Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Highly Emotional (and Personal) Art of Breastfeeding

Editor's Note: Daisy's brother has requested a warning for posts involving breastfeeding. WARNING!
Also: this is the world's longest post. Might as well be a magazine article.

So 'Lil Drawler is 6 weeks old and is being fed a combination of about 1oz breastmilk per feeding and whatever else she needs is.....formula. She is gaining weight, looking great, and feeling groovy.

Me, on the other hand, am still trying to feel groovy.

The main problem is milk supply. It is low. For a 2 week old it's not so low, for a 6 week old it's really super duper low, and, probably as she needs more food, it will be alarmingly low.

The problem with low milk supply is that all the breastfeeding books say that it is virtually impossible to have low milk supply if you are doing everything right. But a little googling around and you will find lots of women with low milk supply. And not just women looking for an excuse to not breastfeed. Women working with lactation consultants, actively latching babies, drinking their fenugreek tea, hooking themselves up to aggressive rental pumps, and having "nurse in" days.

And it's still low.

Yup. That would be me.

(The next 3 paragraphs are extremely boring and technical - feel free to skip ahead.)

(1st boring paragraph) It's a chicken and an egg problem. 'Lil Drawler has always fallen asleep at the breast/had a problem with aggressively sucking. Therefore she hasn't helped herself increase the milk supply. For far too long I was letting her stay hooked on for an hour or more because she always seemed hungry, therefore not increasing my milk supply and teaching her bad habits that boobs are fun to fall asleep on but not too fun to eat from. Because she was still hungry we had to supplement with formula. We used bottles that had nipples that supplied formula fast and furious. She grew to really like the fast and furious and grew increasingly frustrated that the "real" thing required lots of work and, in my case, a really crappy output. Everything just got worse and worse. She wanted food desperately and now! I wanted her to eat desperately so I had to give her formula. Supply grew worse. Baby frustration grew to epic heights where she stopped latching on completely, screamed bloody murder, and with as much hand control as she could muster tried to push herself away.

(2nd boring paragraph) The first lactation consultant came in at the beginning of the problem (2 weeks) where we didn't really know about low milk supply - my main problem was pain and slow weight gain. She recommended having a nurse-in where you do nothing but lay in bed and nurse for 48 hours. I was supposed to feed her at least every 2 hours, pump 6-8x a day in between, and sleep maybe never since I knew it took an hour every time for her to eat. I got home and cried when I realized what this would mean for my life. After spending 7 months in bed that was the last thing I wanted to do. Plus it hurt so FREAKING MUCH that 24 hours of nursing just seemed like torture.

(3rd boring paragraph) Things got worse. By the time I called my now favorite lactation lady at 4 weeks I was having to trick Lil Drawler to stay on the breast by switching positions and sides, putting formula or milk on the nipple beforehand, stripping her to a diaper, keep her awake through wet washcloths, etc. I grew to dread every feeding down deep in my soul. New, favorite lactation lady finally finally solved my pain problem and put us on an elaborate dance of feeding that involved both me and JTS, a slow releasing bottle, switching sides, enticement, and pumping to increase supply. Now, no longer in pain, things weren't so terrible and my milk supply did increase slightly and to this day she will usually latch on for at least a couple of minutes. But obviously, a tiny babe cannot live on 4 minutes of active breastfeeding alone.

(Resume here) 

So we are now full-time supplementers. And I feel a mix of relief and guilt.

What went wrong? I think about this all the time. And I have come up with some possibilities:

1) Formula in the hospital/not pumping early. Two days into my hospital stay I developed a fairly common complication from abdominal surgery where a section of your intestine just stops working. Soooo I started throwing up anything and everything that had the misfortune of hitting my stomach. This is obviously a no no for a healing abdominal incision. The only way to fix this is to stop eating or drinking anything for 24 hours. Even ice chips. It sucked. The dr. recommended I stop breastfeeding, put baby on formula, and pump until I was well. In the confusion, chaos, and exhaustion I never pumped. Maybe this is where my supply went low.

2) Good latch and positioning.  At the hospital 'Lil Drawler looked like she had a good latch but the lactation ladies never saw us actually do it. We could get it good eventually but I later learned we were getting there all wrong and that made all the difference. So future breastfeeding friends out there - have the lactation ladies WATCH you latch, no matter how good it looks after the fact. The pain of the improper latch made me so stressed out which is not good for supply. Also, if you have a c-section make sure you are using a position that is comfortable for your stomach. At 6 weeks, my abdomen still doesn't feel top notch and it's hard to get her into position without some ouch factor.

3) Attitude.  I will be the first to admit I didn't have the most positive, gung-ho attitude about this endeavor. I was really scared of pain and, funnily enough, really really scared of failure. No one in my family has successfully breastfed. If we lived in a world of no formula we would be Darwinian failures. But I persevered because "Breast is Best." And Lord knows we all want the best. But being a formula fed human makes me think really critically about all the reasons breast is known as best. According to La Leche, formula will make my baby 1) sick as a dog 2) fail high school (if she can manage graduating from junior high and 3) be bonded to the coffee table as much as she could be bonded to me.

None of this is true for me. I consider myself and my brother pretty smart (if I do say so myself), I almost never missed school from illness, and my mom and I are as bonded as a mother/daughter pair such as ourselves can be in my opinion. However, my brother had a lot of ear infections and the whole fam has a lot of gastrointestinal problems - these could be formula related or food related. Who knows. But all the doom and gloom makes me sceptical.

