11 May 2012

Breastfeeding: My Journey & Struggle.

My goal is to write a raw & honest post about my struggles with breastfeeding.  I've wanted to do this for awhile now, but it's been too overwhelming to write.  There is just too much to go into it.

I also don't want to scare people.  So here is my disclaimer.  This post is for women who are currently having issues with breastfeeding (you are not alone!), who have had issues in the past (to reminisce & sympathize), or women who are in a good groove with breastfeeding (to understand the struggles that others can go through).

This post is NOT for women who are pregnant & have never attempted breastfeeding.  To you, I highly encourage you to take a class on breastfeeding.  Educate & empower yourself.  I say this post isn't for you because I don't want you to focus on the struggles that could happen, but instead focus on being proactive and successful with breastfeeding.

Sleepy Baby & Weak Suck Reflex.
My first clue that something was 'off' with Hazel and feeding was the first morning I woke up after she was born.  She was born at 9:41pm and it was after midnight when we finally got settled in our room and went to sleep.  I woke up the next morning after a peaceful night of rest.  Except... aren't babies supposed to give you sleepless nights?

That was the beginning of learning about how Hazel was a sleepy baby.  Lethargic, actually, is how it was described a lot.  Too sleepy to eat.  I still don't know why she doesn't get hungry.  Almost 4 months old and it's still pretty rare when she will actually show hunger cues.  We've learned to go ahead and feed her regardless in order to get the proper nutrition in her.

But back to my sleepy baby.  She also didn't have a strong suck reflex.  And when we put her up to my breast, she cried.  Like, murderous cry.  Lactation consultants would come in and help us, but they were never able to get her to latch on for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Finding Support
After we got home from the hospital I leaned on my doula for support and she recommended a breastfeeding support group that met a few times a week.  It was a 30 minute drive, which was terrifying with a newborn, but totally worth it.  If nothing else, I was at least able to hang around other new moms who were going through the same things I was.

There was a Lactation Consultant at this breastfeeding support group.  She spent countless amounts of time with me & Hazel, working to get Hazel to latch on, despite Hazel screaming.  She gave me many resources and showed me how to weigh Hazel before and after the feeding (they had a hospital scale there) to see exactly how much milk she got.

Weighing her is how we learned that she was only getting half an ounce in 45 minutes of breastfeeding.  At the time, she needed to eat about 3 ounces every 3 hours.  So at that rate, even if she breastfed all day long, she would never get her full days worth of food.  Sometimes it's okay for a baby to get a little less-- just being dependent on mother nature.  But in Hazel's case, it was a problem.  It was 45 minutes of crying and screaming.  Her entire body would turn red and I'd have to calm her down.  If she did calm down, she would fall asleep and still wouldn't be eating.

We used nipple shields, the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), and even a syringe to squirt into her mouth to wake her up and remind her to eat.  None were successful for more than a feeding or two.

Tiring Routine
For about 6-8 weeks I tirelessly tried breastfeeding at almost every feeding.  I would try to breastfeed her, for about 30 minutes, then break down and feed her with a bottle, let her sit up for 45 minutes & catch her spit up as it undoubtedly came, then pump, change her diaper and... guess what time it was?  Time to feed her again and the whole routine.  Did I mention that she was still super sleepy, and therefore it took her about 45 minutes to finish each bottle?  I even tried skipping pumping every now and then to make sure I wasn't draining my supply right before feeding her.  Theoretically, it shouldn't matter because my body should be constantly producing, but I was willing to try anything.  It didn't make a difference.

Low Milk Supply & Letting Go
Also, I left out the little tidbit that my body didn't produce enough milk to feed Hazel for an entire day.  So sometimes she would get breastmilk, sometimes it would be formula.  And she spit up everything.  So we tried new formulas and added a Simply Thick to my breastmilk.  Except... to add Simply Thick (it's a gel), you're supposed to shake it to mix it.  But guess what?  You're not supposed to shake breastmilk.  Shoot me in the head... it was not fun to mix that stuff.  But if Hazel couldn't keep my breastmilk down, then why on earth was I killing myself to pump what little I could to breastfeed her?  I was determined that it would not go to waste!

After about 6-8 weeks of this craziness I decided that I would just pump and feed her from a bottle.  I was a train wreck of emotions throughout this time, and I knew I had to go back to work soon.  I still had to do everything else, but I just stopped trying to make her breastfeed.  Clearly it wasn't going to work out.  A friend had sent me an article about a woman who had similar issues and her daughter finally started to breastfeed around 4 months old.  It was an encouraging read, and I kept that in the back of my mind for hope for the future.

A little bit more about the low milk supply thing.  Typically when someone has a low supply, they start taking some Fenugreek, they start smelling like maple syrup, and their milk supply bounces up to where it should be.  I started with that.  Took a low dose, then built up to the maximum over time when I wasn't seeing results.  Then I went over the maximum suggested dose.  There was absolutely zero change.  So after going through a few bottles, I stopped.  I also tried Mother's Milk Tea.  Nada.  Eating oatmeal, blessed thistle, relaxing in a bubble bath, massages, extra baby snuggles... you name it, and I tried it.  My doctor gave me a prescription and that helped some.

Then a friend gave me some of her extras from a different medication.  It increases your prolactin and I was finally seeing results.  It got me up to 10 ounces a day.  Enough to feed Hazel 2 out of her 5-6 bottles per day.  Being the type of person who tries to avoid non-natural medications, it kinds of kills me to be on this.  But it's one of those hard decisions I had to make.

Not Giving Up... and there is hope
Among those who have known the true extent of my breastfeeding struggles, I've been dubbed "Most committed to breastfeeding."  I have to say, it made me smile when they said that.  It felt like a little bit of payoff for all the hard work that I was putting in.  I know the major payoff is in Hazel's health, but those are a little less tangible.  I've made it a goal to continue for 6 months.  It is truly a day by day struggle.  I hate using the word struggle because it's so negative, but it's the truth... this has been a struggle for me.

There is one magical piece to this puzzle, though.  One thing that has made it all worth it.  At 3 months, I noticed Hazel's suck reflex was much stronger than it was before.  So one morning instead of pumping before she woke up, I attempted to breastfeed her... and she did it!  It was awesome, and we do that as often as she'll tolerate it these days.

I've begun to accept that I will never have a high enough milk supply to feed Hazel.  That there won't be a day when we stop formula altogether.  But I know I've learned a ton of things to do differently with future babies.  Hopefully they won't be as sleepy or hostile towards breastfeeding as Hazel has been.

If you've made it this far, I'm pretty surprised!  Thank you for reading my jumbled thoughts any my journey of breastfeeding.


Krystal said...

I think your title nailed it on the head. Breastfeeding and parenting is a journey. No matter how much planning and preparation you go into it with, it really is about helping your child grow into a happy little one. Keep up the good work!

Megan B said...

You are my hero. Hazel is so blessed to have you as a mom!

Debbie A.F. said...

I can relate to the struggles with BFing/EPing, etc. Remember, too, that every baby is different. While I went through similar struggles with attempting to BF my daughter (ultimately unsucessfully), my son is breastfeeding. With my DD I had an over supply. With my son I am just barely (although not always) producing enough. So while it seems unlikely to be any different the next time (IF there is a next time) it can be wildly different so don't be discouraged because of your experience!!

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