Friday, July 18, 2014

The Breastfeeding Breakdown

I want to start this post with a disclaimer... These are MY thoughts and reflections after my experience. Just because this was my experience, doesn't mean that it will be or is everyone's experience. I just feel its important to tell it like it is.

I will take you back to that special moment I described in my last post.

I laid in the delivery bed, shaking uncontrollably from shock and adrenaline after delivering one of the most beautiful babies on the planet... I FINALLY had the chance for skin to skin contact (something I had planned and wanted with my other two kids but because of pre-term labor with #1 and hospital policies with #2, I was denied the opportunity). Little Vi started to root, the  nurse, knowing I was shaking so badly, asked if I even wanted to attempt to let her latch. I nodded my head through my tears and like magic, she had a mouth big enough to latch (Yes, something you're not told when you're younger about breast feeding, when you're well endowed, sometimes the baby doesn't have a big enough mouth to latch and feed...this had been my fate with my other two kids.) Without any assistance to get the latch right, she started to suckle like a champ...

Of course, I had my other concern. Because of the way my breast anatomy is built, I don't produce milk until late in the game and normally don't produce colostrum until a few days after birth.

I voiced this concern to the nurse. She said she would send a referral into the lactation consultant ASAP.

My meeting with the lactation consultant this time around was VERY different from my experience after I had Phillie. This lactation consultant was kind, she listened, she didn't try to dismiss my concerns, and she tried to give me all the suggestions she could to make my attempts at breast feeding this time around successful.

Towards the end of our session, Vi started making gulping sounds every once in a while. The lactation consultant said that is usually a sign they are getting may not be much but she was getting something...but considering that there were several minutes between gulps, she also knew that my production was slow to start.

She told me to keep at it, to pump as much as I could after I'd fed her to encourage production to be faster, and to take each day as it came. The best part was how supportive she was about the decision to continue or not to continue being mine and mine alone and that there was no shame if things didn't work as long as I had tried my best.

Well..I took that advice and gratefully accepted the support...I just wish that she had told me a few other things.

I wish I'd been told how painful it would be even with a good latch for the first few weeks... I wish I'd been warned about cluster feeding (where the baby wants to feed constantly every 5 minutes for 2-3 hours at a time), and I wish I'd been prepared for the feelings of indifference I would have.

I assumed that since we were latching like champs with no help (the lactation consultant gave us a 9 out of 10 score for our latch, and the only reason she gave me a 9 was because baby was so sleepy and I wasn't successfully able to get her to wake up very easily.), everything was going to be smooth sailing.

I was so wrong.

Here is where MY feelings come in. Take them or leave them, but I'm going to keep it real.

While I wasn't blistered or cracked, my nipples were bruised and sore because Vi had and has such a strong sucking reflex. Nursing was so painful that I would have to psyche myself up to do it EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.

It didn't feel natural. It didn't feel magical. It didn't feel like a bonding fact, it felt like the opposite of a bonding moment. I started to resent feeding time.

Because my production was slow, Vi started cluster feeding, which made it even worse.

I would cry every time it was time for her to eat (I'm not exaggerating. I was in tears every time I had to lift my shirt). I was scared. A) It hurt so badly that it felt like a sick form of torture and B) was this going to be one of those times where she would latch for 10 minutes on each side, then 5 minutes later she would want to go again and the cycle would continue for 3 hours making the pain even WORSE the next time?

I called my L&D nurse sister. She has done a few breast feeding consultations in her day... I knew my latch was fine. As long as I wasn't blistered or bleeding, I was assured it was fine...but there had to be something else I could do.

Finally, the truth: Its normal for it to hurt and be a sick form of painful torture...your nipples have to callous up. You just have to push through it,but it will get easier...

I felt defeated, but continued because I had no reason not to other than me being selfish and not wanting to be in pain...

Baby had stopped having bowel movements and wet diapers around day 4 post partum. This meant she wasn't getting enough of whatever I was producing. I did what the lactation consultant had told me to do and started supplementing. When we went to the doctor's office on day 5 post partum for him to check to be sure we weren't having any complications from Group B Strep, I told him I'd started to supplement and why and he agreed I had done the right thing...

