by Andi Reasin
“The second night is always the worst.” Those words spoken by the nurse at the hospital play over in my mind, even two and a half years later. I think back to those first few nights as a mom and wonder why I didn’t realize what now is very clear: my baby was starving.
He was inconsolable. He wanted to be on the boob every second of the day. He screamed as my husband paced back and forth with a finger in the baby’s mouth in an attempt to let me get even a half hour of sleep and a break from this tiny human being latched on to me. But those words spoken to me by a health care professional made me think this was normal. Made me think that once we got past the first few days it would be easier. IT WAS NOT NORMAL! MY BABY WAS STARVING! But, it did get easier, once we fed the baby!
My son Dean was seven pounds, 15 ounces at birth. By the time we took him to the pediatrician for his newborn appointment he was six pounds, 14 ounces. He lost just over 13% of his birth weight, in less than four full days. Not one professional at the hospital mentioned how much weight he had lost by discharge time. It was not until the pediatrician walked into the room with formula that it even crossed my mind (or my husband’s) that the reason Dean was so miserable was because he was so hungry. I’ll never forget how satisfied Dean was after sucking down a small bottle of formula. It was a relief, but now I was left wondering: How could I not know that was the problem? How could he be attached to my boob almost every minute of the day and not have a full belly? How come my milk wasn’t enough?
The pediatrician told me my milk just hadn’t fully come in yet. She said to give him small amounts of formula until it did. She gave me a list of local lactation consultants to call. That was the plan leaving their office.
One of the first things I did when I got home was call The Birth Center to schedule an appointment with Katie. Well, because Katie is so freaking awesome and I was not a current patient of TBC, I could not get an appointment until almost five weeks later. (Editor’s note: Katie had injured her back and was out of work and then went to a wedding in Hawaii during this time. Since then, she has trained two amazing partners and no mama goes more than a week without being seen in the office.) I booked the appointment, but decided I needed advice sooner than that. My next call was to the Lactation Department at Christiana Care. I was told by them I did not need to be seen; they talked to me over the phone and told me the only thing I could do to get my milk in was to pump after every latch, around the clock, and to keep doing it until I was making enough milk to drop the formula bottles. So here I was with a newborn baby latching a gazillion times a day, pumping just as many times, barely sleeping, and still not making nearly enough to drop the bottles. That was my life for five weeks until I had my appointment with Katie and she told me to stop the madness. She told me enough was enough and that she wished I had never gotten such terrible advice.
I still feel guilty for not realizing earlier that Dean was hungry. My poor boy only wanted a full belly, and it was my job as Mom to make sure he had that (whether it was breastmilk or formula). It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that my body could not make the amount of milk Dean needed. After realizing I needed to be a hybrid breastfeeding/formula feeding mom for the long haul, I wondered if there was anything I should have done differently. What if I had been more prepared? What if I had realized the issue on day two? Would the outcome have been different?
Fast forward to now. Right this current minute I have a very happy, very chunky one-month-old sleeping on my chest. When I found out I was pregnant with baby boy #2 (Jeremy), I knew right away that I needed a plan for breastfeeding this time around. I booked a pre-natal appointment with Katie where we went through everything to expect day by day for the first two weeks post-partum. We talked through how much weight was okay for him to lose, what signs to look for that would tell us if he wasn’t getting enough food, how much to supplement if we needed to give formula, how many times (and for how long) to pump in order to stimulate milk production, and much more. I walked out of her office feeling very confident that Jeremy would not ever be hungry. I packed formula in my hospital bag. I rented a hospital grade pump and made sure it was in the car in case I needed it while in the hospital. I prepared myself as much as I possibly could. I had knowledge this time around that I lacked with Dean. I felt ready to feed this baby.
Not only did I have the information Katie armed me with, but I also knew what to expect from the hospital staff and what questions to have answered. After Jeremy was born I informed every nurse that I wanted to know his weight when they took it. I insisted on an extra weigh-in right before we were discharged (they only usually take weights around midnight). Jeremy was a happy baby; he hardly cried at all, even on night two when it should have been “the worst”! At discharge, he had lost right around 9% of his body weight. This is within the “normal” range, but it is still a lot and I knew he was not getting enough milk. At home we started right away to supplement with formula. From then on, he only gained weight. In fact, Katie told me today that in the past two weeks he’s gained four times the amount of weight they look for. (Yeah—he’s a chunker!!)
In a recent newsletter, Katie wrote about asking ourselves if we did the best we could do with the information we had (regarding past experiences). I can honestly say that yes, I did the best I could do for Dean. I can also say that what I experienced with him helped me do better for Jeremy. I can’t change the fact that Dean was hungry. I can’t change the fact that my body doesn’t make enough milk to feed my babies. But I could change how I prepared myself and I could change the actions I took to make sure I was producing as much milk as possible. This in turn helped me control the emotions I felt around breast feeding. I don’t have any guilt this time, I don’t have any sadness this time, and I don’t have any worry this time.
The best part of all of this is that the breastfeeding relationship I have with Jeremy is completely different than the one I had with Dean. Dean knew he wasn’t getting enough food from the breast. He never had the chance to learn to nurse for comfort, because he was worried about filling his belly. Jeremy knows he will be fed one way or another. He loves the boob for the milk he gets and also for the comfort it provides him. I still can’t feed Jeremy 100% with breast milk, but that is okay. I am a proud hybrid feeding mom. My baby is happy. My baby is healthy. My baby is fed.