Monday, February 23, 2015

If They're Too Old to Ask for It, They're Too Old

When I was pregnant with Sophia, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. We took the breastfeeding class at Mercy and felt set to go! Boy, did reality sure hit when I was actually holding a 7 lb real live baby in my arms, with a nurse RIGHT there in all my glory- I started rethinking my ambitions to breastfeed. Sure, it will be easy peasy, just latch and go, they said! Little did I know that having an emergency C-section would set up a few barriers to our nursing relationship. The drugs given during the C-section resulted in both mom and baby to be quite drowsy and myself- a little loopy. They brought her in my recovery room and I was able to attempt to breastfeed. A nurse was there to help with positioning as I was still banged up from the surgery and had limited movement. She wouldn't latch and we were both getting frustrated. The nurse offered to give her a bottle of formula and through my drug induced sleepiness I consented. We continued to try to succeed with breastfeeding during our hospital stay and sometimes we could get her to latch great and others, not so much. I started feeling overwhelmed and like I was failing. Every 2 hours was like this GREAT ORDEAL that I began to dread- I would have to get all situated- fluff pillows all around, undress baby, try this position, try that position and then make sure her mouth was WIDE open and count how many sucking sounds she was making- blah blah blah blah blah. Just thinking about it made me tired. In one moment, I remember thinking, "My baby wants to eat. I want to feed her." It was simple as that and so I started pumping and giving my expressed milk to her in a bottle. It was like a light began to shine down and I could begin to ENJOY (well, as much as you can) around the clock feedings. You just pump, put in a bottle and go. I didn't have to worry if she was in the right position, if her mouth was WIDE open or if she was sucking enough times. I could see clearly from the bottle how much milk she was drinking and that was answer enough that this whole breastfeeding thing was overrated.


When we got home, I continued to pump every 2 hours. I was able to build a small amount in the fridge so that I was able to keep up. But I was connected to that pump for what it seemed like 24/7. It was pump, feed baby, wash bottles and all the pump parts. And repeat. I can still hear the rhythmic sounds it used to make and cringe at that memory. I am haunted by those sounds to this day. Ok- maybe a little melodramatic, but still.  I did learn a great lesson in multitasking- eating and pumping? Sure why not? Talking on the phone and pumping? Great! Online shopping and pumping? Wonderful!

When I returned to work I was limited in the amount of time I could pump and slowly reduced down to only 2 times a day. By month 6, I started having to supplement with formula. And by month 9, I decided to put the pump down and transition fully to formula. At the time, I had inklings of guilt and regret but tried my hardest to convince myself otherwise and said "We did what we could and that's good enough. Any amount of breast milk for any length of time is ideal."  And it is. But a big part of me regretted giving up so quickly. A big part of me felt guilty that I wasn't able to provide breast milk right from the source due to what seemed to be my own selfish reasons.


Fast forward to being pregnant with Saidey. With guilt and regret about my previous decisions I set out determined to breast feed this baby. I would take things one day at a time of course, and if we could breast feed for a day, great. But I would try. And I would deal with the pillows and the nurse manhandling me and the pain that is associated with feeling like a milking cow. I would deal. I just would.  I also promised myself that I would commit to breastfeeding, seek support and stick to it. But I also made the promise that I wouldn't beat myself up if I had to give formula or breastfeeding didn't work.

When I had Saidey, I also knew I was having a scheduled C-section- so again, I knew from past experience- the pain and drowsiness I would experience.  I was prepared. I told the nurses right away I wanted to hold my baby, do skin to skin in the recovery room and breastfeed. I was told that as long as everything went ok in the delivery room- those wishes would be honored. And they were. I was able to take time, and with just Will and my mom in the room- to try to get Saidey to latch. She wouldn't. She would open her mouth and slip off. I would try, try, try again. Nothing. Finally, I was moved out of recovery and as the pain medication started wearing off, I was in the worst pain ever. I realized now that with having an emergency C-section I was given a fair amount of drugs and this time, I was given what felt like the bare minimum. I was definitely alert and not as drowsy or loopy but I hurt. Bad. The thought of trying to breast feed in that moment was enough to make me want to burrow under my covers and never come out again. So that I could rest a little bit longer, I did send her back to the nursery and once I felt a little better and more rested- she came back into the room and I was able to try nursing her again. This time, a different nurse came in and gently helped me get her positioned and she latched! It took a few tries but she did it! And at the next feeding- after a few less tries- she did it again! I was pumping just a little before because my milk had come in and I was getting full so I was able to give that milk to her in a little dropper before nursing her too. I had a visit with a lactation consultant and I can't tell you how helpful that was. She showed me a few different positions that helped with having a C-section. Having that type of hands on support- literally- was so helpful and I can't recommend seeing a lactation consultant in the hospital enough.

