Breastfeeding: The first week

nursing
It’s the question I’ve been asking myself for so long… how will breastfeeding go with my second?  Well let’s start at the beginning.

After a most amazing and unexpected waterbirth (to be recounted in a separate post), Baby B spent a few minutes on daddy’s chest while I got dried off and into bed.  Then he was on my chest for the next 2 hours, uninterrupted.  I cannot tell you how amazing it was to have this time with him.  No one was whisking him away to get him measured, no one was swaddling him up like a burrito or putting mittens on him.  It was just as it was meant to be – on mama’s chest, skin-to-skin.

The first and most important task was obviously to deliver my placenta and prevent another postpartum hemorrhage like I had with my last birth.  Oxytocin is required to produce the contractions necessary to expel the placenta, and nipple stimulation is a key component of producing oxytocin.  Given my history, and with a larger-than-average placenta, it seems I might need more than a typical amount. Many babies don’t breastfeed well until closer to the end of the “golden hour,” and that was certainly the case with Baby B.  However, I came prepared.  When my midwife told me I was on the verge of having excessive bleeding, we pulled out my manual breast pump and got to work.  Within minutes, the bleeding stopped.  When it started again 10 minutes later, we used the manual pump again, and it stopped the bleeding once more.  The plan had worked.  No postpartum hemorrhage.  No synthetic Pitocin necessary.  And the icing on the cake – no stitches needed either!

Even though Baby B had been on my chest this whole time, and I had been trying to get him to latch, I think all of the commotion had been too distracting.  With nurses pushing on my abdomen, me shrieking every time they did, and the imminent threat of hemorrhage, it was probably too much to expect a perfect latch at this time too.

After about 45 minutes, everyone had cleared out of the room. I was exhausted and ravenous – my husband and doula supplied me with a constant rotation of juices and crackers to help keep my energy (and blood pressure) up.  And now we were finally able to focus on breastfeeding.  We had collected a little bit of colostrum using the manual pump, so we put some on a spoon and dripped it into Baby B’s mouth to get him interested.  It seemed to grab his attention, and we were able to finally get a good latch in a laid-back breastfeeding position.  He nursed on and off for about an hour.  At first blush, it felt like it was going better than it did with my daughter, but I was wary.  We’d see how the next 24 hours went.

The next 2 feeds in our postpartum room were not great.  My heart sank.  My attempts to get him to latch in a laid-back position were not working.  They had worked the first time, why weren’t they working now?  I always heard about friends saying immediately after their own births, he nursed like a champ. I’ve always hated this expression.  What does it mean?  Does it mean that if my baby doesn’t nurse well right away, like a champ, that we’ll never get there?  Does it mean that it’s an innate behavior, not a learned one?

Now, I’ll admit it.  I had a moment of panic.  A moment of I-just-had-a-baby-8-hours-ago-and-the-hormones-are-making-me-crazy. A moment of what if this is like the last time.  I looked around in his mouth.  I’m not a professional, and I can’t diagnose tongue-tie and lip-tie.  But my first instinct was to call the pediatric ENT and make an appointment, just in case.  I knew it’d be a 2-week wait anyways, so there was no harm in making the appointment for a consultation.

And next, I pulled out my trusty old double-electric pump.  As soon as the colostrum began flowing, I relaxed.  It would be okay.  We’d get through it, we’d figure it out.

The lactation consultant happened to come in while I was pumping.  Baby B was fast asleep, so she couldn’t look in his mouth.  But she stayed and gave me some tips for the next feeding (cross-cradle position works well for newborns, here’s how to do the c-hold, etc.).

And… it worked.  Maybe it was the tips the LC had given me. Maybe I was more relaxed. Maybe my technique was better this time. Maybe I was more relaxed. Maybe he was more awake.  Maybe I was more relaxed. Maybe it was the little bit of colostrum I had dribbled into his mouth right before the feed to get him interested. Maybe I was more relaxed. I had set aside the great expectations of the perfect first latch, focused on the here and now, and let the panic subside.  His fourth time nursing after birth, and we were finally on our way.

The LC stopped by again before our fifth feeding.  And she said all the right things.

You have great technique.  He doesn’t look tied.  He has a nice, broad palate.  Keep doing what you’re doing.

It was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.  And then more people told me what I needed to hear.

From my postpartum nurses: The first 24 hours they’re really sleepy, don’t worry about the number of times he nurses. It’s the second day that they really wake up. 

From my pediatrician: His tongue and lip look fine, there’s nothing here that I see that needs to be addressed. 

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We made it through the first 24 hours, nursing and spoon-feeding the pumped colostrum.  Maybe we would have been fine if I hadn’t panicked and pumped.  But it did 2 things for me: 1. Gave me a tool to help wake him up for more productive nursing sessions. 2. Gave me the reassurance and confidence that he was going to get what he needed, and keep his blood sugar up.

And I can’t over-emphasize that confidence enough.  The reassuring words from my healthcare providers and the confidence that we could figure this out is what has carried us through this first week.

The first week of nursing is different every single day.  There’s the way you nurse when it’s just colostrum.  There’s the way you nurse when your milk comes in and makes your breasts engorged, making it difficult for baby to latch on.  There’s the way you nurse when your milk is flowing fast, and you have to angle your baby just so, so that they don’t sputter and choke.  There’s the way you nurse when your breasts have softened during a long cluster feed, and you have to use compression to keep the milk flowing.  There’s the way you nurse when you have a clogged duct, and you have to massage it out while keeping baby latched.  There’s the way you nurse in the middle of the night, when you’re trying to figure out a side-lying position so that you can get some sleep.  There’s the way you nurse when you’re in the Target parking lot, without your nursing pillow.  There’s the way you nurse on your left breast vs. your right breast.  There’s the way you nurse when your baby is sleepy vs. wide awake.

And most importantly, there’s the way you nurse when you’re panicked vs. relaxed.

My point is, the first week is a huge learning curve. It’s not about nursing like a champ; it’s about learning like one.  And it takes a lot of confidence and support to get through it. It’s about not watching the clock, and watching your unique baby. It’s about learning their cues, listening to their sounds, and understanding their needs. It’s about your family never questioning is the baby eating again or didn’t he just eat. It’s about feeding on demand, even if that looks like this:

first week nursing

I stopped using the tracking app right after Baby B’s first pediatrician appointment, on day 4.  His birth weight was 8 lbs 10 oz, his discharge weight was 8 lbs 3 oz, and his first weight at the ped was 8 lbs 8 oz.  He was doing great.  And I was confident.

There’s still a long way to go.  Breastfeeding is a journey, and it’s going to change from week to week.  I’m sure there will be other challenges. But we survived the first week.  More than survived, thrived.  We laid in bed all day, we cuddled, and we snoozed.  I listened to his quiet breathing, his sweet gulping, and all of the other uniquely newborn sounds that will soon fade away.  I breathed in his hair, stroked his feet, and kissed his cheeks.  I soaked in everything I could about this moment in time that I’ll never get back. I’ve learned so much this week, this first week of my baby’s life.  I’ve learned the power of a reassuring word and some confidence.  If you can provide that to a mother and her new babe, please do.

 

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Build up to Birth

I decided to record my stream-of-consciousness feelings in a memo on my phone for a few weeks before my due date.  Little did I know that I’d only have 1 week recorded before I gave birth!

Wednesday, October 7
Nested to the max tonight, all while having mild contractions on and off for 5 hours.  I knew it wasn’t the real thing, but it still revved me up about getting things done around the house.  HB finished making some meatballs for the freezer, while I portioned and sealed the gumbo and jambalaya he made a few days ago.  I stopped occasionally to rest on the yoga ball when my belly was getting too tight to walk around.

