Adventures in Breastfeeding

After I delivered my son, Ethan, I was really excited to nurse him - breastfeeding was always my plan, and I knew I could do it. He latched right away and over the next few days in the hospital, he ate like a champ - the pediatricians were all thrilled and the boy was crusing!

The day we came home is the day I would like to erase from my memory forever. For some unexplained reason, when I tried to nurse him, he would not latch. All day long I tried to nurse him; my mom tried to help, my sister tried to help, and Tyler tried to help. Nothing worked. I was so frazzled and panicked and scared - it was incredible that I didn't cry or scream or freak out. I kept it together just long enough to find the solution.

 --- A little sidenote: when you take a birthing class, they preach all day long about all the benefits of breastfeeding, and they scorn giving formula to a baby. They go on and on about how formula is evil and devilish and how its soooo bad for them. Seriously? I would like to tell all of those people to go somewhere like Hades, because formula saved my life. And my baby's. ---

At 3 in the morning, after having given Ethan a blessing, we are all in tears and I called the hospital, chatted with a nurse, and she said the simplest thing: give him a bottle. Basically, he'd been starving all night and now he was so worked up, nothing would calm him. I woke up my mom at 3:15 and asked her frantically if she remembered how to make up a bottle! I have never been more thankful to have those formula/bottle samples that you get at the doctor's office and in the hospital. I didn't have to run to the store a 3 am - it was already there. They fixed up a bottle and I fed him. The poor thing - I could have cried. It broke me heart to hear him guzzle that formula, and he was so much happier now that he was full. He slept peacefully for the first time and all was well....

The next day, I tried nursing again. It wasn't going to happen, even though I felt like I had something to give. So, back to the bottle - and he drank happily and was the best baby on the block. There, in that moment of stress, I put away the breast, and focused on feeding my baby the best way I knew how - from the bottle. You see, his bilirubin was very high (so was mine as a child), and I needed to bring those levels down. You do this by feeding your baby. 

The next day, Tyler and my mom went with Ethan to his first doctor's appointment - I was too scared to go. I didn't want to hear the pediatrician tell me how awful of a mother I was to give my child formula. I couldn't stand the look of condemnation I thought he would give me. I didn't want anyone to know I was a failure, and I sure didn't want anyone to see my pain. While they went to the appointment, my sister and I worked on setting up the pump...and again, I didn't really see any production, so I put it on the shelf, afraid or not being capable of pumping, just like I wasn't capable of nursing.

The pediatrician sent home tubes and syringes to try and help Ethan latch on again, and the one night we tried, we failed miserably. And that was enough for me. I, Krista, do not fail at things. So, to save my sanity, I bottle fed for the next week and a half. Everyone got to feed the baby, which meant I got more sleep, and everyone felt like they could bond with him - it was so fun for us to hold him in our arms and watch his darling face as he gulped that precious milk. I was so happy to see him eating well and gaining weight.

At day 7, the postpartum depression hit and I cried for the first time since bringing him home - and the postpartum depression smothered me until day 11. Those were the worst nights. I have never cried harder - especially because I thought I wasn't a good mother for not nursing. I cried because I thought Ethan wouldn't love me, and I cried because I didn't love myself. Tyler brought logic, my best friend, back around to me, and presented the ever-obvious facts, such as, "Do you remember if you were bottle or breastfed?" "No...." "Do you still love your mommy?" "Yes...."

But let me tell you. There is nothing easy about feeling the condemnation that you bring on yourself as a mother - this is a guilt trip I wish I could have skipped. I prayed continually to be able to have success feeding Ethan from me - and I brought my weary pleas before the Lord day and night, night and day. 

As we went to see the pediatrician on our 1 week visit, Ethan's bilirubin was cut in half, he had regained his weight and then some, and was thriving. The doctor looked at me and said the nicest thing: "I wish you would have come to that first appointment. My main role as a pediatrician is to be a champion of mothers - we are your biggest supporters. Look at your son. He is healthy. He is thriving. The bilirubin levels have plummeted - and you gave him formula. Formula works. You have done nothing wrong. You are a good mom."

I held back my tears, and as my mom and I walked home from the appointment, I felt happy. 


Over the next week, I bottle fed. At my doctor's recommendation, I started pumping every 3 hours, morning, noon, and night. This meant that Tyler did the night-time feedings, and I would pump around feeding Ethan during the day. I produced next to nothing. 

I called the lactation consultants, talked to my cousin who is a NICU nurse, talked to other nurses, and tried everything under the sun to get more milk. It turned out that my body was still making tiny amounts of colustrum, and not producing real milk. No wonder the kid was starving when he nursed! I wasn't producing milk! [I also received a strict eating schedule from the lactation consultant and that really helped me too - if you would like a copy, please email me at lilbebedoll19 {at} gmail {dot} com.)

