Monday, April 27, 2009

My Breastfeeding Story - Part 1

I've seen a lot of "birth stories*", but very few "breastfeeding stories". Maybe, for most people, breastfeeding is so easy that it's not worth writing about or sharing the story, although I kind of doubt that based on the experiences I've heard from many of my friends. Anyway, I hope that my story can help someone having similar issues, or at least provide some hope that nursing can work out in the end, even it seems impossible at first!

Before Jude was born, my expectation was that I would breastfeed exclusively until he was ready for solid foods, and continue throughout the first year of his life. I took a breastfeeding class, read The Nursing Mother's Companion, and purchased a hospital-quality breast pump in preparation. There was some mention of low milk supply, but most books dismissed this as something that rarely happens and I didn't give it much thought. I did have some moments of worry that I would not be able to nurse, but mostly just hoped for the best and figured there was nothing much that I could do about it if that turned out to be a problem for me.

Jude swooped into the world on August 22nd at 10:52 pm. We had a great labor experience, and Jude was as healthy as could be following his grand entrance. I was able to give him his first meal within an hour of birth, and as far as I could tell, he seemed to be content. What did I know? I had never fed a baby before. Throughout the next few days, which we spent in the hospital, I attempted to feed him every few hours. He never seemed very hungry, and we had a lot of visitors, so sometimes 3-4 hours would go by without a meal. We had him circumcised the day after he was born, and the shock of the procedure suppressed his appetite for the next ~8 hours.

At some point the next day, we got the bad news that Jude had lost a significant amount of weight during the first two days of his life (more than 10%, which is the acceptable limit). The nurses wanted to start supplementing with formula immediately, but I resisted that proposal and chose to try feeding him every two hours around the clock instead. The next morning as we were getting ready to check out, we did one final weight check, and found that Jude was down to 7 pounds 11 ounces, a full pound less than his birth weight. Based on this, we were required to see a pediatrician the next day for another weight check, and to continue feeding every two hours. In case you've never fed a newborn every two hours around the clock, let me tell you that this is an exhausting experience. The baby eats for 30-40 minutes each time, then needs to be changed and lulled back to sleep. By the time the baby is down, you have about a half hour to rest until it's time to feed again. Luckily, I had a lot of help from my mom, sister, and E Ben, otherwise there is no way I could have done this.

The next day's visit with the pediatrician was comforting (perhaps too comforting, in retrospect). Jude's weight was the same as the previous day, which we took as a good sign (at least he had stopped dropping). She recommended seeing a lactation consultant later in the week, and sent us on our way thinking that our problems were more or less behind us. The next day at the LC's office, Jude had finally gained some weight, but we got the troubling news that he had only ingested about half an ounce of milk after a long nursing session in the office (he should have been eating at least two ounce per feeding at that point). The LC showed me how to use my pump and suggested that I pump for 5-10 minutes after each feeding in order to increase my production. That seemed like way too much trouble, and at that point we didn't know that we had a real problem, so I didn't follow her advice. Mistake #1. We made an appointment to go back two days later, at which point we found that Jude had gained two ounces in two days (an ounce a day is the goal during the first three months of life) but that once again his meal was very small (less than a half ounce). We looked at his weight gain and figured that he must be getting more to eat at most meals. Maybe I was nervous while nursing in the LC's office, we thought, and that explained the small feeding. As a result, we decided not to worry about it and declined another visit to the LC. Mistake #2.

During the next ten days, Jude was pretty fussy for a lot of the time he was awake, especially after feedings. We thought that maybe he had gas. He ate for 40 minutes every 2 hours during the day, but at night we didn't wake him to eat and he would often go 4-5 hours at a time without waking to eat. We thought we had a really great sleeper on our hands. We went in for Jude's two-week visit at the pediatrician's office on his 17th day of life. Bad news - Jude had only gained three ounces in ten days. He was screaming his head off during the entire visit to the doctor. We were told to make another appointment with the LC and to start supplementing 4-6 ounces a day. I was crushed. I was so opposed to supplementing and felt like a failure. That night, we made Jude his first bottle of formula at bedtime. He sucked it down like he was starving and immediately fell into a deep sleep. Turns out this was the first full meal the kid had had in his life! His crying during the past two weeks had mostly been cries of hunger. The reason he had slept so long during the nights was that he didn't have the energy to wake up and let us know he needed to be fed. We felt so bad, and yet we didn't want to give up on breastfeeding. It was really important to me that we try to figure out some way to make it work, but I just didn't see how to get there at that point. We hoped that the new LC would be able to help.

The first appointment we could get was three days later. During that time, we fed Jude an ounce of formula after each nursing session and also began to try pumping a few times a day. Pumping was depressing. I would hook myself up to this machine and after 10 minutes I was lucky if I had a few drops of milk in the bottom of the bottles. Over the course of three days of pumping, I managed to accumulate a grand total of one ounce of milk. I hated it. Jude, fortunately, took to the bottle immediately and drank his supplement enthusiastically. We met with the new LC and found that our efforts were helping. Jude had gained three ounces in three days, but my milk supply was not increasing much. We had a long talk about different things that we could try, the benefits of pumping even if it didn't result in any milk, and medication options. I wasn't ready to try medication yet, so we decided to try pumping and supplementing for another couple of days. We made another appointment for four days later, this time with the LC who was the most experienced one in the office. I guess we convinced someone that we needed more help than your average new parents.

Up next: the exciting conclusion of my breastfeeding story...

* By the way, if you want to read my birth story, send me an e-mail or leave a comment on this post and I'll send it to you.


Nicole said...

Thanks for sharing your story Linden. It's eye opening. I didn't realize that if I feed every 2 hours, I really only get ~30 minutes of a break before the cycle begins again. I'm glad you didn't feel physical pain but you probably would have wished for it at moments instead of the emotional ordeal you went through.

Carla said...

Breastfeeding is hard work and every woman that does it should be SO proud! We had many similiar issues in the beginning....I don't think I ever had a really good supply but enough to keep Natalie mostly satisfied...she was a slow gainer though until the past few months of demolishing finger foods. You might have inspired me to blog about surviving mastitis multiple times. :)