Nursing: A Journey to a Destination

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Posted by Hilda

Any men out there who start to read this, gag and want to skip this article, if there is a woman in your life who might get pregnant and deliver a child she intends to nurse, I'd try to at least get halfway through it. I promise I won't get graphic.

Disclaimer: This post is meant in no way to make a statement about the merits of nursing over formula or vice-versa. I don't see anything wrong with feeding your baby formula, I was a formula-fed baby and I turned out ok (I think anyway).

The last time we saw our pediatrician at the 6-month appointment, he took one look at my baby and said "she looks perfect, she could be an advertisement for breastfeeding." I think it would be hard to describe the sense of relief I felt when he said that. I didn't originally think that I would be writing about breastfeeding/nursing here, but when I told K.'s Godmother what the doctor had said, she immediately insisted I had to write about it for my next DT post, if only to let other soon-to-be mothers know that as hard as it may be in the beginning, it can end up being perfectly fine. You see, it was very difficult for a while. 

In England, midwives are the bulk of the maternity unit staff, rather than nurses, and because they are the main baby birthers in the public system (a doctor is called in to supervise if there is an issue of some sort but otherwise midwives often deliver babies themselves), many also consider themselves to be the authority on everything pregnancy and baby-related; this results in, over a post-birth period of 48hrs, receiving the advice of at least four different midwives on the proper nursing positions, times, frequency, etc... and they all have different ideas about every part of the process, all in contradiction with each other. The day I left the hospital, I had a breakdown on the phone with my sister because my baby seemed a bit jaundiced and had needed hardly any diaper changes that day, so she couldn't possibly be well; surely I was doing something wrong. The midwives weighed her, checked her bilirubin level (for jaundice), reassured me that she was fine, and off we went with a stash of painkillers for me.
The timeline from then on went basically like this:

Day 4 - Morning: Community midwife comes to the house as part of the National Health Service. First helpful with tips to improve latching position and keep baby awake during a feed, but also thinks baby looks very jaundiced and even though the hospital pediatrician has declared her to be fine, I become extremely anxious.
Day 4 - Afternoon: Our pediatrician checks baby over thoroughly and plots out her bilirubin level on a special hospital jaundice chart so we can see that she's fine. He declares her to be in very good health. Says to put her in sunlight for the jaundice.

I'd been told that it would take 6 weeks to establish the nursing completely, but I'd also been told that I seemed to be a natural at it and that I had the latching down properly somehow from the beginning, the main issue was that I had this baby who just couldn't last more than a few minutes into a feed without falling asleep and I was having a great deal of difficulty keeping her awake long enough to eat.

Day 6: Baby has slept entirely way too long at night and I haven't been able to feed her at regular intervals. Am worried about my milk coming in and the supply being sufficient with a baby that doesn't create a demand (it's a demand-supply system). Midwife visits and weighs her, declares she is not putting on enough weight. We should supplement feeds with formula.
Day 8: I've developed an infection and must urgently return to the hospital, nursing baby in tow.
Day 9: I have an operation under general anesthesia which makes me drowsy and sick to my stomach. I am exhausted and have a hard time waking regularly to feed a baby I can't wake to eat and who won't stay awake through a 45mn feed. Am convinced my supply is not going to get established and my fatigue only augurs bad things when I'll get home. Am hysterical on the phone to my sister about the baby not putting on enough weight and my supply dwindling. Am sent home with more painkillers and antibiotics.
Day 11: Midwife visit, I am advised to really supplement more with formula as she is not gaining enough weight, and by then am a complete mess. Tired, in pain, with an adorable baby who seems fine and alert when awake but who is asleep when the midwife visits and isn't gaining weight quickly enough. Try to pump to increase my low supply.  I supplement grudgingly, feeling excessive guilt even though I know very well that it would be fine if I ended up not nursing and giving her formula, after all I was a formula-fed baby. No matter how much coaxing we do or what we try, she takes almost no supplemental formula.

Day 16: Midwife visits, the baby is an ounce shy of her birth weight and a few days away from being declared as"failure to thrive". Am about ready for the loony bin. Make my husband buy a medical scale most often used for weighing babies so I can weigh her every or every other day.
Day 17: The health visitor, a person who basically checks in on the family from a child's birth until he/she is 5, comes by and I see my first glimpse of hope. She says that though she has no empirical evidence to support her thoughts, her experience is that in cases such as mine, as soon as the new mother stops taking the painkillers, the milk supply increases dramatically and the baby gains weight very well. I'd taken my last pill that morning and wait to see what might happen over the next couple of days.
Day 19: Even though I can't measure it, I know my supply has increased and baby is starting to wake up to the world, clearly the painkillers were not helping in this whole debacle.

