One area that I REALLY tried to learn about before having my daughter is breastfeeding. I went to a La Leche Meeting, watched a DVD, went to a class and read up on it on the internet. I watched various videos and asked my doula questions.
As I read, it seemed like everything came down to the proper latch. Try as I could I just didn’t get it. I would look at pictures and watch videos and I just couldn’t judge if the baby was latching properly. I gave up on researching and felt confident I would be ok. I was having my baby at home in a very pro-breastfeeding environment. My midwife would help and so would my doula – both were experienced with breastfeeding. Plus, it was easy for my mom, so I had good genes….
Fast forward to the day my daughter was born. I made a bunch of mistakes right off the bat.
I was exhausted and hurting and scared that I wouldn’t have any milk…so I didn’t start breastfeeding right away…big mistake. When my daughter was born they put her on my chest like they were supposed to and she stayed there. Probably for about 15 minutes. She was awake and looking around. Thinking that I really wanted her dad to bond with her – I had him hold her skin to skin. We didn’t try to breastfeed first. The next thing I knew my baby girl was in the other room with the midwife, my husband and my mother-in-law. Honestly, I was too freaking exhausted to notice or really care at that point.
Between my daughter getting her exam and me getting stitched up (I tore slightly), we didn’t end up even trying to breastfeed until 3 hours after she was born. BIG MISTAKE! By then my baby girl was tired and drifting off to sleep. We thought she couldn’t latch because she was tired – but there were other issues. We had no clue. My midwife and doula went home thinking everything was great. I thought things were okay too.
I am ashamed to say I made a lot of mistakes in the next 48 hours. I was still scared of breastfeeding for some dumb reason and I didn’t follow the rules of waking my baby up to nurse. I waited for her to wake up. Each time she would latch on for a few sucks and then come off the breast and fall asleep. I would let her fall asleep – thinking of the rule a friend told of never waking a sleeping baby (this is false in my experience and my pediatrician heartily disagrees with that piece of advice too). I didn’t reach out to the midwife or doula either. By the second night I knew something was wrong, my previously happily sleeping baby was waking up frequently crying. We were having trouble nursing and so I was madly hand expressing trying to get her whatever colostrum I had. I didn’t sleep that night – by the time I would hand express, feed her drop by drop with my finger and then begin expressing again she would wake up hungry. To top that off on day 2 she didn’t meet her wet diaper quota. I was stressing out – I knew my baby hadn’t gotten enough to eat, but thought I was keeping up now with the hand expression.
Note: I had my baby at home, in a hospital they would have intervened when she wasn’t getting the food she needed and I would have either seen a lactation consultant and gotten off to a different start or I would have ended up with her on formula from day one – who knows. (My birth was amazing and I would birth at home again in a heartbeat. The only thing I regret about it is not having the support of the experienced hospital staff in the first few days as a first time mom.)
We went to the pediatrician the next day where I was informed that my baby was underfed and dehydrated – even with me hand expressing she wasn’t getting even close to the right amount. Man, I was a wreck. I was exhausted, hormones all over the place, and now despite being up ALL night trying to feed my baby – I was still starving her. My husband was now mad at me too because his daughter wasn’t getting enough to eat and he was exhausted too.
The pediatrician told us we needed to get her on formula that day. I tried to do the syringe feeding, but it took so long that by the time we would finish her first meal of formula it was time for her next meal. It broke my heart but we brought out the bottles.
My daughter had a tongue tie too, so we were sent to the ENT to get that handled. We got it revised that second day. It was a very easy procedure for her. Sophia barely cried and there was nothing we had to do to manage it. There was a little blood that day in her mouth, but that was it.
At this point, I thought we were doomed as far as feeding directly from the breast. Somehow I had the idea that if you didn’t get the baby latched on right off the bat then there was no hope for you.
At the advice of the ENT I contacted a lactation consultant. If you take nothing else away from this remember this – a lactation consultant is your best friend. Find out how to see one and make it happen. Hospitals have them on staff and they will often do outpatient visits. There are also independent lactation consultants. They are amazing! They know the tools to help you on your journey and correct any problems you are having.
I was determined that my baby would get breast milk though so I started researching exclusive pumping. I started pumping like crazy and by her 2 week visit she was only getting an oz or so a day of formula. A few days later she was getting expressed breast milk only.
I have learned that even if you don’t get breastfeeding off to the best start on day one there is still hope. I read one story of a woman who exclusively pumped until her son was 5 months old. The woman was trying to get a bottle ready and her son was crying because it was taking too long. She put him to her breast and amazingly he latched on. Their breastfeeding journey started from there.
We have been working these last weeks and Sophia is getting better every week. The first week she wouldn’t latch at all. When I would bring her to the breast she would arch her back and scream. The lactation consultant (LC) gave us a nipple shield and told us how to use that. Sophia latched on, but she still wasn’t transferring milk well. Our instructions were to pump to build the supply and bottle feed, but start practicing a few times a day with the shield to help Sophia learn how to use her tongue and build the muscles to nurse.
At the next visit we still needed the shield, but she was transferring milk slightly better. We had the same instructions.
The following week Sophia was able to latch without the shield but still wasn’t transferring milk well.
Now Sophia is transferring milk better, but she still doesn’t love nursing and protests. We are working through some other issues that came up (we found out she is sensitive to dairy and soy so I am now starting to eliminate that) but each week we are seeing some improvement. At home it sometimes feels like we are going backward, but at every check in with the lactation consultant Sophia has improved. Every time we nurse progress is made. I just have to be careful not to push it. I don’t want her getting an aversion to the breast.
This is definitely not the easiest route to take. Pumping every 3 or so hours is hard work, and it frustrates me every time Sophia prefers the bottle, but we are making progress and the health benefits are worth it.