Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? That really is the question.

During my pregnancy, many women often asked me if I wanted to breastfeed. Before I got pregnant, the answer was originally "hell no." I'd heard horror stories about what it does to your boobs and how horrible they are after, but then I got pregnant and my answer changed rather quickly.

After seeing the effect pregnancy had on my body, my boobs were the least of my concern. But more than that, feeling my little nudger kick and squirm around in me changed things. I wanted what's best and most natural for my child, but I didn't want to become obsessed about breastfeeding. "I'm going to try," I'd respond to the inquiries. That was the truth, I had every intention of trying, but I told myself and everyone else that I wouldn't get my hopes up and become some crazy mom who would cry and get upset if it didn't work out. But by day two of breastfeeding, I'd become a liar.

Let's be honest...breastfeeding is no joke. It's tough and in the beginning the odds are really against you. A 2008 report from Brigham Young University shows "while three out of four mothers start breastfeeding, only 36 percent of them continue for at least six months," according to a NY Times blog. So naturally I didn't think breastfeeding would actually work out for me for several reasons.

  1. I didn't think I'd like or enjoy it. The thought of a baby on your boob is weird to some people, and I thought I might feel the same way.

  2. People told stories of how it would solidify the bond between mother and child, but I didn't buy it. I'd been surrounded by formula feeding moms and babies who seemed to have a great bond. So, I never truly believed or understood how it really could breastfeeding could create an essential, powerful and stronger bond than a non-breastfed child.

  3. The baby may not take to it and learn to latch on. It's a fact that sometimes babies don't learn to latch properly or struggle with the whole breastfeeding process. I didn't want to get my hopes up.

  4. People told me I'd have to watch what I eat and couldn't eat/drink certain things. If anyone knows me, they know I love to eat. I was afraid I might get tired of having a restricted diet and having to watch what I eat and drink (and medications I might take).

  5. I'd heard it could be painful. Some friends told me that they stopped because breastfeeding was extremely painful and unbearable. Some had even gotten a breast infection, like mastitis. This was a little scary.

  6. Breastfeeding is a lot of work for you and the baby. I didn't want to be the only person who was able to get up with my baby. I wanted my husband Klay to get up and have the opportunity to feed and help out in the middle of the night. I know me and I'd start to get resentful that while he gets to sleep, I'm still up all night with our son.

Needless to say I felt the odds were against me. But I wanted to try and hoped that we'd succeed at it.

When they first put Brody on my chest for our initial two-hour skin-to-skin time, I was in awe. This sweet little boy was so beautiful, and I wanted to do everything I could for him. So when my nurse said it was time to try breastfeeding, I was completely ready and excited to try. To my surprise, he naturally latched on to my breast and it wasn't at all weird. It was one of the sweetest and most precious moments I've experienced.

By the second day, I was eager to try to feed him every 2-3 hours and enjoy our bonding time together. Amazingly, he seemed to be doing pretty well at it, or I thought he was. We'd have our occasional struggle, and either Klay or Brody's baby nurse would help me with getting him to latch, but once he was on, he stayed on for a while. By day three, a lactation nurse came to visit and showed me all of the proper ways to hold, cradle and position him, how to get and recognize the proper latch, how to get him to stop sucking and release my breast when I wanted and taught us about proper storage, when to pump and deciding how long we should breastfeed.

While the lactation nurses were with us, they made breastfeeding seem extremely easy and nursing was a cinch. The more I breastfed, the more I enjoyed it but I'd become what I'd feared--extremely attached to it.

On day four, we had experienced our first night at home alone, and had a follow-up appointment with a lactation nurse to check Brody's jaundice levels. Unfortunately, my baby had lost too much weight, getting down to a mere 5 lbs 8 oz from his birth weight of 6 lbs 4 oz, so the nurse insisted on watching me feed. She wasn't happy with what she saw and feared that he wasn't getting enough because he appeared tired and frustrated while feeding. She said he was working so hard to get little colostrum, and in order to lower those jaundice levels, we needed my milk to come in asap. Since Brody's jaundice levels were rising and we needed to make sure he was getting plenty to eat to poop out the bilirubin, she advised us to rent a pump to help stimulate and speed up my milk-production and feed the expressed breast milk to Brody via a bottle.

