Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Tale of Nursing

To all my male readers: You are excused from reading this post.  Unless you really want to, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Andrew lost weight at his last doctor's appointment. His weight has been teetering at the edge for the last two and causing me a bit of worry.  My kids are short.  I understand that, but to go from gaining 3 or 4 pounds a visit to gaining a half a pound and then losing a pound usually signifies something else is happening.

Talking with the doctor, we narrowed it down to one thing: a reduction in my milk production.  I had a feeling this was happening.  Andrew has been waking up a couple times at night absolutely famished.  Considering he usually sleeps through the night, this was a bit odd.  I understood this could be due to a growth spurt, but he wasn't getting any bigger.

My doctor suggested I start supplementing.  I was devastated.

I have a love/hate relationship with breastfeeding.  In the first few months, it hurts horribly.  I crack and bleed and nothing soothes my throbbing breasts.   I cry and push my feet into the ground until the baby is latched, then I clench my teeth the entire feeding.  I develop serious tension headaches because the stress.

Why do I continue?  Because I give myself a goal after each baby is born: if I still hate it by month 3,  I will stop.  Somehow this goal gives me the stamina to continue.  That and my pride.

Once the pain subsides (around month 3),  I begin to enjoy it a little more.  Around month 5,  it starts hurting again.  For 2 weeks out of the month, it is painful and I, once again, cry during feedings.  I persist because by that point, my babies will not take a bottle.

I enjoy the bonding moments my babies and I share during those 10-20 minutes, but I don't love breastfeeding.

However, when I realized my milk production was decreasing, I was disappointed.  I have sacrificed so much to continue breastfeeding and it seems so...unfair to have this happen.   And I fought.  I tried to feed Andrew more, tried drinking and eating a little bit more, but it still wasn't enough for my poor little guy.

It was then that I realized that breastfeeding was something I thought I could control.  It seems natural that I would produce something that keeps my baby happy and healthy.  The practice was, in many ways, defining me in my motherhood.  I felt cheated.

Until I realized my goals were warped.  Raising a healthy baby should be my first priority and if I must combine nursing with supplementation to achieve this? Then so be it.

It makes me wonder what other priorities I need to readjust.

44 comments:

  1. damselindisdressJuly 6, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    You are a wise momma.

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  2. Oh the priorities. The expectations. I have about 5 posts in draft form on these two things. One of the few things I think I can say I learned early on in motherhood and has stuck with me is the fact that I don't know what to expect--and that raising a happy, healthy baby takes an embrace for change and newness.

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  3. Oh that's so hard. And oh the crazy expectations and demands we put upon ourselves! How wise you are to remember what really matters. Healthy and happy kids. We are defined as good mothers by the love we feel for our children, not how we feed them, dress them, or entertain them or anything else. And you, my dear, love those two sweet kids of yours extremely, extremely well.

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  4. Sarah, you are oh-so-wise. To "embrace...change and newness" is excellent advice for any parent.

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  5. It's hard to look at the end goal and stop focusing so much on the now-details, isn't it? Not just in motherhood, but in so much in life. If we're working toward what we really want and moving toward it, why do we get so caught up in the how?

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  6. Real-life reminders of reasons and priorities are so helpful. I had the usual, occasional woes with breastfeeding, but overall it went well - my only nursing reality check came when my son turned one and he decided to quit me before I knew I (there it is! I mean he!) was ready.
    Much worse was the time, when he was six months old and we were on a 12-hour roadtrip, that I got him hooked on the pacifier. Which now, nearly two years later, he still doesn't want to quit. Hindsight and all that...

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  7. Steph, that is exactly it. The undue pressure that we Moms force upon ourselves is often because we think too narrowly.

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  8. Oh the pacifier. I am struggling with you. My daughter turns 2 in August and I don't think it is likely she will be giving up her "binky" anytime soon.

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  9. Amber, you are so macho! Gritting your teeth during each nursing! I've often told my daughter tales of her biting me to pieces with her latch on because I used to jump clear out of my skin. And get mastitis. Finally I pumped.

