Sunday, August 12, 2012

Breast Intentions: Navigating the Milky Way

Breastfeeding, I had decided very early in my pregnancy, was the only way to go. It is extremely healthy for the baby. Your own milk is perfectly balanced, filled with nutrients and antibodies they simply can't replicate in a formula. I've even heard that it can cure cancer! On top of that, it's free, always the perfect temperature and it's a wonderful bonding experience for you and your baby. What I hadn't anticipated was just how difficult it was going to be.

Many women had warned me that I might not be able to breastfeed. They told me their own stories about not having enough milk etc. I wasn't going to go into it with a defeatist attitude. I was going to give it my best no matter what. My sister had breastfed her children and never had a problem. I knew that my breasts had been preparing very early on. Almost my first symptom of pregnancy was that my breasts grew and felt tender.

I had read that the milk doesn't always come in right away but that your breasts produce a pre-milk substance called colostrum which is loaded with nutrients. I heard that a newborn baby's stomach is so small that they don't need a whole lot to eat and that the colostrum is enough. Some overzealous nurses try to get you to feed the baby formula but this sabotages the mother who wants to breastfeed because milk production is supply and demand. The more that is demanded, the more your body will supply. If baby isn't suckling, you won't make milk at all. This could be what happened with the women who were told they weren't producing milk.

So while I was in the hospital and a nurse brought a bottle of formula for me to give the baby, I didn't use it. I kept it, just in case, but I didn't plan to give it to my baby if I could avoid it. I saw this as a form of sabotage. I was determined to breastfeed.

The baby seemed to get a good latch right away. She was a natural! I couldn't believe the suction she had. The nurse called her a Dyson vacuum! None of the breastfeeding positions they showed me were comfortable. I didn't like the football position or cross cradle hold. There didn't seem to be a comfortable way to hold the baby to feed but I tried to follow instructions, cradling the baby's head with one hand, holding her body in with that arm and squeezing my breast with the other hand. I couldn't believe how much it hurt! I would have thought an innocent little baby would be gentle. She was a ravenous animal! My nipples were red, purple, black, scabbed and scarred. "She's giving you hickies!" one nurse said "That's why you have to make sure she's latched on properly, onto the breast, not just the nipple." I couldn't believe a newborn could be that strong or have that much power in her jaws. It felt like she had teeth and was going to chew my nipples off! By the looks of them, she nearly did!

I kept nursing her even though it was hurting and even though I wasn't sure if she was actually getting anything. One of the nurses squeezed my nipple to show me that I do have colostrum and that I can use it to coat and soothe my sore nipples. I wasn't able to express any myself.

My doctor had suggested I visit the Breastfeeding Clinic for tips. Every new Mom struggles with it. Apparently 90% of women find breastfeeding difficult in the beginning. Many are so discouraged that they give up. I was not giving up. I set up an appointment to see them the day after I got home from the hospital.

I had been anxious to leave the hospital because I didn't get a wink of sleep there (between the duelling screaming babies and the father in the next bed snoring all night). What I didn't know is that I wouldn't get much sleep when I got home either.

I was staying with my sister in my nephew's old room. She was kind enough to let me stay with her before my delivery and for a while after so I wouldn't be alone. Thank God she was there to turn to or I may have lost my mind. The first day was a nightmare. The baby didn't sleep more than a few minutes the entire day. She just fed and cried and pooed and cried and fed and cried and pooed. I was completely drained. I would stagger downstairs and my sister would have a meal ready for me. Starving and dehydrated, I would eat and drink quickly, scarfing it down like a starving animal then go back upstairs to my baby vampire, sucking me dry. (Her father had joked about being a vampire. Maybe she is a little like him. Cute and tears me to shreds, yeah there are similarities...)

I had no idea how hard it would be. My nipples looked like a war zone. She actually drew blood. They were so sore I would wince in agony the entire time she was suckling but I didn't stop. I didn't give up. I wasn't even sure if she was getting anything but I kept trying. I spent the entire day in pain, on no sleep, feeding my little shark baby.

The next day I had my appointment at the breastfeeding clinic. I didn't know how hard it is to make an appointment with a newborn. I had her all ready, buckled into the carseat when I heard a gurgling sound, she began to cry and I knew that she had pooed. So I had to unbuckle, undress and change her and start all over again.