Thursday, October 8
He was moving a ton last night, and now appears to be making my belly a bit crooked.  He seems to be more active than Asha.  Or maybe he’s just longer / bigger, so I feel it more.

Friday, October 9
Woohooooo – negative for Group B Strep!  What a relief.

Saturday, October 10
Literally every time I stand up, I feel like he is going to fall out.  My hips are clicking a little bit when I walk waddle.  It got better by the time we went out to dinner, but as we were leaving, I had 1 really strong contraction… and then nothing.

Sunday, October 11
37 weeks!  I’ve officially crossed over the mark where I’m allowed to get in the tub to labor, so it feels like I’m free to have this baby whenever he wants to arrive!  I’d love for him to make it until 39 weeks, but I just have a hunch he’ll be earlier based on how I’m feeling…

Asha’s on the same page.  This morning she woke up and announced, “Mommy, I want Bennett to come out right now.”  HB’s got some meetings in town the next few days, so I made a deal with him that I’d try to wait until at least Wednesday to have this baby.

Monday, October 12th
I was up most of last night with intense back pain.  The kind that throbs enough to keep you awake, switching from side to side, hoping that one position is better than another.  I kept waiting for contractions to come along with it, but they were far apart, too far apart to mean anything.  The only thing that relieved the pain was getting on my elbows and knees on the bed.  I think that helped dislodge him from my pelvis enough to rotate him back to a more comfortable position.

Now it’s the evening, and I have the opposite problem.  Instead of intense back pain, I have intense pelvic pain.  He clearly flipped, but is still lodged down low.  Guess that’s where he’s going to stay until labor kicks in.

Waiting.

Tuesday, October 13th
A mostly uneventful day.  I had to suddenly stand up from my desk twice this morning because of the intense pelvic pressure, but then it subsided. Yoga was pretty uncomfortable today, but I pushed through.

Wednesday, October 14th
I had some “signs” this morning. It could mean nothing, but last time this happened, I went into labor 3 hours later.  Just to be safe, I decided to work from home, and I moved my packed bags from upstairs to downstairs.  I was ravenous, so actually ended up eating 2 breakfasts.  He’s been really active all morning.  More than he’s ever been, actually.  Really large and frequent movements.  I’m going to ask the midwife to check me today at my appointment… I just want to know if there’s been any progress yet so I can make a plan…

Midwife checked me. 80% effaced, 2-3 cm, and -1 station.  She felt his head RIGHT THERE. I’m going to call it a day and take a nap just in case…

…..

Birth story to come in a few weeks when I have the pictures back!

 

A year since loss

A year since loss

A year ago, I was pregnant.  I am today, too.  What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, I was nervous about every twinge I felt in my belly.  Something didn’t feel right.  It didn’t feel like the first time.

Today… when was the last time I felt him kick? I try to jostle him awake for my own peace of mind.  C’mon little buddy, tell me you’re there.  I know you were hiccupping last night.  And I felt you move this morning.  But have you moved since?  Sometimes I get distracted and forget to pay attention.  That fear creeps in every so often.  It’s hard to push it away, especially today.  It consumes me… Tick tock, tick tock.  7 minutes later – there you are.  A sigh of relief.  There you are again.  Sweet, sweet kicks.  I cherish them all.  But especially the ones today, on this day.

A year ago, I was googling my symptoms.  Trying to find women who maybe felt what I did, but then had everything turn out okay.  Maybe all of this tugging and cramping was normal?  Maybe I was being paranoid?

Today… I’m googling birth affirmations. I’m working on getting in the mental space I need to for birth.  That place where I feel relaxed yet powerful.  Where everything will come on its own time, in its own way.  Where I trust my body, and I trust my baby, and I know we can do it together.  My excitement about meeting this next little love of mine grows and grows each day.

A year ago, I saw red.  So. Much. Red.

Today… I see my daughter’s face.  I find myself trying to memorize it.  Like I’ll forget what she’s like in this moment, this last time that she’ll be my only child.  I’m falling more and more in love with her every day, which I didn’t even think was possible.  This morning, unprompted, she threw her tiny arms around my neck, squeezed, and exclaimed I love you so much.  How do I make room for 1 more in my heart when it’s already bursting?  I know I will, I already have.  But I’m memorizing her face, all the same.

A year ago, I laid curled up, sobbing in my bed.  The tears were fat and hot and salty.  There was no more what if.  The wondering was replaced with a solid, firm, resounding, yes, this is a miscarriage.  My husband held me until I had nothing left to say, until my throat was hoarse from the crying, until I wanted to be left alone again.

Today… I sit here proudly rubbing my round belly.  Astonished by the miracle growing inside.  Bewildered that it can and does keep getting bigger.  Soaking up this last time that my body will be a vessel for another life.  Swaying my hips back and forth to make my back more comfortable, but careful to not outwardly complain too much, because I’m lucky.  So very, very lucky.  And the feeling is not lost on me today.

A year ago, I searched for stories like mine.  Once the tears had dried up, I looked for comfort in the words of friends who had shared their own losses publicly.  I was just looking to not be alone that night.  What I found was that I was far from alone… this secret world became unearthed.  I was flooded with stories of loss.  And of rainbows after the storm.  These women had survived… maybe I could too.

Today… I’m searching for tiny socks.  Sorting the smallest ones from the bigger ones, matching them all up into pairs.  Organizing them into drawers, ready to grab a new pair the moment one falls off and is lost forever in the depths of my house.  I’m preparing for the chaos I know is about to ensue, despite the fact that I know it’s pointless.  I’m already in the chaos. There’s a little shadow following me around, pulling neatly folded blankets out of drawers and using them for her baby dolls.  She’s trying to climb into the baby swing I took out of storage, and it’s creaking under her weight.  She’s littering baby wipes everywhere as she pretends to be Cinderella wiping the floor. But then she has her lips on my belly, singing sweetly to her baby brother. Chaos can be lovely sometimes, if you just let it happen.

A year ago, I saw an empty womb on the ultrasound, confirming what I already knew.  I felt numb, like I was in a trance.  There were pregnant ladies everywhere in the doctor’s office; I was not one of them.  I was empty.

Today… I heard my sweet baby’s heartbeat.  He predictably always hangs out on my left side – and while that’s predictable, I never take that heartbeat for granted.  It’s the sweetest sound in all the world.  It fills me up; today I am full.  Full of life, full of calm, full of gratitude.

See you in a few weeks, little one.  It’s been quite a journey.

A Downloadable Visual Birth Plan

Confession time: I didn’t even write a birth plan for my first birth.  I know, shocking considering the fact that I’m extremely Type A and like to be in control of things.  But I was skeptical that anyone would even read it.  I was also acutely sensitive to being that mom who was dismissed & made fun of by the nurses for having too prescriptive a plan.  I thought that maybe having it all written out would set us off on the wrong foot.  And I naively thought I’d be able to remember and communicate my preferences at the time each step came up (I couldn’t.  Labor requires focus).

But now, I’m not afraid of that anymore.  I don’t care what the nurses think.  Well, that’s a lie, I do.  I want them to think – okay, I’m not going to mess with this momma, she has an opinion, and won’t be pushed around.  I demand evidence-based decisions and informed consent, and I’m not going to apologize for that.  And actually, the nurse on my hospital tour specifically mentioned that during admission, they’d review our birth plan with us.  And then the nurses decide which cases they want to be on, they’re not just randomly assigned.  So theoretically, going in with a well-laid plan means I’ll get a nurse who wants to be a part of that plan.

So, this time around, I wrote a birth plan that requires minimal reading.  I also separated it into stages so that it’s more digestible.

Birth Plan from thebestseasonofmylife.wordpress.com

I posted my plan in a local birth group that I’m in, and everyone immediately wanted a copy that they could use. So, to help other mommas out, I’m providing the plan here so you can edit it to fit your needs.

