Sunday, February 7, 2010

My baby-feeding story, abridged

Day 1

The focus of pregnancy for many women is childbirth, as it was for me.  I read the books, took the classes, imagined all the possible scenarios through which my child could be born. I felt that if I could get through childbirth, I could get through anything.  Parenthood, including breastfeeding, was a bridge I would cross when I got there, but felt sure that with a good partner and support system, it would be manageable.

My son’s birth was much like I expected: it was one day of the worst pain of my life, and then he was there, Samuel Sleigh, strong and healthy, with dark, observant eyes.

After he was born late in the evening, I held him skin to skin.  My doula, my nurses, and my husband Max kept encouraging me to place him at my breast, but I thought he would make his own way there, the way newborns did in the birth videos we watched in childbirth classes.  I thought it was only a matter of time and he would be suckling away, a hungry little baby.  Finally, I maneuvered him to help him get started.  He got mouth in the right place but would not suck.  He only fell asleep over and over again.  So, we let him sleep, and we slept.
Sam, Day 1

Day 2

The next day, my milk came in. The nurses were a bit surprised, as this normally does not happen until day 3 or 4.  I took it as a good sign; I was excited because I knew then I could feed my baby as soon as he was ready--no worries about lack of milk.

But all that day, Sam slept, and when we managed to rouse him and get him to my breast, he still would not suck.  The pediatrician and nurses assured me that this was not cause for alarm and that he would nurse soon.

Day 3

On day 3, the hospital’s lactation consultant, Suzanne, visited me.  She showed me how to manually express milk to entice the baby to nurse. She put on a latex glove and gently touched the roof of his mouth with her pinky.  He did not suck, which puzzled her.

She suggested I try a breast pump to get some colostrum—the early, nutrient rich milk--for Sam.  The nurses introduced me to a Medela hospital-grade pump and showed me how to use it.  I marveled at the few drops of yellow liquid, amazed yet again by my own body. 

The nurses mixed that tiny bit of food with some sugar water and fed it to my baby with a tiny plastic cup.  Watching this I felt sad, already feeling that I’d failed somehow.

Day 4

The next day, the pain started.  I thought now that I was starting to heal from the birth, I would feel better all around soon.  But trying again and again to nurse made my nipples tender and sore, and the fullness had escalated to engorgement.  My breasts were hard to the touch, the skin stretched and shiny.  

Early that morning though, with the help of a nurse and in just the right position, Sam nursed.  It was a tiny victory, the first in a series of battles to come.

Suzanne returned and examined me.  She said the engorgement was made worse by a case of edema, or water retention from the IV fluids I received during labor.  This also made it harder for Sam to latch—like trying to suck on an over-inflated balloon.  We kept nursing though, and I breathed through the pain.

On day 4, we took Sam home.  We were on our own, away from Suzanne and the caring nurses at the hospital.

Days 5-7

The first few days at home were like a dream, the three of us waking and sleeping at odd hours, not eating real meals, not leaving the house.  I made a home on the couch where I napped and tried again and again to feed the baby.  He would latch, then fall away, and latch again a short while later, each time more painful than the last.  It made my toes curl.  I would get into the shower afterward and cry.  I called the nurses at the hospital, but all they could tell me was that it would get easier soon.

I would work myself up for a feeding, and with Max maneuvering Sam’s tiny little mouth, nurse him through the excruciating pain.  I began to dread feedings.  I started to feel afraid of my hungry baby.  My nipples were broken and cracked like a boxer’s knuckles, and the engorgement persisted.  I was feeding him, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stand the pain.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions.  A disastrous one would follow a successful feeding.  It wasn’t getting better.

Days 8-10

On day 8 I went back to the hospital for a consult with Suzanne.  She suggested I try pumping with my Medela double electric pump for 24-48 hours to let my nipples heal, and cup- or syringe-feeding Sam the milk.  She also suggested heat to get the milk flowing followed by cabbage leaves and ice for the engorgement.  She demonstrated putting downward pressure on Sam’s lower jaw and flipping out his lip for proper positioning.  I also got two prescription ointments, “gelpads” for sore nipples, and a bit of silicone called a “nipple sheild.”  It seemed an arsenal, and I felt hopeful.

Newborns need to eat every 2 hours.  That meant 30 minutes of heat, then pumping for 20 minutes, then applying medicine, then lying with ice packs and cabbage leaves pressed to my chest for an hour, while feeding the baby the pumped milk.  This involved tricking him into sucking on a finger while sneaking the milk into his mouth on the side with a large plastic syringe. (We were warned of “nipple confusion” in which a baby rejects the breast after being introduced to a bottle too early.) He seemed confused and overwhelmed, milk overflowing from his mouth, and I felt awful for doing it.  This was our routine, around the clock.  I barely ate or slept for 2 days.

On day 9, my damaged nipples had begun to heal, but since everyone had told me that the pump isn’t as efficient as the baby, I felt I had to start nursing again to ease engorgement.  The searing pain in my nipples began anew.  Not so much as a cotton shirt could touch them without stinging.

Sometime in this week Sam developed a new habit of flailing wildly when hungry, making nursing even more difficult.  Each feeding became an upheaval in our house, with baby and Mommy crying and Daddy assisting as best he could. My doula and family members said, “It will get easier, just hang in there.”  I began to wonder how we would cope, and started thinking about giving up on breastfeeding. I was facing failure. At this point I became undeniably depressed. I was afraid I would be unable to do the only thing I cared about then: feeding my baby.

Days 11-13

By late in Sam’s second week of life, the pain was nearly unbearable.  We researched infant formulas, unsettled by the long ingredient lists.  I began to mourn breastfeeding, gradually accepting potential failure.  I didn’t know how much more I could handle, physically and emotionally.  I was afraid it was affecting my ability to bond with my son.  I began to feel intimidated by him.

