While pregnant my husband and I attended a breastfeeding class. The information that we were given at the time seemed self-explanatory and I walked out thinking “I’ve got this”. During my pregnancy I never worried about breastfeeding; I took the class, I’m educated and its natural! THE DAY arrives, and after 2 hours and 11 minutes of hard pushing, so does our baby boy. Hard part is over, right? Baby to breast a.s.a.p., wow, he is latched. I think he is latched, is he latched? Suddenly, I have no idea what I learned in class. I am not sure if it was my complete lack of self-confidence or absolutely normal, to feel completely awkward. I have to say at that moment breastfeeding felt anything but ‘natural’ to me.
The next few days were a blur to me and I am not sure I will ever remember exactly what happened, except for the fact that I was exhausted and suffering from an upper respiratory infection. I can not remember if my son ate or slept well for the first two days, I assumed if there was a problem the nurses would let me know. Being a new mom is overwhelming, to say the least. On day three my son got circumcised, the pediatrician said he would take him hungry so that he does not throw up if he gets upset. So at my request they took him at that moment because he was due to nurse. When they returned with him he was sleeping and the doctor said he did great, no fuss at all. Being a new mom I figured if he is sleeping, then he is tired and does not need to eat now. I had attempted to wake him a few times and I was told babies can go into a ‘sleep state’ after a circumcision. My mom came for a visit a few hours later; she woke him up and said he can’t go that long without eating. I had no idea, I thought babies cry when they are hungry, latch on and eat.
I tried to get my still sleepy baby to latch and all I accomplished was making him very mad. Although I did not realize it at the time, I am sure he was just frustrated because he was starving at that point and he did not have the patience for colostrum. He went back to sleep and I tried and tried later to nurse him without success. After being pestered by the nurse all day long about when we are leaving the hospital and listening to my son’s cries, I could not wait to get home and ‘just be’. After leaving the hospital in tears, not knowing why my son just kept crying, I put him to breast and he wanted nothing to do with it, I kept thinking, “he’s just not hungry”. I have no idea why I did not ask for help at the hospital or supplement with formula until I could talk to someone about why he did not want to nurse. It was my understanding that if you put the baby on, your body will supply what your baby needs and your baby will eat it. At that point time was standing still, my husband and I were taking turns sobbing and I had not idea when my son ate last or what I was doing wrong. I had tried to pump and only got a drop, I now know that I should have used hand expression and spoon-fed him. We took him to the pediatrician early the next morning and from there my son was admitted back into the hospital not even 12 hours after we had left. They immediately gave him a bottle of Pedialyte, my son sucked it down and was a happy baby once again. I was so relieved to see him calm and at that moment I realized he was starving. All along I was starving my son, how is it that I did not know this?
After they hooked my baby up to an IV and ran a bunch of tests, a lactation consultant came to work with me. She was able to get my son to latch with a little effort and helped me understand how to get a proper latch. I felt confident but that was short lived. Because the lactation consultant latched my son on me, at the next feeding I realized that I could not get him to latch on my own. When I finally got him to latch my husband and I looked at each other and agreed that it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.
By the next morning my nipples had been torn to shreds and I was still waiting for my milk to come in. After another meeting with the consultant, it still seemed like my son was not getting full. I decided that the stress that I was under to make exclusive breastfeeding work was not good for either one of us. After his next feeding he was clearly upset and seemed hungry still, so we made a small bottle with formula. He drank one once and was satisfied. That is all I need to do to take the stress off of my baby and myself. That is the only time I had to supplement with formula. My milk came in when we got home, however, my breastfeeding nightmare did not end there. For the next two weeks I struggled with getting a proper latch, my nipples looked like raw hamburger and my pumped milk was pink from my blood. Whenever he latched it hurt so incredibly bad, I would clench my teeth and stomp my foot as tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to give up but in an uncontrollable emotional breakdown I dug through my “instruction manual” that the hospital gave me. Through my tears I saw two numbers for lactation consultants and neither of them answered. When one of them called back I had calmed down and composed for the moment. I was hesitant to have her make a house call because of the price. However, I considered the money I would spend on formula if breastfeeding did not work out for me, so I called her back and she came out the next day. With a few simple adjustments I was well on my way to healing and she even weighed him before and after to make sure he was eating enough. At the time I was going though all of this the State of Michigan was running a breastfeeding commercial campaign. Whenever, I considered giving up breastfeeding their commercial would come on (I can still here the song in my head), they listed reasons to breastfeed and said, “every ounce counts” as if they were speaking directly to me. I cried almost every time I saw that commercial but it helped me to keep going. I must thank my husband, for being extremely supportive through all of my breastfeeding perils and moments of doubt. I successfully breastfed for over a year and it was by far one of the most rewarding and difficult things I’ve ever done.