My daughter is three weeks old. As you’ll learn by going through my previous blog posts, she is my first child.
As a dietitian and fan of everything that is “best for baby” and “best for me” I always assumed, obviously, that I would breast feed. The thought of giving my child formula just made me cringe (why? I don’t nevecessarily know, other than the fact that I can remember my brother, who was born when I was thirteen, spitting up nasty smelling formula all the time!). Never in a million years would I have guessed that within my child’s first two days of life, I’d be supplementing formula with my colostrum. Oh the horror.
I’ve read all the articles supporting breastfeeding and basically shaming mothers who decide formula is the best route. I’ve talked to mothers who have breastfed their children and swear it was the best thing in the world. Thankfully I also had some real conversations with women who made it clear that it’s really not that easy. Even my own mother, who breastfed both my brother and me for only a short period of time (me about three weeks, my brother a little over a month) before switching to formula, gave me the rundown on just how difficult it can be (take note: I was only breastfed for a short amount of time, and I would like to say I turned out just fine!). So of course I didn’t go into the situation completely blind, naive, and imagining roses and butterflies and the simplicity of, “have the baby, give her my nipple, allow her to feed for about 15 minutes on each breast, done”. I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t work out quite that simply (although both of my cousins have made it look so easy….congrats Julie and Ginny!). I can remember even thinking that since I was an honorary member of the “itty bitty titty committee” I might not be able to make enough milk. Please know this is WRONG. I’ve known women with large breasts who can’t make much milk, and yet I, with small breasts, have already been called a “milk goddess” by two nurses and a lactation consultant. I’m so proud.
Here is where I could put some articles and research about the benefits of breast milk vs. the benefits of formula. I’m not going to do that because we all know the research exists to support both. Just recently this article was published about how breast feeding infants can have a lasting effect on their health. But if you read between the lines you will notice that it’s not just the breast milk they are touting as best, but the actual act of breastfeeding and abstaining from the bottle. What I’m finding is that most people who are very much pro-breastfeeding aren’t just sold on the idea that the actual breast milk is best, but that the act of breastfeeding itself is also immensely important and the bonding associated with it is something that should not be taken lightly. I’ll be honest, I never really understood this, and still do not. In fact my first week of attempting to breastfeed Paige I felt zero bonding and oxytocin flooding through my veins, instead I felt anxiety and my blood boiling. After finally getting a hold of a lactation consultation in the area (after trying about three places who never called me back…ahem, Columbus, Ohio, you have some work to do in the lactation consultant area) I finally started getting some answers to my questions. Among them;
- How much has she gained? — Not enough. She had actually lost several ounces after the first week. Some might say that’s normal, but I didn’t like to hear this at all.
- How much is she getting when she drinks? — A common concern with breastfeeding mothers is wondering how much milk their child is getting when they feed (with a bottle it’s easy to tell). We found out Paige was getting about 12 ml per 6 minutes. What this meant to me was that my daughter was getting about 24 ml per feeding, when she was supposed to be getting closer to 50 ml. At the time I was still having to wake her up out of a deep slumber to basically force her to eat. Stressful. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if she was eating closer to 12 times a day, but I was struggling to get her to eat seven to eight times.
- Should I wake her up to feed? — Lactation consultant said no, others said yes, who do I listen to? I eventually listened to myself (smartest thing I’ve done) and continued waking her to feed her. Now, at three weeks, she wakes on her own.
- Should I pump in between? — Because Paige only latched for 5-7 minutes a feeding (and typically only on my right breast), I did continue to pump in order to keep up my milk supply. Some people said this wasn’t necessary, but again I listened to myself and now I’m making plenty of milk and feel great. I even have a stash in the freezer for when I go back to work.
- Why are my nipples bleeding and is it safe to continue feeding? — Very common, and yes, it’s fine to continue breastfeeding and/or pumping. In order to heel the nipples, Lanolin or coconut oil works well.
