Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Milking It

The other day, I went to a breastfeeding drop-in group at my local maternity resource center (or as I call it, the pregnancy/baby theme park). All around me were brand new mothers, still glowing, all nursing their quiet little newborns. And I? I whipped out a bottle and a container of powdered formula when H started clamoring for it. It felt gleefully rebellious.

It also felt a little sad. The breastfeeding thing has not gone the way I'd hoped. But since I was also prepared for the worst -- I fully expected, given my body's propensity to never do what it's supposed to do, to never make a drop of milk at all -- I haven't been devastated by our inability to exclusively breastfeed. I really can't even think of one friend who hasn't had some sort of issue when it comes to nursing -- undersupply, mastitis, you name it.

So when they encouraged me to start supplementing in the hospital when H began to exceed the allotted ten percent loss of body weight, I felt like I was already primed to make that decision. I mean, it's not hard. Your baby is fading away despite your feeding him 24 hours a day, and the doctors are actually concerned. Digging in your heels about exclusively breastfeeding sort of seems like missing the point.

At first, I followed what the nurses and lactation consultants advised and tried to breastfeed him first at every feeding, followed by an ounce of formula. And then pump. So basically? I was feeding the boy around the clock. I don't care how much you love your baby -- if you're human and have a human need to rest and eat and pee, this kind of schedule is unsustainable. And also, all the nursing and pumping wasn't doing anything to build my supply and H was still really fussy. What ultimately ended up working for us was to do whole feedings with formula, as my supply would build back up with the passage of time. So we'd nurse in the morning, do formula late morning and sometimes early afternoon and then nurse again for the next couple of feedings. We were on a roll and things were going well. And then I went back to work.

All kidding aside about the weirdness of taking your boobs out at work -- and it is weird -- I found pumping to be a real pain in the neck. I know I'm should have had a happier attitude about it, because it was for my baby's well-being, but I found that by the time I got into work, got settled, grabbed my coffee, read a few emails and then pumped, it was already 11 a.m. And frankly, nursing is a lot less gratifying when plastic suction cups take the place of an adorable baby. It's hard to feel maternal when you're staring at office supplies and servers in a tiny office closet.

So all of that added up to my being very bad about pumping on a consistent schedule. And even when I would pump, I think I was so wound up about being at work that I hardly got anything at all. Which means that now that I'm back at home with H and able to nurse again, I hardly have anything left. Which led me to the nursing drop-in group, where I committed the blasphemous act of feeding my baby Good Start formula from a bottle. The lactation consultant leading the session tried to act nonchalant about it, but I could see she was horrified.

The advice I got was to try pumping again a half hour after every feeding. I'm also trying to drink more water and considering trying fenugreek as a last resort. Because, while I think I have a pragmatic view of the benefits of nursing (my Harvard-educated and -trained pediatrician says the literature is grossly overstated on this), my goal was to get us to six months. And I don't think we're ready to be fully done just yet.

Anyway, I would love to hear any experience/advice along the same lines.

Finally, a word about lactation consultants. It is amazing to me that two of them can possibly share the same title, because in my experience they can vary dramatically. I had two while still in the hospital; the second came to me only in the last hours I was there. But I think if she had come first (because her colleague? Oh no. No good.), I may have had a different experience. That's how influential these people can be. You're a new parent, you're vulnerable, and let's face it, you've never done anything like nursing before. So you're at the mercy of their advice and approach. If they tell you to stand on your head and sing "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" while nursing, you'll try it. So pregnant/soon-to-be-pregnant girls, if you take anything from this, please take this: Get yourself in touch with a good lactation consultant before you even deliver. I don't have to tell you what makes a good one. Talk to a couple and you'll soon see that a good LC is like pornography: You'll know it when you see it.


anofferingoflove said...

that last bit of advice is spot-on. i keep trying to tell my pregnant friends the same thing, but they dont listen. a good LC makes a world of difference!

Ashley said...

I agree I had a really good baby nurse after delivery that helped me to breastfeed 30 minutes after Kins was born. I think that REALLY helped. Then my 2 lactation consults were really helpful. Without them I don't think I would have been as successful.
I agree with you about the pumping. I don't like it at all. After a couple of months I just breastfed and I'm thankful I did because my LO does NOT like breastmilk from a bottle. It's like she's saying this is the wrong nipple for this kind of milk. She is also on a nursing strike and will only nurse in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning....oh the joys of motherhood;)

Roccie said...

You are a wise one Good Egg. Bust out that formula and make that baby HAPPY!

I was a fool. I always wanted to be a hippie, so I tried way too hard to force it to work.

I pumped 4 times a day at work and got minimal output. I ended up with The Shingles. Ouch,

I did have more luck when I drank, drank, drank water. Room temperature, if it will help you chug it.

You can do it. Hang in there. Just remember, if momma aint happy, aint nobody happy. Formula babies are healthy too.

Jenn said...

After 3 babies, and varied lengths of time nursing each one while working I can say there is no right answer on this issue. My smartest child (so far) is the one I nursed the shortest period of time - go figure.

Pumping at work is just hard business. I am on month 8 of doing so with EBF youngest baby and I am exhausted. I think you are doing the right thing for you and your baby. Period, end of story and everyone else can take a leap.

Also, I'm with you on the research - BF benefits are way overstated compared to what research has actually proven. That said, I will still be nursing #3 all the way to the 12 month mark but it isn't because of research.

I'm feeling sassy today!

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