Download the PPT file so you can customize your own plan

*I recommend printing and cutting out the postpartum newborn care plan and taping it to the inside of the bassinet, so that every nurse can see it.  Note that the plan does not contain items that would be pediatrician-related.  These things are more likely to be a direct conversation with your pediatrician the morning after your birth.

Everyone has different needs for their birth – so it won’t offend me in the least if you just use my format and completely change all of the content because your plan is the opposite of mine.  It’s a good idea to run your plan by your provider and make sure that they support it, and that you haven’t put conflicting information on there.  It’s also a good opportunity to find out if you’re going to butt heads with your hospital… and might make you re-think where you give birth.

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In case you’re interested at all, and doing the research for your own birth plan, here are links to just a fraction of the evidence I’ve used along the way to make my decisions.  Note that a lot of these links have more supporting evidence and links cited at the end of the articles; I’ve read many of them.

My particular plan includes things that are concerns for me based on my last birth. For example, most might not think it’s important to put reminders on there about emptying your bladder before pushing & slowing down when crowning, since these are technically things that you’re doing.  But you might forget, and your delivery team might let you down.  

Obviously, much of your birth plan will flow from how you plan to manage labor pain, and it’s obviously a decision each individual has to make based on weighing the effectiveness vs. safety of each option.  My goal is to avoid anything that could result in a further cascade of intervention, like an epidural or artificial induction or acceleration of labor. This can be tricky, as I know that an epidural can sometimes prevent a c-section, or sometimes be the cause of it.  For example, my own mother received an epidural after she had already been pushing for 2 hours with me, because I was stuck (apparently my family just grows big babies), and if she didn’t get help, she wasn’t going to have the energy to be able to push me out on her own (and they ended up needing to use forceps on me).  In that case, it prevented a c-section.  On the other hand, an epidural can cause a drop in blood pressure that puts stress on the baby, and can result in a totally unnecessary and avoidable c-section.  It’s a slippery slope, and every woman has to make the choice that’s right for them in the moment – and if things don’t go according to your plan, you are not a failure.  Don’t even think like that.  Birth is unpredictable – it’s okay to have a plan, and even more okay to adjust that plan if you need to (but it’s NOT okay if you’re being coerced to change your plan without informed consent).  

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth: Seriously, this book is amazing.  I’ve read it at least 6 times, and it taught me so much.  Even if you’re not planning on having an un-medicated birth, I think it’s an important read to understand how birth works, and what types of things can interfere with the process.  A little confidence can go a long way for everyone.

At my last hospital, they forced me to be in the bed while I was having back labor so that I could get my initial fetal monitoring strip – being in the bed on my back was painful.  Most hospitals are going to require a strip upon admission. But I’ve cleared it with my new hospital that I’ll be able to do it on a ball, and not on the bed.  After that, intermittent monitoring will be used every 4 hours. Thankfully, no continuous monitoring like my previous hospital required during the 2nd stage of labor.

During my last birth, a hep-lock was a compromise I had to make; it was just in case I needed it.  My new midwife says there’s no reason for needing one, as I can receive intramuscular pitocin in the case of postpartum hemorrhage.  This was not provided as an option to me previously, so I’m super excited about not needing a needle in my hand, and having another way to manage bleeding.

Since I declined IV fluids, I had to bring my own food & drink to the hospital for my last labor.  I’m pumped that my new hospital actually provides food & drink to women during labor! Seriously, how are you supposed to keep your energy up without it?

I plan on at least laboring in water, as taking several showers while I labored at home last time helped immensely.  It may or may not end in a waterbirth, depending on how I feel at the time, but I’m glad it’s an option for me.

Last time I waited until I was 10 cm before allowing my doctor to break my water – and unfortunately, I did discover a small scratch on my daughter’s head from the amnihook. This time, I’m just going to let it happen it when it happens, to avoid any of the risks.

Delayed cord clamping is a huge priority for me, and it’s thankfully standard of care at my new hospital. (If you have time, this Ted Talk is great.)

The plan for placental delivery and postpartum hemorrhage is fairly fluid for me, given the fact that I had a major one during my last birth.  The main reason cited for this was the fact that I had a large baby; this means it’s harder for the uterus to clamp down fast enough.  I also think it wasn’t helped by the fact that my daughter wasn’t able to breastfeed right after birth – without enough oxytocin release, the placenta may not be delivered easily.  I’ve learned that my full bladder was also probably a factor, which is why it’s explicitly on my birth plan (women with epidurals have catheters in, and I think my birth team just forgot that I didn’t have one).  We’re prepared for what might happen again, but are not going to preemptively interrupt the natural process of the 3rd stage until and unless it becomes necessary – in which case, most things are fair game.  At that point, my baby’s out, so I’m not concerned about the effects of pitocin on him.

Regarding newborn care, the World Health Organization has pretty clear guidelines (that many hospitals don’t follow).  All of the measurements can wait until after the golden hour.  We are going to give the Vitamin K Shot, but are declining eye ointment.  We’ll give the Hep B vaccine, but are just delaying it to happen at the pediatrician’s office instead of at the hospital; all other vaccines we do on schedule.  And I’m a huge believer in protecting a baby’s microbiome at birth, so we will be delaying baby’s first bath.  If for some reason I had an emergency c-section, I’d totally be jumping on board to seed my baby’s microbiome in this new way.

My biggest surprise after doing all of my research was that very few maternity providers and hospitals practice evidence-based care.  Just another example of how you have to be your own advocate.  As long as you put more research into your birth than you do the fancy stroller you registered for, you’ll be on the right track.  You’ve got this, momma.

“If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” -Diane Korte

No is a complete sentence: An un-medicated hospital birth story, and why I switched providers

I want to preface this post with this: I know women who have had great experiences with my former OB’s practice, and the hospital I delivered my daughter at.  This not a general statement about either of them, but rather, my own personal experience.  If you had a great experience with them, then I’m truly happy for you.

My pregnancy with my daughter was unexpected; I hadn’t done any research, and was sort of thrown into the whole thing the second I saw that plus sign staring back at me. When it came to making my first appointment, I went with the easiest option: the OB I had already been seeing for my annual exam for the last 5 years.  I knew a few people who had delivered with his practice, so I figured it was a good choice.

My prenatal appointments were nothing like I expected.  I thought we’d spend a lot of time talking about pregnancy, about what to do and what not to do, etc.  But for the most part, I was sent home with a bag of handouts after my first visit, and we discussed the pregnancy very little.  Most of each appointment was spent doing an ultrasound, talking about what he saw, and then what we’d do at the next appointment.  Reflecting back, I realize that my OB was what I’d call “ultrasound-happy.”  I had ultrasounds at 9, 12, 16, 20, 28, and 37 weeks.  At the time, I didn’t know that these were mostly unnecessary ultrasounds – of course I wanted to see my baby.  But these were 3D ultrasounds, and that much exposure is really not recommended unless there’s a reason for them; ultrasounds do heat tissue slightly.  They haven’t been proven to be harmful, but unless medically necessary, there’s no reason to do something that has unknown long-term risks.  But they were never presented as optional, or as an option with any potential risks.  It was just something they did, and I didn’t know any different at the time.

I always wondered if the next appointment would finally be the one where we’d start talking about my birth plan; he hadn’t asked me about it yet.  It made me nervous that he hadn’t brought it up – I felt deep down that it was probably a bad sign.  By the time my 24 week appointment rolled around, I finally asked if we could discuss it.  I told him I wanted to plan for an un-medicated, low-intervention birth.  His response?  Um, okay.  Most women don’t tell me they’re doing an un-medicated birth until they show up and it’s too late for an epidural anyways.  Just be prepared for the chance that it might not turn out the way you want. 

