Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Our breastfeeding journey

I knew breastfeeding was not easy, but what I didn't know was just how difficult it would be. Something so natural should be easy, right? Wrong. Luckily, I have never felt alone and I know that I am not the only one struggling. Many women in my circle of friends, old and young, have struggled like I have.

Elise and I had many obstacles in our way and if or when we decide to have another little one, I will be doing things much differently. I have discovered that breastfeeding is sensitive, or really, our bodies are just smart. A woman's body produces what baby needs and if you're supplementing with formula, well... that's going to hinder your supply. Let me back up and explain first.

Breastfeeding was something I really really wanted to do. We are still breastfeeding, but I am on the verge of giving it up, which is where this post is coming from.

Elise was born at 5lb 4oz and she quickly lost weight, as most babies do. The weight lost is water weight and it is normal for an infant to lose up to 10% of his or her body weight after birth. Thankfully, Elise never lost that much and when she left the hospital she was 4 lb 10.5oz. We struggled to breastfeed from the get go. Not due to Elise though. She latched like a champ and tried hard. I just wasn't producing enough right away. After our nursing sessions, I would pump and I would only get 1-2 ml of colostrum. I was feeling defeated before I even left the hospital and considering she was eating (or trying to eat) every two hours, I was feeling defeated a lot.

At one middle of the night feeding, the nurse suggested supplementing with formula. Looking back, suggesting that in the middle of the night was a little low considering I was not thinking too clearly. However, I know the nurse was just doing her job and we needed Elise to gain weight. Supplementing came with a lot of tears and worry. I did not want Elise to have formula at all. We wanted to be an exclusively breast fed family. Elise has been on high calorie formula for premature babies ever since.

Five weeks and four days later, Elise is still drinking formula after every nursing session. We have tried weaning off the formula, but I know I do not produce enough breastmilk for even one feeding. When you have an infant that needs to gain weight, weaning off formula is a little scary. After all, fed is best. I want my daughter to get all the nutrients she needs and if she is getting some breastmilk and mostly formula, that is okay.

It has taken me a long time to be okay with that though. We have seen lactation consultants, done weighted feedings and, of course, tried weaning. I have taken fenugreek and blessed thistle supplements, eaten my weight in oatmeal, drank what seemed like gallons of water, ate lactation cookies ... if there was a trick to producing more milk, I tried it. Nothing seemed to work.

So, what was the problem? After all, "only a small percentage of women have trouble with supply." I call bullshit on that supposed statistic (that came from the La Leche League, by the way) because I have several friends that have also struggled with supply issues. I do have a few suspicions about why I struggled though. First off, I did not get to hold Elise for at least an hour after her birth. When we came home, I did not relax. I felt surprisingly okay, and I did not let myself just sit around and relax with my newborn. I let myself stress a lot about breastfeeding. And, lastly, we had to supplement with formula. All of those factors mixed together, made it very hard for us to exclusively breastfeed, let alone, get a little bit of breastmilk.

I am still producing a little bit though and we are still nursing. I always said I would do this throughout my maternity leave because right now I have the time to devote to it. Elise eats every two hours and when we nurse, her feeding sessions are anywhere from 15 minutes (rare) to an hour (more common) so this leaves me with an hour in between each session to get anything done. She is beginning to go three hours in between feeding sessions during the day, so that makes it nice to be able to go out and grocery shop or make a Target run.

What I am struggling with most right now is the end of my leave, which might mean the end of our breastfeeding relationship. Do I take time out of my work day to pump when I am only pumping an ounce of milk? It's a lot of work for a little payoff. Do I just try and nurse when I'm home until my supply dries up? This would mean that I am going to go at least nine hours without pumping or nursing.

I have two and a half weeks to figure it out and make a decision.


Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Ugh, I am sorry to hear that breast feeding has been a challenge. I have known a lot of women that have struggled with it so you are definitely not alone. I also feel like there is a correlation between struggling with breastfeeding and having a C-section but that might just be my observation based on the women I know? I think it would be such a hard decision to make about what to do going forward. Whatever you do, just remind yourself that you did the very best you could and there were many things that were out of your control. You ultimately have made decisions that put Elise's health first. I hate that we live in a culture that judges peoples decision about BF'ing because I would imagine that some of your indecision about what to do is maybe factoring in what others would think if you chose to stop? I hope that isn't the case but it's hard to block out what others will think/say (even though logically we all know that shouldn't be factored into the decision).

I hope you can make a decision that is best for your family and that you can come to peace with. I'm thinking of you!!!

Leigh said...

If you ever feel alone with struggling with breastfeeding, don't! I knew I wanted to try breast feeding when I was pregnant and just thought it was going to be this totally natural thing and it would come super easy. That definitely was not the case for us. My daughter had a tongue tie (we chose to have it snipped) and I also had troubles with my nipples. It meant pumping for 2 minutes before breast feeding and then trying to breastfed and then pumping again afterwards for the first couple of weeks of her life. I saw a couple of lactation consultants and one was so rude and mean to me. I also had to use a nipple shield for 4-5 months- it was a pain, but it meant that I could breastfed. My supply went drastically down when my period returned, so we had to introduce formula. I felt so guilty for it for a long time, but then I realized that I was able to breastfed my daughter for 8 months and if it takes formula to keep her fed and happy, so be it.

Sorry for the long comment, but I just want you to know that it's not always easy for everyone. It's also had to make that choice to solely use formula, but as long as she is happy and growing, that's all that matters :)

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

(((())) I'd give it a shot if you want. I mean if you know in your head you won't be able to keep with breast milk you can at least try to pump a few times at work and if it stresses you out more or you can't pump enough to justify, you can still say you tried. I won't say don't beat yourself up because I know there are many emotions involved but do what you know you can live with later when you are second guessing everything!

Carolina John said...

We had a really tough time with the first kid nursing too. She would only take the bottle, so my wife had to pump and bottle feed. All of that work scrubbing the bottles and freezing the leftover milk was so tough. Kelley also pumped at work, but she had a private office and low pressure job so it was easier. The second kid took to it more naturally thank goodness. This is something that lots of people struggle with. I was shocked at how difficult it was!

StephTheBookworm said...

I know how hard of a decision it is and I struggled majorly too with my son who just turned one. I breastfed for a couple of weeks but struggled big time. After the first two weeks or so, I stopped nursing and pumped for a few more weeks along with supplementing with formula. When I went back to work, we switched him exclusively to formula. I felt a lot of guilt over all of my decisions but know now that everything turned out okay. He just got started on regular milk when he turned one but then got switched to soy after some digestive struggles. See... the dilemma never seems to end as a parent - LOL. Just know that whatever decision you make will be just fine!

Shoshanah said...

Are you only pumping after nursing? If so, no wonder you haven't been pumping much. I only started being able to pump more if it had been several hours since she last ate, so the amount you pump at work my surprise you.

I also kept reading how just a little bit of formula can make it difficult to nurse which never made sense. But then I read somewhere it's because they can be less hungry at the next feed, eat less, which then makes you produce less milk. Also it's a lot easier for babies to drink from bottles, so she might finish nursing because she's tired of working yet still be willing to drink from a bottle because it easy.

I know how hard it is when babies are tiny. (Elley just had another weight check and is up to 0.42%ile!) but based on your Instagram post it sounds like Elise is gaining weight great, and really that's all that matters.