Day 6, I finally started to produce milk as I pumped...but I was still not able to keep up with baby's needs and I was in so much pain that I wasn't sure I could keep torturing myself.

I realized that I wasn't enjoying my baby...I was dreading time with her. I was resenting having her attached to my breast every 5 minutes...

I won't lie when I say I was somewhat relieved on Day 7 when she started exhibiting symptoms of a milk allergy or intolerance. She was getting eczema on her back and face, she had mucousy diarrhea, she was wretching like she was preparing to vomit after she ate, and she was super gassy and irritable. I recognized all of the symptoms verbatim from what I'd experienced with Faith. It took us 6 months to discover that a milk allergy was the culprit with her and I didn't want to take that long this time around...

We tested for an intolerance first. I started to supplement with a sensitive formula and relied on information I'd read on breast feeding websites that milk proteins in breast milk were already partially broken down like they were in a sensitive formula. This helped with the diarrhea, but the eczema and gas were still catastrophic and we still had diarrhea in about half of the poopy diapers we changed, and she was still making wretching noises after a feeding.

Of course, while I was dealing with the pain of breast feeding and trying to figure out how to get baby over the symptoms she was exhibiting, everyone in the house came down with stomach flu. I will say I feel very blessed that I was still breast feeding when this was going on because it kept her from catching it. After watching how sick her big sisters got, I know without a doubt that we would have ended up in the hospital with Sweet Vi in the PICU if she had caught it. I got sick early on and Jeff fed her with a bottle while I pumped in order to spare her from being too close to me and catching it that way.

After about a week (a week of Hades...trying to breastfeed when you're in intense pain and don't want to AND clean up after puking kids while healing from delivering a baby just the week before is NO picnic..), we tried the soy formula. The plan was that I would pump to keep production up on the off chance that the soy didn't give us any change either. However, after the first bottle, it was like night and day. No wretching after her feeding, no gas after the feeding...for the first time in a week, my baby slept through the night with no tummy discomfort.  The night after we started our soy experiment, I woke up engorged and desperate to pump at the same time that baby woke up for food. Out of desperation, I went ahead and let her nurse because I knew I couldn't wait the 15-20 minutes it would take for her to eat her bottle to pump...BIG mistake... I spent the rest of the night up with a gassy, miserable, wretching baby.

That sealed the deal. She was so different after a bottle feeding on the soy. I broke the news to my husband that we were done breast feeding and secretly did a happy dance on the inside.

Beyond everyone being sick, I had realized how difficult it was going to be to maintain a breastfeeding schedule with my other kids to care for. My sister had assured me that around the 6 week mark things would be easier and baby would eat much faster, but, to be honest, between dealing with 2 toddlers , one of which needs to be on a rigorous therapy schedule for Autism and doesn't have the communication skills to understand why she has to wait for a snack or a sippy, and the other being impatient and adjusting to not being the "baby" anymore, and the pain that I was told would go away eventually, I was at the end of my rope... Jeff came home at the end of a week of hell with two sick kids and I broke down and sobbed in his arms. I was at the end of my rope. I apologized for giving up on breast feeding but explained that the bottle had made things so much easier that week...for one, it was nice to not have an irritable baby to deal with on top of puking kids, and it was so much faster to feed her with a bottle. She would eat, be full, and sleep so I could deal with the house that was slowly imploding around me.

It has been a week since we gave up breast feeding.

Yes, I know that I could have cut dairy out of my own diet and continued, but, to be honest, I don't necessarily think that is the healthiest option for either of us. It means I end up lacking important nutrition in my own body and she has to rely on me to be vigilant enough to try to replace what I'm lacking with another food option. Because of my Insulin Resistance, maintaining my diet to be healthy is already tricky and time consuming as it is. I lacked the patience to try to find substitutes and I knew that would leave both of us at risk for health problems. A few studies released the week before I gave birth actually addressed those concerns and found that in all cases, the mother that cut out the entire dairy food group to continue nursing ended up having a higher occurrence of osteoporosis later on in life and when they tested the nutrition content of the breast milk, it actually had LESS nutrients than formula.