"Wow! You made it in good time!" they said when I came in five minutes late.
I was pretty frazzled. One of the women took me off into a curtained corner to talk. She was going to weigh the baby before and after feeding. After weighing Michelle, she told me that the baby had lost too much weight. Babies are allowed to lose up to 10% of their birth weight but more than that is a red flag. Apparently my baby had lost more than 10%. I argued that she was a big baby to start with. It's not like she was a 6 pound baby and went down to 5. She was an over 9 pound baby who went down to 8, still a very healthy weight. She didn't even fit any of the newborn clothes. I had to put her in 0-3 month outfits (thank goodness I thought to pack some just in case). They said that the baby was dehydrated. They wanted to give her formula. I was reluctant. I told them my fears -- that giving formula was admitting defeat, that I wouldn't be able to produce milk if she was dependent on formula, that I knew other people who were discouraged from breastfeeding and I didn't want it to happen to me. But I finally caved. I couldn't let my baby starve.

I cried. I felt like a failure, a bad Mom. I was trying to do the right thing. I spent an entire day feeding my baby, physically and emotionally spent, my nipples ripped apart, and then they tell me that it's not enough, that she's starving, that I can't feed her. I was devestated. My milk hadn't even come in yet. It was just colostrum. It was supposed to be enough. I'd read that it was enough for the first few days until the milk comes in. The woman tried to console me. She said that I had done the right thing by feeding so much, that doing so would stimulate my breasts to produce more milk so that when my milk did come in it would be strong. She said not to get discouraged, that 75% of women need to supplement with formula in the beginning, that I'm not a failure. She also suggested I get a breast pump. They just happened to sell one there, hospital-grade for $400. $400?! "Are you on crack?!" I almost asked. I explained that being a single Mom on a tight budget that that's not a possibility. She suggested renting one. Ummm. Certain things I'd rather not share with strangers. A machine that extracts bodily fluids would have to be at the top of the list! I was getting angry. I could overhear other clients in other corners talking with the women. It was starting to feel like a cult. It reminded me of a time I went to a scrapbooking party and they try to bully you into ordering their expensive equipment. "But I can get scrapbooks and paper and stickers at the dollar store that don't cost $1000!"

When she saw my nipples the woman at the clinic shook her head and said "You poor thing." She tried to show me how to get a good latch. After having the formula, just as I had feared, my baby rejected me. When I tried to bring her to my breast, she pushed me away. I was heartbroken. Now that the evil boob Nazis ("No boob for you!" -- if you're not a Seinfeld fan just ignore this, it won't make sense unless you've seen the soup Nazi episode) had given my baby formula, she wouldn't settle for me and my empty boobs. How can they call themselves a breastfeeding clinic when they deliberately sabotage you so that you can't breastfeed?! I was bitter. I was devestated.

They had paged a doctor to check out the baby and make sure she was OK. The doctor was taking his sweet time. They needed my curtained corner for another client so I was shuffled off to the waiting room with hard plastic seats. There were two waiting rooms. "Which one would you prefer?" a woman asked. "One where no one is, but I guess that's not an option." I was in tears and a mess and wanted to be alone. The guy in the room took his cue and left. I sat on a hard plastic chair for 2 hours (with a sore butt and stitches from an episiotomy I might add!) waiting for the doctor to come. I hadn't had breakfast. I wasn't expecting the appointment to take this long. I was getting more frustrated by the minute. I finally threatened to leave so they paged the doctor again and he finally showed up. He had a student with him who was reading questions off a clip board. Some of them she was asking me twice which was getting on my nerves. She kept going on about jaundice (quite a few people had mentioned jaundice. They were obsessed with it.) Everyone commented how pink Michelle was, that at least she wasn't jaundiced. OK. Why keep going on about it? The doctor said that she did seem very healthy. She was just a bit dehydrated but if I supplemented with formula until my milk came in she should be OK. I fell apart in front of the doctor. I told him I was hanging by a thread. Felt like I was going to have a breakdown. I had no idea it was going to be this hard. Who knew labour was the easy part?!

The doctor told me that everything I was going through, everything I was feeling, was normal. This is what new mothers trying to breastfeed grapple with. And it's not easy. He showed me some things to do to comfort the baby when she was crying. He lifted her up and down, in my opinion rather aggressively -- like a ride at Wonderland! -- and made a shushing noise. He explained that newborns like this kind of noise and movement because it mimicks the sounds and sensations of being in the womb. He swaddled her in the blankets, tight as a mummy and said that restricting their arms and legs is comforting to them because they were so enclosed in the womb that it makes them feel safe. He said that it would get better, easier.

The woman from the clinic gave me a feeding plan and a box of sample formula bottles. She said she knew that I was angry with her but that she was just trying to help. I told her I was just angry with the situation and frustrated. I never wanted to go back to the clinic again as long as I lived but I agreed to return the next day. She tried again to sell me their super fancy breast pump. I said I'd think about it.

