I have been thinking a lot whether I should write this post, mainly because breastfeeding can be a sensitive issue and some people take it as a crusade to take sides on nursing vs. formula feeding, and some people will take it wrong no matter what I say. For months I evaded the topic, but the truth is that what I have to say might actually be helpful to some mom out there that is in a situation similar to mine, and if one woman out there finds help in my story, then I will be happy.
Let me first say though, that while I am a strong supporter of breast feeding, I do not think a mom is not a good mom for choosing formula over breast milk, we all have our own reasons to do certain things (past sexual abuse, going back to work, cultural stigma, etc.) and I am not familiar with every woman out there. And this is my story, this is what happened to me, it is not judging, it is not bashing, it is just my own private struggle.
Breastfeeding is easy, right? I mean, we are mammals, we evolved to breast feed, it has to be simple, otherwise we’d all be dead. That is why I did not worry much. I took care of informing myself about the benefits of nursing, how it would be much better for me and my baby, but when it came down to the mechanics of it… meh, it has to come as natural as eating. My OB discouraged me from taking the BF class at the hospital saying that it was rather dumb (He was right, by the way, according to what I heard from other moms) and explaining me that they had excellent consultants on site to help me through. My mom told me it was a very easy and simple thing to do and that I needed to learn nothing, it was going to come naturally to me.
I did order a book through Amazon, though, but for some odd reason the shipping got delayed over and over, and since I was really busy with all the other stuff that pregnancy brings, worrying about my baby because of a risk pregnancy, and trying to finish all the work I needed to finish before having my C-section, I rather put it off of my head deciding that “I was going to take care of buying a book later”. Later never came and I found myself not really having prepared at all before my baby’s birth.
The beginning of the end.
If you follow this blog you know that Ignacio was born via C-section at week 37. While there are a lot of books and blogs saying that the fact that a baby is “small” or slightly premature does not affect breast feeding, I think that Ignacio was not ready to nurse because he was not fully ready to be born. Don’t get me wrong, his lungs, brain and circulatory system were just fine, but the fact is that his tiny little mouth could have done a lot better if he could have stayed in a little longer, plus we know that the baby triggers labor and the mom’s body gets ready to receive the baby. His latch was not good, I called the hospital lactation consultant and we worked on the latch, but despite working on it and finally being told that it looked good, I now think his latch was still not good given the excruciating pain I felt while trying to nurse him.
Furthermore, Ignacio lost a lot of weight, within less than three days he lost 10%, now I know that C-section babies are born waterlogged, but I didn’t at the moment, and when this wonderful nurse that had done a great job so far told me that she was really worried that Ignacio was just not getting enough food, of course I worried. Now, please, do not get me wrong, this girl was just fantastic. She put in a call for the breastfeeding specialist to come back as soon as she could and in the meanwhile tried to work on Ignacio’s latch, she brought a hand pump and helped me express milk to give to Ignacio, and gave me a bottle to give him my own breast milk. She suggested to use a nursing supplementing system, but did not really demonstrate how to use it, and I was just too tired to understand much about anything. We took the easy and familiar way: bottles.
By five o’clock in the morning my then pediatrician blasted into the room telling me “Constanza, wake up! Your baby is starving!! you have to feed him!” which sent my husband and I into this adrenaline rush, she got me to sit up and try to nurse my newborn in the football hold (a preferred position for C-sections moms in the hospital) which me and my baby did not like, I tried to nurse him semi-reclining but she kept saying “Sweetheart, you need to sit up! sit up straight!”, it was just not working. I was exhausted after two nights of no sleep at all and I just wanted to go home and make all the breastfeeding work, I never imagined it was going to be so difficult!
Later the lactation consultant came and asked me what I have been doing to feed Ignacio. I told her I was expressing milk, I was first putting him to the breast, but as he kept falling asleep and doing the fluttering nursing, I would give him expressed milk in a bottle, and then, if needed, formula. She nodded approvingly and asked to keep doing that. She placed a call to my OB so he could fill a prescription for an electric pump. Since the pump was not ready for when I was released, our insurance sent us the pump home. I have to say everybody was doing their best to help me and my baby succeed, I felt taken care of at every moment, I have no complaints about that at all! So, after I arrived home I set up to feed our baby as much as possible from the breast, I would pump while my mom was bottle feeding him, I would store the milk in the fridge, I would nurse him as much as he would take, but he was just simply not much into it, he’d either fall asleep or start fussing at the breast, so I would end up giving him a bottle again. We were supplementing with breast milk and formula.
Because he lost so much weight at the hospital, the pediatrician wanted to see him the next day. Since I was just off of the C-section and I live in a 3rd storey up the stairs with no elevator, we decided that my husband was going to bring the baby to the pediatrician while I stayed put, so I did not have to move too much up and down the stairs. Ignacio showed great progress, he actually not only recouped the weight he lost but also he gained some more! My husband explained the pediatrician that I was pumping a lot and trying to get my milk production going. She answered that if I was serious about nursing long term I would do good in not pumping so much, maybe once or twice a day. I should try to just put the baby to the breast, else I might end up dealing with blackened nipples and not having enough milk in the long run. Of course this freaked me out! I wanted to nurse my dear baby so bad! So I dropped the pumping to about three or four times a day, which now I know it was a terrible mistake, but back then I was very naive about all this.
It soon became evident that my milk production was not enough, Ignacio hit a growth spurt and I saw all my improvement being nothing compared to what he now needed, so we started buying more and more formula and he started to consume more formula than breast milk. I was completely heart broken, I found that I was thinking of myself as a failing mom, while my mother was telling me it was not such a big deal and my husband kept telling me our baby was going to be OK and healthy no matter what. Intellectually I knew that, after all I was always supplemented with formula and I was passed to cow milk very early in infancy, and my husband was completely soy formula fed, we are both healthy and fit adults with PhD’s in science, so we are proof that people who are formula fed can be healthy; but I wanted to breast feed my baby so bad! I knew it was the best option for our family.