Not the response I was expecting or hoped for.  Where was the support?  Where was the encouragement?  Instead, he chose to immediately cast doubt on my plan?  I had no illusions, I knew that birth doesn’t necessarily always go to plan; but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have the right to express my preferences.

As I was leaving that appointment, he felt the need to tell me a birth story about a woman who wanted a natural birth, refused induction, and had grand ideas about the baby just falling out of her.  But then she of course had to have a really high intervention birth that resulted in a c-section.  “She had wanted to be like an animal in the wild, like some sort of cow,” he smirked.  Is he really making fun of another patient right now to me? 

I left the appointment uneasy.  Uneasy about how this doctor had reacted to my plan, uneasy about how he had laughed about another patient’s “ideas”, and uneasy about what I was going to do next.  I knew one thing for certain: I couldn’t stay with this doctor. He had shown me his true colors.

However, for some reason, I was scared to switch practices.  Call it inertia, or fear of the unknown. So I took the easiest step I could: started seeing the other doctor in the practice.  I was relieved to find out that he was supportive of my birth plan.  He was open to doing delayed cord clamping, and said I could labor however I wanted to.  The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly, and I felt like I was in good hands.

However, what I didn’t realize was that there is a difference between being supportive and knowledgeable about natural birth.  When it came right down to it, my husband and I were on our own to make this happen.  (In hindsight, a doula would have been extremely helpful, but we were naïve in thinking we wanted this experience to be about just us.  Little did we know that a hospital birth involves very little privacy anyways).

And your doctor is only one part of the equation; the other part is the hospital they deliver at.  He happened to deliver at what is locally known as the “baby factory.”  At the time, this felt like a comforting idea – man, they deliver so many babies, they must know what they’re doing.  Reflecting back, the idea of a factory is exactly what it sounds like – high efficiency, high intervention.  I had no idea that I was walking into a situation where the nurses rarely see physiologic birth.  When I tell people now that I had an un-medicated birth there, they look at me like I’m a unicorn with 2 heads.  Here’s an abbreviated version of the story:

I labored peacefully at home for 9 hours before going to the hospital, as I knew that was my best chance for sticking to my birth plan – I was already dilated 6 cm by the time I arrived, and was in active labor.  When being admitted, I asked the charge nurse if I could be paired with a nurse who was experienced with natural birth.  Oh all our nurses are supportive of natural birth, she chirped.  Not so.  My labor & delivery nurse was the opposite of natural birth friendly.  She immediately offered me an epidural, even though I had explicitly told her I wasn’t interested.  I was wary of how my time with her was going to go based on this very first interaction.

After some time on the monitor and getting admitted, she finally left. I began alternating between 3 positions:  sitting on the edge of the bed, sitting on my yoga ball, and on my hands and knees on the bed.  This is when my husband became a HUGE help to me, and really stepped up.  As the contractions became closer and closer together, my needs were changing by the minute.  He provided my back with much needed counter-pressure, fetched me water and juice, got me a cold washcloth with my lavender oil, and helped me through each and every contraction.  I truly couldn’t have done it without him.

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And then the nurse came back.  She doubted me when I said I was progressing quickly – oh you’re a first time mom, you have at least a few more hours before we need to call your doctor again.  I insisted again that things were moving quickly.  She reluctantly checked me, and she did so roughly; she was clearly used to women on epidurals who couldn’t feel it.  She was shocked to find that I was right, that I knew what my body was doing, and she sprang into action, getting the room ready for delivery and called my doctor again.  She pushed the epidural idea at me one more time, as it’d be my last chance – I told you lady, it’s not on the menu for me. Leave. Me. Alone.

I was about to go through transition – what most people call the hardest part of labor.  Thankfully, the nurse left the room again, so I got to do this in peace.  Slow-paced breathing and focal points were no longer enough to manage the pain, so I changed my breathing pattern a few times, using the He-Blow breath and the fast-patterned breathing techniques we had learned.  I never thought that vocalization would be a useful technique for me – I always thought it was cheesy when I saw it in the birthing videos, but it turned out to be extremely helpful.  Repeating phrases like “I can do it” and “I trust my body” were essential in distracting me.  When I could no longer say these phrases myself, I asked my husband to talk to me throughout each contraction, repeating the phrase “You’re doing it.”

My doctor arrived to check in on my progress.  My water still hadn’t broken yet, so he provided me with two options:  Either he could break it for me, or he could go do a c-section he needed to do, be back in 1 hour, and see if it had broken on its own and if I was ready to push when he got back.  I knew I’d have my doctor’s undivided attention if I waited the hour, so that’s what I opted to do.

The next hour was pretty hard – and this is what helped me understand why many women choose to get an epidural.  If I hadn’t been prepared with all of the breathing, visualization, vocalization, and comfort techniques, it would have been scary.  But the preparation allowed me to remain confident, and take everything 1 contraction at a time, with my husband’s help.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so focused in my life – and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerful.  I remember thinking of the word “power” in my head, convincing myself that my body had the power to do this.  I did everything I could to relax my body and my muscles in between every contraction.  Near the end of this hour, the contractions were practically on top of each other – sometimes I only got a 15 second break in between them.

When my doctor showed back up, he said I was at 10 cm, and he broke my water. Now there were 3 nurses in the room, and I was supposed to start pushing.  All of a sudden my quiet, peaceful labor bubble was filled with people telling me what to do.

The 2 new nurses were supportive, as was my doctor.  But like I said, supportive is not the same as knowledgeable.  They weren’t used to women eating and drinking during labor – so they didn’t to remind me to empty my bladder before pushing, resulting in some pretty ineffective pushing for a while.  They also fell into the norm of directed pushing, where they’d yell out when to push, and count to 10 loudly 2-3 times per contraction, until I was pushing so hard that veins were popping out of my head.  All of these things are unnecessary and counterproductive when having an un-medicated birth – they weren’t allowing me to listen to my body. And they’re actually damaging to your body and pelvic floor. I knew that holding my breath during pushing wasn’t good (a relaxed jaw means a relaxed body and cervix), but they kept telling me to do it that way. I didn’t think my body was ready to push – all I wanted was to take a little break before starting again.  But they were yelling at me to push during every contraction.  And when everyone in the room is telling you what to do, it’s extremely hard to stop the show and get off the stage.  I know I didn’t feel comfortable with what was happening, but I was too swept up in the moment to know how to make it stop or ask for anything else.  Their direction had taken my power away.

Going back to my first negative nurse: apparently the position I was pushing in wasn’t “convenient” for her, because the monitor kept slipping off of my belly.  She repeatedly told me it’d be easier for her if I was on my back.  I refused, I wasn’t comfortable in that position.  She asked if she could use internal fetal monitoring, since I was moving around so much.  I’m sorry, you want to screw an unnecessary electrode into my perfectly healthy baby’s head because I’m moving around while in labor and you have better things to do than to hold the monitor still on my belly?  Never mind the fact that continuous fetal monitoring isn’t evidence-based?   Her negativity was just too much for me, it was shutting my body down.  I don’t consider it a coincidence at all that my daughter was born 15 minutes after this nurse’s shift ended and she had left the room.

Even though I tried pushing in different positions, they eventually pressured me onto my back (which is the most convenient position for them to see what’s going on, but unfortunately happens to be the position that your pelvis is the smallest in.)  Gravity was no longer helping me, and my daughter was stuck for a while behind my pubic bone.  By the time my daughter was crowning, an hour and 45 minutes into pushing (which, by the way, is a perfectly normal amount of time to push as a first time mom), they should have told me to slow down to protect my perineum; instead, their impatience made them tell me to push harder, making my 10 lb. 1 oz. daughter come barreling out of me.

