also made another appointment with the lactation consultant at the hospital breastfeeding clinic. The lactation consultant walked me through the whole latching business again. She weighed Auryn and told me that she had lost a considerable amount of weight since she was born and the she was worried. It’s common that it takes a few days for milk to “come in” and I already knew this so I honestly wasn’t really that concerned. We made an appointment for the same time the next day and off we went back home.
That night she slept for 6 hours straight! It was wonderful, so I thought. I felt engorged and hopeful that my milk was finally coming in. We went back to the hospital and we were informed that she had lost 1.11lbs in the 3 days since her birth. The lactation consultant told us that I just wasn’t producing enough milk and that if I wasn’t willing to start supplemental formula feeding that she would recommend Auryn be re-admitted. I didn’t know what to say. I had no idea that this was a possibility. I hadn’t considered it, even for a second. I did what any mother would do in that situation facing having her 3 day old baby re-admitted to hospital without her and approved the formula. We were shown how to “finger feed” her using an external nasogastric tube and our finger. I was instructed to allow her to feed from me, then finger feed her the formula and then finally I was to pump for 15 minutes each side. The finger feeding took about 15 minutes and at the time I only had a single pump so the entire process of feeding her took about 45 minutes to an hour. I was told to feed her every 2 hours counting from the start of the previous feed not the end. This meant I had about a 45 minute break in between the sessions of feeding, pumping or cleaning the feeding and pumping equipment. It went on like this for days. I did have some help thank goodness. My love and my mother when available did their best to do what they could. We went to the BF clinic daily for the first few weeks and at least 2 times weekly for the months that followed. I was shown how to feed sliding the tube into Auryn’s mouth while she was latched on to me. This worked all of about 2 times. We mostly finger feed her and feedings were tedious.
I can honestly say I don’t think I had post partum depression. I had breastfeeding depression. I was reminded every couple hours that I couldn’t do something I always thought I would. The failed attempts would get me so down. I cried a lot. It was pretty bad. People kept asking why I was doing it. My love even told me that it was ok to give up. I honestly never really considered it. It just never entered my mind as a real possibility. I was so afraid that I physically wouldn’t be able to do it that the hard time I was having half doing wasn’t worth me giving up.
It was a trip to our pediatrician that really saved my sanity. During the appointment I started to cry hopeless and depressed about the situation. The pediatrician looked at me and said “this is not your fault. You are doing the best you can stop beating yourself up. Some breast milk is better than no breast milk.” She told me to stop finger feeding and just give her a bottle. That she didn’t believe in nipple confusion and it would make my life so much easier. I went home and gave Auryn her first bottle. It was bittersweet. The feeding went so much easier but I was torn about giving her the bottle because I felt like it was a step away from what we were going for. That didn’t last long. The bottle was a life saver. It made feeding her quick and stress free and calmed me down. My mother paid for us to rent a hospital grade breast pump and I was put on high doses of Fenugreek and Domperidone. I tried to get her to latch every time I fed her and we slowly got the hang of it. I still pumped after every feed and was able to give her more and more pumped milk instead of formula for her supplemental feeds. I documented everything, what time of day she fed, how long on each side, how much I had to give her of formula. Some days she would latch and feed for 15 minutes on each side, some days 5 minutes on one side and none on the other. It went like this for months, her latch getting better and her feeds from me getting longer and longer. We were still going to the breastfeeding clinic and once they saw that I was producing more milk they suggested cutting back on the amount of milk or formula we were offering her in her bottles. I started paying more attention to how fast she was drinking and if she was really still hungry after her feeds. After about 2 months I was finally able to cut out formula all together. I was still pumping and giving her extra milk in bottles but eventually I was even able to cut that out. It took me about 8 months to slowly cut out formula completely but I am proud to say she’s 15 months and we’re still going strong. Now I’m dealing with people asking me when I plan an weaning her, but that’s for a whole other post...