Baby Content was born at 37 weeks, weighing a small but healthy 6 pds 2oz. I first tried breastfeeding after she was born, and though her latch was light she seemed to be making all the right noises and motions. Over night, with the help/suggestion of a nurse, I regularly expressed colostrum into a tiny little cup and we fed that to her as well. We went home 24 hours after her birth and continued to try to breastfeed and do the express/cup feed routine.
Everything seemed fine, she was making all sorts of noise at the breast which made it seem like she was feasting. She was a small but pleasant little babe, didn’t complain unless you were changing her diaper or trying to bathe her. Then, after a few days, she stopped pooping. She kept peeing and all the books say this is all totally normal but it didn’t sit well with me and I had concerns about her latch so I made an appointment with the breastfeeding clinic.
We got to the clinic and found out M’s weight had dropped an entire pound. I thought i was going to be sick. I was devastated. 5 pounds, 3oz. What kind of mother was I that I hadn’t figured this out sooner?! She was around 9 or 10 days old at this point. My hormones were all over the place, my crotch still hurt when i walked (or sat, or laid down…), I was a frazzled new mom who now felt like she was failing her daughter after a mere week of life. Thank goodness my husband is a rock in these situations.
Apparently this is a common situation with 37 week babies (and babies born prior to 37 weeks), they’ve even been termed ‘The Great Pretenders’ in the medical field, and my breast feeding consultant had even been on a 3 day conference all on these babies. Doctors treat them as full term, and they are born at a healthy weight and development so there is no red flags. However the jaw muscles are some of the last to develop, so these little ones just get tired before they’ve had enough to eat. And then they don’t give you any sign that they are hungry – no crying or fussing or anything. So now I found myself breast feeding, then my husband would give her a bottle of breast milk that i had previously pumped to supplement her while I pumped for the next feeding.
We continued this for a few weeks until we saw her weight start to rise dramatically (yay!). Eventually her suck got stronger and my nipples began to chafe and chap. Skin was peeling from them, her latch hurt, my nipples came out looking like pancakes, and i was having pain in my breasts after she finished feeding. Fun times. Back to the Clinic. Amazingly nurses are always able to get the baby to latch correctly and they make it look so easy. Then you get home and it’s a disaster all over again.
We started giving her less and less of the supplement and i had a very unhappy baby on my hands. I went back to my Dr. (who is also my daughter’s doctor) who asked how much milk she’ll drink from a bottle after feeding. When i said ‘whatever is in the bottle – anywhere from 3-4 ounces’ he determined that despite the strength of her suck (and the damage it was causing) she still isn’t getting enough milk. So I had to keep supplementing. After all that pain, the emotional rollercoaster (magnified by the pain of my traumatized nipples) the tears that seemed to come at the drop of a dime, and I still am not able to feed my baby what she needs. So I decided to take a break from breast feeding for a weekend and just pump and give her the bottle. My nipples scabbed up immediately. Once they healed I had another breast feeding consultant come to my house. I thought ‘Ok, I’m going to give it one more go’, but i needed more than just 10 minutes at a clinic, and I really wanted someone to be in my house with me to see me and my girl in our ‘real life’ situation. Her diagnosis was that M seemed a bit tight under her tongue. The paediatrician who checked her out after birth, our family doctor checked her at 48 hours old, and the nurse at the breast feeding clinic also checked her at our first visit and no one felt there was any tongue tie issue. I did however mention this to the Cranial Sacral RMT that week (our third session, all to help with breast feeding & overall health after 6 hours of pushing) and she did a lot of work on her lower jaw and under her tongue. Right after that she started to push her tongue out all the time. Later that week we were back at the Dr’s office (at this point we were going every week, in the beginning it was to monitor her weight gain then it quickly changed to monitoring my mental/emotional health – there’s a history of post-partum depression in my family and this whole adventure had me very sensitive and teary) and my Doctor put his foot down and said to stop breast feeding. She wasn’t getting enough, I was in a lot of pain, I was exhausted and upset, and I was having to pump and supplement anyways. This was about my health, not hers. She was thriving, I wasn’t. It was also about me being a better mom for her, one who wasn’t crying all the time and so stressed out that the eczema on her face wouldn’t heal. My daughter deserved a healthy and happy mom, I was neither of these things. So I stopped and for the next month and a half I just pumped. Almost exclusively, there were nights when i just couldn’t get enough so I tried various formulas, all of them caused constipation. It was time consuming but at least she was getting my milk, and clearly that’s what suited her body best.
I mourned the breast feeding experience and relationship that I never had with my daughter. There’s no shortage of information out there that really pushes Breast is Best, it seems like such a natural obvious choice. I felt like a failure. Maybe I gave up too quickly. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe it’s supposed to be excruciating and you just ‘get through it’. Lots of ‘maybes’. I had to accept what was and move on.
So here I am 3 months in, my gorgeous girl weighing in at a very healthy 12pds 13oz and has grown almost 5″ since birth. We’ve come a long way from the 5pd 3oz days. She’s a very happy and healthy girl, she smiles all the time and is working hard on her laugh. And here I am – healthy, happy, rested, feeling good, and enjoying my life. I’ve got a system going with pumping/bottling/feeding, and everything is going great. So why on earth would i try to breast feed again after a 6+ week hiatus? I don’t know. I must be a glutton for punishment. But what did I have to lose if I tried it once in a while? I had my prescription for APNO, so why not? And you know what? It worked. I didn’t do anything differently, maybe it’s everything we experienced along the way, maybe it’s because she’s a bit older (I had heard from a number of people that sometimes they just don’t ‘get it’ until a little later), maybe it’s because I’m healthy and happy and not stressed out. I think it’s likely a combination of all these ‘maybes’. I started trying it once every couple of days and I would start with a 2oz bottle and try to top her up on the boob. One time she just (out of nowhere) opened her mouth wide, and finally took in breast (not just nipple – her latch had been very shallow and I could NEVER get her to open her mouth up to adjust her latch. And if she did she would just fall back off to a shallow nipple latch anyways.) And magically it didn’t hurt. So I tried it again the next day, and it just started to come together. By the next week I tried going a full day (at home) and using a bottle over night. When that worked i tried it again but on a day I was out of the house – my first time feeding in public. And ta-da! I was nursing with ease as if I’d been doing it from day one.
I still pump in the morning for a couple of bottles at night. I think it’s important that she’s able to go back and forth between the two and I like that my husband can continue to share in the feeding experience – both for their relationship and to give me a break. This way also I can continue to have my parents babysit from time to time and not have any issues with the bottle.
Now I like to call my girl a triple threat – breast, bottle, soother – she’s a master of all. I can’t put in to words how it feels to finally have accomplished this. It’s something I wanted so badly it hurt. I wanted the experience, I wanted the bond. I needed to know I could provide for her. I have cried a lot of tears over breastfeeding – failure tears, pain tears, desperation tears, tears of mourning… and now happy tears. There’s a feeling of satisfaction and wholeness that has settled deep down inside me. I’m proud of our journey and I’m proud that we finally figured it out, together.