Yes, at the end of the day, I accomplished my goal of having an un-medicated birth.  But it didn’t mean that it was the birth experience I desired.  It doesn’t mean that I was respected during it.  I had to fight for it.  I had to refuse unnecessary IV fluids, I had to demand wireless monitoring, I had to turn down continuous pressure to get an epidural; I had to simultaneously stand up for myself while trying to relax and focus on the hard work of labor.

Yet when I became pregnant again, I still debated whether it was worth switching practices & hospitals just to potentially have a better experience.  Once again, I was scared of the unknown.  Was it better to go with the devil I knew?  Could I be better prepared this time?  I think you create a strange emotional connection to the person who assisted in delivering your baby, even if it wasn’t the perfect experience.  They were there with you in your most intimate and vulnerable of moments.  You were high on birth hormones.  And after all, he did save me from bleeding to death of a postpartum hemorrhage.  All of these things gave me pause.

But I was making excuses.  At the end of the day, we all deserve to be treated with respect in childbirth.  Regardless of the type of birth: homebirth, hospital birth, epidural, induction, c-section, VBAC – whatever.  We all deserve care providers who practice evidence-based medicine.  We deserve informed consent.  I know too many women who had unnecessary c-sections because of a cascade of interventions that were done without their consent.   You ever want a reality check about the current state of maternity care, go read some birth stories on ImprovingBirth.org’s Facebook page.  Birth trauma is real – up to a third of mothers describe their birth as traumatic.  These stories have literally made me sob myself to sleep because they are so distressing.  Too many providers are ignoring the role the mother has in her own birth. This is so hard to explain to a first time mom – you assume that your providers practice evidence-based care, you assume that everything they do is the best thing for you.  But maternity care has become so screwed up – so few providers even know what a normal birth looks like.  You have to be your own advocate. My birth wasn’t traumatic; but it wasn’t respectful care.

So I made the leap.  I’m now with a midwifery practice that delivers at a hospital with the lowest c-section rate in the state (less than half the rate of my first hospital).  It’s the opposite of a baby factory – there are only 6 labor and delivery rooms, and they offer water birth.  I’ve also chosen to use a doula for this birth.  And I finally feel supported.

After our first midwife appointment, and then again after our hospital tour, my husband looked at me bewildered.  You mean everything you had to fight for before is just standard of care here?  Limited ultrasounds. Food & drink during labor.  Low lighting, showers, and tubs in labor & delivery rooms.  Non-directed pushing.  Delayed cord clamping.  All of it standard and supported.

And more than just support – knowledge. I asked the first midwife I saw about non-directed pushing.  She immediately started giving me examples of how women naturally push, and even started making low guttural sounds to demonstrate how it helps open you up.  (Basically the opposite of holding your breath and pushing until you’re purple in the face.)  Every appointment involves talking about birth, answering every question I have, and coming up with a plan.  They understand and trust physiologic birth, and the default is no intervention.

And more than just knowledge – respect.  I’ve heard the same message over and over again from this practice: you’re in charge of your own healthcare.  You have the right to refuse anything.  I’ve been given options with everything that has come up.  There’s this test you can do, here are the pros and cons, it’s your choice if you want to do it or not.  No thanks, I don’t need a test with a high false positive rate,  I already have enough anxiety about this pregnancy.  You can choose 1 of 3 options for gestational diabetes testing.  Awesome, I choose jelly beans over that gross glucose drink any day.  Your baby is measuring big, so you’re eligible for another ultrasound at 37 weeks if you’d prefer.  But you can also decline it.  Sweet, I’ll decline it, because I’m not scared of a big baby, my body’s done it before, and I won’t do anything different (e.g. get induced early) even if he is big.

At my most recent appointment, I was chatting with my midwife about the hospital policies for postpartum care.  Even though this new-to-me hospital purports to be more baby-friendly, you never know which nurse you’re going to run into.  She said something that no healthcare provider has ever said to me: No is a complete sentence. 

If they want to take the baby off your chest to do footprints and measurements?  No is a complete sentence. They can do those things while he’s still on your belly.

If they want to take your baby to the nursery to do the admissions process?  No is a complete sentence. They can do that process in the room.

If they say that they have to do an exam in the nursery because they don’t have the staff to do it in the room?  The staffing isn’t your problem.  No is a complete sentence.

I was amazed.  Here my midwife was, handing me back my power.  Telling me to stand up for my choices.   And telling me that she would support me.

I don’t know how my birth will go – but I feel confident that I’ve chosen a provider who will give me the respect that I deserve, and involve me in decisions.  And if I wasn’t confident of that, then I wouldn’t be afraid to switch providers again, even late into my pregnancy.  It took me a while to get to this place.  I know a midwife isn’t right for everyone’s situation – I know you can find respectful care with an OB too if that’s what you need.  But it means you have to raise your expectations.  If you’re not receiving the care you deserve – find someone else.  It’s never too late.

No is a complete sentence.

Breastfeeding Success: Shaming or Inspiring? Formula-Feeding: Guilt or Anger?

Breastfeeding Shame

World Breastfeeding Week is technically over, but it’s still National Breastfeeding Month, so I’m writing one last post on the subject.  There was one particular article going around this past week that really rubbed me the wrong way – it was in TIME, and it was written by a doctor.  I refuse to actually link to it because it’s filled with gross inaccuracies and twisted data.  But the main message was that World Breastfeeding Week shouldn’t be celebrated because it makes mothers feel guilty if they weren’t able to breastfeed.

Hold up.

Since when is celebrating one person’s success shaming someone else?  That’s like saying “I refuse to support The Biggest Loser because it makes others feel guilty that they’re sitting on the couch, not losing weight.”

Who decides if something is shaming or inspiring?

Because I know I’ve been inspired by other women’s breastfeeding stories.  At 6 weeks postpartum I met another woman who had exclusively pumped for a year, and thought wow, maybe I can do this.  I’m inspired by mother-and-baby duos who were able to move on to a successful nursing relationship after having a tongue-tie revised.  I’m inspired by friends who struggled with their first baby but had a smooth journey with their second baby.  None of their success shames me or makes me feel guilty.

And if it did make me feel guilty, is the answer to walk around with my hands over my ears in an effort to avoid hearing anything that might hurt my feelings?  How do we ever hope to learn new things if we allow our guilt to get in the way?  And why should 1 person’s guilt prevent others from hearing the message?  I don’t feel guilty when I learn about the benefits of directly nursing over exclusively pumping; I know that the way I did it wasn’t the ideal, and I’m glad to know that information.  Do you really want to live your life in the dark?

Like I said in my first post on this topic, 85% of new mothers want to breastfeed exclusively for 3 months or more, yet only 32% meet their goal.  If you’re in that 53% who didn’t meet your goal, it’s not my place to tell you how to feel about it; you’re entitled to your feelings.  But I do want to tell you how I’d feel about it.

Maybe you feel guilty because you thought you couldn’t make enough milk to satisfy your baby during those early weeks, because they wanted to eat all the time.  I’d feel angry that we live in a culture that teaches women that our babies need to be on schedules right away.  That we don’t educate women about cluster feeding and about growth spurts and about how milk production actually works.  That we don’t encourage on-demand breastfeeding.  That we don’t set the expectation that every mother-baby duo is different, and will feed at different intervals.  I’m angry that an un-educated relative casually suggested a formula top-off because your baby seemed hungry.  That person didn’t know that the formula would cause your baby to suckle less, thus demanding less milk from your breast, thus reducing your milk supply, and fulfilling the issue that you didn’t have to begin with.  I’m angry that someone didn’t tell you that how much you pump isn’t an indication of how much milk you are making or how much your baby is getting.  Breastfeeding is an age-old biologic process, not one that listens to our 21st century clock or technology.  These are all cultural problems; we’ve gotten so far away from breastfeeding that we’ve lost our knowledge about it, and our expectations are all out of whack.  So I wouldn’t feel guilty, I’d feel angry.