- Can she take a bottle at night? — I wanted Nick to feed her so I could actually get some sleep. This was frowned upon, as many suggested the idea of “nipple confusion” if I started offering the bottle. Well, again, I listened to myself. I hadn’t slept longer than two hours at a time and I was exhausted and cranky. This isn’t good for baby, right?? So I researched and found that Playtex VentAire were extra slow-flow and more similar to how fast the breast milk comes out of a breast. I bought three and love them (they also prevent air from getting into the baby, thus less fussiness).
- Is a pacifier really that bad? — Again, yes, “nipple confusion”, but I still use one in times of desperation (in the last three weeks we have probably used one three times). I don’t feel bad about it. But, obviously this is up to you to decide. Again, opinions vary and I heard both sides throughout my first two weeks postpartum.
It was clear to me that my lactation consultant didn’t want me to give up on breast feeding, which is exactly what I wanted to do after two weeks of feeling anxious all day long and having problems with Paige latching onto my left nipple. She would latch onto the right just fine (for five minutes…ugh) then when I would give her my left it would often take five minutes to get here on there, with lots of yelling and screaming in between (Paige, not me). It wasn’t fun. Eventually, the second week, we had Paige’s frenulum cut (feel free to e-mail me about this procedure if you have questions) in order to make sucking a bit easier, and to prevent problems down the road, such as speech and dental problems. She still didn’t latch properly, and I was just pumped full of anxiety over the whole thing, all day long. When I found out she wasn’t gaining weight after week two, and in fact she was losing weight, I freaked out and resorted to only bottle feeding. Yep, I sort of gave up. But, I was still giving her my milk, so who cares, right? Ok, much of the research about reduced obesity and ear infections, for example, are not just about breast milk, but the act of using the breast to feed. Apparently by breast feeding you are allowing your baby to be better at self-regulating their feeding (makes sense). But, you can do the same with the bottle. Look for cues that they are finished, and don’t assume they will take an entire bottle at each feeding (in fact, I discourage it). In the long run, I am giving my child breast milk, solely, and I’m saving money, plus introducing her to a variety of flavors that get into the breast milk from the foods I eat. Research does support that mothers who eat a variety of healthy foods will then transfer those flavors to their breast milk, and thus their baby, making their baby/toddler more likely to try new foods and be less picky at the dinner/lunch table.
Currently my routine consists of feeding Paige, with a bottle, every 2-3 hours (or on demand, which sometimes means she will go 4-5 hours without feeding, but this is rare) and pumping every 2-3 hours (this is so important! If I don’t pump this often my supply will go down. Nick once let me sleep until 5am, after going to bed at 8am, and while I finally felt rested, I was so angry because I woke up with breasts the size of cantaloupes and more sore than ever! Mastitis? No thanks.). I try to pump at the same time I feed her, so as not to take up so much time in my day feeding and pumping. I prop her up on the boppy pillow to feed her while I’m pumping (again, some women might frown upon this, where is the bonding of holding your child?). This is my life, and what works for me and keeps my baby healthy and me happy, is what I’m going to do. I feel so much more bonded with Paige now that I don’t have to dread every feeding occasion. I hold her all the time, read to her, talk to her, walk with her, all in all I find so many other ways to bond with her, I don’t need her nursing on my breast in order to feel close to the love of my life. I feel blessed that I am able to pump and give my child the nourishment of my breast milk. I feel blessed that I have the time and the help to clean all my pumping supplies after every pumping session, and that my insurance covered one of the best pumps on the market and that when I go back to work I have a great space to pump, and that I have a husband who supports me in all that I do, and breasts that apparently flow with more milk than many women’s breast (who knew?!). I feel blessed that I have the support that I have, and I can now safely say that I will never look at or frown upon any mother who decides not to breast feed, or bottle feed with breast milk, I am not allowed to judge (and nor should you). If all the pieces hadn’t fallen into place for me, I would have completely given up and resorted to formula week one. Trust me. I will say that I tried breastfeeding for two weeks and think it’s best to try as long as you possibly can. It was when it started negatively effecting my psyche that I finally called it quits. Pumping is hard enough, but my goal is to go at least four months, or hopefully six, just pumping and bottle feeding.
Next challenge in feeding? That comes in six months when it’s time to introduce solid foods. Here is a great article to get you started if that’s where you find yourself now! Please don’t hesitate to e-mail me for questions and or comments.