    One thing my son's premature birth taught me is that sometimes I have no control over nothing. After he was born, after I didn't get to HOLD him for 6 days, after he didn't get to eat real food for a month, during which I was pumping a river, when they finally began nasal feedings they gave him a teaspoon at a time, supplemented with formula to increase the calorie count because he was so tiny. Talk about powerless!

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  10. You can't really fight your body where this one's concerned--that boy be hungry! I think you get a gold star for doing it this long!

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  11. I remember those days. It's funny how we set certain "standards" for ourselves that we feel will determine if we are a good mother or not. I have heard so many women say they feel like a failure over this issue. I had all of my children by c-section (the only way I can have them), and I have talked to many other women who have done the same thing and said they felt like a failure over this method of birth as well. You are a wonderful mother Amber, and although the processes may not work out the way we always want them to, the most important part is that you have those little people in your life who will love you forever because you are their mother and you love them. What a wonderful gift. I do understand your feelings though. Hang in there. You have wonderful days ahead of you!

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  12. You are a trooper and a wonderful mom. 'Nuff said.

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  13. Wow, Amber, Your nursing experiences sound just awful and would cause most women to quit within the first few weeks! I try to tell my friends that it is going to be pretty much hell for the first few weeks but I promise it will get better. Maybe I shouldn't promise such things :)

    I breastfed my first until her 2nd birthday (of course at that point it was just a bedtime ritual) and I stopped with my second the other day (16 months). I absolutely adored nursing. I am going to miss it.

    I completely agree with you about the expectations we set for ourselves. Breastfeeding was/is so important to me but it was a lot of stress, especially when I went back to work full-time. I could see it in my friend's and family's eyes that they thought I was crazy everytime I started freaking out that I had only pumped 6 ounces during the amount of time that the baby had consumed 8. I was so worried that I was going to run out of milk and have to supplement. This went on for months (10 to be exact) until I finally broke down and started supplementing. To my surprise, the world didn't end. But, oh, was it hard.

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  14. I had no clue that any of this was a problem until my oldest was born. I remember a few sessions where he would scream because he had trouble latching on and she would cry because it would hurt.

    I didn't know what to do with myself and eventually found that spending time in the other room worked really well.

    The wife didn't want me pacing back and forth and I couldn't sit still and do nothing. Thankfully the two of them resolved their differences but it took a little bit of time.

    It is not always easy to be a helpless bystander.

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  15. I'm not exactly sure why I have such an awful time nursing. I think it's just my sensitive skin. Bother. As frustrating as it can be, when it's good I really enjoy it. I am amazed that I can nourish my babies through my milk. It's a very spiritual experience for me. But when it's bad? I dread it.

    I really empathize with women who return to work full-time while breastfeeding. I went back to school when my oldest was 2 weeks old and it was so hard. Like you, I fought supplementing but it came to a point when I had to. I just could not get enough milk out while pumping!

    Really, though, I encourage most women to at least give nursing a go. I think it's an important thing to try. Unless, of course, they can't and then I just stick my foot in my mouth. I think I do that far too often.

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  16. I couldn't even comment on breast feeding since I don't have kids and, therefore, have not ever breast fed. LoL But my sister had the same problem, and she had to stop all together. You have to do what you have to do, right? Great post. I admire how honest and personal you are!

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  17. When I found out that I was pregnant with our son, I made the decision to breastfeed. I don't know if I was nursed but I know that my older sister didn't nurse her babies. I had never seen any one breastfeed so I didn't know what I was in for after our son was born. After he was born while we were still in the hospital he was the best nurser and I was so thrilled. But as soon as we came home I had so many problems. I was swollen and just plain hurt all over. When I went to my LC my baby had lost so much weight in the 3 days that we had been home that he was readmitted to the hospital. (He was 9lbs 4.5oz a@ birth when we left the hospital he was 8lbs 15.5oz but when he was 5 days out he weighted 8lbs 1oz ). His billi levels was 19.7. I was scared and up set with myself. I had done what I was told to do but he was a sick little boy. I rented a pump and pumped forever but I never did get much of a milk supply. So I gave him formula. I hated myself for having to give him formula but when I looked at him I know that it was the best thing for him. Because today my 14month old weighs 28lbs and is very healthy and active little boy.
    When we have another baby I will breastfeed again. I won't think that I'm a horrible mother for having to supplement if have to.
    Knowing that your child is healthy, happy, and thriving that's what counts every single day. To have him smile at you makes the day that much brighter. Your not a bad mother for supplementing, it just means that you have to give up something that you know is better for something that will make your child gain a little weight.