The day before he turned 2 weeks, early in the morning hours, I stopped nursing, pumped breast milk, and fed Sam with a bottle. We had just had an awful late-night feeding, with howling baby and weeping mommy. This is just not working, Max and I said to each other.  We were giving up.

That day, I felt a sense of relief for the first time since first trying to nurse.  The depression lifted.  It wasn’t what we’d hoped for, but we had a feeding solution.  I would gradually stop pumping and Sam would be one of the many healthy, happy, formula-fed babies of the world.

Week 3

Then, during the week after I stopped nursing, something happened: the Medela pump started to work.  I kept pumping at regular intervals, and gradually the engorgement eased. The pump was much gentler on my body.  There seemed to be plenty of milk, and the baby slurped hungrily at his bottle.  Gradually, the pain subsided. We didn’t need the formula after all. I thought I had accidentally invented a new baby-feeding solution.  But as it turns out, I was not the only new mom to exclusively bottle-feed breast milk. 

This is how I came to feed Sam breast milk from a bottle, exclusively.


  1. You're such a good writer and a good mom! I can't imagine how helpful hearing another mom's experiences will be for others who are also going through the trials and tribulations of breast feeding.

  2. Lynne, I'm so sorry you had to go through all this agony to do what everybody tells us should be the most natural thing in the world. Unfortunately for many of us, it's not.

    Thank you for starting this blog. I will pass the link along to others who need to hear your story.

  3. What a great idea for a blog! I went through almost the exact same situation with my first, but I did give up after only 1 week - I felt guilty for a long time about that.

  4. So glad you're creating a new forum like this! There's so many topics to explore! So sorry you did not have a great experience, and all that pain!

    It's seemingly a "new trend" I'm noticing among new moms who want to give their baby the benefits of breastmilk, but don't want to be "tied down" or are uncomfortable with the whole nursing thing, to exclusively pump & bottlefeed, especially those who return to work. (as if a pump doesn't tie you down?)

    I've not been happy with many of the forums out there online, most are pretty biased one way or another, and there's so much changing with ped recommendations and new research about feeding your baby.

    Even though my first nursing experience was a great one, seemingly perfect from birth until he weaned himself around 14 mos. So, I thought second time around would be the same. Wrong. From reflux, milk allergy, refusing to ever nurse on both sides at one feeding (only one per feeding) and still at 5 mos being up to eat every 2 hours around the clock, yes even all night. It makes me wonder what's wrong with ME? or what's wrong with HIM? Or...? There's so much guilt surrounding anything you do in regards to feeding your child, be it self-induced guilt or perceived. A mother feels like she's constantly got to prove herself, to someone! Ok that was way too long-winded!

  5. Thanks to everyone for their comments. Guilt and cultural pressure are definitely topics to explore. I would like to talk about ways we can find to support mothers and potentially avoid these feelings, whether she nurses or bottle-feeds breast milk or formula. I will try my best to make this fact-based rather than editorialized. And I will definitely discuss challenges such as pain, reflux and allergy, and more.

  6. another thing is that like everyone told you "it will be better, or get easier" is what most moms are told. I feel they are not told honestly how it might be, like it's sugarcoated to get the majority of moms to nurse. I tell my friends and family, straight up, it's not easy, and the first 2 months are the worst! Even if your baby latches and nurses properly, you're still exhausted, you still have leaking breasts, it might not be painful, but it's an adjustment, positioning of baby when being so sore and tired, etc. If we want moms to succeed at breastfeeding we have to be real about it.

  7. Nice blog, Lynne! I'm always interested to hear what other people have to say about the baby-raising experience.

    I nursed my oldest (now 9 years old) for about 4 days before switching to pumping and feeding breastmilk from a bottle. That lasted less than two weeks before he was on formula all of the time. And I refused to feel guilty about it!!! I was doing what was allowing me to be the best mom I could be. So formula isn't quite as good as breastmilk -- I know that. But it's not bad for him, he was eating, and I was happier for it. And you know what? He turned out just fine! He's healthy and smart. Moms should not be made to feel guilty or inferior about their feeding decisions. If you're feeding your baby, loving him or her, and doing the best you can do, then you're doing fine! It seems like such a big deal that first year (and I know you're smack in the middle of that right now), but in the end it all evens out . . .

    For my second child (will be 5 next month!), I went to formula right away, and with the exception of how much it cost, I have no regrets about not trying to nurse him. He has also been a healthy, happy child because he's been cared for and loved -- not because of what he ate that first year of his life. Don't get me wrong -- I admire those of you that have the patience and ability to breastfeed or pump -- but I'm not going to let society make me feel like I'm not "good enough" because my child was given formula instead of breastmilk. And any mom reading this should not feel guilty either . . . You have to trust that you are doing the best you can, and that's all you can do.

    Lynne, I'd be interested in hearing about your going back to work, as that also can be a controversial subject . . . Give Sam some smooches for me!

  8. This is a great blog. I have felt the same frustration in trying to care for my son. There was nothing like the euphoric breastfeeding experience that was described in all the books I'd read while I was pregnant. We tried so hard. I'm left with a picture in my head of my son, bright red from crying, tears streaming across his face, with milk covering his cheeks. We both cried from frustration of not being able to breastfeed like it was portrayed in all the pictures I'd seen in the hospital. The decision to exclusively pump, for me, meant sacrificing some of my time to be tied up to the machine, but giving my son the gift of the milk and making both of our day-to-day lives much happier.

  9. I cried when I read your story...this is exactly what I'm going through right now with my daughter. It's nice to know I'm not the only one out there. Thanks for sharing. We'll be back soon and often.