Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Nursing Story that Doesn't Suck

Unfortunately, I mean that title literally.  My baby couldn't suck.  

I always planned to breastfeed. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that breastfeeding could be a struggle or that there was a possibility it wouldn’t work out. After all, my mom breastfed all 6 of us until we were old enough say, “Breast milk, please, Mama”.

I was so confident in my inherent ability to breastfeed that when my dear husband suggested we take a breastfeeding class, I laughed at him. Child birth class, yes. Infant CPR, of course. But breastfeeding? People have breastfed since the dawn of time. How hard could it be?

As it turned out, pretty hard. M., although a practically perfect baby in every other way, did not know how to suck. Not only that, but she had zero interest in nursing. The nurses were pretty laid back about it at first. However, when hours went by and she still had no interest in food, they pulled out the pump.

Our hospital was very supportive of nursing, so no one suggested a bottle but they did have me give M. the colostrum through a syringe. The next day, the lactation specialist came to help but she couldn’t get M. to latch on either.

Finally, out of desperation, they gave me a nursing shield (a little silicone nipple that goes over your actual nipple). M. still wasn’t interested and still couldn’t latch. If we dripped some of the colostrum on the nipple shield, she would nibble a little bit but that was it.  "Just keep pumping and waiting for your milk to come in, " said my doctor.  So home we went.  

Well, my milk came in in abundance. But M. still wasn’t interested in eating. And (big surprise here) she wasn’t gaining weight. We went back to the hospital and the nurse showed us how to hold this tiny tube hooked to a syringe full of milk next to the nipple shield so that M. was getting milk while she was nibbling. The idea was that the supplemented milk would get her sucking. S. and I got pretty good at this system (although it took both of us to do it) and I was feeling more successful.  It seemed like she was getting it.  

At our next doctor’s appointment, M. was diagnosed with Failure to Thrive (heartbreaking) and still wasn’t gaining enough weight. The doctor told us that we needed to start giving M. a bottle and that we needed to feed her every 2 hours around the clock. I did ask about using a cup or a syringe but both my doctor and lactation consultants felt that M. needed the practice sucking only a bottle could provide.  The first time I gave Miss M. a bottle I burst into tears.  She gobbled it down so fast, she was gasping for breath.  It turns out she wasn't just a fussy baby, she was starving.  I felt awful.  I felt awful that I hadn't realized she wasn't getting enough milk and I felt awful that I had to give her a bottle.  I was a failure on two counts.  

My life became feeding. It consisted of an endless cycle of attempting to nurse M using the tube and syringe, bottle feeding, soothing, and pumping.  If I was LUCKY, I would finish the cycle in 90 minutes, leaving me 30 minutes of "down time" before I had to wake Miss M. for the next feeding.  I was so stressed about her weight gain that I even set the alarm to ring every two hours through the night.  We were all living in crazy town.   Somewhere I had read that the first 6 weeks were the most crucial for breastfeeding (who knows if that is even true?), so I was determined to last that long. But, after that, if it wasn’t getting easier, I gave myself permission to give up.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, we also paid nearly $200.00 out-of-pocket for a fancy lactation specialist to come to our house.  And although, she certainly tried to leave the impression that it was just me and everyone can nurse, the fact that she couldn't get Mad to latch on either undermined her point (and completely validated mine).   

After 3 weeks of living in bizarro feeding world (nurse, bottle, soothe, pump, repeat), M. actually started to get milk without the tube/syringe system.  By 5 1/2 weeks she would latch without the nipple shield and by 8 weeks, we stopped supplementing with a bottle.  

I was so thrilled. We ended up nursing until she was 18 months (and I was 3 months pregnant) and I loved every minute of it (except when she went through that biting phase). But, here’s the interesting thing. Although I am glad I fought the battle, when I hear of other mothers in similar situations, all I want to do is give them a big hug and tell them it's okay to stop and that they probably should stop and don't be bullied into doing something that isn't working for your family.  

There are so many other factors to consider besides the litany of “breast is best” research. For example, if I had had any other kids; there is no way I would have had the time to dedicate to feeding. Or, if I had had any postpartum depression. Or, if my milk supply hadn’t been so abundant. Basically, I feel lucky that it worked out for me and have nothing but love and admiration for women in similar situations who weren't so lucky.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I didn’t plan to breastfeed. I was too aware of the possibility that it might not work out. I hoped to breastfeed.

*the orginal verson was posted over at The Motley Mom


  1. Thanks for sharing this Taylor. Those first few weeks with a newborn are overwhelming even without nursing complications- I love what you said about mental health and what is best for our family trumping the "breast is best" advice. I felt so guilty weaning my third-born early because of the medications I had to take- who knew feeding an infant could be such an emotional process?

  2. Thanks for posting this. My first was in the NICU for her first month so we didn't nurse her, by the time she came home she was too attached to the bottle. My second, this is what happened to me but I gave up after 2 months. I felt like a failure but he finally gained weight and is healthy and happy. I will come to terms with it.