I consulted her pediatrician about the milk intolerance on Tuesday at her 2 week well child check (we had to push it back a week because everyone was vomiting and I wasn't about to put 2 sick toddlers into the car and a newborn and drive to the doctor's office ALL BY MYSELF). He agreed that I had hit the nail on the head with the diagnosis and laughed that I was making his job too easy. I told him we were still dealing with extra gas sometimes as we were adjusting to the soy, but he said that unless it gets to the point it was before, we won't worry about it because the next option is the Nutramigen formula which is  much more expensive and smells SUPER nasty.  He said as long as she isn't having diarrhea and there is no eczema, we will keep her on the soy and label her with a milk intolerance and reassess whether its an allergy or not when she hits the year mark.

In the end, I will say that, in spite of the torture, I had every intention of continuing my breast feeding experience and would have had she not had the milk intolerance. I did get the experience of watching everyone in my house vomit and have diarrhea for a week and a half and my baby didn't get sick at all because of the antibodies in my breast milk. I see the benefits. I just couldn't let her be miserable and sick with a milk intolerance in order to continue.

Drying up sucks and is painful too, but I am sad to admit that I wasn't able to REALLY start enjoying my baby until this week.

I look forward to feeding time now. With my hectic schedule taking care of Faith and Phillie, feeding time is a time now when I can focus 100% on snuggling and loving Vianca. I no longer have the mental block of searing pain and fear standing between us. I feel more bonded with her now than I did 3 weeks ago when we were bringing her home from the hospital.

 I fully believe that it was an act of God that she was able to breast feed long enough to be spared being sick with the nasty stomach flu that hit our house. With Jeff being out of town, as well as ALL of my in laws that live in Logan, I don't know what I would have done if I'd had a baby in the PICU with stomach flu and dehydrated and two sick kids at home.  However, in an odd way, I feel like her milk intolerance was a blessing too.

I felt so guilty for resenting the time I needed to spend with my baby to feed her. I felt guilty for wanting to run and hide every time she cried out to be fed... the intolerance took the guilt out of the scenario. I was able to stop breast feeding without beating myself up for being selfish and just not wanting to put up with the pain anymore.

I find myself wondering if things would have been different had I been handed a different deck of cards when I brought Vi home. Jeff was sent away for the week on a business trip right after we brought her home, I had no family around to help and I was running on very little sleep because of cluster feedings and having a gassy baby. When you couple that with two toddlers, it definitely doesn't bode well for feeling well rested or like you're successfully adjusting to being a mom of three...but then add to that having a two week old baby, getting stomach flu yourself and having to take care of two toddlers with stomach flu. I really was fighting a losing battle. I'm sure much of the resentment, fear, and frustration I was dealing with came from a place of severe sleep deprivation and being completely exhausted beyond all reason... in the end, I really do feel blessed that I had the time I did in order to keep Vi healthy when everyone was sick, but I am also grateful that I was able to stop so I could focus on enjoying my baby and not have to focus on the pain and fear that I had come to associate with breast feeding.

Ultimately, I needed to remember my advice from a post I made a few weeks ago about breast feeding. You need to do what is best for YOUR family and focus on making the decision that is right for all of your kids so that you can enjoy being a mom without added pressure.

Breastfeeding is great, and my hat goes off to the blessed women who are able to push through and continue and those that are willing to put their own health at risk to cut out an entire food group and continue on, but I can honestly say that I'm not so sure its for me. I will, of course, try again with the next baby. I always want to try and I will continue to hope for the magical situation where I'm lucky enough to have it work out, but this time it was just too much with everything else I already need to be able to do for my other kids, and I think I would have gone crazy if I'd tried to find something to replace dairy in my diet. I barely have time to eat as it is right now...

To my friends that are questioning whether or not its for them, I urge you to try and don't be afraid to make the discovery that its just not going to work. Its worth the effort, your experience may be different than mine, but if you find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling like you can't enjoy your baby it may be time to ask yourself if its really worth  the emotional toll and don't fear the answer or feel like a failure for it. Every family is different. Every mom that works with an intent of the best for her family is a good mom.

Hugs and loves until next time, darlings.

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