Maybe you feel guilty because you were pressured to start giving formula in public, because someone stared at you or sneered at you or had the gall to actually say something ugly to you when you tried nursing your hungry baby while (gasp) living your life.  I’d feel angry that we live in a culture that has over-sexualized breasts to the point that everyone has forgotten about their function.  That mothers have to fear being wrongfully kicked out of an establishment because some employee doesn’t know the laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.  That we even need laws protecting our right to feed a hungry child.  That most of the laws don’t have enforcement provisions, so you have no legal recourse if you are kicked out of somewhere.  I wouldn’t feel guilt, I’d feel angry.

Maybe you feel guilty because you couldn’t keep up with your baby’s demands when you went back to work.  I’d feel angry that we force women back to work before they’ve even had a chance to establish their milk supply.  That we’re the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave.  That despite new laws requiring employers to provide reasonable break times and a place to pump at work, not everyone is on board yet.  That many mothers still have to pump in a bathroom, are forced to pump at times that don’t match their body’s needs, and are discriminated against and have hours cut because of their requests.  That as a nation, we have so little respect for women and children that we don’t do everything we can to support this critical time (we can’t all work at Netflix).  I wouldn’t feel guilty, I’d feel angry.

Maybe you feel guilty because you listened to bad advice from a professional you trusted.  I’d feel angry that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1 year of breastfeeding but then does very little to actually support it.  That I constantly hear about pediatricians making recommendations about infant feeding that aren’t evidence-based.  That we still have to worry about postpartum nurses “sneaking” formula bottles to our babies in the nursery, when their stomachs are still the size of a cherry. That the billion-dollar formula industry is the one actually pulling the strings; they’re in our doctors’ ears, in our hospital discharge bags, filling our shelves with samples before our babies are even born, preying on a mother’s worst insecurities at her most vulnerable moment.  That they cast a cloud of doubt on our abilities, that they make us lose trust in our bodies.  I wouldn’t feel guilty, I’d feel angry.

Or maybe you did everything you could, and despite your best efforts and doing everything right, you truly couldn’t produce enough milk.  Or your baby was born prematurely and wasn’t coordinated or strong enough to make breastfeeding successful.  Or you had to take a medication that prevented you from breastfeeding, or your child had some other medical complication.  Nature dealt you an unlucky hand.  You got a raw deal.  Guilt isn’t the right emotion here; it might make you feel sad, but I hope it never makes you feel guilty.

Maybe you feel guilty because you’re done having kids and won’t have the opportunity for another “do-over.”  Maybe you don’t have an opportunity to find inspiration from others’ success.  But don’t you care about what the experience is going to be like for your daughters?  For your granddaughters?  I know you do care, because you’re a good mother, regardless of how you fed your children.  Please let go of your guilt for their sake, for progress sake.

Or maybe none of these roadblocks were in your way.  Maybe the decision was entirely yours from the get-go not to breastfeed.  Or life circumstances meant you made a decision to stop when you were ready.  These things are all your prerogative.  Breastfeeding is a relationship, which means it has to work for both partiesNo one is impeding on your freedom to make your own decisions – I just hope that it was truly your decision, and not one made for you by our society’s cultural expectations.  And a decision you make of your own free will should never make you feel guilty.  If you were confident in your decision, then there’s no reason that World Breastfeeding Week should offend you.  I’ll support you if you support me. And I’m sorry about all of those ugly people who do actually directly shame you for formula-feeding.  They undermine the entire cause.

There’s a million and one other scenarios that I didn’t cover.  But as you can see, I’m of the mindset that guilt has no place here.  How will we ever improve our breastfeeding rates if we’re too afraid to share information for fear of making someone feel guilty?  In just a decade, Cambodia was able to increase their exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first 6 months from 11% to 74% through the use of a national media campaign, extensive health-worker training, and establishment of mother support groups.  It takes educating an entire society, not just the mothers.  They certainly wouldn’t have accomplished this if they were too afraid of offending a few people.

So it’s your choice.  You can either feel shamed by stories of breastfeeding success, or you can feel inspired.  You can either feel guilty about what happened to you, or you can feel angry toward the system and culture that is failing so many of us.  Although it’s not enough to stop at anger, it’s not a good emotion to dwell in; it has to be turned into positive action.  Become a more active participant in your healthcare, and have more meaningful conversations with your doctors. Demand more from our lawmakers and our employers.  Normalize breastfeeding so that some day, our daughters won’t have to fight for where they can feed their children.  I can’t wait to see that day.

Failed by the System: A Breastfeeding (Pumping) Journey Part 2


Pumping

I am already overwhelmed and humbled by the response to my last blog post.  The multitude of friends who have had bumps along the road in their own breastfeeding journeys reaffirms why we need to be talking about this.  I promised a follow-up with the specific details of my breastfeeding journey.  It’s longer than I anticipated, but I wanted to remember the details while I still could.  And I had a friend message me today with questions about a situation similar to mine, so I wrote this in a hurry for her.  So here goes…

My daughter’s first breastfeed during our golden hour after birth was more like a breast-lick.  She never really got latched on in the delivery room, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.  I was in the middle of a postpartum hemorrhage, and she had to be taken off my chest so that they could more effectively massage my belly down.  Truthfully, it was all a haze.

After we were transferred to our postpartum room, our attempt at breastfeeding started in earnest.  Immediately she was screaming while I tried to get her latched.  My nurse stacked some pillows up, sandwiched my boob in her hand, and tried to shove it into my daughter’s tiny mouth.  She stayed on for maybe a minute, then popped off.  Try again.  On. Off.  Try again.  On. Off.  So went the next 4 hours of cluster feeding.  In between each “feed” my fingers were flying across my phone’s keyboard, desperately trying to figure out what might be going on.  I knew she wasn’t getting much, if anything.  She wasn’t content at all, she was just falling asleep in between feeds from exhaustion.  Nothing about her latch was correct.  She couldn’t open her mouth wide enough to get deep enough, and her upper lip was never able to flange out.  At 3 am, about 12 hours after her birth, I buzzed the nurse practically in tears.  I need a spoon.  Show me how to hand express. 

I expressed my liquid gold into a plastic spoon and my daughter gulped it down.  Ahhhh.  I could finally feel us both relax a little bit.  First thing in the morning, she was taken away briefly for her pediatrician exam.  A little while later the pediatrician came to my room and discussed his exam.  Everything’s great, she’s perfectly healthy.  But she’s lost 7% of her birth weight already, so we need to keep an eye on that. 7%?  Already?? I thought we’d have more time to figure this out.

Shortly afterwards, a lactation consultant came to see us.  Oh thank God you’re here, help us. She reviewed our chart and the pediatrician’s notes.  Your pediatrician has suggested formula supplementation due to weight loss.  What?  Already?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  It’s been less than 24 hours, and you’re already giving up on me?

She observed our feeding, and wrinkled her nose a bit.  I’m going to come back again in a few hours to watch you again.  She rolled in a hospital-grade pump and showed me how to use it.  I hadn’t brought my hands-free bra to the hospital, so I had to hold the flanges up while I pumped.  I didn’t care though – at that moment, I was supremely grateful for technology.  This amazing thing called the breast pump would save me.  More liquid gold.  More gulping.  More relief.