Then, I found a note on my iPhone from a lady I ran into at Target one night, months before. She had the B-Ready stroller that I was in love with, and she let me drive it around the aisles of the baby section, and gave me all of this advice. One thing I am beyond grateful for, was the recommendation to take fenugreek tablets to help your milk come in. They're $7.99 at Whole Foods (and you can also get them at Walgreens), and you take 2 tablets, 3x a day. Also, combining blessed thistle for the same amount at the same time also helps. Within 72 hours, your milk will flood in - and I can say that it works! Your milk can come in much sooner; mine took the 72 hours.

I purchased the fenugreek and blessed thistle and pumped, pumped, pumped. My milk finally came in, over 16 days after giving birth. I talked with that cousin who is a nurse and she said that some women can go up to 6 weeks without having their milk come in! I could not believe it. 

So, now the milk is in, but the statistical likelihood of having Ethan latch after having a bottle for this long is slim to none. My success rate was not looking very high. But, all the same, the doctor encouraged me to try, and said something else that I found very profound. "Everyone should be a parent, because this is when you learn that you have no control. Some babies will latch for a week, and then they will decide that they don't want to nurse, so they won't. And there isn't anything you can do about it. The baby decides."

Knowing all of this, Tyler and I started off a Saturday morning by watching the "Laugh and Learn" videos, and watched the segment on breastfeeding. Halfway through, Ethan woke up, and I decided to just give it a shot - I would just try to breastfeed, and we would take it from there. I put him to the breast, pushed play on the video, relaxed, and wha-la. He took.  He ate. I nursed. And we have never looked back. 


Now, for those who want to know the logistics, here they are:
I took fenugreek and blessed thistle 3x a day, 3 pills of each every time.
This pattern lasted for 1.5 months.
I now produce enough milk that I feel comfortable not taking the tablets anymore.
The supplements worked so well - the warning I will give is that fenugreek makes your sweat smell a bit like maple syrup - I barely noticed, and when I did, it was just funny, not funky.

During the early growth spurts, my son wanted to nurse every hour, on the hour. My breasts could not handle that, so we fed him every 1.5 hours and supplemented with formula in-between feedings. Usually he only ate 0.5 oz - 2 ounces at those supplemental feedings.

My son still wants to feed every hour on the hour after 6pm during growth spurts, and I don't use formula anymore. I do pack formula when we are going on a trip and I need something as a backup when I don't feel comfortable nursing somewhere.


The moral of this story is one of hope, and one of common sense. If the baby is hungry, feed him. Whether it is formula or breastmilk, it is still nourishment. To those who say that formula isn't as good as breastmilk, good for you. Unfortunately, not all of us produce milk, or don't produce enough to feed our children. So we use the next best thing - formula. Its not made of poison, it doesn't make us bad moms, and you know what? It helps our children to grow. There is only 1 published article that states that breastmilk has a significant impact on the hearing of a baby - and other then that, no refuted article, beyond reproof, has been published or recognized by the scientific community, which I belong to, that states that breastmilk gives an advantage to babies over formula. We all know about the benefits of receiving antibodies from breastmilk and such and I happen to love that fact. But did you know you also give your baby antibodies when delivering the baby vaginally? Does that make women who get C-sections bad moms? Oh for Pete's sake, NO. 

I want to encourage women to find what works best for them - a happy mommy is still the most important part of this mommy-baby relationship. When the mommy is taken care of, she can take care of the baby. Skip the guilt trip that I experienced, and focus on enjoying your little one. Formula was used in my grandmother's era, when she was raising her kids. And my grandmother is as close to being a celestial being as you can get in this life - and look at our parent's generation! Lots of them were bottle fed and there are tons of geniuses out there. They made it, and so will we.

What we need now is more acceptance and encouragement, and less judging. Being a parent is hard enough - why make it harder then it needs to be?

I am so thankful to everyone who was brave enough to share their breastfeeding struggles with me during my time of need. I felt like everyone talks about the struggles with pregnancy, labor and delivery, and no one talks about struggles in breastfeeding (which kind of sounds like a movie title to me). So, here I am, talking about it. Its a private struggle that I am willing to make public, in hopes that someone else will find hope in their time of despair.

 My beautiful son, Ethan, at 2 months.

1 comment:

bren & joe said...

Krista, I really appreciate this post as a new mom who is choosing to formula feed for personal reasons. Formula feeders are scorned quite a bit and it always shocks (and annoys me) when people I hardly know or don't know at all ask me if I'm breast feeding as if it's any of their business. I appreciate you sharing your experience and your acceptance of others. I wish more were like you. Hugs, mama.