There are days I just want someone to look at my boobs and tell me I’m not crazy.
This post has been nearly five years in the making. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say, and sat down to write it a couple of times and stopped because it gives me a headache, and a heart ache. And because I just have a lot to say, so its going to take me a while to get it all down.
And I need to get it down, to help me heal and move on, to reassure other women who have gone through the same thing that they are not alone, and to hopefully help pregnant mommas out there not go through what I went through. I hope the following is both good reading and a good resource.
But let me start at the beginning. If you’re sitting down to read this, grab yourself a cup of coffee or whatever and hang on.
Even before I met my partner in life and conceived a child, I had always intended to breastfeed my children. For me, it seemed like the most biologically logical and environmentally friendly thing to do. I couldn’t understand why people didn’t breastfeed. I had this idea that everyone should breastfeed, and that formula should be by prescription only. I really had no idea what I was talking about.
Once we became pregnant with our first child and started the provincial public health prenatal classes, we were provided with lots of information about breastfeeding. Very little information was provided about formula feeding, aside from one or two slides about supplementation methods. When someone asked about formula feeding, the nurse teaching the class basically said they weren’t allowed to talk about it, but we could e-mail her after class with specific questions. I was ok with that, because I was going to breastfeed for a year and had no intentions of using formula. We were sent home with brochure upon brochure with breastfeeding tips and support groups to attend, outlining why we should breastfeed and why our baby doesn’t need formula. We were also taught to look for physical gestures or cues our baby might give for hunger or other needs, and that if they cried we had missed the cue. They also taught to respond to cries immediately to avoid causing undue stress to our baby.
When my parents visited a few weeks before our first child was due, they asked whether I had any bottles ready or formula on hand. I was confused – why would I need that; I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t know then that I wouldn’t end up having much of a say in the matter.
I was due February 25th and finished work on February 4th. We were basically ready, but I was looking forward to having a few weeks off to rest up, make some freezer meals, and do some reading about parenting and newborns in general. We knew nothing about little babies, having not even so much as changed a diaper. I was lucky in the sense that I’d had a very healthy pregnancy, though I felt horrible the whole time, between the nausea and fatigue. I was looking forward to not being physically pregnant, but was in no hurry to be a mom just yet.
But my cervix had other plans. February 12 at 6am my water broke. Earlier that week I’d been having the odd cramp and pain in my back, and had lost my mucous plug, so I figured things would happen soon. We got checked out at the hospital, and were sent home as I wasn’t having any contractions.
All day I tried to eat well, rest up, and wait. We waited, and waited. Nothing. Until about suppertime I started feeling a bit nauseated. Around 7pm I started having some mild cramps. By 9:30 pm I was on hands and knees in the worst pain I’d ever experienced, on the phone to the hospital wondering what to do. They were timing my contractions, and indicated that I could stay home a bit longer as the contractions were still to erratic to warrant coming in. My husband in his wisdom decided we should go in anyway. By 11pm we were at the hospital, and when I was checked I was fully dilated. An hour and a half of pushing later, and our little girl arrived in the world. It was love at first sight.
The passage of time after this point is a bit of a blur, but sometime while in the recovery room I indicated that I wanted to try breastfeeding my daughter (MD). The nurse and Dr. were 100% on board. The nurse grabbed my breast and expressed some colostrum, waving it under our little girl’s nose. I held back a shriek. I wanted to tell the nurse to stop being so rough, she was squeezing too hard. Then the baby latched on. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt. I didn’t say anything, I thought, “my God I just got through labour with out drugs, what’s wrong with me?” The nurse watched me breastfeed my baby girl for a few moments, and proclaimed that we were naturals. With an unmedicated delivery, we shouldn’t have any problems breastfeeding. I was relieved, but I bit my lip and carried on.I was so proud to finally be breastfeeding. As much as it hurt, it was a dream come true.