By the time we got home, I felt like breast feeding was going well. She was latching and I could tell she was getting milk by the sounds of sucking. But she took almost an hour or more to nurse. And by the time I would burp her and change her it seemed like it would be time to nurse again. I started to feel again, overwhelmed and a little stressed out. I can't tell you the times that I sat in the rocking chair while she was nursing for what seemed like the millionth time, crying. Questions of, "Is she getting enough?" And, "Is she latching correctly?" would fill my head at 3AM. There was also a point where she went for her two week appointment and I was confident that breast feeding was going well until the doctor said she wasn't double in her birth weight and I might have to supplement. I wanted to throw in the towel right then and there and give her a big ole' bottle of Similac. BUT. I sought out some support and discovered another interesting tid bit of information- that sometimes C-section babies birth weight is more exaggerated due to excess of fluids given to mom during the procedure. So it may seem as though she is not gaining enough but if their birth weight was exaggerated from the beginning- weight gained or not gained may not be accurate either. Knowing that she was producing plenty of wet/dirty diapers, I decided to keep trudging along.
I think knowing though, that I had given myself permission to give formula and know that it wasn't the end of the world if I gave her a bottle of formula pushed me through those times. I never did give her formula. We kept trucking along and with the support of an online group and a few calls to the lactation consultants at Mercy, making it through one day, then the next, then the next, became easier and easier. Finally at around her 3 week mark, it seemed to all come together. No longer was I fighting pillows to find the perfect position, nor was I having to perfect my "C" hold. We took her back for a follow up appointment since she wasn't "gaining enough weight" and low and behold- she had gained weight. The first two weeks of our breastfeeding journey were rough. Crying from both mom and baby rough. I think I said "That's it, I'm done with this!" about a thousand times. But with support from others, I kept my goals small and said "Let's make it through today." and then it became, "Let's make it to the one month mark," and "Let's make it to the six month mark," and so on, until we hit her first birthday.


I can't tell you how great it felt to have made it to her first birthday, nourishing her with breast milk and then solid foods when she started those. I can't tell you how great it felt when we went to her well child checks to see the number on the scale continue to go up and up.. knowing that my body and the milk I was producing was providing enough nourishment and nutrition for her to grow and develop. It is a feeling like I have never felt and it's hard to explain to others. I am in no way saying these things to make others feel bad or guilty. Because trust me, I have been through both sides.

One of the things some people may not know is that I still nurse Saidey. Yes, you heard that right. I am still nursing an almost two year old. And you know what? She even asks for "milk" in her very own words. I know, what am I going to do when she goes off to Kindergarten?! Or college! Right before she turned one, I started to think about weaning her from breast feeding. She was readily eating solid food and she had tried cow's milk in small amounts right before her first birthday and seemed to like it just fine. But then I started thinking, "What is one day?" Tomorrow is her birthday and she will turn one but nothing else has changed. One day does not make a difference whether a baby should be weaned or not.  So we continued to nurse as usual. I listen to her cues and followed her lead. Now, I will say nursing a toddler is a whole different ball game then nursing a newborn or even infant. Our bodies are truly amazing and how they just know how much milk to produce,  how your milk changes in composition depending on age of the baby etc.. it just blows my mind. The following are just aspects of nursing an almost two year old that I have discovered:

1.) On your terms- So, when you're nursing a baby typically you follow a feeding routine- so maybe you know baby eats every 2-3 hours. With a toddler, you can set limits and nurse when you want to nurse. So, for us- we don't nurse in public anymore. If we're out and about and in the event she asks for "milk" (which she has not done even once) I can say, "no," by redirecting or telling her she has to wait until we get home. Our limits, currently are that we nurse only at night. Sometimes, if she wakes up in the morning she will ask for "milk" if I am running on time and have the time, I will nurse her but if not, I tell her that we can get her a sippy cup of milk instead and she accepts this answer.

2.) Quick comfort: Call me lazy but I realllly like the fact that breast feeding is more than just nourishment. It also involves nurture and a safety base. I knew at times that she wasn't breastfeeding for hunger but rather, for comfort and time with mom. And I was ok with that. If she became upset in the middle of the night for whatever reason- I would breast feed and it would knock her back to sleep. I was then able to put her back in her crib fast asleep. When she was sick a few weeks ago, she had a few terrible nights of sleep and all I had to do was nurse her back to sleep. Again, call it lazy parenting but it worked for us and I'm sorry, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to get some sleep!


3.) Nutrition: is a great breast feeding resource and has lots of info on extended breastfeeding.

In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements
– Dewey 2001

4.) And oodles of other benefits!

5.) Less stress- The stress is long gone about how much I think she may or may not be getting. I am not stressed if she doesn't eat a great dinner either because I know I will nurse later that night. I don't stress if she doesn't want to nurse either. If she wants to, great, if not, that's fine too.

Other helpful resources:

La Leche League of Des Moines Facebook group-
This group- if you are thinking you might breastfeed or are currently breastfeeding, you NEED to be in this group. Just reading through others posts/questions helped answer so many of mine and people post at 1, 2, and 3AM- so it's helpful to know there are others right in the same boat as you. I also reached out when I was having difficulty in those beginning stages and received numerous answers almost immediately.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding- I scoured the pages of this book during those first weeks.

So, please do not feel I am being judgmental of mom's who chose to formula feed because I am not. I am a firm supporter of feeding your baby when he/she is hungry- simple as that. BUT I do know that not only based on facts and research that if you are able to- breast is best. See what I did there? Anyway, I just want moms to know that at first, yes, breast feeding can be hard. Exhausting. Confusing. Frustrating. But trust me in saying that it is worth it. Every ounce of Lansinoh you have to use in those beginning weeks, every rocking and even getting bit when teeth come in- it's 100% worth it. Get support. Ask for help. Know that in the early weeks- your only job is to take care of baby and YOU. There are no such things as spoiling a baby or forming bad habits. Trust your gut and more importantly trust YOU and your body, because it knows what it's doing!

So, tell me- did you breastfeed? Why or why not? Biggest challenges, joys?? Please share!