Thursday, March 03, 2011

Adventures in Breastfeeding - Part I

I'm really hoping the subtitle for Breastfeeding-Part II is "we exhibit total and complete mastery" and not "fail: we give up."

Actually I'm just being dramatic, today wasn't so bad at all. But the babe and I have put quite a lot of work into this breastfeeding venture in the last 10 days. I knew from reading a lot and from talking to my girlfriends that breastfeeding is 'hard' but I didn't really GET what that meant. And of course, every experience is different so I had no idea what was in store for me.

Phase I: Baby latched on immediately, probably 15 minutes after being born. This amazes me! At this point he knew much better than I did what to do. After a hospital lactation consultant helped me with my positioning, we were off - he fed really well for about 4 days.

Phase II: Then my milk came in. My boobs were hard as a rock and baby had no idea what to do. Suddenly he wouldn't latch and was obviously upset and very hungry. I tried taking a warm shower, applying a warm washcloth and continued to try and offer the breast. We were both getting more and more upset, since the hospital had told us to feed every 3 hours OR ELSE. Unfortunately I wasn't sure what OR ELSE entailed or what to do if I couldn't get him to eat. I don't know why I didn't just offer him some formula to take the edge off, but I didn't. Finally on day five we got the breast pump stuff cleaned and ready to go, and I figured out how to use it. He had gone for 6-7 hours without much food and was pretty cranky, as you can probably imagine.

Phase III: Meltdown time. Thankfully we had our first pediatrician appointment that morning. I was exhausted and worn out, and baby was still hungry. I was trying to hold it all together but started sobbing once we got into the exam room. Baby was screaming uncontrollably, was all chappy from us trying to console him with the pacifier, and was wearing an outfit that was probably 3 months too big - obviously we were all a mess. THANK GOD for our doctor: she ignored the chaos and was like, 'CHILL guys. Your first priority is to feed this baby. However you can. Give him formula if you need to, and keep pumping every two hours to maintain supply and ease engorgement'. Then she gave us three huge bottles of formula for free and told us to come in for a weight check in a week.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. I had been so focused on breast feeding, and avoiding giving a bottle (I had read to wait until 3 weeks of age to do that) that I had basically starved our baby in the process. Looking back I can see that I was obviously hormonal, but at the time I felt so ashamed and angry at myself.

There was one bright spot during our horror show of a ped visit: two moms in the waiting room. Both were there with their second kids; one was a toddler and the other baby was only 2 weeks old. I think they could tell I was about to fall apart and both made a point of saying 'hang in there! It totally gets better! We've been there!' Such a little thing... but it meant a lot.

Phase IV: So on day 5 I start pumping like crazy and supplementing with formula. At first it seems great because I feel so much more in control and can give formula if necessary. Plus my husband is now able to feed him too. Baby is finally getting food and it is obvious that he is much more content and happy.

Then I notice that baby is gulping from the bottle, which gives him a lot more gas. I also notice that he doesn't seem to know when to stop - he just keeps eating, and then eating more. I can only get him to latch on and breastfeed once on day 6 and another time on day 7... then not at all. So now we have another problem: how to get him back to breast feeding exclusively.

Phase V: After doing a little reading online I try for a day or two to get him back on the boob (making sure to remain as calm as possible, NEVER forcing the breast, bottle feeding near the breast so he gets used to positioning, etc). I didn't want to troubleshoot this issue for too long, and ended up setting up a consult with a lactation specialist at The Breastfeeding Resource Center (which is like 10 minutes from our house!). I met with Colette, who worked her magic and seriously had him breast feeding again after 10 or 15 minutes. She suggested a change in position and nipple shields (which feel more like a bottle nipple) and came up with a written plan for us to follow. I was also to pump as much as possible to try and increase supply.

So that was Tuesday, and I'm happy to report that we are doing much, much better. On Wednesday I was able to get him to breastfeed, and only had to supplement with formula/bottle a few times when it seemed like he was still hungry. He has been exclusively breast fed since Tuesday night; we are still using the nipple shields but every once in a while I can get him to latch without them.

Now he's feeding constantly, which can be hard since he's attached to me basically day and night, but we've made such good progress that it hardly matters. I'm hoping our winning streak continues... I'm just glad I stuck with it for this long, and asked for professional help when I needed it. No wonder so many people quit!

Whew. What a week.


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