Eventually we were brought to our room, where I was looking forward to MD having that long post-labor sleep all the books talk about, and getting some rest myself. I had now been awake nearly 27 hours. I wasn’t expecting to be woken every hour for the next three hours by nurses to check me and my parts. When my OBGYN came in to examine me the next day she asked whether the bleeding had slowed down any. I wasn’t really sure, but I certainly wasn’t filling a pad every hour like they had told us to watch for. Then she mentioned that I had lost a lot of blood. At the time I wasn’t aware of the significance of this statement. I carried on trying to get rest and learning about how to care for my new baby, who seemed to want to nurse constantly (so much for that long sleep). I would attempt to feed her (through the pain), which seemed to take about twenty minutes, put her down, and she’d wake up, or one of the nurses would come in and say “she’s hungry”. “But didn’t I just feed her?” I had no idea this was to be expected, to some extent.
We struggled with the latch and with breastfeeding positions. Nothing felt right or natural. Each nurse that came in had a different opinion as to how I should be positioning her. All I knew was that I was in pain, far more than I thought I should be. The nurses said, “oh yes, when they first latch it can be a bit painful, but no more than a toe curl”. Whatever that meant. I seemed to have lots of colostrum, which I ended up manually expressing and feeding her drop by drop. When I did manage to get her to latch properly, she seemed to drink and swallow for a time, then the suck-swallow would slow down, as we had been taught. We recorded it on the chart we were provided with. I thought when she fell asleep she was done, as we had been taught. I had no idea that the suck-swallow I was observing was not coordinated or sustained enough to obtain much milk.
By her weigh-in that night, her weight had dropped from 6lbs 6 oz to 6 lbs. I wasn’t alarmed. We had been told, all babies lose weight at first.
The second day we got no rest either, as we were greeted by no less than 22 people, either family, audiologists, my OBGYN, public health, and someone giving out books. I was still high from the love of my new baby and relief of no longer being pregnant, so I was excited and eager to speak with everyone.
When my OB asked whether I was feeling any tingling in my breasts yet, I responded affirmatively. I had no idea the pain I felt was from my soon to be cracked and bleeding nipples.
The second night MD cried all night. We took turns holding her and trying to sooth her, alternating with me trying to feed her. I had now been awake nearly 72 hours (minus the odd catnap) and was becoming beside myself with fatigue and hormones.
When we asked one of the nurses for advice, she suggested using a soother. Great idea! we thought, and asked if they could provide one. We hadn’t brought any with us, as we were instructed not to use them in prental classes, as soothers can cause nipple confusion and “screw up” breastfeeding. The nurse replied that they didn’t have any either, we would have had to bring one with us. Our second experience with conflicting parenting advice, from health care professionals no less. I was discouraged, and she must have sensed this because she followed up by saying that she would check with the NICU. Until then, one of the other nurses offered to hold MD in some warm blankets for a while so we could rest. We got maybe 45 minutes when the nurse returned her to us, as she was done her shift.
When the nurses did the second weigh-in, MD was now 5 lbs 12 oz. I was concerned, but not alarmed. Mostly because I was just excited to bring home our first child, where I was sure I would be able to get some rest, and because I didn’t feel like being in the hospital was doing any good.
The next morning, we waited with baited breath to find out whether we would be able to go home. In two spots in the room was a big sign that stated “Discharge is at 11am each day” as if it were some kind of hotel that had a check-out time. 10:30 came and my OB still hadn’t been in to check us. We felt in the dark. I asked the nurse if she knew if I would be going home. She said she would call the Dr. I said no, you don’t have to call her, I just wanted to know if we would be able to go home or when the Dr. would be in. She called her anyway.
Not too long afterwards the Dr. showed up. “Someone in a hurry to go home” she said. I was embarrassed. No, I replied, we just wanted to know what was happening. One of the nurses had mentioned the night before that based on MD’s weight loss we might have to stay. The Dr. replied that as long as breastfeeding was going well it shouldn’t be a problem. The baby was healthy, I was healthy, and according to the chart we had been filling out MD was nursing well (or so we thought) so we were discharged. A nurse checked the car seat as we left. And that was it – we were off.