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  18. Breastfeeding is a very emotional thing. Those childbearing years are so full of forgetting yourself for the benefit of the child. It is all a very Christlike experience, but it gets tough.

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  19. Amber I love how you figured out what was upsetting you, that you feel you are not in control. Everyone is made differently and every pregnancy is different. My mother BF me for nine months but when my sister was born she could not produce any milk which upset her greatly at the time.

    It is all about expectations isn't it, the ones we think the world has of us as mothers but worse still the ones we impose upon ourselves.

    So good for you acknowledging that the important thing is that your son gets his proper nourishment. Perhaps the recent upsetting event has contributed to the lack of milk but whatever the reason, you should not be blaming yourself in any way.

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  20. I think it is always warped to believe there is only one true way for all mothers to raise any child. Parenting best comes from combining your individual talents with their individual needs. The only way to make such complex calculations is by revelation and trusting yourself. (A mother's gut is her best resource.) Something you seem to have down pat!

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  21. That's a huge realization you had. Huge. Once I got there, breastfeeding got easier because I was more emotionally okay with the fact that it was going to be what it was going to be. You're absolutely right that you can't control it. Good for you for seeing it.

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  22. I put breastfeeding in the category of labor with no drugs. Best way to go and great if you can handle it, but if not, you are not a failure.

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  23. Wow, how horrible it hurts so long for you! I was holding out until the 6 week point, knowing it would be better by then, and it was. If I had to go 3 months, I would have stopped probably - so you're a saint for doing it as long as you have, girl!

    I, too, could not ever pump anything more than an ounce. It sucked. And Luke never would take a bottle because I never could "get" him one. So I wish you LOTS of luck on getting your little man to switch over for you.

    And yeah - however you and your baby need to survive each day is the best way to raise them. So no worries about formula. Camie had it and is my happy, healthy, developing girl.

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  24. Oh girl! Good for you for doing what is best for baby. And now you can have no regrets. You did your best and are moving forward.

    You are awesome! What a sweet mommy!

    (And I'm a little bit jealous. Isn't it a tiny bit nice to have your body back?)

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  25. Amber,

    I had a hard time nursing my daughter. She was born with jaundice and it was caused by her lack of milk. I had to supplement immediately. By month four, I was still having a difficult time and having a lot of guilt about it. I finally talked to my OB and decided using formula exclusively. I agree, there are worst things. I had a happy & healthy baby.

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  26. This post resonates with me on so many levels, and I desperately wish I had the kind of courage you do to talk about this on my blog. Alas, I don't, not yet anyway, so I go on blaming and shaming myself. Thanks for your bravery and insight. And for this reminder: My babies are all healthy. That's always most important.

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  27. My last baby only got breastmilk for a month before I dried up.
    Good thing for formula or I would be in BIG trouble!

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  28. I love the thought that families should be happy. I am modeling happiness for my children. Yes, sometimes we grin and bear it for awhile, but knowing when to surrender is crucially important.

    This advice was bestowed upon me when my children and I were sleeping family bed style. A FAMILY needs to be happy. Mommy counts as a family member.

    As my children grow older and older I see how important it is that I model happiness. My daughter, especially, is watching. When I hurt myself for the sake of my children...that sends a weird message.

    I love the conclusion you've come to. I hope that next time it will not take quite so long. I think we cut ourselves more slack as we age, don't you?

    At least we seem to understand the bigger picture that making everyone happy and healthy is the goal rather than precisely HOW we do that.

    Is the stuff called lanolin??? I think that's it and is helpful for this kind of cracking and drying.

