Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Our Breastfeeding Journey

My little baby girl will be turning one in just over a month (where has all the time gone?) and I have to face the looming probability that eventually she will want to wean and no longer breastfeed. Which is going to be a very bittersweet time for me and is causing me to reflect on my breastfeeding journey over the past 2 and a half years through two children.

When I got pregnant with L I didn't know for sure if I wanted to breastfeed him or not. I was young and I didn't know much about it or have any support. Heck I didn't even really know much about babies, sure I'd babysat a few times, seen other moms breastfeed and formula feed but I didn't know that much. I assumed that you would probably have to supplement with a bottle as well as breastfeed. As I dilligently researched the pros and cons, I got caught up in the babyfeeding frenzy. I listened to all the "Breast is Best but have some formula just in case" and I had idealized expectations, but as I dug deeper the pros of breastfeeding seemed to outweigh the cons. I decided that I would breastfeed because well it was the best thing for my baby and besides that it is cheap! But I would bottle feed as well, ideally pumped milk but formula might be ok too. I figured it would be super easy, you just latch the baby on and its all perfect from there. Boy was I wrong...but we're getting to that eventually. I listened to what everyone else told me and completely ignored my own instincts (when it came to everything about my baby). Then it came time for little L to make his apperance into the world and I had made my decision, we were going to breastfeed! of course my mother, mother-in-law and my husband were all very supportive of my decision. My mother had been pushing me to breastfeed since she breastfed me (Thanks mom!)

I gave birth to little L after being induced and 6 hours of hard labour and some minor complications. The nurses took him, got him all bathed and swaddled and I was given my precious bundle of joy. Well I'd like to say those first moments were beautiful and wonderful and amazing...which they were but they were also very awkward, here I was holding this teeny little bundle that I didn't know anything about. The nurse came to help me breastfeed and it took two nurses and my hubby to get him positioned "correctly" at my breast. Then he latched on "perfectly" and proceeded to nurse. I was in my element...hey this was super easy!! I was gleeful until the next time I needed to nurse him...two hours later...I soon discovered that it was painful when he chomped down and started to nurse, and those afterpains were horrid too. But I preservered through it. Our nursing sessions seemed to get better while we were in the hospital and finally we were released to go home. Things were going alright for the first two weeks, he cried, slept, pooped etc and latched on pretty well. I had listened to my mother and was dilligently feeding him every 3 hours for 10 minutes on each side, and dealing with the pain of being engorged the rest of the time and trying everything I could to shush him when it wasn't time to feed. (Obviously I wasn't follwoing MY instincts at this point and time). Things were going great, we went for his 2 week check up and the nurses weighed him. He had dropped down to just below 8lbs when we left the hospital (normal) and at his two week check up the nurse weighed him in at 9lbs 9 ozs (apparently a little TOO big for the doctor's liking) It was suggested that because he was a bit fussy and he was weighing in that big, that maybe he needed to go on a diet...yes a diet...I should only nurse him every 4 hours...well that lasted for a few days and all H#$% broke loose. He was colicky, screaming, fussing, not sleeping...we were sitting up all night long rocking him as he screamed himself to sleep.

Nothing we did seemed to calm him down. And so I threw away the doctor's advice and started to feed him more often again, but the damage had already been done. My milk supply had dropped significantly by that time and I was barely producing enough to keep him from loosing weight, but that wouldn't be discovered until much later on. So I pushed on through with my colicky baby, sleep deprived and feeling like a failure as a mother. It didn't help that the weigh ins with the health nurses didn't go so well, "he's not gaining weight fast enough...are you sure your feeding him enough?...well we don't know why he's not gaining weight...feed him more often" So off I went...by this point we were nursing every half hour to hour all day and all night and the rest of the time he screamed...and screamed...and screamed some more...