Once we got home I did get some rest, and tried to nurse every two to three hours or on demand as needed, forcing her to nurse a half hour on each side, as we had been taught. I had no idea this method was tiring MD out. That night we didn’t get a lot of rest, as she seemed to want to nurse all the time. My parents were staying with us, and took turns holding her.
The following day we had our first visit from a Public Health Nurse (PNH). MD’s weight had continued to drop, now 5 lbs 8 oz. She also hadn’t had a BM, though she was peeing. I was concerned, but was so excited to have her home I wasn’t alarmed. My understanding from what we had been taught was that it is normal for babies to lose weight in the first few days, and just to keep nursing. My milk still hadn’t come in. The nurse watched me breastfeed, and indicated that she wasn’t “seeing a whole lot of milk transfer”. Whatever that meant. She said to keep working on the latch and she would come visit again in a few days.
The nurse followed up with a phone call later, indicating that the weight loss was now past 10% and asked me what she thought I would do about breastfeeding in the next 24 hours. I mentioned something about pumping. I didn’t understand that this would be useless for my baby if there was nothing there to pump. She mentioned trying formula. I indicated that I didn’t want to use formula because I didn’t want to “screw up” breastfeeding, as we had been taught, and we had a family history of dairy allergies. She just said ok, and reminded us if we saw any signs of lethargy to have her seen by a Dr. Of course I replied. I hadn’t connected the weight loss to what she was saying. Why would they have told us in class to keep breastfeeding and not to give formula if the colostrum couldn’t sustain them until our milk came in?
I continued to practise breastfeeding. I put her down at one point to check her diaper, and noticed that she didn’t have the walking reflex on the change table that new babies all exhibit. Taking this as a sign of the lethargy we had been cautioned about, we took her straight to the ER.
The ER doctor, along with a team of nurses, residents and others in scrubs, looked her over, ran blood work, gave her some sugar water (which she devoured) and observed her for a couple of hours. Their conclusion – she needed a good meal and a nap.
The resident said we could take her home, but asked me what I would like to do next. Why are you asking me, I thought, aren’t you the Dr.? Aren’t you supposed to be giving me recommendations for what to do?
They sent me home with the bottle of sugar water. No instructions on how to store it (it should have been refrigerated), how to feed it, or how or where to get more.
The next morning, when she still seemed sleepy and still hadn’t had a BM we had her checked by my OBGYN (my GP was on vacation). She said our baby was perfectly healthy, just needed to fatten up. I told her my milk still wasn’t in and that I was still having trouble with the latch, and asked if she wanted to look at my breasts. She pulled back as if shocked, and said no, the she’d leave that to the nurses. She then gave me a prescription for domperidone to help my milk supply, and mentioned fenugreek. She agreed with me about not using formula just yet, and suggested that we keep using the sugar water for now. This would help provide calories MD needed to breastfeed. I asked where we could get more or how to make it, and she said to check with the pharmacist. Then she recommended we have her seen again in a few days.
When we returned home I tried to get some rest while a family member took in the prescription. What we didn’t know then was that the Dr. hadn’t written on the Rx that it was for breastfeeding, so I was given the wrong dose instructions by the pharmacist. The pharmacist wasn’t that knowledgeable of sugar water (they certainly didn’t have any in stock) but between him and a family member whose background was in health care they cobbled together a recipe, which my husband made when they got back. The pharmacy also didn’t carry fenugreek, nor did they know where I could get it.
That afternoon family arrived, who each were thrilled to take turns holding the new arrival. I suggested a couple of times that I take the baby upstairs to feed her, which was met by “if she was hungry she’d let you know, just relax and enjoy her”.
By the time everyone left that afternoon, day four or five, both my husband and I were spent. We were excited to be new parents, but exhausted and overwhelmed. We just didn’t know it yet.
That night was the roughest. Again, MD was awake all night wanting to eat. I was in pain from severely cracked and bleeding nipples. Every time she latched on I screamed and sobbed. I knew I needed help, but where was I going to get help at 3 o’clock in the morning? Public Health was only open 8am-4pm.
I kept going back to the “Breastfeeding Basics” book Public Health given us, which stated “don’t let anyone tell you to give your baby formula”.
