When I became pregnant with my daughter, I didn’t give breastfeeding a second thought; I would be breastfeeding and that was about all I had to say on the subject. I spent hours devouring topics on pregnancy and birth, only flipping casually through the topic of postpartum life. I most definitely did not do a single drop of research on breastfeeding.
It’s natural, I said. Oh, you had trouble breastfeeding? Well, I won’t. I’m dedicated, I said with my holier-than-thou attitude. I’m having a natural birth. I’m prepared to spend the time and energy to feed my baby. Breast is best. I have a $300 pump to show for it. Oh, had I only known.
My childbirth experience was a fight against everything I didn’t want, an uphill battle for two days of labor, resulting in an augmented, pain medication-free experience that was followed by a severe hemorrhage and some berating from hospital staff for my use of homeopathic remedies. Nonetheless, I floated around in my ignorant, endorphin-fueled state with my baby at-breast at all times, a perfect latch, a perfect fit. We were on our way to a happy, fat little baby.
11% weight loss, we were told to supplement. Weeks of inadequate weight gain, we were told to supplement. My patient lactation consultants buffered my stubbornness, supported me and encouraged me to pump-pump-pump until we figured out just what was wrong. Supplement her 8oz of breastmilk, they said, and so I pumped for hours — getting between 0.25 and 2oz per 20 minute pumping session. Maybe your milk supply is low, I was told; throw in 30-odd pills and some tinctures, that should do the trick. Consider domperidone, it can’t hurt. Eventually, my body just couldn’t take the stress anymore and my pumping output was all but dry — so I had to use formula, funneled into little bags so I could put a tube in my baby’s mouth while she nursed, giving her those precious few ounces that I wasn’t able to provide.
In case you’re wondering, yes, the fall from my high horse was pretty brutal.
I kept this up, pumping breasts that just wouldn’t give me milk, sloshing back disgusting pills that made me smell like a curry house, only to have to fill up each bag from a can. In the end, I am happy I did this, because it was likely one of the few things that kept my milk supply from completely dwindling, not that I realized it at the time. One night, though, I just gave up on the pump, I gave up on the pills. In tears, I shoved everything into that stupid pump bag and put it in the closet. I even stopped with the formula, taking my baby into bed with me, my jaw set, ready for my nursing swan song. I was at my breaking point, and then I figured it out.
I sat with my baby, thinking of the last 5 weeks of pumping, nursing, supplementing, pill-popping, and instead of focusing on all of those activities, I actually focused on my baby for the first time, and I saw it. Clear as day, I saw the problem. I had read enough, learned enough, heard enough to know every possible problem that could hinder my ability to nurse, and only then did I connect the dots. The problem, we had established, was milk transfer…on a baby with perfect latch and a breast that was aching (literally, at times) to be emptied.
A baby who coughed and went blue around the mouth (but not often enough to cause immediate concern), who arched her back during and after eating (the same), who would show spit-up in her mouth but would never really bring it up. GERD, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is common in babies but is hard to diagnose, especially in the case of my daughter, whose reflux was “silent” (didn’t involve spit-up). Lactation consultants, nurses, and two pediatricians were unable to see what I saw, but I was stubborn and found a doctor who did. His trial prescription for Ranidine (brand name: Zantac) worked and my baby immediately began gaining weight on target. No supplement, no pumping, no formula.
In hindsight, everything made sense, including the poor pumping output (related to stress and the physiological qualities of my breast) and poor weight gain (discomfort caused her to eat less unless forced fed through the at-breast supplementer). It was these weeks of support, trial-and-error, and constant, unabashed stubbornness, that got us through the tunnel to the light on the other side. My willingness to do whatever it took, to not give up, is what saved my breastfeeding relationship by allowing me to hold out for as long as it took me to see what was wrong. Things may not have gone as planned, but we made it.
I am a firm believer than almost anyone can have a good breastfeeding relationship, whatever that means to them, with the right support and resources. Most important, however, is the ability to stick it out and be firm in what you want as a final outcome — although I wanted an easy, exclusive breastfeeding relationship from the beginning, I had to go through periods of formula feeding, regular supplementation, constant nursing and careful control of my milk supply in order to do so…and in the end, I got what I wanted. With what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown from the experience, this knowledge helps soften the memory of the difficult times and we have many positive breastfeeding experiences to gain in the future. I’m glad I stuck it out.
Guest Bio: Kalyn is a twenty-something blogger from Canada, living with her husband Chris, her baby daughter Ophelia and two dogs. In addition to spending time with her family, Kalyn enjoys travel, shopping, and cooking. To read more about her day to day adventures, visit Spits and Giggles, where Kalyn blogs about about natural parenting, breastfeeding, cloth diapering and more.