Finally I was at my wits end...there was no support, I was in tears all the time, not knowing what to do. The doctor had me try the motillium at a low dose to see if that might help because well maybe it was a milk supply issue. Well that didn't work at all... We had resorted to starting to supplement with formula which was wreaking havoc with L's tummy, more consitpation battles, gas, screaming etc. I had almost given up, I was seriously considering switching to formula and being done with breastfeeding. At about 3 and a half months I finally saw a light at the end of a very dark tunnel, it came in the form of a phone call from an unknow health nurse filling in at the small town clinic but she was from the city. The phone call went something like this "Hi we're just checking in with you to see how you and L are doing...how is the breastfeedin? Well not great...we're still having issues and he's not gaining weight...Oh! well have you tried eating a bowl of oatmeal every morning? It will help increase your supply, also there are these herbs you can try, I'll look up the information and let you know...really? REALLY!!!!...Oh and there are lactaction consultants in the city that you can go see as well that will be able to help you further...wait a second...WHAT?...There's lactation consultants at the health unit, I can get you a referral if you'd like...Yes! oh Yes please! thank you so much!" So I finally had some ideas of what was going on and what to do to fix it. I started taking the fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements, and eating oatmeal and waited for my appointment with the LC...

L was just over 4 months when we saw the LC for the first time, she was a very nice lady who was very concerned because by this time L had plateaued on the growth curve, he wasn't loosing weight but he wasn't gaining weight either. Usually it doesn't take until 4 months to figure this out, that's what I was told. She suspected that we might not get my supply back completely but we'd give it our best shot. So she gave me a hospital grade breastpump to borrow, got me switch nursing, upped my fenugreek and blessed thistle, got me a better perscription for the motillium and instructions on how much to take and how long to be on it etc. She listened to me, counselled me, reassured me that I wasn't a failure as a mother. She checked his latch, gave me suggestions on changing positions and we started twice weekly visits to the LC for weigh ins. We were still giving him formula, but she had suggested we switch to a hypoallergenic brand to help with the tummy issues. We were also not allowed to swap out a breastfeeding session for a bottle...it was breastfeeding first as much as he would take and then top him up with the formula. I was pumping both breasts for 15-20 minutes after EVERY nursing session, including the ones at night, nursing him as often as he wanted...and we started to see some change. He started to slowly gain some weight...Our visits to the LC became less frequent and just before 6 months we stopped going to the LC but we were still struggling with our breastfeeding routine.

And then it happened...at around 6 months little L came down with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) not fun...we were quarantined for 6 weeks and I helplessly watched my little boy spike in fevers, struggle to breath and have issues nursing yet again. It was a struggle but by now I knew breastfeeding was going to get him better so it was all or nothing, I called the LC and got some much needed advice on how to get him to nurse effectively while he was having breathing troubles. 6 weeks later we were in the clear no more RSV.

I'm not going to lie, by this point I hated breastfeeding, I absolutely hated it. Each time I put L to the breast I nearly had a melt down from all the stress and guilt I was feeling. Most people would have just given up at this point...and why didn't I? well honestly I don't know why I didn't just quit. I think it has to do with the fact I'm a perfectionist and not a quitter, I stuck to it...Even my husband was starting to wonder if this was the right thing for us. With the breastfeeding issues, L's sleep issues and planning our wedding we were both near our breaking point. We snapped at each other all the time and argued and well lets just say it wasn't a very happy household. But by the time L was 8 months old something just clicked, we were no longer using formula, bottles stayed in the cupboard and not only were we breastfeeding but I was enjoying it, bonding with my baby boy. I was loving those moments, even in the middle of the night after his 10th wake up and we were sitting in the rocker in his room, him latched on nursing back to sleep I was able to relax and smile.

Our breastfeeding relationship continued without any major hitches for a month or so...and then I got pregnant with little A. I wasn't too worried because we were still breastfeeding smoothly, and the doctor reassured me I would be able to nurse as long as L wanted to nurse but he might decide to wean when I hit the 2nd trimester and my milk started to change. Well L decided that 2 weeks before his first birthday (right at the beginning of my second trimester) that he no longer wanted to nurse. It was a fight to get him to the breast, there was screaming and biting and flailing. At this point I just knew he was done, he had made up his mind, so I said goodbye to my almost 4 months of a beautiful breastfeeding relationship and let him slowly wean himself off of the breast. I was sad that he stopped nursing but proud of myself for making it through all of that past year and not giving up.

