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Determination

Deborah Lilly
East Lansing MI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, pp. 174-175

"What am I doing wrong?" That was the desperate question I put forth to the mothers on the breastfeeding and attachment parenting email list I belong to. Members had been discussing ways to soothe a baby, and, naturally, most mothers comforted their babies simply by breastfeeding. My daughter, Anna Kathryn, was nearly four months old at that time and did not usually find comfort in breastfeeding.

After an unmedicated birth, Anna had been eager and alert, and latched on like an expert. She spent the next hour breastfeeding, and she continued to nurse well and frequently in the hospital. I had all the confidence of a second-time mother and was thrilled that we were off to a wonderful start. However, once we went home the following day, Anna became so sleepy that breastfeeding turned into a struggle. My milk was not yet in, and Anna was turning extremely yellow. She stopped having wet and dirty diapers and I began to worry. The next day, a trip to our supportive pediatrician confirmed that she was jaundiced. She suggested that we try to get a little more colostrum into Anna by the finger-feeding method, hoping it would give her energy to nurse more effectively.

I went home and began pumping, collecting what few drops I could. My husband, Steve, was in charge of the actual finger-feeding. Benjamin, my two-year-old son, was fascinated by the pumping process, and desperately wanted to help! The next day my milk was in, and Anna's jaundice slowly began to clear. However, she was still sleepy and not breastfeeding very well. I have no doubt that Anna would have gone for far too many hours without breastfeeding if I had not been setting my alarm clock to wake us. For the next couple of weeks, we did a combination of breastfeeding and finger-feeding. I longed for the day when all I'd have to do was turn over in my sleep and nurse, without either of us really waking up. Then Anna began nursing well, and I thought we were in the clear.

It soon became evident that we had more problems. My body seemed prepared to sustain a not-so-small army. Anna was struggling with my massive supply, and had all the symptoms of foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. She also had problems with my active let-down reflex. Feedings left Anna choking and sputtering and both of us drenched. We were drowning in milk, frustrated, and unhappy. The standard advice to use one side per feeding was not enough to make my supply manageable. Instead, I used one side for three or four feedings. And Anna learned to cope better with the let-down. Two more problems solved!

When she was six weeks old, Anna's behavior changed. Her waking hours were spent crying. Something was wrong. Nursing was frustrating, complete with back arching, tummy rumbling, and screaming. She would usually turn away from me and pop her thumb into her mouth. I am not usually shy about breastfeeding in public; however, Anna's breastfeeding sessions inevitably ended with one or both of us in tears, so I began avoiding breastfeeding her around others. Somehow Anna was breastfeeding enough to grow well, and that was the only positive thing about our nursing relationship. This was definitely the low point. I began to question my determination to continue breastfeeding. Was something about breastfeeding making my baby miserable? Was I being too stubborn? I didn't ask for help, because I knew I couldn't make it through the phone call without sobbing. Whatever was wrong, I decided we'd have to figure it out for ourselves.

Around this time Anna developed a stubborn diaper rash. I strongly suspected a food allergy and started eliminating various combinations of food from my diet. The diaper rash and colicky behavior persisted. Out of desperation, I resorted to the strict elimination diet recommended by Dr. Sears. I learned to deal with eating only turkey, rice, potatoes, squash, zucchini, and pears. I began attending LLL Group meetings again, where, of course, I received lots of support and encouragement. I found it a little hard to be around happily nursing pairs. Although I didn't think I was doing anything wrong, I really began to wonder. Then slowly, the happy baby I'd believed Anna to be started to emerge. Her rash disappeared, unless I ate the wrong things.

Besides Anna's intense unhappiness, the most difficult part of our situation has been other people's perceptions of our breastfeeding relationship. Obviously, I believe in all of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding. I really wanted to show my family and friends, many of whom did not nurse, how wonderful breastfeeding can be. Our struggles made it difficult for them to see our breastfeeding in a positive light. Much to my dismay, Anna was not the poster-child for breastfeeding bliss. Instead, she was a thumb-sucking, breast-avoiding, miserable baby, prone to diaper rashes and allergies.

However, at nearly six months old, Anna is now happy and thriving. Our nursing sessions are calm and pleasant. They usually take place during the night, because Anna is so preoccupied with watching her big brother during the day. Now that things are going well, I realize that solving the problems has strengthened my commitment to breastfeeding. Looking back, the only thing I would do differently is to seek help earlier. Each time I attend an LLL Group meeting or talk to my Leader, Mary Ann, my decisions are reaffirmed. Achieving success after overcoming difficulties is definitely sweet!

Last updated Friday, October 13, 2006 by njb.
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