Talk about brainwashing. In my exhaustion and hormonal state, I still hadn’t put the pieces together. It wasn’t sinking in that because my baby wasn’t getting enough breastmilk from me she needed something else to sustain her.
Every three days we were going back to the clinic to have her weighted and see a Dr. MD’s weight was basically the same. I had tried pumping too, but wasn’t getting very much.
Finally one Dr. said we better try formula. I explained my misgivings, especially concerning allergies. He suggested just putting a bit of formula on her lips; if there is any swelling, stop and have her seen. If not, proceed with offering a bottle. I wish someone had told us this sooner.
Later that day, we did the “test”. She had no reaction, so we offered a bottle after nursing. She’d only take about a quarter of an ounce before falling asleep.
The whole feeding process became exhausting (as if we weren’t already exhausted enough). Every couple of hours I would keep MD awake to nurse 30 minutes on each side, offer as much formula as she would take, and pump whenever I had time. And every three days we were going to the Dr’s office to have her weighted. I was basically getting no rest, and neither was she. There literally weren’t enough hours in the day.
Three weeks in I finally got to see my own GP. MDs weight was still low. (I don’t remember how much, because they weighted in grams and I didn’t do the conversion to pounds). My GP immediately asked if we were supplementing. I explained we had only recently started and why. She seemed mad. “It takes six weeks not six days”. I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t learn until later that it takes six weeks to build your supply. And that “the first six weeks” campaign by Public Health was connected to this point, not that it took six weeks to decide if you liked breastfeeding or not. But I’ll get back to this later.
She asked about labour and delivery, I gave her the whole story. She suggested that it had been so fast my body just hadn’t caught up. And not to have her nurse 30 mins at a time – there wasn’t enough milk there yet and I was just tiring MD out.
My GP also corrected the domperidone dosage – two pills four times day. Feed MD 10 minutes on each side and follow up with 1 ounce of formula, every 2-3 hours or on demand. Stay home and rest. And best of all, have public health come in a couple of days. Finally some sensible advice! I thought.
And in a couple of days her weight was finally up, significantly.
Her weight gain continued and she started sleeping better, and so was I. This system worked for a couple of weeks. I was finally starting to enjoy motherhood when three things happened: MD started staying awake longer, she had a growth spurt, and the period of purple crying kicked in. All of these things are normal at 4-8 weeks, but for some reason I didn’t know about them.
It seemed like my beautiful, sweet, helpless little baby cried all the time. No one in my support circle knew about purple crying, and even though she was now steadily gaining weight she was still the smallest baby ever in our family, so everyone assumed she must be hungry. I was trying to follow what the Dr. had told me, but it was beyond challenging. I felt like all I did was breastfeed. I couldn’t even get dressed or get proper meals because every time I put MD down she cried. She’d also started spitting up what seemed like excessive amounts. And she was still too small for the baby sling/carrier that I had. I wish I’d read My Baby Won’t Stop Crying People suggested getting out. First of all, it was March and rainy and cold. Second, how could I go to a parenting support group when I couldn’t even get dressed?!
At her one month check up I asked the Dr. about both the crying and the spit up, and the Dr. said MD probably just needed a burp or a distraction. Distract her how? I had no idea what toys or games would be appropriate for this age, and everything I tried didn’t work. But I didn’t tell my Dr. this. And if she’s just had a good meal then she probably just wants to suck so try a soother. But she wouldn’t take a soother. And if I didn’t know how much breastmilk she was getting from me, how did I know if she’d just had a good meal? And that the reflux means I’m feeding her too much. What I didn’t know was that there are treatments for reflux suitable for babies. And that excessive crying can cause reflux by swallowing air.
At six weeks I literally felt like I’d hit a wall. I stayed in bed most of the day, except when I had to go downstairs to make a bottle or to try pumping. MD still cried all the time, and wouldn’t take a soother. I didn’t know then that this is also a symptom of tongue tie – but I’ll get back to that later.