A few hours later the lactation consultant came back and observed us again.  Afterwards she stuck her finger in my baby’s mouth and felt around.  She has a bubble palate.  Your nipple isn’t long enough to hit her palate and stimulate her sucking reflex.  So you’re basically telling me that my body is incompatible with my baby’s?  How is that even possible?  I didn’t even know that was a thing.  She provided no explanation, she just said it matter-of-factly and then pulled out a nipple shield – think of it like a little silicone sombrero for your nipple.  The idea was that it would help “reach” her high palate and trigger her sucking reflex better.  We tried the shield for the next few feedings – and while it made it less painful on me, it didn’t seem to make my baby’s latch any better.  She continued her pop on, pop off routine.  I asked the LC about why my baby’s lip wouldn’t flange out, because I knew that was a key to making a tight seal.  She just shrugged her shoulders and told me I needed to keep flipping it out manually until she learned that was the way it was supposed to be.  Despite all of my manual manipulations, her lip always returned right back to where it was.

We survived another night, struggling with latching, pumping, and spoon-feeding, with a revolving door of postpartum nurses who would pull and prod at my breasts.  The next day before discharge, I desperately asked the LC  – If she’s still not latching well once my milk comes in, what should I do? 

This is the moment where this first lactation consultant failed me.  She could have observed that the pump flanges she had given me were not the right size, and that they’d eventually contribute to sore and cracked nipples.  She could have suggested syringe feeding so that we could avoid nipple confusion.  She could have told me about paced bottle feeding so that my baby wouldn’t develop a flow preference.  She could have introduced me to the idea of a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) to help keep my baby happy & full at the breast, and prevent a breast aversion.  She could have told me that there was probably more to the story than just the bubble palate.  She could have suggested I go ahead and make an outpatient appointment for lactation, that they’d be able to tell me more after we did some before & after feeding weighs to see how she was transferring milk.  She could have told me that the earliest appointments available for lactation were at least 14 days out.  14 days is a lifetime in a nursing relationship – that’s at least 112 feeds.

Instead, in this moment when she could have said so much, she handed me a bag filled with disposable bottle nipples.  It spoke louder than all of the things she could have said.  A screaming vote of no-confidence.  A lactation consultant, a trained professional who was supposed know about breastfeeding, was essentially telling me that she didn’t think there was another way besides the bottle.

And then literally moments later, the nurse walked in with my discharge paperwork and a “gift bag” to send me home with.  Inside this bag were some pamphlets, and a 4-pack of formula bottles.  I was hearing the message loud and clear: We don’t know how else to help you, and now you’re on your own.  No wonder so many women quit breastfeeding before they even leave the hospital.

Once we were home, we tried just nursing the entire first night.  By morning, my nipples looked like a new tube of lipstick, but raw and cracked, and my baby was not content.  However, my milk had come in, so spoon feeding didn’t seem like it was an efficient option anymore.  I reluctantly reached for that first disposable bottle nipple and screwed it onto the first bottle of milk I had pumped.  I hadn’t planned on introducing a bottle for at least 3 weeks; everything I had read said that I needed to establish breastfeeding first.  But when your baby is eating every 2 hours, for an hour at a time, there’s no time to figure out another solution on the fly.  The first priority is always to feed the baby.

Our pediatrician’s visit on day 3 indicated that she had lost 10% of her birth weight.  However, I assured the pediatrician that we’d get it turned around; my milk had come in, and now we could ensure she was getting it.  She said I wouldn’t have to supplement if I’d come in for weight checks every other day until she was back up to birth weight.  There was that threat of formula supplementation again, without any suggestions of what else to do.  I was resolved to do whatever it took to avoid it – my body was making milk.

So we settled into a new normal; I ordered more pumping parts (this time sized correctly) on Amazon (thank God for Prime), and started pumping around the clock.  Baby would nurse, then I would pump, then I would feed the pumped milk in a bottle.  Maybe a 30 minute or hour break, and then repeat.  Breaks were mostly devoted to self-care; recovering from a bad tear & postpartum hemorrhage are no joke.  I had lost so much blood that I needed to take iron supplements to keep my energy up.

Soon I got 1 bottle ahead, and the routine changed a bit.  Baby would nurse, I’d feed the bottle I pumped the previous session, and then pump for the next feed.  Eventually I got coordinated enough to feed a bottle and pump at the same time.  Eight times a day on days I felt I was making enough milk, 10 times per day on days I got nervous about my milk supply, 12 times per day during growth spurts.  I mimicked her feeding pattern – if she ate, I pumped.  My sweet husband washed all of the bottles and pump parts several times a day, changed diapers, ensured I remained fed and hydrated, and comforted me whenever I fell apart.  Soon my daughter was back at birth weight and climbing.

I read everything I could on milk supply and pumping (thank God for kellymom.com).  If I couldn’t successfully nurse my baby, then I was determined to kick ass at this making milk thing. I did everything I could to reduce my stress and relax (by binge watching Arrested Development in 15 minute increments). I learned how prolactin levels are highest between 1 and 5 am, and how activating prolactin receptors is the key to long-term milk supply.  So I set my alarm for 1, 3, and 5 am, and diligently pumped.  I learned about power pumping, and did 10-minute on / 10-minute off sessions for an hour during baby’s naps.  I took fenugreek supplements and my supply practically doubled overnight.  I learned about how to massage while pumping, and doubled it again.

It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.  And that’s saying something, considering the fact that I had just given birth to a 10 pound baby without drugs.  This was much harder.  All jokes aside though, my birth actually had a large role to play here.  Whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, when I wanted to just sleep through my next date with my pump, I drew strength from my birth.  If I could do that, I can do anything.  My birth had unleashed a power inside of me that I didn’t know existed.  It made me ferocious and confident in my motherhood.  Besides, this was my job right now.  To feed my daughter.  This was a brief moment in time, and I was going to figure it out.

I should note that bottle-feeding was not going great.  My daughter still couldn’t flange her lip out, which meant she couldn’t get a tight seal on the bottle, which meant she was getting lots of air, and lots of milk was dribbling out of her mouth.  And her high palate meant that I had to constantly keep an eye on the bottle to make sure she hadn’t compressed it to the point where nothing could come out.  We tried at least 5 bottle types before finding one that she couldn’t compress.   Unfortunately, my nipples were not so lucky.

2 weeks in, I finally had an outpatient lactation appointment, this time with a different consultant.  We weighed my baby before I nursed, she nursed for 30 minutes, and then we weighed her again.

½ an ounce.  In 30 minutes.  My heart sank.  I was making plenty of milk; she just couldn’t transfer it efficiently.

The lactation consultant suggested that I rent a scale for a week and see if it was just a fluke, or if it was a consistent issue.  She also confirmed that the issue was likely due to a high palate, and suggested that I wear soft shells in between feedings to help draw out my nipples more.

I weighed her before and after nursing sessions for the next week.  The story was the same every time.  30 minutes.  0.4 ounces.  0.5 ounces.  Never more than 0.6 ounces.  I went back to lactation, returned the scale, and hoped for another suggestion.  The LC thought that my baby could benefit from occupational therapy to strengthen her suck.  Another week went by before I could get in to see the OT.  She gave me some tongue exercises to do with my daughter, and told me to start doing suck training with a gumdrop pacifier.  None of this added up to me.  But why does she have a weak suck?  She wasn’t born prematurely, she was 10 pounds for crying out loud. 

Suck training made the problem even clearer to me.  My daughter couldn’t hold a pacifier in her mouth for longer than 10 seconds on her own.  It kept popping out of her mouth, much like my breast would.  The tongue exercises would quickly exhaust her, and it was obvious that she had very little mobility with her tongue.  And besides being exhausted, she was angry.  She was starting to scream at my breast, and physically push me away.  She hated nursing, and I started to dread it.  I remember collapsing into my husband’s arms one day, sobbing she hates me.  I stopped trying to nurse at night, it was too much for both us – I just pumped and bottle fed.  During the day I’d bring her to the breast after her bottle, and tried to associate the feeling of being full and happy with the feeling of being snuggled up to me.   We were skin-to-skin constantly.  And when she wasn’t in the nursing position, she was the happiest baby you’ve ever met.

