A Valuable Lesson
Henrietta NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 6, November-December 2002, pp. 217
I remember as if it were yesterday. My water had been broken for 45 hours and the doctors told us that they needed to deliver our baby. Thirty-two minutes later, my baby girl was born by cesarean. My husband held her while they put me back together. I was wheeled into the recovery room and an hour later I got to hold my daughter, Iris, and nurse her. She took to the breast beautifully. I was relieved.
The nurses told us she had jaundice and they kept poking her for blood. After a few days the nurse came to tell me my baby had lost more than 10 percent of her birth weight and that she needed to receive supplemental formula. My heart was broken. I questioned, but not enough. Who was I to know what was best for my baby? They were the experts, right? Reluctantly, we also supplemented with formula and I hated every minute of it. It was extra work, dribbled down my baby's chin, and she didn't seem to care for the whole procedure either. I felt as though I had already failed her.
I questioned whether my baby should be suckling so much and a nurse told me I needed to get a pacifier. Since I was not comfortable with the idea, I spoke to a lactation consultant who suggested using my pinky finger to soothe her. I definitely liked this suggestion more, but family members kept bringing pacifiers in for Iris. I was too tired and nervous to object and listen to what my heart was telling me to do.
When it was time to go home we took the left-over formula without thinking. Our first night home she cried, as most babies do, and I panicked. I continued supplementing at night. I was exhausted and didn't even think to keep pumping at home. My husband wanted to help me by waking up to feed Iris at night. Because cup feeding was frustrating for him, we bought bottles to make it easier. She was only around two weeks old. As time went on, early evening became difficult, too, so we adapted with the bottle. At seven weeks, when Iris refused to nurse, I snapped out of complacency! I contacted the hospital lactation consultants and my pediatrician. They offered suggestions and I tried every one without success, including the football hold, lying down, expressing milk before nursing in case of strong let-down, and giving a little formula so she wasn't so hungry when I put her to my breast. I started pumping regularly because I wanted to breastfeed exclusively. I was desperate and wanted someone to watch me attempt to nurse. I realized how important it was to my baby and me and I felt helpless and guilty. If only we hadn't supplemented, if only we hadn't given her a bottle, and if only we hadn't been soothing her with a pacifier.
I called my cousin, who had nursed her two babies. She suggested I find a La Leche League Group. I called 800-LALECHE and was referred to a Leader named Kirsten. When I called her, she gave me new suggestions that focused on closeness with my baby, such as skin-to-skin contact, bathing together, and spending the day in bed together. What I desperately needed before I could try those suggestions, I explained to Kirsten, was for someone to come and see what I was going through. I felt that if someone could just witness our efforts, they would have the one correct answer I was looking for. Kirsten offered to come right over. She was kind and gentle and patiently waited until I could get my baby to focus on nursing.
I didn't get my quick fix that day, but I was filled with encouraging words and loving suggestions from Kirsten. I was told that this wouldn't be easy. At that moment I didn't care, as long as I had a chance at getting Iris back to the breast.
I started by offering the breast first for each feeding. I had to get my daughter relaxed by almost putting her to sleep. If she wasn't ready for it she started screaming and I had to begin all over again. Sometimes this would take at least five or six attempts, sometimes a half-hour. I tried not to be disheartened. It was summer and we spent much of our days with her in just a diaper and me in my nursing bra. We stayed in bed together and played. I thought about taking her pacifier away, but the day I tried to wean her "cold turkey" she was miserable and cried constantly. I gave in to her and decided to work around the pacifier, thinking that if she was sucking her thumb I wouldn't be able to take it away. The skin-to-skin contact and trying to nurse her when sleepy seemed to help.
During this transition time I kept pumping. I pumped right after we had an unsuccessful nursing session. I also tried to pump between feedings to keep my supply up. It was time consuming since I only had a hand pump, but I did it happily for my baby. I talked with my family in Maine, USA about what I was going through and a cousin offered her electric pump. It arrived in the mail along with a copy of The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding and a supportive note. I read the book, pumping eventually became easier, and I started to relax a little.
Kirsten called often during this taxing time and she kept me going when I started to lose faith in myself. I cannot thank her enough for her support. Amazingly, it didn't take long before my daughter was back to nursing-just a little over a week. As our nursing improved each day, she required less and less formula. Pumping had helped keep my milk supply adequate. Iris was stimulating the right amount of milk by nursing more-just the way it should be! Eventually we eliminated the formula altogether. I was no longer chained to formula or bottles! I rejoiced every time we sat down to nurse and said a prayer of thanks.
I never want to take nursing for granted again. It is vital to raising and nourishing my baby. My husband and I have discussed over and over what we have been through. We learned a valuable lesson. My heart and head are now one with my mothering, and I owe my growth to the support and wisdom I received from La Leche League!