When I pumped, I’d only get about an ounce from both sides. I had no idea this was normal at this stage. I couldn’t pump after every feeding. Who was going to wash and sterilize the equipment while I was holding a baby who wouldn’t sleep any other way? I was spiralling into a depression. And I officially hated breastfeeding. At my six week check up I tried to maintain my composure as best I could and stick to health related questions about my baby. She’s doing fine the Dr. said. But I’m not I thought. I didn’t know how to articulate this to my Dr.
My Dr. asked what I wanted to do. I thought I had to make an either or decision. I didn’t know doing both was an “acceptable” option. I decided to stop breastfeeding. The Dr. replied with “well, you gave it the six weeks, I’ll let you know if she gets too fat”. These words will forever be embedded in my mind.
I asked how much formula to give her; the Dr. said 3 ½ ounces every four hours should be fine. I had no idea formula was based on body weight. I asked her what kind, she said “I don’t know, I never had to buy it”. Seriously?! if you go to a male gynecologist looking for an IUD, they don’t say “I don’t know I never had to use one”.
That evening before trying to put MD down for the night, I gave her a full bottle. She was content after the feeding and promptly fell asleep. She then slept for about five hours straight, and so did I.
When she woke a little after midnight, I was engorged. Ahhh, so this is what it’s supposed to feel like, I thought. I needed MD to nurse, and badly. I gave her an ounce of formula first, then let her nurse to her fill. She had a classic suck-swallow rhythm, and after a few minutes abruptly pulled herself of the breast and contentedly fell back asleep.
In hindsight I probably didn’t need to give her formula, my breastmilk would have likely been enough at that point. But again, I had no one to call for help at that hour. And I was torn – hadn’t I already decided to stop breastfeeding? I was always the type of person that once I made a decision I stuck to it, I didn’t flip-flop on issues. I thought that by changing my mind again I was showing weakness of character.
If only breastfeeding had felt like that from the beginning, I would have felt differently about it. Over the next couple of weeks, I attempted to wean MD, nursing when it was convenient and gave formula the rest of the time. A small part of me quietly longed to repeat that midnight feeding.
Despite MDs satisfaction at the end of feedings, she still seemed to cry all the time, and wanted to comfort nurse. I had no idea she was really trying to nurse herself to sleep. I didn’t know babies needed to suck to fall asleep.
The PHN came to see me again one day, and reassured me that even if I stopped breastfeeding I had given my baby everything, the best possible start. I asked about the “comfort nursing”, and the nurse replied that babies have no self-soothing skills yet. Whatever that meant.
She also asked me if I experienced any breast changes during pregnancy, or if we’d had any difficulty conceiving. I thought about it – I had certainly gotten bigger around, but my cup size hadn’t changed, and it had taken us about eight months to conceive. I didn’t understand the significance of this question until later.
She also said if that had been her child she’d have given them formula the second night home from the hospital. I was appalled. I just starred at her. I couldn’t even respond. I didn’t know how to respond. How could she say that?! Why didn’t she say it earlier?! But she did. But I had already been brainwashed and was exhausted to the point I couldn’t receive and process the new information.
I moved on, and tried to make my way through the fog of new parenthood. Slowly MDs temperament seemed to improve and I started to find my way. I wish I’d read 100 Days of Darkness , so that I’d known most of what I had experienced was within the normal range of motherhood experiences.
When MD was about three months old I ran into a friend at the mall one day. She was pregnant with her second child at the time, and was excited to see my baby and chat to me about new motherhood. We ventured into the topic of breastfeeding, and I mentioned that unfortunately I had to supplement. Her eyes darted from side to side and she replied under her breath “Don’t worry, everyone does it”, as if we were members of some club chaired by Lance Armstrong.
Over the next few months, I started going to mom and baby groups, speaking with many other moms, and reading online forums. I learned that my experience, my difficulties breastfeeding, was not unique. Not by a long shot.
