I don’t like to use the word “breastfeeding” in mixed company. It’s weird, I know, but the word feels strangely intimate. I briefly called it “feeding”, but I felt sort of like I was caring for a vampire . . . “Vivian needs to feeeeeeed.” Creepy. I’ll usually refer to it as “nursing”.
However, I’m going to suck it up for this post and call a spade a spade: it’s breastfeeding, and there’s nothing wrong with saying that word. (Repeat, Adria: there’s nothing wrong with saying that word). Why is there so much emotion associated with breastfeeding? There’s guilt (about the decision to stop breastfeeding, whether it’s days or months down the line), embarrassment (about using the terminology or nursing in public), disapproval (against non-breastfeeding moms or moms nursing in public places), and of course, satisfaction (providing nourishment to a child in one of the most intimate ways possible).
Breastfeeding is surprisingly a hot button issue for a lot of people, I’ve come to find. Everyone has an opinion. As a new mom, you are inundated with information touting the benefits of breastfeeding. Yes, it’s great for your baby, there’s no doubt about it, but there’s definitely a stigma if for whatever reason you don’t breastfeed. Furthermore, there’s debate on whether breastfeeding in public is indecent. So which is it: breast is best or hide the hooters? Can’t we all just get along?
[Note – image above is not me. Ugh, see. Shame on me for feeling ashamed of the adorable knit cap!]
I went into my baby prep knowing that I wanted to breastfeed. One, it really is a great form of nourishment for your baby, but two – being the El Cheapo that I am – it’s free. There IS such a thing as a free lunch (and breakfast and dinner and snack), and I was bound and determined to take advantage of it. And if I just so happened to lose some baby weight in the process, well, so be it!
I researched online. I read breastfeeding articles. I even took a breastfeeding class before Vivian was born. Brad, ever supportive, attended with me. The class was very persuasive (except for that weird segment where the instructor claimed that breastmilk could cure ailments, including pink-eye… “… just squirt a little into the eye…”. I’m sorry, but NO! Weird!). We both left the class as believers, breastfeeding plan in hand.
You know what they say about best-laid plans, right? As instructed, I took Vivi to the breast within 30 minutes of her birth. I knew from my training that many babies are too sleepy to nurse after the big event; she was bright-eyed but still 100% uninterested. Okay, strike one – on to attempt two. Once settled in postpartum, I tried nursing Vivi after she had her first shots and bath. Strike two: she didn’t seem to know how to suck! I began to feel a little panicked; however, we had some success with the help of an incredibly kind lactation consultant, Gretchen, who showed me some tricks. By bedtime, I felt more confident.
Then came the night feedings… and the dreaded night nurse. Here I was, blurry-eyed from not sleeping for over 48 hours, trying to feed this tiny little person who was just as clueless about the whole process. Sadly, the night nurse was no help. She was impatient, brash, and very pushy – even grabbing my breast and squeezing it into Vivi’s mouth.
Something you should know about me: I can be incredibly timid, especially when it comes to “authority figures”. I remember once in junior high, an orthodonist assistant was making adjustments to my braces. An inch long piece of metal wire was sticking into the back of my cheek. Once the assistant noticed the blood, she barked at me, “why didn’t you say something?” When I think about it nowadays, I think my silence was a mix of two things: trust in a supposedly skilled expert and fear at being impolite. I’m working on getting over this as an adult.
Back to the story. I know now that I should have given the night nurse a piece of my mind, or at the very least, politely asked her to change her tactics or leave me alone with Vivi. Though unfortunately that same night nurse was on duty every night I was in the hospital, I was lucky enough to have wonderful experiences with the day nurse and the lactation consultant.
Needless to say, Vivi didn’t seem to get much colostrom the first night. [Side note for those not educated in the art of breastfeeding: milk doesn’t actually “come in” until 3-4 days after the baby is born. The initial “milk” is called colostrum, and it’s basically like a natural vaccine – every syrupy drop is precious.] On the second day, we nursed often but the sessions were always very short. I kept at it and tried not to get discouraged. That night Nasty Night Nurse woke me up: “the baby’s bili is too high”, she said. In a sleepy daze, I thought she said the baby’s belly was too high. “Does she have gas?”, I asked.
Come to find out, Vivian’s bilirubin levels were high, meaning she had jaundice. Jaundice is basically a condition where a person has too much bilirubin, a yellow substance, in the blood. The bilirubin causes your skin to yellow, and if untreated, can cause significant complications including – yikes – brain damage and deafness. Luckily, jaundice is easily treatable with photo therapy and fluids. I also learned that the condition is more prevalent in breastfeeding babies, especially those who don’t nurse well. Here’s why: bilirubin leaves the body through excrement. The more milk consumed, the more poopy diapers – and the more bilirubin leaving the baby’s body.
Vivi started photo therapy that night, and I began breastfeeding even more than before. The day nurse, who I trusted, came into check on us first thing in the morning. I filled her in on the situation and asked her opinion: keep feeding Vivian via breast or start supplementing with formula. Day nurse Angela gave us her advice – wait another 6 hours for Vivi’s next blood test, and if her levels haven’t gone down, start bottle-feeding.
Brad and I didn’t even need to talk it over. Though our breastfeeding class instructor advised not to introduce a bottle for at least 4 weeks, we agreed: give Vivi the fluids she needed to get better. Gretchen, lactation consultant extraordinaire, helped me get started on the hospital-grade (i.e. awesome!) breast pump, and I pumped away. I continued to nurse Vivi, but following a nursing session, Brad gave her a bottle of formula or expressed milk. Within a day, her bili levels were low enough for us to take her home! I continued to pump and supplement with an extra bottle after every feeding. In the end, we gave Vivi only 2 bottles total of formula – luckily, my breastmilk came in on the fourth day, and the additional fluid knocked that bilirubin right out of her adorable little body. At our follow-up visit, we learned that not only did Vivi’s bili levels go way down, she was gaining weight.
Through it was tough at first, Vivi and I worked through the ups and downs of breastfeeding. We now have a comfortable and easy breastfeeding relationship, and I cherish our special moments together. She never had an issue going from breast to bottle. Vivi takes a bottle when she needs to but definitely prefers to breastfeed.
Looking back, I’d never regret breaking “the rules” by giving Vivi a bottle, even if it had caused breastfeeding hurdles. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far is that no matter what well-meaning advice you receive, be it from a doctor, book, or otherwise – you have to go with your gut as a parent and do what you think is right for your child.
To all moms out there trying to breastfeed – if you can do it, great! If you need advice or have questions, I’d love to help! But if you struggle and find you can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up about it. In the end, what’s best for your baby is your call, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
[Aside: I don’t think I’ve lost any baby weight because of breastfeeding, but I do think it has enabled me to eat large amounts of fudge and Cadbury Eggs without gaining weight… so that’s something.]