Breastfeeding: The Good, The Bad, and the Leaky.

Disclaimer: Breastfed, Pump to Bottle, Formula-Fed. All good…I believe a fed and loved baby is a happy baby, no matter the method. The following is just our journey, complete with ups and downs. Carry on, Mama Warriors!

When I was pregnant, I was a bit of an information sponge. This, combined with my hypochondriac tendencies, really enhanced those months for my husband.

“Honey, did you know the baby is the size of a blueberry this week?”

“Babe, did you know the baby already has fingernails?”

“Sweetheart, did you know I’m not really eating for two and only need 200-300 additional calories per day?”

(I’m not sure why I shared that last tidbit with him. I would later regret it.)

Throughout my pregnancy, Ryan and I both made an effort to gather as much information as we could to make the best possible choices for our baby. We decided on prenatal care, a birthing class, a car seat, etc. When it came to feeding our little one, we took the hospital-offered breastfeeding class and determined that yup, we’d be doing the breastfeeding.

It all seemed so simple! I mean, you have boobs, you have a baby…bada-bing, bada-boom, breastfeeding!

No.

In our Hypnobirthing and Breastfeeding classes, we were led to believe that when our babies were born, they would simply crawl to your breast and begin to feed. When Sadie was born, she mostly cried and wriggled in my arms. The nurse asked if I wanted to try breastfeeding. Of course I did! We tried it, and it didn’t go well. We might as well have been offering Sadie a turkey leg for all the interest she had.

After a couple of failed tries, it was determined that she had a tongue-tie that would need to be clipped. In the meantime, why don’t I try hand-expressing colostrum into a plastic spoon?

“Uh, okay…sure.”

And really, I was totally okay with doing whatever was necessary. Fast forward to our 72-hour postpartum checkup: We had been struggling with feeding at home, and despite the tongue tie being resolved, Sadie was not latching well. When we’d left the hospital, she weighed 6lbs, 13oz, down 10oz from her birth weight. At that appointment, my little girl weighed 6lbs, 8oz. Not just a weight loss, but a dramatic one. In other words, my poor baby was starving.

I burst into tears right there in the exam room, feeling like an absolute failure of a mother. I was completely wracked with guilt that I hadn’t been sufficiently nourishing my child, and angry with my body for its refusal to do its job. The lactation nurse was a saint, and told me over and over again that I was doing just fine and this was all going to work out. She said I’d need to immediately start pumping to increase my milk supply, and introduced a regimen that involved breastfeeding every two hours, followed by supplemented breastmilk or formula given to Sadie through the thinnest little tube I’ve ever seen.  We were supposed to go home and implement this new system and drop into the pediatrician for a weight check the following day.

The tube feeding/pumping situation was a little insane. Ryan was an absolute champ, patiently holding the tube on his finger and placing it in her tiny mouth, depressing the top of the syringe of milk so gently and slowly to keep from overwhelming our sweet girl. I remember it being kind of a relief that he could be involved with each feeding. It was such a scary, isolating feeling, being solely responsible for Sadie’s food supply. It was comforting to have him join me in the process, especially in those early days when breastfeeding included a nipple shield and a baby who (seemingly) fell asleep every 30 seconds or so.

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(Our little tube-feeding wonder!)

Within a day, Sadie had gained over two ounces—it was working! At our next visit to the lactation nurse, we learned that Sadie was still not taking milk from me (3 milliliters at that appointment…about 1/20 of what she needed) so we had to up the supplementation. At this point, tube feeding 2 oz. of milk was just not reasonable, so we switched to bottles.

I spent a few minutes bemoaning this new development—I hadn’t planned on introducing bottles yet. Nipple confusion and all that. But what mattered was that our baby was getting what she needed—where it came from was suddenly less of a concern. Still, I was hyper-emotional during this period. We were feeding Sadie every 2 hours, around the clock. At the conclusion of each feeding I would have to pump, so you can imagine the delirium. After one particularly disappointing pumping session, I wandered to the sink and without thinking, rinsed the bottle out. Upon realizing my mistake, I just leaned over the sink and sobbed. Poor Ryan discovered me there, topless and hysterical, and sent me upstairs to nap.

(By the way, when you are struggling with breastfeeding, you are topless all the time. Modesty goes straight to hell, and pretty much anyone you come into contact with sees your nipples, and you don’t give a crap. It’s a fact of life.)

Slowly, it got better. Each week, Sadie gained weight. Each week, we reduced the amount of supplemental milk. My supply increased, and thanks to the help of a mighty-hearted friend willing to donate some of her milk, we only had to use formula a few times. At 4 weeks, we “graduated” from our weekly visits to the lactation consultant. She and I both cried, we were so proud of Sadie’s progress. At 5 weeks, we weaned off the nipple shield and supplemental bottles.

Now at 3 months, our Sadie is exclusively breastfed, save for the occasional bottle when I’m not with her. She is still petite but thriving, and feeding her is more joy than frustration. I still stare at her in awe when she eats, eyes darting around the room because there is SO much to see. I remember the sleepy, wrinkled newborn whose tiny mouth couldn’t quite stay latched and I marvel at how far she’s come. She could be elected President someday and I’m not sure I’ll feel any prouder than I do now.

I know mamas who’ve fought much harder battles to feed their babies.  To be honest with you, if things hadn’t clicked for us when they did, I wouldn’t have lasted much longer. It was so hard.  Still is, really.  Sadie is sensitive to dairy and soy, which has forced a rather dramatic dietary change for me.  I miss pizza, you guys. So much. Ryan gave me crap throughout my pregnancy for requiring a weekly pizza, but now I am fully vindicated in that I’ll be going the remainder of Sadie’s breastfeeding career without it. Or until she grows out of her allergy, whichever comes first.

It wasn’t and isn’t easy, but I’m trying not to take it for granted.  Hopefully we’ll be able to continue until she’s ready to be done. Or, circumstances could force us to stop sooner. I’m hoping and praying for the former, but will be grateful for all the time we get.

Oh, and breast pads. I’m grateful for those too.

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