Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Breastfeeding Chronicles

I am just going to put it out there right off that bat that breastfeeding is hard. Seriously, hard. I've said it before and I'll say it again, for something that's supposed to be so natural it's crazy to me that it has to be so tough. Here's my story...
*warning, this post talks about boobs, breast milk, nipples and the like. 
if you aren't a momma or aren't interested in being one, this post will have nothing but weird details for you. 
along with pictures of Mark nursing without any goods showing. you've been warned*

When Mark was first born he impressed many nurses by latching on fantastically just a few minutes after he was born. He seemed like he really had the hang of it and we thought we were on the right page while in the hospital that first day. At one point he was cluster feeding like a madman and our longest stretch was over 90 minutes, switching between sides every 15 minutes. Insanity I tell you. But it didn't stop there. The nurses took him to the nursery shortly after this feed to do his bili scan and regular testing and when they brought him back to the room they said he had low blood sugars which was alarming since he had just eaten for over an hour. They asked if we were okay supplementing to which we responded yes and started to worry. While in the hospital I was hooked up to a pump a few times as well as nursing on demand to try and get the milk flowing!

Once we were home my milk still wasn't in and I attribute that fact to why those first few days were so hard. I get it, everyone is cranky and unhappy when they're hungry and my little boy was no exception. I spent my entire existence focused on making milk. J made me lactation cookies, I would pump after every feeding, Mark ate every 2-3 hours. It was exhausting. When it did finally come in, about day 4, things seemed better again.
And then around week 4 I was at my wits end. Mark's latch was no longer fantastic like it was in those early days, I was cracked and sore because of it and even had one side that would bleed and scab. Nursing him starting giving me high anxiety and would literally make me cry when he first latched and drank because of the pain. At one point I thought we might be dealing with thrush because his tongue seemed white and I had lasting, deep breast pain even when not feeding. After a trip to the pediatrician and OBGYN it was confirmed that we didn't have a yeast problem which was that much more frustrating, to not have answers still. I ended up having to go on a 72-hour nursing strike where I only pumped because it hurt less and we gave Mark my milk from a bottle in attempts to help my poor milk machines heal.

But I knew overall that something needed to be different so we finally called a lactation consultant to come to our house to help us. She was fantastic with latch, helped me learn to use a nipple shield, recommended a great product for me to put on between feeds and things started getting better, again. It turned out the deep pains I was having were nerve pains due to compression while Mark nursed and gradually they went away. I started healing and eventually we weened from the shield.

Mark has never been a big baby and like any first time mom I was always worried that he wasn't getting enough from me. But he would feed every three hours, tell me when he was hungry and when he was finished nursing and our doctor didn't seem concerned. He hovered around the 15th percentile for weight which was just fine for our little guy. Around 2 months his nursing habits seemed to drastically change. He went from nursing 10-15 minutes per side to 10-15 minutes total and seemed pretty unhappy about it too. We attributed the change in duration to him being more efficient and contemplated reflux issues making him unhappy and kept trucking along. When his next doctor's appointment only showed him around the 8th percentile is when we started being a bit more concerned. We did weighted feeds with him, measuring him before a feed and then right after to see how much he was transferring from me and were consistently only getting between 2-3 oz. And with eating 7-8 times a day the math for the right volume just wasn't adding up. It was assumed that his fussiness was due to the lack of milk flow after he guzzled what I had for him but he refused to nurse longer to stimulate my body for more.
So from that point I was back to the early days of focusing on milk production. I started eating oatmeal every morning for breakfast and occasionally having a dark beer after dinner. I took supplements and drank tea that's supposed to help with supply. I made sure I was eating enough calories and drinking at least 100+ oz of water every day. I would pump after every time I nursed him and then pump till let-down every hour between feeds. When I had a spare hour (sarcasm noted) I would power pump too. All of this to no avail. In fact I almost feel like my supply continued to tank. And on top of it, Mark was getting more and more difficult to feed. Feeding him was the most stressful part of my day because it would literally take me 45 minutes to get him to eat for a total of 10 minutes and the rest of the time was spent screaming and crying (from both of us). I was mentally and physical exhausted from it all and my efforts weren't even making a difference. The anxiety and the stress and the guilt of it all was becoming too much to handle. I loved my baby boy too much to put us both through this for much longer.

Finally at his 4 month appointment, when his weight was down to the 5th percentile, we decided to make a change. I started nursing him only when he first woke up, for his dream feed when I was headed to bed and if/when he needed to eat during the night. The rest of the four feeds during the day we supplemented with formula while I continued to pump every three hours. I had wanted to nurse him for as long as possible but more realistically the goal was to get him out of flu season and to at least 6 months drinking as much breast milk as possible. So the milk that I was pumping during the day was going into the freezer because, according to our pediatrician, one single feeding of breast milk was all the immune benefit he needed. I wanted to get to a point where there was at least one bag of frozen milk for every day until he turned six months old.

And I did it! On average I would get about 10 oz each day pumping four times and he drinks 5 oz from a bottle at each feeding which meant two servings in the freezer. Once we had all those bags packed packed away I've continued to pump. Now instead of reserving it all for later use, once I get up to 10oz, 5 goes into a bottle for him that day and 5 goes into the freezer. On average he's only getting 10oz of formula a day now which is fantastic in my eyes given the struggle that it's been.
My plan as of right now is to continue to pump as long as I can to keep the supply coming but the weight that has been lifted can't even be put into words. Mark is gaining weight like crazy now that he's likely getting double the volume each day compared to before and I can tell how much happier he is. I have so much less stress because I can enjoy feeding him now even if it is from a bottle instead of struggling with breastfeeding a boy who wouldn't nurse. Some days I feel very tied to my pump and some days it seems very doable. Some days I get to power pump twice in a day and am diligent about it while other days I'll miss a session because it's not convenient if we're out and about.

We've come a long way and it's been hard. I still battle a lot of emotions about our breastfeeding journey (which deserves a whole post in itself) and our journey isn't quite over just yet. I would have never wished this outcome on us in the beginning but I can confidently say that I'm happy. And Mark is happy. And isn't that all that really matters anyways?

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