01 August 2013
I support you
I don't think I have written publically about my breastfeeding journey before, but the time feels right...
I knew I wanted to nurse my child as soon as I saw the double line on the pregnancy test. It seemed like the only logical choice to me. Nothing against formula feeding - I, myself, was formula fed as a child - but I wanted a nursing relationship with my child. I read lots of books, talked to an auntie who had nursed four children, took a breastfeeding class... I was ready.
The nurses at the hospital knew my plan and were amazing. Even though I ended up with a C-section, they made sure Max was with me within 30 minutes to nurse. He was a champ. He knew just what to do and everything was amazing. He was a Rock Star. For a day.
The second day, he refused to latch. I tried and tried to get him to eat and he cried and pulled away and refused. Nurses came in to help, but nothing worked. Finally, after hours, a nurse came and forcibly held his little head in place as he screamed and cried and I sat helpless, tears streaming down my own face, until he finally latched on and began to eat.
When we got home, I thought it was going great. I kept a journal, noting every time he ate, which side he started on, how long he nursed on each side. He had jaundice, so it was recommended that we supplement with 2oz of formula a day. He enjoyed those bottles, being held by Daddy for feeding, but he still loved to nurse. I coslept with him and he nursed throughout the night, so I was getting plenty of sleep. Everything seemed great.
Until it wasn't. After 2 weeks, his jaundice was gone and we were told we could discontinue the formula, which we gladly did. He continued to want to nurse around the clock and at his two-month checkup, he were measuring less than the fifth percentile for weight. He had teeny little chicken legs and he nursed All. The. Time. I quickly lost any shyness I had about nursing in public or I would have been stuck in the house. He also started to pull away and cry while nursing. I began to take 9 Fenugreek pills a day and drinking 2 cups of Mother's Milk tea, "just in case."
I found a local La Leche League group to attend. The women were friendly, but when I voiced my concerns with his weight and behavior, they told me everything was fine. This was "normal." There was "nothing wrong." I should never, ever supplement. I should nurse whenever he wanted. I shouldn't worry that I didn't get much from the pump, some women just didn't. I should ignore the nagging feeling that something wasn't right and keep nursing.
Luckily, after the meeting, one woman came up to me and told me that what I was experiencing wasn't normal. She gave me the card for a Lactation Consultant and suggested I give her a call. I called from the parking lot and made an appointment for the next morning.
The LC did a weighted feeding the next morning and determined that I may have low milk supply. She helped me come up with a plan. I was to nurse on demand while doing breast compressions. After each feeding, I would pump for 5 minutes to stimulate production. I was to offer a small amount of formula after each feeding to make sure the baby's hunger was satisfied but that he still had the motivation to do the hard work of nursing first. My intake of Fenugreek was increased and we added Blessed Thistle to the mix.
My LC was an absolute angel. She supported me throughout my struggle and reassured me that I was not a bad mother when I cried that I hadn't realized my little boy had been hungry, not just cranky. She called me at home to check on me and made sure I had both her office and cell phone numbers.
Our pediatrician was amazing, too. He freely admitted that he didn't fully understand the deep desire to exclusively breastfeed, but he respected it. His number one rule was "Feed the Baby," however we made that happen. He wrote me a prescription for Domperidone and helped me find a compounding pharmacy that would make the drug for me when I explained that my research had left me uneasy with the side effects of Reglan (another drug that can increase milk) but that I was also uncomfortable ordering Domperidone from an online pharmacy.
I stopped going to the La Leche League meetings where I had been advised to ignore my instinct that something was wrong and found another group. The women there were kinder and had less of a "Mean Girls" feel than the first group had. I told my story and, even though I felt deeply uncomfortable when I had to pull out a bottle to supplement Max's feeding, but no one gave me too noticeable a side-eye. Still, I noticed that many of the meetings turned into discussions of how breastfeeding was best to the exclusion of any other parenting choice and I was uncomfortable with that. The low point for me was when a woman I had hoped to befriend (she had a son just a month younger than Max) went on a tirade about how all formula should be marked "poison" because that's what it was. I was flabbergasted. I couldn't even respond. The leader gently pointed out that I used formula to supplement and this young mother condescended that it was okay in my case because I "had no choice." It was okay for me to give my baby "poison?" How dare she!
So, that was the end of my LLL days. I met with the LC regularly until we had determined that none of the efforts I was putting forth, including Domperidone, were going to help me produce enough milk. I found peace with supplementing an ounce or two at each feeding. Max began to gain weight and to be a happier baby in general. I continued to nurse him whenever he asked. My intended one year of nursing turned into two (with formula supplements ending just before one year).
Last week, my sweet boy peacefully weaned himself. I am four months pregnant and I know my supply had been dropping. Two nights after he weaned, we were having a rough time and he started to lift my shirt. I said, "You can try, big boy, but I think it's all gone, remember?" He put my shirt back down and looked sadly at my chest. "Bye, bye," he said, waving, before snuggling in for hugs.
I'm telling my story now because I have been deeply moved by the "I Support You" campaign begun by Mama bloggers, Kim Simon, of Mama by the Bay (she both formula and breast fed), Suzanne Barston of Fearless Formula Feeder, and Jamie-Lynne Grumet, who blogs at I Am Not The Babysitter (and who caused a media frenzy after being pictured on the cover of Time, nursing her preschooler). This campaign aims to spread compassion and support among ALL parents, regardless of different parenting choices.
Here's the thing. I am a passionate advocate of breastfeeding. I am very hopeful that I will be able to exclusively nurse the child we are now expecting. However, I am even more of an advocate of parents loving their children and caring for them in the way that is best for each individual family. It's none of my business why someone else might choose to formula feed or supplement. No one owes me an explanation or has to convince me that their reason is "good enough" to let them off the hook for not nursing. Tearing down someone else does not build me up. Are you loving your child and feeding your baby? Good. Done. You're a rock star, Mama!
So, whatever choices you make in regards to feeding your child, I SUPPORT YOU.
Note: I am pretty sure this is the first time I have told this story so publically. Typing it all out is making me feel very vulnerable, which seems silly to me. It shouldn't matter how I fed my child, yet I still somehow expect to be judged. Let's change that culture of judging one another. Being a parent is HARD. Let's extend a hand of support to one another instead of knocking each other down.