There was a good friend, whose daughter would not open her mouth to breastfeed in the first 48 hours and was diagnosed with reflux. She was tube-fed formula once, and my friend pumped every three hours and tube fed breastmilk. Finally, at seven weeks her baby latched, and she was able to breastfeed for nearly eighteen months. (In fact, no one told her she could stop pumping, so she pumped every three hours for three months). Her daughter was given medication for reflux. Why wasn’t mine?
A coworker of my husband’s had been breastfeeding successfully until around three months. Her daughter had stopped gaining weight. She was advised to just “keep breastfeeding” and her body would catch up. Except it never did. One night, showing signs of lethargy, she ended up rushing her daughter to the ER. They were advised to put her on formula.
One of the moms at a parent’s group I went to told me her story. Her daughter was in the six pound range at birth, but due to a poor latch dropped below six pounds within a couple of days. She was sent home from the hospital with formula (why wasn’t I?), but the baby started projectile vomiting. A dairy allergy was diagnosed and she was advised to take the highest dose of domperidone and pump. She pumped exclusively for one year.
Another mom at that same group ended up putting her baby on 100% formula when her milk failed to come in.
Yet another had problems with latch, the baby failed to gain weight and the mom developed a bad case of mastitis. They only nursed a few weeks.
Another’s little guy had such a hard time latching that he tore part of her nipple off.
And yet another, a nurse herself, tried everything for six weeks and finally concluded that she had no milk and switched entirely to formula.
A colleague from work told me her sister’s story of breastfeeding her first child – like me she had struggled with early low milk supply, and had tried pumping, various pills, everything she could to no avail. Her second child she didn’t even try nursing and went straight to formula.
There were also multitudes of stories in the online community, one in particular “Fearless Formula Feeder” really hit home.
Sometime during this period, I also heard a CBC White Coat, Black Art episode, describing similar experiences across the country.
While it was somewhat reassuring to know I wasn’t alone, I was furious at the health care system for not only allowing this to happen, but also for not telling new moms what could happen. I’ll get back to this point later.
La Leche League was surprisingly supportive when I reached out to them and told them my story. “You gotta do what you gotta do to keep your child alive” was their perspective. They also questioned why I hadn’t been advised to give MD formula first then breastfeed, suggesting that the extra calories upfront would have allowed her to breastfeed better. Great advice! But a few months too late.
I finally encountered a sympathetic Public Health Nurse who, after hearing my story, told me that there are about 1% of women who don’t make enough milk, and just maybe I’m in that 1%. Finally, someone from the health care community admitted that it might be my biology, and not my apparent lack of determination, that contributed to my breastfeeding difficulties.
I eventually found some information that reassured me that there were likely physiological problems surrounding pregnancy, labor and delivery that let to my low milk supply:
- Blood loss. Remember when I said the Dr. said I lost a lot of blood? Well, for a Dr. to say this there must have been a lot. I didn’t need a transfusion, but I remembered later that they had given me an injection of oxytocin to help my uterus contract, because apparently my own body wasn’t doing its job. Blood loss during delivery is one of the main reasons for lack of or delayed milk production, as it affects pituitary hormones and prolactin production.
- Lack of glandular tissue. Remember when I said that my boobs didn’t really change in size during pregnancy – apparently they should have increased in size significantly. This is a sign of lack of sufficient glandular tissue to generate the milk. I’ll talk about this more later. But every woman is different, and with everything else that went wrong (see below) it was hard to say for sure. So I didn’t read too much into this at first.
- IV fluids – I was given IV fluids for several hours during and after delivery. I don’t know if this is standard practise or not, but it can lead to edema and reduced milk supply (see Low Milk Supply causes).
- Thyroid problems – Thyroid hormone levels can inhibit effective breastfeeding. My thyroid levels were never tested, so I have no idea if this was a problem or not. I certainly remember having some of the symptoms (dry, itchy skin; cold all the time; post-partum weight gain; excessive fatigue). But not all cases are symptomatic.
All the while I still longed to repeat that midnight feeding. I ended up trying “relactation” around 4 months – nursing every two to three hours plus taking domperidone and fenugreek to build my supply back up.
