Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Breastfeeding is hard; Part 2

(Want to read part 1 first? Click here.)

Our first full day at home is kind of a blur. As I write this, over a year later, I recall this was the day my grandparents came to visit.

Breastfeeding barely registers on my memory. Pillows stacked high. Trying all different positions in vain. I remember more how much I loved staring at my baby's face, and how much my whole body ached.

The nights though - the heat on high because of that terrible woman telling us "baby boys born in the winter were most likely to die of SIDS". My hands and feet were hot and puffy so I don't know how much I would have slept anyway.

The tiny one would fall asleep nursing. I could easily put him down, but would wake 15 minutes later without fail. I don't remember sleeping. I remember Tim telling me "he's hungry" and snapping at him because I didn't understand how the baby could be hungry.

On day 3 we went back to the hospital. We had an appointment with the lactation consultant before little man's first time at the pediatrician.

He had lost more than 10% of his birth weight, and he hadn't pooped at all since we'd brought him home.
For anyone unfamiliar, 10% is the magic number for baby weight loss - under 10% is considered normal, over 10% and we have to figure out what the problem is.
He was born 7 lbs 13 oz. At less than 3 days old, he weighed 7 lbs even, and his bilirubin levels were too high to register on the skin meter. He was jaundice. His body wasn't getting the colostrum it needed to flush the bili, so it was storing it.

We sat there with Ruth for a while, trying to get him to latch, but it was getting late. We had a doctors appointment to be at. They called the pediatrician and told them we'd be late, then had us bundle baby up so Tim could take him across the hospital to the lab for a blood test to check his bilirubin levels, while the lactation consultant got me set up with a hospital grade pump. Then we could make sure a) I was producing enough milk, and b) baby would be able to get it.

By this point, I was pretty solidly convinced I would not be able to breastfeed. I knew some women exclusively pumped, so I thought assuming I had a decent supply, maybe I would be one of those women.
Ruth showed me how to set up and use the pump. I pumped for about 15-20 minutes from one breast and ended up with about 1.5 oz of thick colostrum filled breast milk. When she came back into the pumping room, Ruth was ecstatic for me. It didn't seem like a lot, but I was not about to tell her she was wrong. She wasn't.

Tim came back from the lab with the baby. We decided to try nursing one more time before giving him the tiny bottle of pumped milk. We brought back out all the pillows, a foot stool, set him up on my right (the side I had not pumped) and Ruth pondered how we could get his tongue away from the roof of his mouth. With me holding the baby in place, she used two fingers to squeeze my nipple so that it ran the same direction as his mouth did, then a third finger to push his lower jaw and tongue down while simultaneously shoving the pinched part of my breast into his mouth. Does that sound glamorous? or fun?

The sensation was IMMEDIATELY different. No more sharp stinging pain. It felt like relief. I hate to compare it to this, but it sort of felt like when you first sit down on a toilet when you really have to pee. Like, my boobs were free of their burden. It still hurt, but in a very different way.

We weighed him after about 10 minutes, and he had taken in over 2 oz of breast milk. It was a miracle. I walked out of there feeling like a champion.

The next week or so were more of this. 8-12 times a day, piles of pillows, footstools, prying the little one's mouth open so he could learn that his tongue need not be stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Over time he learned, and the first time I brought him into bed in the morning to try nursing side lying, I rejoiced that I was able to get him to latch with only the use of one hand.

The next 11.5 months had their ups and downs, but once we figured it out (which was very much a joint effort), breastfeeding was oh so very convenient. I would pump usually once a day right after his morning nursing session (and then 3x a day when I left him with my mom and went to work), which mostly went toward building a freezer stash.

As an aside, pumping is terrible. I do not envy mamas who do it exclusively. I did it by choice and I still hated it every single time.

When bug was around 10 months old, I stopped pumping. I started giving him one bottle of pumped milk every day in place of a nursing sesh. Then at 11 months, 2 bottles. Then 3 a couple weeks later, By his first birthday, I only had 2 or 3 bags of frozen milk left and he was only nursing first thing in the morning.

And because the universe decided we couldn't just seamlessly transition him to whole milk, one week after his birthday our whole family was knocked out with a nasty 24 hr stomach virus. Not really a big deal if you're nursing all day long, but if you're down to nursing once a day and your body gets majorly dehydrated, that's pretty much it for that. The two mornings following getting sick, I tried to nurse my kiddo just so we could get a little extra sleep... but there was nothing there. He'd nurse for 30 minutes and still be cranky and hungry when I unlatched him.
Could I have increased my supply by making my body think baby needed more milk? Yes, I probably could have, but I didn't. So our breastfeeding journey ended.

From our very rocky beginning I was all business about breastfeeding. It was just the means to feed my child - the best thing for him. I didn't feel like we were bonding any more than we would have had we just been snuggling, but it was definitely an excellent vehicle for some guaranteed baby snuggles, and that I most definitely miss. To that end, the end of breastfeeding for us was bittersweet for me. My boobs were mine again, but the guaranteed snuggles became fewer and further between.

Luckily, mama hugs are still his favorite hugs.

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