Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why I Value Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding: Part 1

Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means a breastfeeding expert, nor do I think I have all the answers. If you have breastfeeding questions, I am happy to give you what advice I can, but I also recommend talking to a lactation consultant. and La Leche League are also both amazing resources for breastfeeding moms.

Reed, 4 Months

Before my first baby, Reed, was born, I planned on breastfeeding. I went to the class offered by the hospital and read a few things (but not many), but basically assumed breastfeeding wouldn't be an issue. I had no idea that many women struggle with breastfeeding. I had no idea that breastfeeding wasn't simple, as it seemed it should be. And I had no idea that breastfeeding might would hurt, at least at first. Essentially, I was super uniformed, but had no clue as to how uniformed I was.  At the time, I was finishing my final semester of college, was working 20 hours at an internship, and, until my seventh month of pregnancy, was working 30 hours as a waitress, as well--so honestly, I didn't have a ton of extra time to become informed. 

I digress. Reed was born on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He had breathing issues at birth, so was rushed away only for the breathing issues to resolve themselves within a few hours. But I didn't get to breastfeed him for the first time until a few hours after birth, which was late in the day. I thought he was latching okay, and so I continued doing what I had been doing. 

By Sunday afternoon, we realized that perhaps he wasn't latching very well after all--breastfeeding really, really, hurt, and I already had the beginnings of sores on my nipples. I finally got to see a lactation consultant, who helped me figure a few things out, then we left the hospital the next morning.

Those first few weeks of breastfeeding were a nightmare. Because of the damage caused from Reed's first day of a poor latch, every time he latched thereafter hurt so badly that I would cry. I couldn't even wear a shirt or bra for the first few days at home because anything at all touching me made me cry out in pain (and I'm not just a wimp). I dreaded Reed waking up because I knew him waking meant I had to feed him. My mom was staying with us and she went to the store and got a nipple shield and a bottle for me, just in case--but the shield was too big and I didn't want to try a bottle because, well, I'm really stubborn. Already, I really didn't like breastfeeding. 

At Reed's two-week appointment, he was barely over his birth weight but the doctor assured me that all they hope to see is the baby reaching the birth weight by week two--so no one was concerned. Gradually, my  nipples healed and breastfeeding became much better. I could actually feed my baby without crying. Right when I finally felt like we were in our grove, though, breastfeeding got much, much worse.

Reed started crying every time he latched. He would latch, suck for a few minutes, scream, latch, suck, scream, on and on. This cycle was exhausting. I didn't know if he wasn't getting anything, wasn't really hungry, was having reflux, what was going on. It was Christmas and I was eating a lot of treats, so cutting out chocolate and a few other gas-inducing foods was my first solution. No luck. I tried Mylicon, which seemed to help a little, but not much. I bought a pump and found that after 15 minutes, I could pump 5 ounces from my right breast and 0.5 from my left. I knew the left didn't produce as much--here was proof--but he had to be getting milk because my right was obviously producing just fine. He didn't spit up a ton or arch his back, so reflux didn't seem to be the issue.

Why didn't I take him to the doctor? I had health insurance through the university I attended, which ended when I graduated (a little over a month after Reed was born). We were in the process of getting private health insurance coverage, but I didn't realize how long that would take, so we were currently not covered. I didn't want to go uninsured to the doctor if there wasn't really a problem. Sometimes Reed ate just fine. Why didn't I see a lactation consultant? I thought about it, I really did. I even called, but it happened to be after hours. Honestly, I didn't know if I was making a big deal out of nothing, since I was a first-time mom and didn't know what to expect. I didn't want to take him in for no reason.

Finally, we got insurance coverage and I took Reed to the doctor just after he turned two months old. And I found out that I had reason to be worried. Reed, who was born at 7 lbs., 9 oz., was only 8 lbs., 13 oz. at two months old. In other words, he was failure to thrive. Can I pause for just a moment to vent about the term "failure to thrive"? Seriously, whoever coined that term must not have children. Because when you tell a mother her baby is failure to thrive, that mom feels like the worst mother to have ever lived. Ever. Especially when she has no idea that there was a problem. (Stepping off my soapbox.) Anyway, the doctor suggested I start supplementing with formula and gave me his daughter's number, who happened to be a La Leche League consultant.

I talked to his daughter that night and, though she gave me good advice, nothing she told me to try really helped. That night I also gave Reed his first bottle. The formula can with it's proclamation that formula is not as good as breast milk felt like a personal attack. "Yes, formula company, I know that what I'm feeding my baby is sub-par. Please stop reminding me." And then Reed drank so fast it was as if he'd never been offered food before. Which, of course, made me feel even worse.  Thereafter, I would offer Reed the breast and, if he didn't eat well, give him a bottle. He usually took about 2-3 bottles a day. And guess what? After one week, we went in for a weight check and Reed weighed 9 lbs., 13 oz. A full pound increase in just one week. 

We continued supplementing and, over time, Reed stopped being willing to even attempt breastfeeding. And the whole situation had been so emotionally draining that I stopped really trying. My feelings of guilt concerning Reed being failure to thrive far outweighed my feelings of guilt concerning not breastfeeding. So Reed became an exclusively formula-fed baby right around four months. And at his four month mark, he weighed 13 lbs., 15 1/2 oz.--well within normal range.

Honestly, I'm still coming to terms with the guilt I've felt about the entire situation. Writing this post was difficult, because I can see now how many mistakes I made and how the situation could have been prevented. But I have also realized that I'm not a bad mom, and I was doing the best I knew how to do. And, because of Reed being failure to thrive, I will forever value formula and bottles because they gave him what I couldn't--the calories he needed. Bottles and formula are not bad and formula-fed babies aren't inherently at a disadvantage--because my Reeder? He's as smart and clever and creative as they come.

(Asher's story to come in Part 2.)