- 5 years ago
- Wedding: June 2012
My sweet little darling baby girl is 11 weeks old, and she is now a 100% formula-fed baby. She has been for the past week and a half or so.
I had every intention of exlusively breastfeeding for the first six months. I had boxes and boxes of breastmilk storage bags; boxes and boxes of nursing pads; I had the $300 Medela pump-in-style breast milk pump; I had a nursing cover and a collection of nursing bras and nursing tanks. I had the schedule of the lactation support club meetings at the hospital, and I was ready to attend every single one. I was 1000% committed to breastfeeding my child.
She was born on October 1, and during our two day stay at the hospital, she nursed wonderfully. I asked a nurse and a lactation consultant both to check her latch, and they both declared it to be perfect. She was taking in enough colostrum that she was actually spitting it up a little. At the time of our discharge from the hospital, she had only lost 3% of her body weight.
On the third day after she was born, my milk came in. I was engorged like hell — my boobs were more painful than my bottom. I kept putting the baby on the boob to relieve the engorgement, but for some reason she never really wanted to nurse for more than a few sucks before falling asleep. We did everything we were supposed to — undressed her down to just a diaper, tickled her feet, tickled her head, put a wet compress on her back to wake her up. And every time, it would be a few sucks and then to sleep again. I figured it was just a newborn baby thing; perfectly normal and something she’d grow out of soon enough.
When she was three days old, we went back to the hospital for her next checkup and weigh-in, and they seemed concerned and told us that she had lost a significant amount of weight since leaving the hospital. They made us another appointment to come back the next day.
So the next day we came in again and they weighed her, and this time they were so alarmed by her weight loss that they told me I had to start pumping and feeding her from a bottle to get her weight up. They made us another appointment to come back the next day, and told me I should start pumping after each feed, and then giving her whatever I pumped since it sounded like she was a bit of a lazy nurser and we needed to do whatever we could to get her weight up. As she grew, they said, she’d get stronger and would nurse better, so this was just an intermediate step, not a forever thing.
So I started feeding her and then pumping afterwards, and giving her whatever the pump pulled out of me. After feeding the baby for 30-40 minutes, I would pump for another 25 minutes and would pull somewhere in the range of .5-.75 ounces in total. I had no idea if this was good or bad; we just gave the extra milk to the baby and hoped things would be better at the next appointment.
The next day, her weight was down even more, and they told us we had to start supplementing with formula. They said that if she was still losing weight at her appointment the next day, she would be admitted to the hospital. I cried the whole way home, and waited in the car while Darling Husband went into the grocery store to buy formula, because I just couldn’t do it.
Now, feeding sessions turned into 30-40 minutes at the boob, 25 minutes on the pump, feeding the baby whatever I had pumped, and then feeding her another bottle of formula. It seemed like every time we finished feeding her, it was time to start feeding her again. I was too stressed out to eat; I wasn’t sleeping at all; I was crying 6 times a day. I have never been so miserable in my entire life.
I went to the lactation support club at the hospital to talk to the lactation consultants and figure out what the problem was. Why was the baby just going to sleep instead of feeding properly? Why was I pumping so little? What was going on?? We weighed her on an extremely precise scale before and after feeding her, and found that she had taken in an ounce. ONE. OUNCE. In 30 minutes of feeding at the breast. At that age, in order to simply get back to her birth weight, she needed to be taking in 16 ounces of milk per day. It was clear that my body simply wasn’t making that much.
I started taking every supplement ON EARTH that is supposed to help with milk supply. I ate nothing but steel cut oats, drank a hoppy beer every night, ate fenugreek like it was food, drank Mother’s Milk tea instead of water. I continued to nurse my baby, then pump, then feed formula. I pumped five minutes past the last drop, did breast compressions during the pumping session to make sure the entire breast was completely empty. I continued to not sleep, not eat properly, cry constantly, and watch my baby happily gain weight as she drank steadily more and more formula every day.