One thing kept me going at this point: surprise flowers with a note from my daughter.  It took me a week to figure out which friend had sent them to me.  This note held so much power for me, and I’m eternally grateful for this friendship.

Note

Another OT appointment came and went.  The LC at that appointment (a new one to me), was surprised that I had still managed to avoid formula.  You know, pumping may not be sustainable long term.  My pediatrician basically said the same thing to me that same week.  Lady, I’ve made it this far, and I’m tired of people telling me what I’m capable of doing.

My abundant supply did not come without its costs.  I frequently suffered from painful clogged ducts that would trap me inside the house all day while I tried to relieve them.  Once again, I learned all I could about how to work them out, and eventually got them under control with a few key tips (lecithin supplements, rice socks as compresses, pumping after hot showers, pumping at different angles, no bra around the house.)

Week 5: I finally got unchained from my pump for long enough to make it to the breastfeeding support group that they had told me about at lactation.  It was my lucky day; it was the last group that was being led by a veteran LC who was retiring.  There were also several other LCs in the room, but they were there as mothers to their own little ones.  I was so nervous to speak and share my story because I was afraid that I would start crying before I could spit it all out.  When I finally re-lived what the last 5 weeks had held, their words surrounded me like a warm hug.  What you’re doing is amazing.  You should be proud of yourself. We know you can do it.  I didn’t know it, but it’s what I had been waiting for.  For someone with authority to tell me I was doing the right thing.  Doing a good job.  To have confidence in me. None of my pediatricians, lactation consultants, or occupational therapists had said anything like that to me.  All of their doubt was erased in a single day by the words from this room of amazing women.  Why couldn’t one of you have been my lactation consultant? 

And then the answer came.  She might be tongue-tied.  They’re sometimes hard to diagnose if it’s not an anterior tie.  She might have a posterior tie.  It’s the kind of thing you can have evaluated by a Pediatric ENT, and they can clip the tie, releasing the restriction on her tongue, and allowing it to become more mobile.  They’re often accompanied by upper lip ties and high palates.  And if she’s still willing to latch, you also might want to consider using an SNS to try to avoid breast aversion. 

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That night I read all about tongue-tie.  I compared the symptoms with what I was experiencing.  Check.  I compared the pictures with what my daughter’s tongue and upper lip looked like.  Check.  I called and made an appointment with a Pediatric ENT.  We’d have to wait 2 weeks.  Damn.

While we waited for our ENT appointment, we went to lactation again.  My daughter was still willing to latch, but it was clear that she was developing a bottle preference and a breast aversion.  I asked about trying an SNS, but was met with skepticism.  They’re really finicky to use.  We typically only recommend them for people who need to build more supply, and you have plenty of milk.  And she’ll be taking bottles when you go back to work anyways, so let her get more practice with the bottle.  I left feeling defeated again, but hopeful for answers at the ENT.

But by the time our appointment rolled around in week 7, it was too late.  My daughter had developed a full-fledged breast aversion.  She screamed every time and pushed me away.  I’m glad that we went ahead with the revision of her posterior tongue tie and upper lip tie.  The procedure (in-office, local anesthetic, quick snip to the tight frenulum under her upper lip and her tongue) allowed her to bottle feed more easily.  She could finally flange out her upper lip and keep a tight seal.  She could finally keep her pacifier in.  She could drink from the bottle faster than she ever had before.  I knew in the future it would help prevent dental and speech problems.  Her tongue had been freed.  And I had the answer I had been looking for all along.

I’ll never know for sure if it could have saved our nursing relationship had it been diagnosed earlier.  But in my heart I know it would have.  A few days after the procedure, I marched into my final lactation appointment and demanded to use an SNS.  But my daughter wouldn’t latch on for long enough to give it a chance.  I walked out of there angry and resentful.  They should have seen it.  They should have supported keeping her at the breast.  They should have known their own limitations and referred me earlier. 

At 10 weeks I finally decided to stop torturing both of us, and stopped trying to nurse.  I decided to become an exclusive pumper, for the sake of my relationship with my daughter.  I’ll never forget the last time she nursed.  I tricked her – she was still asleep, and so I attempted nursing in a side-lying position on the bed with her.  I started with the shield so that she’d think it was a bottle, and then slipped the shield off.  She was sleepy enough to nurse peacefully for 10 minutes.  I’ll remember those 10 minutes forever. But then she woke up and pushed me away.  It was the last time I’d put her in a situation to push me away.

I eventually came to peace with my decision.  Not trying to nurse her anymore saved me hours each day, not to mention heartache.  Our bond grew quickly, in large part due to bedsharing (which is another journey for another post), and I actually got to enjoy the rest of my maternity leave.  At 12 weeks I finally felt confident enough in my supply to drop from 8 pumps a day to 7.  By the time I went back to work at 17 weeks, I was down to 4 pumps a day, without losing any output.    When she started on solid food at 6 months, I was down to 3 pumps per day, and still making enough to put 2 bottles per day in the freezer.  It almost felt unfair – somehow exclusively pumping had made it easier on me than on my friends who were nursing.  They had to nurse morning and night, and then pump 3 times during their work day, and were struggling to keep up.  I donated milk to two such mothers.  This time around I plan on donating any extra milk I make to a milk bank that serves NICUs.  But even though pumping became easier, I desperately wished I could have nursed.

Stopping pumping was more emotional than I thought it would be.  12 months rolled around and I wasn’t ready.  I even switched daycares because our original one wouldn’t allow breastmilk in the toddler room.  Like hell you’re going to tell me when I have to wean. I fought for this. My daughter could sign for milk, and asked for it while she watched me pump.  She knew where her milk came from, and that meant the world to me.  But I still hadn’t gotten my cycle back, and I wanted to get pregnant again.  I pumped for the last time on the day she turned 16 months old.  It’s been over a year since I pumped, but since I became pregnant, she has asked me for my milk 3 times.  It’s amazing that she remembers, and even more amazing that she can sense / smell that my milk is back now, preparing for her baby brother.

I know that I’m one of the lucky ones.  I was lucky that I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression. I was lucky to have a husband that supported me. I was lucky to be able to afford a good pump, extra pumping supplies, lactation support, and enough unpaid time off of work to be able to figure it out.  I was lucky to have a workplace that supported pumping.  I was lucky to have a work schedule that accommodated pumping.  But it’s sad to me that we have to fight so hard for something that should be supported more in our society.

I feel hopeful for my next breastfeeding journey.  I have confidence.  I have a plan.  I have a new pediatrician who understands breastfeeding.  I now know more great lactation consultants than I can count.  I’m armed with more breastfeeding knowledge than I know what to do with.  But I also know that I could encounter an entirely new set of issues.  Maybe my son will be the type of baby who refuses bottles.  Maybe I’ll get mastitis.  Maybe he’ll have reflux.  Maybe he’ll have a dairy allergy.  Who knows?  But now I have a village.  A village filled with a lot of seriously kick-ass mothers who will help me fight whatever I’m up against.

We all have our own journeys.  What worked for me may not work for you.  But if you’re a new mother reading this: This is a time-sensitive issue.  Find help quickly.  I hope you find your village in time.

*In addition to an in-person support group, I highly recommend finding a closed Facebook group you can join.  There are a ton out there, and there’s nothing more helpful than other moms who are also up at 3 am nursing their babes to help you with your questions.  The larger the village, the more likely you’ll be to find someone who has experienced your specific issue.