04 August 2014

On nursing and failing to nurse.

I just finished reading about Haley's recent experience with downshifting her nursing schedule with her 14-month old, and it made me think about my breastfeeding experience with my now-21-month old and what I'm hoping for with #2, due in December.

I had a serious problem with low supply with #1. I have various hormonal issues which caused me to be infertile for years, and so I was dismayed but I wasn't very surprised when, four days after giving birth, my milk still hadn't come in. I was more surprised by the lack of support from the pro-breastfeeding community, some of which insists (with a stunning lack of compassion) that there is no such thing as an inadequate supply of breast milk. "Don't supplement," they insist, "Because if you do, you'll cause nipple confusion and tell your body it doesn't need to make milk."

Okay, well, four days into her life, my daughter was bright yellow. Bright. Yellow. Her bilirubin levels were rising and rising and it was all because she wasn't pooping. She wasn't pooping because she wasn't eating. She wasn't eating because I had no milk and the very unhelpful lactation consultant insisted that I not feed her formula.

Her pediatrician, who had initially encouraged me to "just keep at it" and not supplement, changed his tune. "She's going to have to go back into the hospital if we can't get these numbers down. Give her some formula."

If I hadn't been a brand-new, clueless, impressionable mom, whose own mom lives a couple of hundred miles away, I would have done that already. If it happens again with #2, everyone can give whatever advice they want and I am going to feed my child.

My poor baby sucked down two ounces of formula in about three seconds flat. She was so hungry, you guys. They told me to only give her 10 ccs at a time but it was empty, all 60-ish ccs, before I could stop her. I'm glad I didn't stop her because she was SO HUNGRY. She fell asleep within seconds, after four days of crying all the time, and an hour later pooped out so much meconium it overwhelmed her little newborn diaper. She pinked right up.

I continued to nurse her. I spent all my time doing something to do with nursing. I would nurse her, then give her a bottle since she hadn't gotten much from me, then when she fell asleep, finally satisfied, I would pump with the hospital-grade torture machine I had rented, collecting about a half-ounce total, and then I would wash the pump supplies, and then sit down for what felt like four seconds, and then she'd wake up hungry again and we'd start over. Meanwhile I was drinking gallons of water, plus that absolutely foul concoction called Mother's Milk tea, and eating oatmeal and doing every other folk remedy to increase milk supply that anyone's ever heard of.

The machine of my nightmares.

It was beyond miserable. Eventually I got to a place where I was able to satisfy her with exclusively breast milk during the day, and only had to give her a bottle of formula at night because I didn't have enough to get any length of sleep out of her by the end of the day. From the time she was a month old until I had to go back to work when she was three months, she was in this way (almost) exclusively breastfed. I never felt letdown once. I have a vague idea what that means, and I know it never happened to me. I never got engorged with milk.

When I went back to work and she went to daycare, despite my best efforts I had hardly any frozen milk for her. This is when my amazing sister-in-law came to my rescue. She had a baby five weeks and one day after my daughter was born and while I was bemoaning my undersupply, she was dealing with the opposite. She had so much milk that she couldn't nurse without pumping first because her daughter would gag and choke on her letdown. She had so much frozen milk they couldn't fit anything else in their freezer. So every time I went to Pennsylvania to visit, I would come home with a cooler stuffed with frozen breast milk, and so my daughter was able to go to daycare every day with breast milk instead of formula. At first it felt a little weird, feeding my daughter someone else's breast milk, but I was so grateful -- my sister-in-law eats a healthy diet and lives a healthy lifestyle, and I don't care whose breast milk it is, it's got to be better for a baby than formula. (And I'm not knocking formula; that stuff saved our lives. But you know what I mean.)

While Keira was at daycare, I was pumping four-to-five times a day, and getting diddly-squat for my efforts. I could and did pump for twenty minutes a side and collect less than an ounce. Total. When she came home and nursed, she seemed to get something, but pumping just didn't work for me. I propped a picture of her in front of me, hoping for some oxytocin stimulation from the sight of her, and nothing worked. I would nurse her in the morning before I took her to daycare, in the early evening when she got home, and during any night wakings.

I held her off of solid foods for as long as I could, even though she was so interested in watching Mommy and Daddy eat. My mom told me she hadn't given any of her seven children a single bite until they were at least nine months old because they didn't need it. I, again, was young and impressionable and stupid and tried to hold off for that long too but only made it to seven months, at which time she took to eating like an old pro and refused nothing (except mashed peas, which begs the question: can you blame her?). At this time, she self-weaned. She had given up the evening nursing in favor of food, and I basically dried up immediately.

Please ignore my voice in the background. "Num nummers," indeed. Good grief.

So, obviously, what I'm hoping and praying for with #2 is: none of the above. I pray I have enough milk to feed him or her but not so much that it's squirting from my eyeballs like my poor sister-in-law. I pray I have an aggressive eater with a strong latch and enough patience to wait it out. I pray I have enough confidence to do what's best for my baby without listening to medical professionals who haven't been listening to me. I pray I have the humility to ask God for the wisdom to know what's best for my baby and not make any rash decisions borne of frustration (I'm asking Him now, but I'm going to have to remember to ask Him then, too).

St. Giles, patron saint of breast feeding, ora pro nobis.

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