The supply still didn’t improve, though. The lactation consultants didn’t know what to tell me. We started trying still more different approaches. I tried nursing the baby with a Supplemental Nursing System, where you tape a little tube to yourself so the baby gets a steady stream of formula while nursing at the breast. Lo and behold, she nursed like a little champion, not stopping to fall asleep a single time! So we weighed her, and compared the amount of formula she took in to how much weight she had gained, and discovered that … she drank .3oz of breast milk. And all the rest was formula. She was only willing to suck when there was something coming out, and there was only something coming out of the tube, not my nipple.
So the problem wasn’t my baby. The problem was NEVER my baby.
The problem was me.
That was a hard day. I cried at the lactation support club in front of everyone. Strangers were hugging me and touching my shoulder and trying to tell me that it was okay. So what if my body wouldn’t produce the milk my baby needed? That’s why formula exists! It’s a strange thing to hear lactation consultants sing the praises of formula in order to make you feel better about yourself. These are the people most committed to breastfeeding in the world, and even they were telling me it was okay to give my baby formula.
I still wasn’t ready to quit, though. I mean, I WAS ready, but the lacation consultants and my facebook friends convinced me not to throw in the towel just yet. As my Hail Mary pass, I rented a hospital-grade pump for $3 a day and pumped 8-10 times a day with it. My supply increased from roughly 8 ounces per day to a whopping 8.5 ounces per day. My nipples became hard, white, and callused. I grew to hate the pump with a passion I cannot put into words. I felt like I was spending half my life hooked up to a machine and for what? To pump an ounce, maybe an ounce and a half if I was lucky??
So I dropped to pumping six times a day. And then I dropped to pumping four times a day. My supply fell to seven ounces. At this point, my baby was large enough to take in 24 ounces of milk per day, so around a quarter of her daily intake was now breast milk. The rest was that cursed, smelly, expensive, horrible garbage known as formula.
Finally, one morning, the baby was crying for her bottle at 5AM and I was sitting in bed trying to pump while she lay next to me getting a bottle of formula. Darling Husband had just woken up for work, and he came into our bedroom to find me exhausted, near tears as the stupid motherf***ing pump brayed like a donkey next to me and my daughter, rather than being cradled in my arms, was lying next to me like this was some sort of assembly line where the goal was merely to feed her and put her back to bed, and not to love and nurture her. I looked up at Darling Husband and just said “I’m f***ing done with this shit.”
And that was it.
I weaned myself off the pump over the next couple of days and returned to wearing normal bras and normal shirts. My hard callused white nipples are slowly trying to return to normal. Darling Husband touched my boob while we were having sex the other night and I didn’t scream and try to knock him out, for the first time in months.
You guys … sometimes, breastfeeding just doesn’t work out.
And that’s okay.
What’s been the strangest thing about this whole experience is the incredible amount of support I’ve gotten from literally EVERYONE. Not a single judgmental word has come my way. When I posted a facebook status asking for a few cyber hugs as my despair hit its bottom, support POURED in, and from some really unexpected places. A girl I studied abroad with 6 years ago sent me a message sharing her own journey with breastfeeding. Another girl I met a couple times, who I’m not sure exactly why she’s even on my friends list at all, sent me a message of support, sharing her personal experiences and feelings of failure with breastfeeding. I was absolutely amazed.
Breastfeeding is hard. And it might not work out for you. If this were the olden days, my daughter would have died. That’s the really scary part for me. How could my body handle pregnancy so well, and birth so well, and then just completely check out? How is that even a thing that can happen??! But it can happen, and it does happen. More often than you’d think.
So, if you’re having trouble, don’t give up … but if you reach the point where you are just fucking DONE, then you know what? That’s why formula exists. Your baby needs your milk, sure. But even more than that, your baby needs YOU.
So that’s my story. Just thought I’d share. 🙂