Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our Breastfeeding Story

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've blogged. So much has happened and I really want to share it all, but things have also been so busy I haven't had time!

Here is a picture I took the other day that shows off Lillian's fabulous hair. It's probably my favorite picture of her so far.

So, now it’s time for me to blog about our breastfeeding saga. I knew in advance that breastfeeding would be hard. However, I didn’t expect it to be this hard.

Now, I knew that things do not always go as planned, but I didn’t expect to have as many obstacles as we did. I expected long nights, latch issues, sore nipples, a sleepy baby, etc. I didn’t expect NICU. I didn’t expect supply issues. I didn’t expect the vacuum extractor.

Things got off to a rough start in the hospital. I had always planned to breastfeed immediately after birth, but that wasn’t an option because Lillian had to be taken to NICU right away. And I wasn’t able to see her for about seven hours because I had problems of my own. Everything I’d experienced during labor and delivery, (getting only six hours sleep and not eating in 48 hours, the fever, the hemorrhaging), left me extremely weak. I could barely sit up in bed without help. And I had to be on two different IV antibiotics, one every six hours and one every eight hours, which really limited my availability to leave my room.

The NICU’s policy was that all babies were fed every three hours, so, by the time I got to see her, she’d already received two bottles. Despite this, when I tried to breastfeed for the first time, she latched right on and I was so moved by the experience that I started to cry. However, the longer she stayed in NICU and continued to receive bottles, the worse things got. Greg and I tried to attend all of her feedings, but that wasn’t always possible because of my antibiotics schedule. And, when we did attend, she often wasn’t hungry. I was sooooo frustrated because everything I had been taught said that newborns don’t eat much those first few days, and they were feeding her up to an ounce at a time. So, when Greg and I showed up, we’d spend over and hour trying to get her to nurse, and she would just sleep. We even asked the nurses to call us if she woke up hungry, which meant sometimes they would do, and sometimes they wouldn’t do, which infuriated us. At one point, it was about two o’clock in the morning and we both broke down in the NICU because she just wouldn’t breastfeed due to getting so many bottles and we felt like people weren’t listening to us.

Some of the NICU nurses just seemed unconcerned with our struggles to breastfeed. I’m sure this was because they were used to dealing with much bigger problems, but it was still extremely frustrating to have our concerns minimized. One told us that we should be grateful we are taking our baby home with us (which we were). Several told us that “there is no such thing as nipple confusion.” Greg wishes he had asked them why the literature the hospital hands out specifically talks about nipple confusion and not introducing a bottle or pacifier during the first two weeks. By the time we got home from the hospital, the only way we could get her to latch on at all was using a nipple shield.

The other extremely frustrating part was that we could not get a lactation consultant to meet with us until our last day there, and she only met with us for about 15 minutes (they were simply understaffed). We met with another LC when we got home, who thought it was so ridiculous that we should send a letter of complaint to the hospital CEO.

Oh, and the other ridiculous part was regarding the antibiotics schedule: As I mentioned, part of the reason I couldn’t always breastfeed Lillian was because I would be due for a dose of antibiotics at the same time she was due for a feeding. (On top of that, it was extremely annoying to have to lug around an IV pole everywhere I went, and it was really hard on Greg that first day when I was too weak to walk to NICU and he had to push me in a wheelchair along with the IV pole.) This went on for about a day and a half. Then, when my OB came to my post pardum room to see how I was doing, she asked why I was still hooked up to an IV. WHAT?????!!!??? It turns out she had ordered ONE MORE DOSE of antibiotics, not for them to be continued for two more days! Somehow the message got lost and I was on them unnecessarily!

The NICU nurses kept telling me that Lillian would breastfeed once my milk came in and she was getting something for her efforts, so I was banking on that. When we got home, I was producing a little more milk and pumping eight times a day, so we were “triple feeding:” First I would try nursing. Then we would give her a bottle of pumped breast milk. When the breast milk was gone, we’d give her formula.

My first goal was to pump enough milk to get her off formula, and I accomplished that in about four days. However, over that time, she was willing to take the breast less and less and it got to the point where she would just scream when I tried to nurse her. I remember trying to nurse her and breaking down in tears. I had trouble sleeping and had a constant knot in my stomach because I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to breastfeed. And I was sooooo angry at the hospital.

However, I am extremely stubborn and wasn’t going to give up without giving it a really good shot. Greg and I decided to call a lactation consultant, and, oh my God, she was fabulous! Anna came to our house for two hours on a Saturday, (six days after Lillian was born), and we learned soooo much about why we were having such a hard time breastfeeding. Apparently my supply was slow to come in because:

a) I had hemorrhaged during delivery.

b) The medication they administered to stop the hemorrhaging (methergine) lowered my supply.

c) I had extreme swelling due to the normal course of pregnancy and labor plus the added affect of being on an IV for three days (seriously, my feet looked like sausages and I couldn’t even get them into my flip flops). Apparently the water was taking up space in my breasts that milk should have occupied.