By this point though I started to think about breastfeeding the new baby...What if I had the same problems again? I wasn't sure I had the strength to go through that again. I started researching, I found a local La Leche League group and although I didn't attend meetings until after I had little A, I started to feel more confident...paranoid but confident. I started prepping, I had my pump ready to go, I had stocked up on nursing tea, I had the herbal supplements sitting waiting, I even bought a huge box of oatmeal. I was going to nip this in the bud this time. I vowed that this time it would be different, I was going to let my baby do the talking and nurse on demand, no bottles, no formula, no soothers no nothing!!! Just the breast! My husband was a little concerned that I was setting myself up for failure but he supported me anyways.

Little A's birth was alot better then L's birth and I got her latched on the the breast perfectly all by myself before the nurse was even back in the room. She looked a little shocked when she walked in and I was happily breastfeeding my new little bundle of joy. So far so good...I started to nurse on demand which was tiring at times as she nursed frequently and agressively for the first couple days. When we got home I was suffering from engorgment...oh the pain...the incredible feeling of pain and fullness...finally I needed relief and started to pump and I was pumping 5 ozs from each breast and still had enough to keep little A happy. I wasn't satisfied it would last though, so I continued to pump on occasion, not at every feed but at a significant majority through of them. I brought A to bed so she could nurse on demand. I was still paranoid of loosing my supply. I researched skin to skin care, diligently practiced it, wore her in wraps and slings as much as possible and kind of was a little obsessive about my supply. Until our La Leche League Leader (who is now a dear friend of mine) basically told me to relax we were doing fine and I should stop pumping since I seemed to have the opposite problem this time. I had too much milk!!!

I wish I could say that I was complaining about oversupply but at that time I wasn't. I was so happy that it meant I wasn't loosing my milk. But oversupply has its downfalls and can be just as frustrating. I stopped pumping and hoped that the first 6 weeks of just nursing would help level things out like they should. Well they didn't, we had to devise new ways to nurse so that A wasn't drowning in milk, after the 6 week mark I started expressing a little bit before each feed so she could latch on and hopefully not drown, we went through lots of shirt changes, breast pads and spent days covered in breastmilk. I constantly had plugged ducts that I needed to deal with. But I was much more relaxed this time, and more confident in what I was doing. I attended the monthly leche league meetings, got to know other moms and got lots of support for breastfeeding.

So weeks turned into montsh and although I was dealing with the oversupply, constant letdowns, pouring milk, choking and sputtering baby, I was at peace. My baby was breastfeeding, she was gaining weight, by 6 months she had more then doubled her birthweight, weighing in at just over 17lbs. (She was 8lbs exactly at birth) We have breastfed exclusively, no formula for almost 11 months now. She is on solids but is still breastfeeding frequently with no signs of slowing down any time soon. She's a happy chubby beautiful baby girl and I've gained an amazing support network of amazing mamas, without them I'm not sure this time would have gone so smoothly. We have almost reached our goal of 1 year of breastfeeding...for us that is very important. I have proved to myself that I can do it! despite all the challenges we have faced I can do this! What does the next year have in store for us? Will I wean A after a year...well right now I can say with absolute certainty that she will continue breastfeeding until she shows an interest in weaning, we are both content with our breastfeeding relationship and I wouldn't trade it for the world. As for my breastfeeding relationship with L, well I've grieved for it, I've come to terms with it, and I'm now able to love it for what it was. It was an experience to learn and grow, in a way it was a blessing in disguise. Sure there are moments when I wish that I knew then what I know now but I wouldn't trade the past 2 and a half years for anything in the world.

Here's to the past 2 and a half years and to my two wonderful beautiful children that I love so much!

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