by Margaret Kite
(Response by Katie below)
I thought it would be “natural.” Maybe painful or uncomfortable at first, maybe inconvenient at times, but I never doubted that it would work. I never doubted that I would breastfeed my baby. I wouldn’t be one of those moms who quit because it was hard. I would do it because that’s what was best for my baby–it says so everywhere.
He was breech and I was made to have a C-section, so already things weren’t going according to plan. But, he was perfect, and that’s all that truly matters. He was born weighing eight pounds, 15 ounces; the staff in the operating room said, “It’s a boy, and he’s big!”
Donovan latched in the recovery room, and off we went on our breastfeeding journey together. I exclusively breastfed him in the hospital, and it hurt. It hurt a lot. Two different lactation consultants came in to see and both said they that saw nothing wrong and that we were all okay. I just kept going. I am not one of the moms who quits when it hurts, I told myself.
After four foggy days and three long nights, we were set to be discharged. That’s when they found that Donovan was jaundiced. But not too much, they said, to leave. And he’d lost weight, but not too much, they said. And he hadn’t had any poopy diapers, but he would, they said. So home we went, with a baby who was slightly jaundiced, who’d lost slightly more weight than he should have, and who wasn’t having the output he should.
It didn’t take long for Donovan to tell me himself that they were wrong. He did need something else. I called the pediatrician helpline and spoke to a nurse who told me to supplement. That night, we ran out for formula and found a bottle, and our baby ate. He stopped crying.
We took him to the on-call pediatrician at A.I. the next day. He was down to seven pounds, 11 ounces. He said we had to supplement. I asked if it would harm our chance to breastfeed. He said I didn’t have a choice. My baby was hungry. I had to feed him.
So I did.
Donovan loved the bottles. But as much as he loved the bottles, he hated my boobs. I was heartbroken. He would scream and thrash his arms and turn his head back and forth when I tried to nurse him.
I knew why and I couldn’t blame him. There wasn’t milk there. I thought I was just waiting for it to “come in.” But a week passed, ten days passed, and I waited. I pumped around the clock–ten to 12 times a day.
Everyone said to just keep putting the baby to the breast, so I did, but he screamed and cried. It was torture for both of us. When I pumped I got a quarter ounce to half ounce total. So I tried everything I had read. I used heating packs before pumping. I drank loads of water. I ate oatmeal. I made lactation cookies and on and on. You name it, I tried it.
I went to see Katie when Donovan was 14 days old. My milk had never really come in. We suspect it was because I had severe edema after the C-section, that my body was confused. In any case, Katie and I made a plan. We would try to increase my milk production, keep pumping, and wait to reintroduce the breast to Donovan when there was something there for him to eat. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to try to force my son to nurse. I had a plan. I could go on. One day at a time.
At our next visit with Katie, we moved from not nursing at all to latching with a shield, which was wonderful, but, devastatingly, he didn’t transfer anything. That moment was when I thought it was all over. “So what if my milk came in?” I thought. “My baby can’t get it from me to him.”
But I told Katie I wanted to keep trying. I kept taking my supplements and pumping and at our next visit, Donovan latched without a shield and took in half an ounce, and then finally an ounce and a half. I felt like we’d arrived. I had some milk, and my baby could drink it. He was six weeks old. It took us six whole weeks to get to this place that really felt like breastfeeding.
I wouldn’t have made it to that place without Katie’s support and guidance. Knowing I had someone on my side who had experience with more babies than I could imagine made me more confident. Having a plan made the weeks seem more manageable. Having appointments where I could express how I was feeling to someone who would understand and not judge made all the difference.
It’s been a month since then. Donovan is 11 weeks old and we’re doing it.
We’re breastfeeding. No, it’s not exclusive. I hate that word.
I still don’t have enough milk, although now sometimes I can get as much as three ounces when I pump in the morning, which is six to 12 times what I was making at first. So, Donovan gets the combo platter. He gets mommy milk and formula. I live by the advertising slogan “Every Ounce Counts” because I see every ounce I make for my boy as a victory for us.
I explain our breastfeeding relationship like this: Donovan gets his meals from the bottle and snacks from me. But every morning, his first meal is all breastfeeding. I just have more milk then. I pick up my smiley boy from the crib and change him, nurse him, snuggle him, and lay him back down. It’s early and we’re groggy, but it’s our special time. I cannot “exclusively” breastfeed. I have no milk in the deep freezer I bought before he was born. I haven’t used any of the storage bags I was given from my registry. It hasn’t gone at all like I imagined or planned, but we have finally gotten to a place of peace. I am a breastfeeding mom and I give my son what he needs always–whether from me or from a bottle. I am proud of our journey because it was hard and we stuck it out together–me and my son.
