Here it is Thursday already - and I've waffled back and forth about writing a post for Breastfeeding week -- why? Our tale isn't typical - not that I'm embarrassed or anything, but let's just say breastfeeding has been a roller-coaster for us at best.
A year ago, we were eagerly anticipating the chewy tot's arrival. Ultrasounds had indicated that he would have a cleft lip - and although he didn't let us see the palate (he was a finger sucker from the VERY beginning!) family history and other indications (amount of amniotic fluid) indicated that he was very likely to have a cleft palate as well. With a cleft palate, breastfeeding is not possible, we were ready to go with a double pump - and the plan was to pump and then feed with an adaptive bottle for at least 2 months.
Fast forward to birth day -- and the little guy is born with his palate totally intact. I remember a nurse handing him to me and asking if I'd like to nurse him, and I was pretty confused, I mean, I'm not SUPPOSED to be able to, I have a breast pump! I really had to wrap my head around this change since I had spent MONTHS planning, and reading about feeding with a cleft palate. Now it sounds pretty silly when I think about it!
During our two days in the hospital - we exclusively breastfed - although, he really struggled and got upset when I tried to nurse on the right side. I really had mixed support from nurses - depending on who was on duty, including one who cautioned me about smothering my baby since I had large breasts, and another who would literally shove his entire face into the breast. A lactation specialist did check in - and I remember voicing some concerns, but was pretty much told that when my milk came in, it would be easier, and given information for a breastfeeding support group for after I was discharged.
We came home on a Friday afternoon, I continued to exclusively breastfeed, and baby was getting more and more upset, and could not sleep. By Saturday night, Mr. Chewy stepped in and said we needed to try some formula and/or pumping. (I was a bit hysterical saying that we couldn't do a bottle and all the books said I should only offer the breast.) The baby inhaled about an ounce of formula - while I tried to pump and got only a few drops. In my mind, my milk had not come in yet - I continued to pump every hour and every few pumpings I would manage to amass a total of about 1/2 ounce of milk. We tried alternating this half ounce with some formula - but I had NO IDEA how much milk I should be producing, or how much the baby should be consuming. Meanwhile, he did NOT want to nurse.
Monday we had our check-up with the family doctor. Baby had lost too much weight, and we were immediately put on "weight gain bootcamp" of 2 ounces every two hours. I was pumping every 90 minutes trying to increase production and supplementing with formula. (Slurping down mother's milk tea and eating a LOT of oatmeal too!) We did make weight by 2 weeks - but it wasn't easy. Baby still really had no interest in the breast, but I continued to pump, and offer the breast on occasion. We were able to get production up to about 50% of his daily intake. The goal was to pump and suppliment as needed up to 2 months - as I couldn't see myself maintaining this more than that - it was taking up most of my waking hours between feeding and pumping!
Somewhere around 2 months, baby and I were sleeping in the living-room one night, and out of desperation/exhaustion, I offered the breast one night - and he latched on and nursed himself to sleep. I decided, as long as he'll nurse at night, it's worth pumping during the day. Eventually, he started taking the breast occasionally during the day as well, and eventually we got to the point where we alternated breast and bottle. At this point, I was only pumping occasionally, like when he would fall asleep without nursing. I decided - we could maintain this through his cleft lip surgery at 6 months.
Throughout this time, my production did not increase beyond somewhere between 12-15 ounces per day. No matter what I did - supplements, pumping every hour, etc., and 90% of that was coming from one side.
We made it to surgery day -- I was able to nurse just a few hours before his surgery, pump, and then post surgery he was ready/wanting to nurse (and just "rest" on the "girls" for comfort). I was very glad I had been able to keep milk for that moment. Since then, We have made no attempt to wean, yet, I haven't pumped for months either. He is able to nurse 2-3 times a day - mostly nap/bedtime. He is still being supplemented with formula, and taking more table food every day.
It has been HARD not only breastfeeding, but coming to terms with having to supplement. It has been a challenge as I've wondered if other natural parenting advocates think I've let my baby down, or wonder what they are thinking when they see me feeding my baby a bottle of formula. Did I try hard enough? Is there anything different I could have done? I don't know. What would I do differently if I have this opportunity again? I would have a better idea of my resources and babies needs for sure.
I am so glad that I have at least been able to breast feed part-time. I realize the health benefits, and bonding we've experienced are irreplaceable, however, I can't feel guilty about supplementing.
So there it is -- a very non-traditional World Breastfeeding Week post. I do believe very strongly in breastfeeding and that it is best for baby and am thankful to have had the opportunity to breastfeed part-time. I also believe that we as natural parenting advocates need to remember that there are circumstances that may make exclusive breastfeeding not possible, and not instantly jump to conclusions, or make these parents feel bad about their decisions and situation.