When Breastfeeding, Persistence Pays
For a new mom, breastfeeding for the first time in the hospital is like trying to diet during the holidays. Those who are determined enough can do it, but all forces seem to be conspiring against it.
My first experience breastfeeding involved four different nurses at four different times giving me four different bits of advice. One was rather rough as she shoved my breast into my daughter’s mouth. Another splashed formula on my nipple in the hopes of enticing the baby. Every single one scolded me with tsk-tsk noises or rolling eyes when I said Ashley had only nursed for a few minutes on each side. “Does that include all the time she was asleep on my breast?” I asked.
Meanwhile, my husband and I both had concerns that nothing was coming out. It’s one thing to know about colostrum and its benefits. It’s another to watch a baby sucking and wonder how she could possibly be getting any nutrition from a few teaspoonfuls of liquid that we couldn’t even see.
Because my daughter fell asleep on the breast so frequently, no sooner would we finish one session than a new one would begin on the hospital’s hourly feeding schedule. By the end of the night I surrendered, dropping my daughter off at the nursery and telling the nurses, “Just give her a bottle!”
My breastfeeding hardships were exacerbated upon our first pediatrician’s visit, when my daughter hadn’t shown any weight gain. She was wetting 6 + diapers a day, however and showing no outward signs of malnutrition. I described our feeding schedule—every 1 to 3 hours, usually closer to every hour. He respected this but said if it was too much for me, I should try feeding her every 2 to 4 hours, still on demand.
We tried that for a week, hoping the spaced apart sessions would be more successful if I wasn’t so fatigued. If she was asleep, we waited four hours rather than three to wake her for a meal.
Week 2… Still no weight gain. With the label “failure to thrive” looming (although she was still wetting diapers and was as alert as a newborn could be), we faced the decision of whether or not to supplement with formula.
This became my first experience as a new mom with trusting my instincts rather than the doctor’s advice. We went back to our hourly feeding schedule, adding one formula feeding at night before bed, when my milk supply began dwindling. This permitted me to get a few hours uninterrupted sleep, while still giving my daughter most of her nutrition and calories from breast milk.
When we went back to the doctor the next week, the baby had gained 5 ounces, beginning the upward curve of weight gain. The doctor asked what we were doing. It was hard not to smirk as I replied, “Feeding her more.” It concerns me that the doctor was so quick to recommend formula rather than suggesting we try to fix our breastfeeding difficulties with the help of a lactation consultant or simply by trying to nurse more frequently.
It is this philosophy, I believe, that causes so many women to give up breastfeeding so quickly. I know there are certain women who, for medical reasons, simply can’t breastfeed and others who choose not to. I respect those decisions and situations. But I’m referring to the women who want to breastfeed and are convinced by medical professionals that they “can’t.”
I still don’t produce inordinate amounts of milk; I’m making just enough to fill my daughter’s needs, with no extra to pump and save. Sometimes, when she decides to cluster feed, I do run out and have to give her a bottle. There is an article on Babies Online which outlines 5 ways to increase your milk supply.
It would have been very easy to give up trying to nurse in that first week when my daughter showed no weight gain, or in the hospital when it was such a struggle, or at any given time when my nipples were sore and it felt like I hadn’t been able to put on a shirt for hours because I’d just be taking it off again, anyway.
But we made it through all that and I know I’ve done the best thing for myself and for my daughter by sticking with it. As a new mom myself, I don’t have tons of advice to offer expectant mothers, but I will say this: Breastfeeding is not easy. But if you are determined to breastfeed your child, don’t give up too easily. You might be surprised by what you can accomplish if you stick with it.