Despite my scepticism about all the magic sparkle fairy dust breastfeeding is supposed to impart on baby and mom - I was on the breastfeeding train for four important reasons. 1) It's free 2) The boosted immunity baby gets from breast milk. (As a hypochondriac I really liked that idea) 3) I'm a hippie at heart and nothing is more hippie, and natural, and earth mothery than breastfeeding and 4) I'm not going to deny breast is better than formula (I do think breast might not be that much better but I never in my wildest dreams wanted my baby to eat corn syrup solids). By GOD I was gonna do it.

My other attitudinal problem is more of the feminist persuasion. As a modern woman I have been raised to believe that men and women are equal. GIRL POWER! etc. Keep your laws off my body. Women can do anything we want! We can have the same job, ostensibly the same salary, equal responsibilities in the house, whatever man!

STOP. Right there.

Nope. No you can't.

Breastfeeding is an insta-reminder that the balance of genders (or at least freedom) is not always equal. Breastfeeding takes a lot of time (especially if you let your baby eat for hours on end like yours truly) - time you could be sleeping - and nothing made me grumpier than watching JTS get to sleep because HE COULD - while I knew I would have to be awake to feed the baby, because the baby's sole source of food was me. Some women probably find this very empowering and womanly. Unfortunately (and honestly) I'm not one of them.  (Ed. note: In my moments of sanity we agreed to this set up because we believed it was best for one of us to sleep - and that has proven very true. JTS has been more than willing to help in egalitarian roles including staying up with me most nights to keep me company. But I do recommend someone in the house get some sleep so not everyone is crazy.)

And last on my bad attitude list: you have to relinquish a lot of personal dignity and the idea that your time is your own to breastfeed. Nothing screams YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER YOUR BODY OR LIFE like having several virtual strangers manhandle your boobs without even asking if they can touch you. Or watching your husband argue with the nurses that your baby will NOT be drinking formula no matter what (while you throw up into a cup) when you never actually had this discussion before. Or having spent your entire life being told to cover your breasts - then all of sudden (poof) you should be more than happy to whip them out in public for all to see in order to feed your child because breasts are beautiful and natural (when feeding a baby). All of a sudden I felt very trapped. Trapped in my home because I didn't want to whip my breasts out in public for up to an hour. Trapped in my body because I couldn't NOT feed the baby. Trapped in my bed which I had already spent 7 months in and just wanted to get up and out! Trapped in this traditional role of "woman" or "mother" or "wife" when I hadn't even bothered to think about how I felt about these roles in the first place.

Anyway....I wonder if I had just gotten all my emotions and feelings and attitudes about breastfeeding squared up and in the right place if we would have been successful. I think about this a lot. One of my favorite "healing" authors, Louise Hay, ascribes different emotions to physical problems. The one that corresponds to all of my health problems is a "rejection of femininity" or "rejection of the feminine." Is feeling so uncomfortable, so trapped, so out of control just from breastfeeding rejecting my femininity yet again?

Bottom line to those looking to breastfeed: If you want to do this well get out all your juju and your hang-ups before you start breastfeeding. Talk to your husband about how important this is to both of you. It's tough and you need some damn resolve.

I lost my resolve as we rounded the corner into week 6. Nipples were healing, sleep was improving, but there was still nothing that made me feel more upset and out of control than watching my beautiful little baby scream her head off after only being latched for 2 minutes 8x a day. I would sit there in tears willing her to stay on. Usually to no avail. After so many months of misery getting her here - I really just want to enjoy her actually being here. So I pump and try to get her to latch but try to let it go if she isn't into it.

As my favorite lactation lady says: Breastfeeding is only a small part of being a mother. She also says to remember that I am breastfeeding even though I have to supplement the pumped milk. And sometimes, at 4AM Lil Drawler remembers to latch on. And I let her stay on for a little longer than I'm supposed to (even when she is falling asleep and not actually drinking).

All the good feelings are hard to remember when I look at the nursing pads I never had to use because I never leaked. Or the bags I bought to freeze pumped breast milk that have no point because every drop is precious and now goes into her bottle instantly. Do I still go to the nursing mother support group? Even though the lady in charge is SUPER against bottles.

It's all a reminder that this didn't go the way I thought it should. It makes me sad. It's hard to not feel like a failure no matter how many articles (here, here, and here) I read to make myself feel better. I know that first ear infection is going to make me feel all the worse for wear.

But now I'm going to go snuggle my baby who is getting some chubby cheeks. 'Cause she is eating enough food. And that should (will eventually?) make me happy.

P.S. If you have to use a bottle, use Breast Flow: they really helped 'Lil Drawler's eating habits. Also do not hesitate to find a lactation consultant you click with and who helps - wish I had brought in Faith much, much earlier.


Katherine said...

very emotional. very personal. VERY difficult.

whoever says it is free is incorrect. breastfeeding comes at a high, high price to the mother! one that many happily accept, but it's not "free".

you're a great mom, h. formula, pumping, breastfeeding- whatever you do. little b is a loved and fortunate baby.

Daisy said...

Thanks Katherine - you are right about the "free" part. I think I read something that said it's "free" only if the mother's time has no value.