I am a scientist, and as my friend Julia would put it “You can take the scientist out of the lab, but you cannot take the lab out of the scientist”, so it was a given for me that I needed to keep track of my progress one way or another to see if what I was doing was working at all. I did record painstakingly how much formula Ignacio was taking, how much breast milk I was expressing and giving him, and how many minutes he was staying at the breast. Each time he fed I recorded everything I could. I then graphed all those variables, made tables, analyzed them statistically, but the data seemed confusing and chaotic. Babies do not feed exactly the same amount at each feeding and the bars were going up and down with no much visible reason. I tried to find a pattern, so I logged each feeding, then grouped the data in days and graphed each day, and finally I did the same per week, averaging the data for seven days, so I would get an idea of how much supplement (breast milk plus formula) he was taking per day for each week. That was the grouping I needed to see a trend. Having a daily average of formula consumption per week gave me a clear look at how things were evolving. Once I saw that the trend was that we were using less and less formula, some very heavy weight disappeared from my heart, I was joyful for the time being, my efforts were working! The most encouraging thing for me was to read about how it gets to a point in which babies arrest their increase in milk consumption, so if I could work things out little by little, I might be able to exclusively breast feed (EBF) my baby at last.
I kept working in this fashion. I was a little more relaxed about going out, but not much, I was reluctant about using the NSS out of the house because Ignacio did not like it and he would fight me a bit and disrobe me, and I felt terrible each time I’d give him a bottle, because I felt I was sabotaging myself. As time progressed things seemed to be going on better, but there was always that need for supplementing with formula, which was driving me crazy. My husband would tell me “It’s OK if you don’t get 100% production, we are using just a small amount of formula, you are doing a great job!”. But I just kept thinking of all those adoptive moms, and how many did reach full production.
I remember one particular night, it was so crazy hot that the AC just would not keep the house cool, so we moved the bassinet to the living room for Ignacio to be more comfortable. We also went to the living room because our bedroom was an oven, and at about 5 AM Ignacio woke (once more!) to feed. Greg went to the kitchen to prepare a bottle and I snuggled Ignacio against me to keep him happier in the meanwhile, and to my surprise, as I was laying on my side he started to nurse from my breast! Alone! No NSS. He nursed, and nursed, and nursed, and I could have cried of joy. When he was done I offered the other breast and he took it, and he was happy and needed no more milk! I was ecstatic.
The next day I emailed Nancy and she called me to ask questions, she suggested that I use the same position during the day for some time, and then we could work on getting him to nurse in more comfortable ways. So I did. Each time I would pick him up and lay in bed on my side and bring him to my breast. He actually did nurse like that, sometimes from one breast, sometimes from two, and when he needed I would go and bring a Lact-Aid bag for him and keep nursing with expressed milk. Nursing in this position was challenging, I was laying a lot of total hours by the end of the day and my hips and shoulders were sore, but it was working. A week or week and a half later I tried to nurse him sitting up and it worked! I was so happy!
Sometime there I did hit the three months mark, but I felt I was so close, and Nancy had so much faith in me, that it felt wrong to give up just then. In between all this progress, I remember one particular terrible day, I could not express *any* milk, I thought I was doomed again and that was the end of it. Ignacio was terribly fussy and I needed to give him a lot of formula… and the next day I got my period. I learned from experience that the day before and the first day of your period, your milk supply dips, but it goes up again… and your child gets crabby! He actually was PMSing!
From then on everything went smoother, Ignacio was happier without all the tubing and me too, and I found that I needed to supplement so little that I didn’t worry before hand to prepare anything for the day, just the few days he would need something I would go ahead and prepare some formula. Until one day I noticed that I had not prepared anything for a week. And then two weeks, and that was it! Going a bit into the fifth month, I was EBF my baby!
You have no idea the sentiment of achievement this brought to me, and it still does. It was a lot of work and it was a lot of sorrow, it was tiring, challenging and more than once I just wanted to give up. But I didn’t, and it is till the day of today that I feel proud of myself because of that as I’ve never felt before. It would have been so easy to give up, a lot of people justified it for me saying that I had given it a honest good try and that it was OK not to nurse, but I just couldn’t be in peace with that.
Ignacio nursed for 15 months, I am satisfied about how things turned out for us. It was not all rosy, some days I was rolling my eyes at having to sit with him for an hour while he nursed, some days I just was tired of waking up through the night to nurse him (believe me, he was a challenge for a long time at night!) and some days I just was not too happy of having to nurse him every hour and a half. But those days I reminded myself of how much I actually had fought for it, and I was happy because when everything seemed lost I could prevail over self doubt and hardship and I could give my son the best I had, my own milk.
Breastfeeding can be very hard. There is a lot I did wrong:
I did not educate myself enough about breastfeeding before having a baby. I trusted “I would know what to do”.
I did not wait a little longer before introducing formula.
I stopped pumping following advice that was not valid. If I would have been more educated I would have taken the option of not listening.
I did not use a NSS, instead I used a bottle, which was a very bad idea.
I waited too long to get help. I should have called a LC before Ignacio stopped nursing all together.
This is what helped me succeed:
Excellent support system. Without my husband, my mom, mother in law and sister, who took over tasks for me to pump, I could not have done it.
I read a great book full of practical advice.
I had an excellent lactation consultant that cared and worried about me and my baby.
I pumped 8-10 times a day.
I went to the Pittsburgh Breastfeeding Center
I used a NSS, which kept the baby at my breast for longer.
I did not give up.
I am expecting my second child now, and of course I am a little anxious about breastfeeding, given that it was so hard with Ignacio. However, this time I have experience and resources, and I know where to go for help as soon as I see things are not improving.
I hope this very long story helps someone out there, I hope you do not feel judged if you decided to go for formula, if you found it too challenging, did not have the support you needed, or if you just did not want to deal with it. But if you do want to nurse and are facing trouble, I hope this will help a little bit. And if you feel like, you can drop me a line, I will be more than happy to explain further and to go deeper on anything you want.