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  29. Oh, lady. I fought this battle for the first 3 weeks of Bella's life until finally I had to concede that it was my battle -- not hers. She had lost 3 lbs before I started supplementing. She started gaining steadily and eventually we moved to full formula (since sadly my milk never came in).

    I definitely think you do everything you can, and then you accept a little help. Good job, mama.

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  30. Amber, I'm sorry you have had a difficult time with breastfeeding. It is so hard for some people (myself included). I'm glad your post ended with a positive tone by recognizing that taking care of your baby is the priority, not breastfeeding.

    Before having kids, I had decided to breastfeed exclusively. But once I had my first, I found that my body couldn't do what my mind wanted - no matter how often I met with the lactation consultant or how much money I paid her.

    With each of my four babies, I had to reluctantly stop breastfeeding because my babies weren't getting enough to eat. It was a grueling schedule of feeding and pumping and supplementing for months. But still, when I stopped, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, I felt like a failure.

    But each of my four babies thrived. They latched onto those bottles of formula with sheer love.

    You sound like you are a wonderful mother, and you know what is best for your baby.

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  31. Kenzie, you make me laugh. That is all. : )

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  32. Jennifer,

    Nice to see you here!

    Both my babies had jaundice. It was awful. On top of the pain, I had to keep them under the lights and take them to get poked every day! So I can relate!

    I don't dislike breastfeeding, I guess I am frustrated by how guilty I felt, and many other moms feel, when I needed to supplement. It has been over a two weeks now since I started supplementing and, guess what? My milk supply is increasing. Go figure. But, I will continue to give him formula because sometimes I just need the break. You know?

    I am so glad your little guy is such a big and healthy baby! That really is what's most important!

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  33. Karen, you are so wise. Mothering is very Christlike, especially when we do focus so completely on our children. I believe, though, it is the most important job I, or any mother, will ever hold. So I gladly sacrifice for my babies during these years.

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  34. This is why we are such good friends. : )

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  35. You are very perceptive. My recent loss as well as my husband's new job have really brought my stress levels to alarming levels. Now that I am dealing more openly with my grief, and finally readjusting to my husband's schedule, my milk is slowly increasing.

    Thank you so much for always having the nicest things to say. I have really enjoyed getting to know you better in this blog world. I am completely serious about coming to visit! You are welcome to this great state of Utah anytime! I would be a very excited host. ; )

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  36. I read this to my husband. He readily agreed. : ) You are a very wise woman.

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  37. I am no saint. More of a very prideful person. But thank you anyway!

    I had to pump for Emily and I hated it. Hated it. I refused to even try it with Andrew. I am so glad he has started to take formula. Sippy cups are a great blessing. : )

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  38. I actually lost quite a bit of weight breastfeeding. I'm kind of worried about stopping. : )

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  39. Rudri, both my babies had jaundice. It was awful.

    I think that breastfeeding is awesome; however, it doesn't always work out. And that's okay, too.

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  40. Amber, oh how I know this feeling. Breastfeeding was one of THE hardest things I've had to do. The pain. The infection. The fevers. The pain. The pumping - man, I hated that! But when I finally found my groove, it felt normal and wonderful to be so close to my baby and to be able to nurture her anywhere, anytime at a moment's notice. But MAN do I not miss those days.

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  41. Thank you for these very kind and sweet words. Your thoughts are exactly what I think most moms need to hear.

    I am a big proponent for breastfeeding but I understand that it isn't an absolutely wonderful and positive experience some nursing moms make it out to be. I am glad it is for them, but for some women (me and you) it is very difficult. In those cases, the bottle is more rewarding! I think that we as women get so caught up in the idea that breastfeeding is the best that we forget about our mental health. If breastfeeding is making you dislike your baby (which, unfortunately, is what happened to me) it may not be the best thing for your dyad.

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  42. Yes! It has been the hardest experience for me! The most frustrating part is that it isn't as easy, for me, as it should be, especially since Andrew is 9 months! But I still persevere because I do like the experience my little guy and I share during those brief moments.

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