I talked to my sister about it. She'd never used formula or a breast pump. I called my Mom. She had to use a breast pump in the beginning with one of my brothers. She said not to invest a lot of money in something I'd probably only need at the start and for emergencies. She was pretty sure I could get one at Walmart a lot cheaper. I decided to check it out. Good old Walmart. I got an electric breast pump regularly $60, on sale for $50. I was afraid to use it. What if it didn't work? What if I didn't have any milk?

I read the instructions. It mentioned that a hot shower may stimulate milk production. It said to relax and think of your baby. I finally got up the nerve to give it a go. It felt a little strange putting the rubber cone around my breast and turning the vacuum on. It made a little buzzing noise. It didn't hurt really, not the way the baby chewing on me did at least, it was just a bit uncomfortable. At first I was worried nothing was happening. I couldn't see any milk. But then, miraculously, I saw the container start to fill up with a strange yellow liquid. I managed to pump 50 ml from my breasts. I told my sister about it being yellow. She said that breast milk isn't pure white and plus this could be my transitional milk from colostrum to regular milk. I was just happy that I actually was producing milk. The baby lapped up every drop of my milk from the bottle. I was supplementing with the formula as per the feeding plan. She was still feeding from me, not rejecting me anymore.

I finally found a breastfeeding position that was comfortable -- lying down, like a mother cat with her kitten. It was so comfortable that both baby and me fell asleep contentedly. It was the most restful few hours of my life.

When I went back to the clinic, they were impressed. Baby had gained a lot of weight. They joked about her eating a sub in the middle of the night. I had a different woman dealing with me this time thankfully and she was much more helpful, encouraging. She also introduced me to possibly the greatest invention a new Mom could ever find -- a nipple shield! A little rubber nipple with holes that fits over your own nipple, so baby can suck on that and save your real nipples from the pain. It was amazing! I had become a human bottle! Now it would be easy to transition her between my breast and a bottle filled with pumped milk and a bottle of formula (just for emergencies.)

I was so relieved. My milk had come in strong now. I was even leaking through my clothes. My cups were overflowing. My already large breasts had become enormous. Baby was feeding well, was actually sleeping sometimes and with my handy nipple shield, my nipples were healing again. Baby was happy. I was happy.

When I went to the doctor she said that Michelle was doing very well. She had already regained her birth weight a week later (usually it takes 10-14 days). She was pink and healthy and strong and feeding well. Everything looked great. I returned to the clinic quite pleased to show them how well baby was doing (and that I didn't need to buy their $400 pump to make it happen.) Now she was only getting my milk and was still doing very well. They weighed her before and after feeding and said that she was getting at least 25 ml from each breast at a feeding.

It's still not easy. I have good days and bad. Some days it seems she just feeds for a minute and falls asleep, then wakes up still hungry and cries and this goes on all day. It's a challenge. When I'd give her a bottle (of formula or pumped breast milk) it struck me how much easier it was. She can drink so fast from a bottle and I know how much she's getting. So she's full and content and then can sleep. When it's at my breast, it's more time-consuming, she gets lazy or tired and falls asleep and I don't know how much she's gotten and she doesn't sleep as well or as long. So what do you do? Do you do the right thing or the easy thing? I know that breastfeeding is the right thing to do, but it's so time-consuming, so draining, so difficult. I can see why women get frustrated, disheartened and give up. But I am not giving up. I've heard that it will get easier. At least I have my nipple guard (I even got an extra one as a backup because if I lost this thing I'd go insane!) and I know that I can always pump milk as well (which is handy to have when you need to go out and need to be able to feed her quickly.) I even got some storage bags so I can keep my milk in the fridge.

It's kind of surreal. Sometimes I feel like a walking dairy farm or feeding machine. It seems to be all I do now. I feed the baby, every couple of hours, sometimes every hour. I feed her, I change her, I wait for her to fall asleep for a few moments so I can run around and do the laundry and everything else I have to do. I'm exhausted, drained. It feels like I'm giving her everything and there's nothing left for me. Of course there are advantages to breastfeeding for Mom too. It helps to shrink your uterus back to its normal size sooner. It helps you to lose weight (it burns 500-700 calories a day!) I've already lost 30 lbs and that's without exercise. Hopefully the next 30 comes off that easily. I will start to exercise when the doctor says it's safe. Hopefully I'm able to find the time. I don't mind the new boobs. I'd like to keep them and lose the tummy. I guess I'll have to see how it goes.