I still had misgivings about formula feeding. We had been taught that it would make our children overweight, due to the composition of the formula itself and because small babies have such a strong sucking reflex they don’t know enough to stop when they’re full, setting them up for a lifetime overeating. I wish I’d seen this doula’s website. Having struggled with my weight all my life I knew I didn’t want this for my child. The “rules” say so many ounces every four hours, but she always seemed hungry more frequently than that. I was obsessed with not over feeding her. I looked for help online, but the internet being the internet, there was lots of conflicting information.
The following websites provided some good tips and reassurances:
In the end, I breastfed to some extent for about seven months. MD weaned herself not long after the introduction of solids. While I never fully repeated the “midnight feeding” experience and always had to supplement some, as MD got older and more efficient (and finally latched without causing me pain) I finally experienced the beauty of breastfeeding.
Nevertheless, for months, even years after, I felt frustration, bitterness, anger, sadness, guilt. I was frustrated, bitter and angry with the public health care system and my own biology for being denied the opportunity to breastfeed, and sadness and guilt for not being able to provide the best for MD.
To add insult to injury, when I told some health care practitioners my story after the fact, I wasn’t met with a “wow, it’s amazing you lasted that long”. Instead I heard a “oh, that’s too bad. Most babies don’t wean themselves until between 1 and 2”. Furthermore, because I didn’t breastfeed very much, I had a very hard time losing weight. Double-whammy.
What went wrong here?
I’ll admit there was a hell of a lot I didn’t know. On top of that, a hell of a lot went wrong: fast labour and delivery didn’t give my boobs a chance to catch up with my body (high cortisol, produced during stress, can delay milk production), blood loss during delivery, poor latch, well meaning family members sabotaging attempts to breastfeed (misinformation, lack of rest), and general new parent or “performance” anxiety. I had most of the so-called “booby traps”.
But there was a lot that went wrong that could have been prevented by a more functional health care system.
- Lack of rest. As far as I’m concerned, my health care providers, including Public Health, did not emphasize or adequately define “rest”. I thought I was getting sufficient rest, but in hindsight I know it wasn’t nearly enough.
Prior to getting pregnant and having a baby, I had a very busy life. A typical Saturday might look like this: wake up, go for a run and/or clean something in the house; get cleaned up and have breakfast; go to the farmer’s market and/or get groceries; do some baking or other hobby; have lunch; have friends over, go to a public talk at the library, work on a home renovation project or do volunteer work; make dinner; go to a friend’s house or out to a movie or club. Yes, all of that in one day. So going from this to doing nothing but look after myself and my baby was a HUGE adjustment that we were in no way prepared for.
What they meant by “rest” was not laying on the couch surfing the internet or having visitors (although that would have previously been considered a “restful” activity to me. They meant being horizontal, in bed, trying to sleep.
- My health care providers, including Public Health, did not provide adequate or timely information about formula feeding, including when it might be medically indicated. I firmly believe that if I’d been able to give MD formula in the first week it would have given my body a chance to catch up, and her body the calories she needed to breastfeed effectively.
- Public health also brainwashed us about crying. We were made to feel that if our baby was crying, we had missed some all important cue and weren’t doing or jobs as mothers. This caused undo stress and anxiety, which likely inhibited the letdown reflex and let to a high strung baby, creating a vicious cycle. (Cortisol from the stress of the whole situation likely further inhibited milk production).
- Discharge procedure from hospital. I should not have been let out of the hospital when I was. We needed at least another day. There was a total lack of communication regarding discharge, which left us feeling lost and in the dark about our own health.
- Conflicting advice and miscommunication between health care professionals. Why didn’t anyone else mention the “allergy test”? Why weren’t my reflux concerns taken more seriously? Why wasn’t the pharmacist told that the prescription was for breast feeding? Why did each nurse have their own “opinion” about positioning and the latch? I’ll admit sometimes you need to try different things, but the fact that nothing was working should have been a clue that something was wrong.
But where do we draw the line as to when, what and how we should be educating ourselves, and what information the health care professionals should provide? I’ll get back to that later.
Would this experience with my first child forever taint my view of breastfeeding? The story continues.