My baby drinks breastmilk…sort of

I said a lot about breastfeeding on this blog while I was pregnant.

I said that I had a lot of ambivalence about breastfeeding.  I think I made it clear that I was, to an extent, dreading breastfeeding…or at least that I was terrified of it.  I said that I would grit my teeth and do it, but that I’d switch to formula in a heartbeat if it was the right choice.

I never expected to be committed to it.

Elanor is 6 days old as I write this.  She is drinking breast milk exclusively at this point but none of it from the source directly…in other words, I’m still pumping for EVERY feeding.

Let me stop and say now…I HATE IT.  I can handle the physical sensation of pumping.  I’m making enough.

But I hate that I’m not breastfeeding…I’m trying, but we’re not having success.

If you read the last post, her birth story, you’ll understand why we weren’t able to try breastfeeding from the beginning.  If I wanted my kid out of the NICU, I had to allow formula supplementation.  This was a no-brainer for me, although the nurse who told me that looked like she was bracing for me to freak out and scream at her about how formula is TEH DEVIL and blah blah blah.  My baby is hooked up to scary machine, her blood sugar isn’t under control, I’m making barely 2 cc’s of colostrum per feeding and you’re telling me that formula will help get her out of the NICU?  BRING IT ON.

My hospital was great.  They fully supported my desire to breastfeed and got me a hospital grade Lactina pump to use in my room.  A nurse taught me how to pump, and how to use a syringe to collect the small amounts of colostrum I was producing.  On day one, a lactation consultant came to Elanor’s room in the NICU and tried to help us get started, but she was so exhausted from the birth trauma that she never really roused enough to try to latch on.  On day two, a nurse helped me get set up and we had some good latches and one successful breastfeeding session but I was also set up with a prescription for a hospital grade pump by my OB to help things out.  On day three, when we learned Elanor was going to have to stay (false positive on a blood test), I got my Medela Symphony from the pump rental people (although I used the Lactina until I got home and could plug the Symphony in for the initial 12 hours to charge the battery for the first time).  I also worked with two other Lactation Consultants while I was in the hospital.

There is good news…there’s nothing wrong with my nipples, my holds are good, her latches were fine in the hospital, and my supply is ramping up faster than she’s eating so we don’t have supply issues.  However, none of this matters when I put her to the breast and she just looks at it like she expects it to do a magic trick.

Part of the problem is that she’s a lazy feeder in general right now–she’s lazy with a bottle and she’s lazy with a breast.  She wants the work done for her because that’s what has happened since day one of her life.  If she wouldn’t eat, we’d use a syringe or give her a bottle or squirt milk into her mouth.  The pediatrician has told us to keep doing this until she’s back at her birth weight.

I’m thankful that we had a good nursing session in the hospital because otherwise I probably would have given up and gone with formula by now otherwise.

More than ever, I understand why moms go with formula.  More than ever, I resent people who would tell me that breastfeeding is the only choice.  It’s a choice, and it happens to the be one I made, but I wouldn’t be less committed or loving a mother to Elanor if I gave up trying.

The worst part is that I just feel like a failure.  I know that we have the potential to become a good breastfeeding team with time and patience.  But each time I put her to breast for 10 minutes without a latch or any suckling and then I have to hand her off to Ravi to drink previously expressed milk while I pump, I want to cry.  I feel like if I could just find the right trick, the right hold, the magic word, it would all just fit together.

I know that breastfeeding is often challening for many women.  My OB made a point of saying that the majority of her patients end up having trouble and there being a lot of tears and effort before it all works out…but I feel like since we got it once, I don’t understand why we can’t get it again.

I have reached out for help.  I talked to a friend of mine who is an out of state doula and she convinced me to talk to my local LLL person.  I did today and we’re meeting tomorrow, but I’m scared.  I’m scared of being judged at a point in my life where I feel more vulnerable than I ever have before.  I plan on attending a breastfeeding support group done by the people I did my pre-baby classes with…but I’m scared of being the only woman in the room with a bottle while the other moms talk about things like mastitis and plugged ducts and feeling like a failure.  I’m reaching out to other moms I know.  But it’s so hard to believe.

What keeps me going right now is that I feel like we have these small victories.  Putting her to breast and having her open her mouth for the breast, even if she then doesn’t do anything with it.  Not crying at the breast.  Not interfering with her own latch.  Having quiet, loving, skin to skin time.

There are very few things in life that I have wanted that I couldn’t get just by working harder.  This is one of them and I’m a bit stymied by the idea that it might just be time and that there might be no magic trick involved.

In the meantime, I will swallow my fear and take the help I’m being offered.  Because the first and most important lesson I’ve learned so far is that there’s nothing I won’t try if it would help Elanor or make her happy or healthy.  Swallowing my pride, my fear, and my own judgmental tendencies is only the first.

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4 Responses to My baby drinks breastmilk…sort of

  1. I think you’re doing great. Lots of babies latch on at one, two or three weeks, or even months. You are correct that not crying, opening her mouth at the breast, etc, are all intermediate stages toward her nursing. Keep doing the skin to skin thing and good luck tomorrow.

  2. Cecily says:

    I hope I can give you some, well, hope. 🙂

    Tori was five weeks early, and while she didn’t do any NICU time, I did get a c-section and she was a lazy eater (actually, it’s not really lazy; it’s just that they are still a bit undercooked, so to speak). Toss in my HUGE boobs and my whole body being all swollen from a touch of Pre-eclampsia, it was impossible to get her to latch.

    I pumped exclusively for about five weeks.

    Then, this AWESOME pediatrician I saw who is also a lactaction consultant suggested I use a nipple shield. I’m sure you’ll hear a LOT of people tell you to NOT USE A SHIELD NO MATTER WHAT but, well, whatEVER. Nipple sheilds made all the difference, and my daughter started nursing while I used a shield at about 5.5 weeks old.

    Three weeks later, when she was eight weeks old, I was reaching over her to get the shield before nursing and–just like that–the boob fell in her mouth and she nursed bareback. Heh. We never had another latching issue. She nursed until she was 21 months old.

    It’s easy to get disinheartened, and give up. And frankly, if you do–IT IS OK. But I am the poster girl for success with nursing after fighting hard for it (there’s other stuff in there too; I didn’t produce enough, I had to take a drug to increase supply, then I went back to work, blah blah blah).

    Just a word of caution–some LLL folks REALLY hate nipple shields. So be prepared for that. 🙂

    Good luck!

  3. Cecily says:

    Oh, and PS: we had several moments during those first five weeks where Tori latched on and nursed. I think it happened at least three times, but then she wouldn’t do it again for days and days. It happens. 🙂

  4. Nipple shields aren’t evil. The old-fashioned ones were too thick and interfered with milk supply. The new ones can be useful, but I hope you won’t need them.

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