Thank you to everyone who stopped by from LFCA. I appreciate your taking the time! And thank you to the person who submitted my posts.
I have so much to say about breastfeeding. So much. I live in an area where formula feeding is common, and as I mentioned before I was very nervous about breastfeeding since my body had let me down so many times before. I wanted to do it, though, and I had been assured by my OBGYN that the hospital staff would help me get established with nursing.
The first thing Cayenne ate was sugar water via a tube down his throat. This was while he was getting supplemental oxygen, and the idea was to get him some nutrients while working on the more acute problems.
The second thing Cayenne ate was formula. A NICU nurse gave him a bottle when he was 15 hours old. He drank an ounce; I watched it happen from my wheelchair. I was not consulted on whether this was a good idea. (I actually think it was, considering how difficult it would have been to nurse him from a wheelchair in the NICU — but I did find it a little strange that no one even asked me.)
I started pumping the night he was born. The nurse wheeled a pump into my room, turned it on, and handed the flanges to me. She said “10 minutes every 3 hours” and left. I didn’t know until two days later that the reason I wasn’t getting anything from the left side was that the tubing wasn’t attached properly. I also didn’t know what to do with the colostrum I pumped — I had no way to get it to him in the NICU, as I couldn’t walk, and I had no refrigerator. I ended up throwing out most of the colostrum I pumped.*
When he was released from the NICU he came to stay in my hospital room, and suddenly everything I did was wrong. He ate very little over the next few days, which I later found out was common behavior for a late-preterm gentleman like himself, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was panicking and I asked every shift nurse for help.** These are all things I was told by the people who were supposed to be providing care for me and Cayenne.
- “He’ll eat when he’s ready. Just keep trying.”
- “You really shouldn’t try to feed him so often — he burns more calories trying to eat than he takes in.”
- “Don’t worry. You’re going to be able to do this. You’ve got great breasts.” (I appreciate that she was trying to encourage me, but seriously, what does that even mean?)
- “You can always feed him pumped milk from a bottle if he’s not ready to latch.”
- “Don’t pump. You will end up with oversupply and he won’t be able to latch because you’ll be too engorged.”
- “Don’t pump. You can’t build supply by pumping, and besides you don’t want to cause nipple confusion. Just keep putting him to the breast.”
- “You need to prime your breasts by pumping a little before you try to feed him.”
- “You need to put a little pumped milk on the nipple to encourage him to latch on.”
- “No, really, you shouldn’t be pumping. You should stop now.” (When a nurse came into the room while I was pumping.)
- “You should supplement with formula until he’s ready to nurse.”
- “Of course he won’t nurse! You gave him formula. That stuff just sits in his stomach like glue, you know.”
- “He’s lost a lot of weight. Keep supplementing until he starts gaining again.”
- “Oh, people are too concerned about a specific percentage of weight loss. Don’t give him any more formula.”
- (about my Boppy) “You won’t be able to use that. They’re made for super skinny people.”
By the time we were discharged from the hospital I was a wreck. I felt like a total failure — I couldn’t conceive him, I couldn’t carry him to term, I couldn’t deliver him, and now I couldn’t feed him either. I didn’t know what to do, and as usual my husband was the voice of reason. I tearfully asked him how I could possibly know what advice to listen to, and he said “I’m going with the one who fed my child” (the lactation consultant we finally saw, who looked at how he was behaving and how long it had been since he’d eaten, and immediately fed him some formula). Yes. Of course.
When we got home I kept pumping and kept attempting to nurse. It was over a week, two pediatrician visits, and an additional lactation consultant visit before he got the hang of nursing, and if I didn’t have a completely supportive spouse I know I would have given up long before he learned how to eat. Nearly five weeks in and he is gaining weight, nursing on demand, and taking an occasional bottle of pumped milk from Daddy.
What I’m trying not to lose sight of is that this is Not About Me. It’s not about my feelings, it’s not about whether I get my Exclusively Breastfeeding Merit Badge, it’s not about how I feel when he does or does not nurse, does or does not take a bottle, does or does not eventually need supplemental formula. It’s about my son, and whether or not he is getting enough to eat, and whether or not he is growing. I don’t get some kind of cosmic brownie points for feeding him only from the breast, and I don’t get demerits when my husband gives him a bottle.
* Clearly this is a problem I could have solved by advocating for Cayenne better. I could have insisted a nurse take the colostrum to him, or I could have insisted someone wheel me over to see him more frequently, or I could have asked again for some nipples so I could feed him what I was pumping after he came to our room. I certainly don’t blame the hospital for my failure to think of these obvious solutions. When I finally saw the lactation consultant she looked absolutely stricken to hear that I had thrown out colostrum — she said it was “liquid gold.”
** I asked for a lactation consultant right away, but unfortunately Cayenne was born on a Friday, so that wasn’t possible till the following Monday. When I finally saw her, she told me part of the problem with the conflicting advice I’d been getting was that the nurses had been treating Cayenne like a term baby and not like the preemie he was proving himself to be.