And, apparently Lillian was not nursing well because I was trying to use the cradle hold, which involves holding the back of her head, and her head was sore because of the vacuum extractor! (Whhhhy people at the hospital couldn’t have shared this information with us, I have no idea.) So, Anna had me lean backwards so that Lillian could nurse on her tummy, and, OMG, she started nursing instantly!

Anna said my primary goals should be to keep Lillian well-fed and boost my supply. This meant I had to continue pumping 8-10 times a day for 20 minutes each time, which was sooo time consuming and exhausting, especially in the middle of the night! She also wanted me to call my OB on Monday and ask for her thoughts on prescribing me Reglan to boost my supply.

Greg and I spent the next several days thinking all breastfeeding all the time. We had a spreadsheet where we tracked everything. We called it “Captain’s Log.” Before and after each nursing session, we would weigh Lillian on a scale, (rented for $90), so we could record the amount of milk she drank. Then I would pump (with a hospital grade pump we also rented), and we would record the amount of milk I pumped. And, it seemed like half the time she would decide she was still hungry right after I finished pumping, so we’d have to give her if she was still hungry, we would give her a bottle of pumped milk and record the amount she drank.

It was a bit maddening, because I felt defeated each time we had to give Lillian a bottle. I would think she was done nursing and start pumping, and then she would want to eat again and I would stop pumping and nurse some more. This would be extremely frustrating at four o’clock in the morning when I just wanted to sleep! Or, she would want to nurse again right after I finished pumping and my breasts were empty, so we’d have to give her a bottle. I was managing to give her about 60-80 percent of her milk through breastfeeding and the rest was pumped milk. Luckily, I was producing more and more milk each day and actually started to make a small freezer stash.

Lillian wasn’t a big fan of bottles, which helped out with breastfeeding, but it drove Greg crazy because he usually fed her and it would take forever and she would spit up a ton. And we went through so many bottles. At first we were using Avent bottles I bought because they were recommended by Baby Bargains. I had only bought two, so, on the second day back from the hospital, Greg ran to Babies R Us and bought four more. Then the LC said she hated those and recommended Breastflow bottles. So Greg went off to Target to buy three of those. Then Lillian decided she wasn’t a fan of the Breastflow bottles, so we called the LC and she told us to use the nipples that go on the Enfamil containers that Lillian used in the hospital. So Greg went back to Babies R Us to buy more nipples! However, after more patience, Lillian did eventually start to take the Breastflow bottles and we are planning to continue using those when she needs a bottle.

After I started pumping three ounces at a time, the LC gave me permission to cut pumping down to five times a day and go longer between pumping sessions at night. That was a nice little reprieve. But we were still suffering the problem of Lillian not getting enough milk from my breasts because they were never full enough, (she would usually only get ½ to one ounce after nursing for 20 minutes), and it was extremely frustrating. Greg always wanted me to hold off on pumping, but I was afraid of hurting my supply. And I was always a little resistant to giving her a bottle of pumped milk because it felt like a defeat. But then I felt really, really guilty because the doctor said her weight gain was a bit on the slow side.

Greg and I had several late night arguments, I cried several times, and Greg even once said he wanted me to give up on breastfeeding and just use formula because I wasn’t getting any sleep. Even my Aunt, who was staying with us for the week, made a point to sit down with me and tell me it would be okay if I fed Lillian formula. I knew this was true, but I just wanted to breastfeed SO BADLY and I wasn’t ready to give up.

Finally, about two weeks after Lillian was born, the LC said I could try a going a day without pumping. She said that, if Lillian had at least 6 wet diapers, 3 poopy diapers, and 1/2 oz weight gain that I could go another 24 hours without pumping, and, if we met the goal again, I could consider our breastfeeding established. Lillian nursed like a champ during those first 24 hours of no pumping and no bottles. And we've exceeded the goal - at least 8 wet and 6 poopy diapers, and she gained 3 ounces! The LC was so thrilled that she said we didn’t even need to go another 24 hours and that we were officially “graduated.” OMG, I was sooo happy! I am feeling happy as I type this, just thinking about how hard we worked!

I couldn’t believe how much more sleep I was able to get not having to worry about pumping, weighing, or bottle feeding, Lillian was so much less fussy, and I had so much more free time during the day. And we haven’t looked back since! I am still exhausted and feel strapped for free time, but it is so.much.better. I still pump every morning so I can build a freezer stash, (in case I ever need to go on some nasty antibiotic or something), and also so someone can give her a bottle if I decide I want to leave the house for a few hours, (or so I can sleep in a bit).

Now my goal is to wean her from the nipple shield. So far she fusses every time I try to nurse without it, but I am not going to stress over it. If I have to use a nipple shield every time I nurse for the next year, that’s okay. It’s not ideal, but it’s still better than having to use formula or pump all the time.

So that’s our breastfeeding story (so far). It’s been two weeks since we “graduated” and things are still going well, and I am sooo happy that we stuck with it!


Emily said...

I'm glad the breastfeeding is going so well for you now! I think a good LC makes all the difference. I didn't have a really good one and I had the same struggles as you with latching and supply. We didn't make it :(

Lillian is so adorable. Enjoy that sweet little girl!

mtendere said...