Over the next few weeks, I had to sort through a number of other hiccups in the process (biting, soreness until I thought I couldn't possibly get through one more feed) until by about 6-8 weeks in, just as predicted, and in spite of everyone saying it would take me less time because I seemed to be doing well the first couple of days in the hospital (even though I wasn't), I'd figured out 95% of the problems and was nursing her fairly comfortably. I'm still nursing her now as she discovers solid foods.
I often thought about just giving up, especially since we'd found a brand of formula that she actually seemed to like when we first had to supplement her, the point being that it was only perseverance and the will to nurse her that got me through. During those first three weeks in particular, and still fairly often until she was about 2 months old, I never thought I'd make it this long or that the pediatrician would ever say that she looked wonderful and could be an advertisement for nursing.
I know this has been a long post, but I wanted to share that, just in case one would-be mom reads it and it makes a difference. Experiences like nursing that are very personal can make one feel very guilty or inadequate when they don't go well and it becomes hard to share, so if this helps even one woman out there, it's worth putting the rest of you to sleep.

This post was written by Hilda

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I'm with you & all the agony of motherhood Hilda. It's been 13 years, and I can still feel the pain. My daughter was a forceps baby & I was in agonosing pain with 40 stitches & just couldn't keep up. She was eventually bottle fed because I developed further problems. My poor hub shared the agony & was always racing around, breast pump & all. UGH...I'm glad it's over!!

Deeba PAB said...
October 15, 2009 at 6:23:00 PM GMT+2  

I nursed my daughter till she was seven month, would have done it longer , but i devoloped a infection on my breast so had to stop.
When i breastfed her here most of the new moms said why i should do that, but i did it as i loved it.
And when i went to India wheh she was 4 months old my sisters mother in law remarked how my daughter was looking really healthy even though she don't have formula, which i thought was a wonderful remark too.
Oh yeah but i agree with deeba i am so so glad those times are over.
FOr me the sleepless nights till she was four was .......
But must say would never miss it for anything in the world at all.

Finla said...
October 15, 2009 at 7:57:00 PM GMT+2  

This is like reading my own story - especially the part where the baby falls asleep while nursing and not gaining enough weight. My son would latch fine and nurse for the first couple of minutes, then doze off, I would have to wake him up, nurse him nurse, he would go right back to sleep - oh, it was a never-ending cycle, he was such a lazy feeder !!
Everything turned out ok within a couple of months.


Anonymous said...
October 15, 2009 at 11:41:00 PM GMT+2  

Oh I can SO relate to ur story! my baby is 16 mos. old now and seems like yesterday I was feeding, struggling with it!!
I had to do a combo, but things are fine, touchwood!
Good luck with everything.

Manasi said...
October 16, 2009 at 8:24:00 AM GMT+2  

I'm nursing my 3-month old daughter, and I totally agree with you that it take a lot of will to NOT give up! I seemd to have "mastered" the latching too, but since a couple days I'm feeling sore, and figuring out whether its just soreness or any of the 100 other common nursing problems like plugged ducts, milk blisters, fatigue, etc, etc!!

but there's plenty of light at the end of the tunnel, so mothers, never give up!!:)

great post Hilda!

Mansi said...
October 16, 2009 at 9:48:00 PM GMT+2  

What a lovely post! I also had an 8week struggle with a lazy/sleepy nurser with a poor latch. I was sure we were going to fail but thanks to sheer stubborness on my part and the help of some wonderful family and professionals, we mastered nursing and I went on the nurse my son for 3 3/4 years!

Justine said...
October 17, 2009 at 6:20:00 AM GMT+2  

i have a almost 5 week baby boy at home and i am on the verge of pumping and quitting on nursing ... because of supply issues and a howling baby whenever it is time to nurse, this post has been very encouraging to me, it defintiely motivates me to hang on there a little more, thank you ..

Prarthna said...
October 21, 2009 at 3:56:00 PM GMT+2  

you bring back memories hilda! i remember very well how it was nursing. i think i was on day three when i was feeling like such an inadequate mum as i could not get the trick of getting soeren to latch on properly. the daytime staff at the clinic were driving me insane telling me how soeren was not getting enough and they wanted to give him formula. i was fairly adamant about that and said firmly no. finally an older nighttime nurse came to me on the evening of day 4 and showed me a simple trick and it worked.

after that it worked so smoothly.

great post hilda! hugs to you and hang in there!

Meeta K. Wolff said...
October 24, 2009 at 6:28:00 PM GMT+2  

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