It is hard to find time to write. I started this blog about my baby journey and don't want to stop now, but I really had no idea how much work a newborn is. I couldn't have imagined what I was getting into. My time is not my own anymore. I live for her, to cater to her every need and sacrifice my own needs. Sometimes it's a challenge just to steal a few seconds to run to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat so I don't pass out from dehydration. Somehow, miraculously I manage to find a few minutes here and there to type a few thoughts and eventually post my blog when it seems done. I apologize if I let more typos slip through. I don't have as much time to proofread and edit! I need to write. It's important to me, to share my thoughts and experiences as I go through this journey. This is sustenance for my soul.

There are times when I'm so utterly depleted I don't know how I'll go on. It feels like I'm falling apart and there's nothing left. Times when she screams because she's hungry or needs to be changed (again) or is just tired (that makes two of us, baby!) She's a little drama queen already. My Mom jokes that it's because she's a redhead, that she will be as moody and demanding as I was. My Mom says that the trade-off was that I was brilliant. She says I was extremely easy to potty train because I couldn't bear to be uncomfortable for one instant. My baby appears to be the same. The instant her diaper is soiled, she lets you know. This is part of the reason that girls are easier to potty train than boys generally. Boys don't always mind being dirty. Girls like to be clean. I wanted a girl. They are definitely higher maintenance!

Then there are magical moments, when I look at her wide blue eyes and she is so beautiful and so sweet. Her tiny hands, her little round cheeks, her pink lips. I love her so much that I would go through anything for her. I will go without sleep or food. I will give up my whole life to care for her. I will even let her bite my nipples off if I have to. I just didn't know how hard it would be. It's not what I expected, but then nothing has been. You just don't know until you're in it what it's really like. It's a rollercoaster that soars higher and dips lower than any ride I've ever been on.

She smiles and suddenly all is right in the world. It's worth whatever I have to go through. They say that babies aren't even supposed to smile yet but she does. And I know it's not "just gas" like they try to say. She smiles when I say I love you or tickle her cheek. Sometimes she even smiles and laughs in her sleep. She is my little angel, even though she can be a screaming demon sometimes! I want to do all the right things for her. Even when it's not easy. Being a Mom really is the hardest job in the world and the most rewarding. I had heard people say that so many times before but I never really appreciated what it meant until now.


  1. I'm sorry you've had such a challenge with breast feeding makes me so grateful I had my midwife who came to my house everyday that 1st week after Elena was born. My milk didn't come in for 5 days so I had no choice but to give Elena formula but my midwife showed me many breast feeding friendly ways, like finger feeds where we discovered Elena was pushing the nipples out with her tongue. Once we learned this, we were able to teach her how to curl her tongue..,when my milk finally came in, she latched like a champ. It broke my heart to have to use formula but in the end it was what was best & what Elena needed & that's all that matters, right?

    Just know it'll get easier...but then it'll get hard again then easier then hard again...that's the way parenting goes I've learned. But it sounds like you're doing great even if it doesn't always feel like it. I know it's cliche but trust your gut, you'll know what's best for Michelle.

    As for blogging, keep doing it whenever you can even if it's a few words here & there, even if you don't post it, even if you just write it in a journal. It will mean so much to you to have later on & it will mean so much to Michelle to read your thoughts & struggles. It's all about enduring the hard stuff & cherishing the precious moments

  2. Hey there. Yes it's been rough. A midwife would have been a big help. I think my baby is part vampire! I can't believe how much power she has, even without teeth! At least the nipple guard is saving me from bruising and bleeding but she still sucks the life out of me! She is ravenous. Can't keep up with her! Trying to endure the hard stuff and cherish the precious moments. Physical exhaustion doesn't help. Overwhelming sometimes. But then I'll look at her and I love her so much that it keeps me going...

    1. If you're worried about your supply, there are herbs you can take to boost it, Blessed Thistle & Fenugreek, I took 3 pills 3 times a day to get my milk to come in & again when Elena was going thru a growth spurt & feeding like crazy.

      The exhaustion is overwhelming, especially doing it on your own, you don't get a when people say, "sleep when the baby sleeps" don't get that it's not always possible to do that, if you did, how would laundry get done, bills paid, etc...

      It makes me smile to hear you call Michelle part vampire because that is a running joke in my family with Elena. Having conceived her with anonymous donor sperm I've joked that her "daddy" is a vampire (being a Vampire Diaries fan, that's where I got her name from) I even had a onesie that said, "My Daddy's a Vampire"...I have a photo of it on my blog, my Halloween post.

      Anyway, these first few weeks will be the toughest & it will get better & less overwhelming. Take care & don't be afraid to ask for help & letting people know what they can do to help. Take care.

    2. Hey there. Not worried about supply now. Seems to be good. That's cute about the vampire daddy! I always had a thing for vampires. Had a crush on Dracula as a kid...Careful what you wish for! :)