What a story! Congratulations - dealing with all of that and being able to breastfeed is such an accomplishment! I had some real struggles in the beginning and a mix of good and bad help. Having to have a very different delivery than I expected (I had to have a c/s) also made me so much more determined to breastfeed. I just felt like I needed ONE THING to be like it was supposed to be. It has been a difficult journey, but we're still at it 8 months later and I'm really proud of myself. You should be, too.

Oh, and Lillian is beautiful!

Racheous said...

From someone who had to relactate after my milk drying up I can so relate to the pumping and the desperation for their to be enough milk and how bottles felt like failure.

I got there using a supplemental nursing system. My boy is now 6 months old and aside from those 20 days with formula (I had severe anxiety attacks postpartum so had to stop breastfeeding in order to get myself back to 'normal') he's been fully breastfed.

The Steens said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story!! im glad that things are working out, and good for you for sticking it out!!
I still need to write about my breastfeeding experience.
We need some more pictures:-)

Sara said...

That's an amazing story. Lillian is a lucky little girl!

Weaning from the shield will come with time. I used one exclusively with my son until he was three weeks old, and over the next two weeks we managed to get rid of it altogether. Nursing without it is so much easier -- something to look forward to!

Shannon and Jon said...

I'm so glad things are getting better with BFing. I know how frustrating and stressful it can be to have to supplement in those early days. Keep it up and let me know if you need anything - I'm right down the street!

Melissa said...

I'm so so proud of you for sticking it out!! Your aunt was right in there being no shame in formula but I do believe breast is best when possible. I had a rough recovery in the hospital with Olive and had nurse issues too. I can't imagine adding a NICU stay to it. You're awesome Momma!

Alicea said...

Wow, good for you! Kyle wouldn't latch on after working with 3 different LC's, so I pumped for 2 weeks. But, because it was so time consuming and we had other issues with Kyle (CF, clubfoot and colic), I gave up on pumping and he's been formula fed ever since. In all honesty, I was relieved the day I quit pumping and actually, because he needs a high calorie diet, the formula was better for him anyway. It all works out in the end regardless of which route you go! Congrats for sticking with it, though. You are a trooper!!

Molly said...

The nurses at your NICU make me angry. With all the research and new information they should know better then push for the bottles. I dont think babies get nipple confusion ( but sucking from the bottle is easier than nurse (and tahts what they for some reason call nipple confusion, but in fact its more like a bottle preference and lazying up) And relatives suggesting formula and/or pushing for it are not helping neither (been there, done that) even though they mean well, they cause more damage. You should totally complain. Not only to get some answers, but your complain may help other moms these nurses will be dealing with (we did complain about our issue when baby was born and I know there was a slight change in a policy)

Kelly said...

I commend you for your dedication to getting breastfeeding to work! We used a shield for 3 months, but gradually she learned to latch without it and now we haven't used it for 6 months. All the work you're doing is totally worth it!
-Kelly, mom of Gwena (9 mo. w/ CF)

agk11808 said...

I am sooo happy that breastfeeding is getting easier for you! My daughter was also in the NICU (she came 6 weeks early) although she had a feeding tube, and when she first started feeding, they used the bottles as well. I also had to use the nipple shield with her, she just couldn't latch or stay latched on. But once and a while when we had time and we were both calm I would try without the shield, sometimes it worked sometimes not. Then when she hit 4 months she just stopped needing it... finally at 6 months i threw it away. Now she is 8 months today, and although my supply is way low and she only nurses overnight, it is still an amazing experience and I loved every second even using the stupid shield :) Good luck!!!!

Amy said...

Thank you SO much for sharing your story with breastfeeding. You are always so honest! I'm so sorry you had such a struggle with breastfeeding but I commend you for refusing to give up. I am definitely nervous about breastfeeding because I don't know what will happen - will it even work? I'm so glad I was able to read this post though.

Oh and WOW that hair on Lillian! I just love it! :)

Shannon said...

Oh wow, what a story! Thanks for sharing! Im in tears as I got to the end and realized it all worked out for you, Im really happy!

janineb said...

I am so proud of you! And you are such an inspiration. thank you for sharing your story. You are a momma warrior!

kim said...

Thanks for sharing that, and GREAT JOB.

I just adore her!

nicole said...

I found your blog through Sarah Jone's blog and I just want to say that you should be SO proud of yourself for sticking with the breastfeeding!!! I breastfed all 3 of my boys for a total of 8 years combined! NONE of my boys ever had one ear infection and there were numerous times where breastmilk was the only thing they could keep down due to stomach viruses and such. Had I not been nursing when my 2 year old got the roto virus, he would have definitely been hospitalized for dehydration like all my neighbor's kids were!
I always felt like I was giving them the very best and now I KNOW I was.
So I just wanted to say WAY TO GO and keep up the good work...it really is one of the best gifts you can give your little girl and the bonding for both of you is also beyond words :)

emily said...

Good job, mama. With my son I had a very similar story except I gave up, and pumped for 15 months. It was exhausting.

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