What happened here? “Exclusive” happened.
Response by Katie Madden
It seems to be the buzz word lately.
EXCLUSIVE = SUCCESS??
WELL-FED BABY + BALANCED MOTHER = SUCCESS
That is the first problem with what is going on in breastfeeding culture right now. Hospitals are seeking exclusivity upon discharge as though exclusive breastfeeding as mom’s milk is just coming in is a sign that breastfeeding is going well. That means that they take a “breastfeeding is natural” and “things will get better” approach to breastfeeding, which is plain stupid and dangerous in my opinion. Without follow-up care, how would anyone know if things ever got better? How would a patient know what to if they didn’t get better? After all, even if Margaret wanted to call up and tell those nurses and doctors that they were wrong, that it didn’t get better, that it got worse, who would she call?
So, here is what happened to Margaret. Her milk was delayed in coming in. Donovan wasn’t getting enough to eat at the breast in the first few days of his life. He wasn’t putting out adequate diapers, he was losing too much weight too fast, and he was getting jaundiced. But, for the sake of exclusivity, Margaret was not told to supplement. She was just sent home.
In the meantime, Donovan was getting frantic. He wasn’t getting enough to eat and he knew it. Every time he thought he found food, he would latch onto the breast then quickly pop off because, to him, it wasn’t food. He started showing overactive rooting signs and crying inconsolably.
Margaret did the right thing by feeding him formula when the pediatric nurse told her to. Only, at that point, Donovan was so frantic and so desperate for food, he would only accept the bottle. He learned (smart cookie) that the boob was a pacifier and the bottle was food.
Now, Margaret was the one flailing. She called everyone she could think of begging for help with her breastfeeding relationship. And do you know what she got? A whole lot of “nurse more,” “pump more,” “eat lactation cookies.” Not one person said to her, “Margaret, you and Donovan are individuals with unique needs and circumstances. Let’s meet in person so I can get to know you and your baby.”
I am not implying that if Margaret had come into my office earlier I could have saved her milk supply. I truly think Margaret had an abnormal response to her C-section that caused such extreme edema that it told her body to not make much milk. But, what keeps me up at night is the two weeks Margaret spent torturing herself and torturing Donovan by putting him to the breast over and over again so he could scream and she could cry about him screaming. She did that because that is “what breastfeeding mothers are supposed to do.”
But Margaret isn’t “a breastfeeding mother.” She is Margaret who breastfeeds. Donovan isn’t “a breastfed baby.” He is Donovan who breastfeeds and bottle feeds.
Here is what I think needs to happen in order to make a more humane, kind breastfeeding environment for new mothers and babies.
- Mothers need to develop a trusting relationship with a Lactation Consultant before the baby arrives. That LC should acknowledge that a mother is an individual, not a set of milk making boobies. The LC should know the mother’s medical history, her support network, and her unique life circumstances. She should also learn the mother’s unique personality traits and anticipate how she will respond to any breastfeeding hiccups. For instance, Margaret is dedicated, selfless, and, well, stubborn. This served her very well when it came to breastfeeding Donovan. It should also be said that this LC shouldn’t be a psycho boob nazi who thinks that it is exclusive breastmilk or bust. Those ladies tend to be pretty weird and abrasive. Just sayin’.
- Mothers need early and direct access to that Lactation Consultant whom they trust. The nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital do their job, but there is no continuity of care after a mom is discharged from the hospital. It stands to argue that they don’t even know how much they hurt Margaret and Donovan by sending them home that way and there is no way of telling them.
- Mothers need continued support from that Lactation Consultant and other mothers for the duration of breastfeeding. Not just the first week, not just the first six weeks. All the way to weaning, because breastfeeding is constantly changing and evolving. A mom needs to know how to change and evolve, too.
- Mothers need the supportive, nonjudgmental space to grieve what was lost. Loss of the ideal–whether it be birth or breastfeeding or both–is a real, traumatic emotion. Grieving that loss is a critical part of moving forward and being the best mother she can be.
- Lastly, mothers need to know that formula is fine. It is more than fine. It is a gift. Formula fed Margaret’s baby when he didn’t have enough to eat. Formula taught him to trust the world again. Eventually, formula helped teach Donovan that the breast is a lovely complement to his bottles. Formula saved Margaret’s breastfeeding relationship as I have seen it save many, many, many other breastfeeding relationships.
I agree with Margaret. I hate the word exclusive. The word exclusive does a really great job of taking an amazing breastfeeding journey, like Margaret’s, and boiling it down to “not enough.” I say we start worrying more about a mother’s experience of breastfeeding and less about whether or not a baby is exclusively eating breastmilk.