The first time I saw Brody take a bottle was devastating for me. It took every ounce of strength I had to not cry while Klay fed him a bottle of my breast milk at the appointment. The idea some thing, some plastic bottle, was feeding him and not ME was completely appalling. On top of that, I'd maybe had a whopping two hours of consecutive sleep since he was born, I was completely exhausted and in pretty bad pain from giving birth. I had a hard time walking, sitting and doing everything else, and my hormones were going crazy.

After several tears that day and feeling like a I failed my first mommy test, I quickly realized giving him a bottle of breast milk was a lot easier than putting him to my breast. I still had to try to breast feed, so he wouldn't show preference to the bottle and to increase my supply, but the struggle and repetition of both feeding and pumping began to take it's toll.

There are many things I'd learned on my own about breastfeeding.

  1. The images of these smiling mommies with calm, perfectly latched babies wasn't at all what I'd experienced most of the time. Sure, I did get my good and decent feedings in where Brody and I appeared like one of the moms you'd see in parenting magazines, but majority of the time I was fighting a squirmy, floppy and incredibly strong newborn who'd go nuts when he couldn't find my nipple. He'd repeatedly let go from not getting a good latch or just randomly release my breast for no reason, and I'd have to readjust and try again. The process was extremely taxing and time consuming.

  2. People talked about the pain the actual feeding could cause, but I discovered there were other pains that came along with breastfeeding. During the first week of feeding, your uterus contracts when you feed and you often feel a passing of blood from the uterus (or I did) when feeding. These contractions were pretty freaking painful! There was a time they lasted 10 to 15 minutes and I was in so much pain, Klay googled to try to find ways to relieve the pain. He told me I needed to stay hydrated. After the first week, the cramps ceased, but the pain of Brody's nails digging into my boob or scratching my nipple was yet another frustration I'd have to overcome.

  3. Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand. Your body adjusts and produces how much your baby needs (based on how much they are at your breast and eating). After all of the feeding and pumping, I was producing enough milk to feed a hospital nursery. But after a while, the exhaustion and frustration began to set in and I'd grown tired of fighting my baby while he was at my breast, so I just pumped and fed through a bottle. And once I was tied to my pump a few hours a day, (and having to pump in the middle of the night after feeding Brody), I began to pump less and less. I didn't know what skipping a pump session here or there would do to my supply. My supply eventually decreased immensely to only a few ounces (if I was lucky) each session.

  4. The process of building back up my milk supply is hard work. To stimulate my body to produce more, I'd to putting Brody back at my breast, for skin-to-skin. Plus side to this, drink dark beer! It somehow helps you produce more breast milk, according to my pediatrician.

  5. My loss of appetite greatly effected my breast milk production. After Brody was born, I was too tired and exhausted to make myself eat (plus I hardly had the time). Nothing sounded good except graham crackers and apple juice (I was really sick and vomited a lot in the hospital and that was the first thing that I held down, so I think that's why I crave that). Being sleep deprived and having my focus be taking care of my child, and because he came first, my nutrition and taking care of myself fell to the wayside. I looked forward to the 500 and some odd calories you burn with breastfeeding, but Klay had to force me to eat to make sure I was taking care of myself and it wouldn't hurt my milk supply.

  6. Frustration with leaky and hard, painful boobs. While I'd begun leaking colostrum during pregnancy (at 5 months), and woke up many nights with giant wet spots around my breasts and on my sheets, continuing to have to deal with leaky breasts on top of everything else added to my frustration. And while breastfeeding, I'd be leaking over Brody if my other breast wasn't covered, or milk would drip on my clothes (even after pumping) and get everywhere. And if I didn't feed, my boobs would hurt and get extremely hard and engorged. The only relief--to feed or pump. If you are out and about and can't find a place for privacy to do either one, the pain becomes distracting and annoying.

  7. Weird things happen to my boobs when my baby would cry. It's amazing what your body knows and reacts to. When Brody would cry, my breasts would leak or my nipples would begin to throb or have a stinging sensation like my body was saying "go feed your child."

  8. Breastfed babies eat more often than formula fed babies. This didn't matter so much to me because of the nutrition my child was getting from breastfeeding, but after two weeks of hardly more than two to three hours of consecutive sleep, I'd do anything to sleep another hour. As time went on, formula began to seem more appealing.

Through all of my struggles and my low production of breast milk, we were eventually forced to supplement with formula. We are currently still supplementing, but it's become mostly formula now, and we give little breast milk as I'm not producing much.

I'm still pumping and I like to still have my options open on what I can feed him. I'm not fully ready to close up shop just yet!

I'll keep you all posted as this journey still continues...now I'm off to pump!