Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My First Birth - Part III - The First Weeks Home

I won't go into excruciating detail about the next three weeks of my son's life. Rather, I'll give some highlights. Basically, we came home with this newborn who was still jaundiced and needed to continue to be on the bililight. We were given a Wallaby, which is a portable bililight that you wrap around the baby. This makes it hard to hold him, hard to swaddle him, and hard for him to get comfortable. Thankfully, it was only needed for one very long day before his bilirubin levels came down into an acceptable range. He slept in the Pack 'n' Play bassinet in the living room. I slept in the bedroom. My husband slept on the floor beside the bassinet and got up to give him his night feedings.

To be honest, I barely remember those first few days home. I was in pain, pale, weak, and confused. I tried to pump, but the baby was getting mostly formula. I couldn't even really take care of him by myself, although over the next couple of weeks, I started to do things like laundry, wash bottles, make bottles, hold him, feed him, change his diapers... all the things you do when you're caring for a baby. I began to heal, and life got a little easier. My husband still took care of most of the night wakings. I remember one night when he was changing a diaper and the baby decided to continue to poo during the diaper change. I heard a "Ugh! Oh my God!" and went into the bathroom to find baby-poo had squirted clear across the room. Welcome to newborn baby care!

The first major event after coming home was the baby's bris (circumcision ceremony) when he was eight days old. I don't remember much about the day itself, but one conversation in particular comes to mind. A friend of mine, who was in the natural-birth and breastfeeding camp and had two kids of her own, actually offered to nurse the baby for me while I watched so I could see how it should look. I found this strange, somewhat creepy, and a little bit intrusive at the time, although now I appreciate what she was trying to do. She was trying to help. She wanted to see me succeed at breastfeeding, and she didn't know exactly what was going wrong, but she wanted to do what she could. And she could nurse. I declined, said that I knew his latch was good but that I didn't have much milk. She offered to put me in touch with a local La Leche League leader who had helped her out. I declined this offer as well. Frankly, I don't know why I was so resistant to offers of help. I think my attitude was, "They told me what to do in the hospital, and now I'm just trying to follow directions. I've got this." Which, obviously, I didn't. And, as it turns out, what "they" told me in the hospital was not the be-all and end-all of breastfeeding advice, and I still sometimes beat myself up over not letting go of my own ego and asking for help.

I did ask his pediatrician for advice. She said that sometimes women who don't have enough milk will breastfeed and then "top off" with a couple of ounces of formula. She suggested that maybe I could do the opposite - give him most of a feeding from a bottle, then "top him off" with a breastfeeding. That way, he wouldn't be frantically hungry while breastfeeding, so he might be more willing to latch and suck. I don't have to say that this is really not very good advice, do I?

Finally, when the baby was three weeks old, I made an impassioned post to my LiveJournal called "Thoughts on Feeding My Son," in which I lamented that the baby was only getting about three ounces a day of breastmilk, and did that little amount even matter? I asked, plaintively, if I should just try putting him to the breast next time he was hungry and see how he did. I asked for advice, finally, but I didn't want "biased" advice. I wanted "objective" advice, whatever I meant by that. I think I was very disillusioned by the "help" I had gotten in the hospital from the lactation consultants there, and I was hoping someone would just go ahead and tell me what to do. In fact, I think I'll copy here some noteworthy quotes from that post, so you can get a sense of what was going through my mind.
"I didn't have the dedication in those first couple of weeks to pump and nurse often enough and for long enough to boost my milk supply once I recovered from the blood transfusion, so now when I do pump and I only get 2 or 3 ounces from both breasts combined, it's very discouraging. Not to mention that I'm only pumping 3 times a day on a good day, and not actually nursing at all. It's no wonder I have such a low supply." 
This quote is interesting. I was convinced I had a "low supply" because I "only g[o]t 2 or 3 ounces" at each pumping session. I didn't know two very important things, and I only wish someone had told me. The first is that pumping is not an indicator of supply. In other words, I might have only been pumping three ounces, but he might have gotten a lot more if he actually nursed. Secondly, some women just don't respond well to the pump, and though they may have plenty of milk, they only pump an ounce in 15 minutes.

I was convinced I had a "low supply," by the way, because the lactation consultants in the hospital told me I would. I'm pretty convinced now, 4+ years later, that I actually had plenty of milk. Especially after nursing my very healthy second son and pumping extra besides, but only when I felt like it. (When I felt like pumping that is, not nursing. I nursed, um, a lot. But we'll get to that story in another post.)

Another quote:
"When he gets hungry again in a few minutes, should I simply put him to my breast and see what happens?"
As a matter of fact, I did decide to do this, he did latch and suck, and I felt like it actually went pretty well. In the next post, I'll get into why that was the last time we breastfed.
"I want a totally practically-minded opinion, and I feel like an LC would push me to try breastfeeding, when I find it so discouraging. It's the lactation consultants who first told me to pump 8 times a day, and I didn't manage to do that and it just made me feel bad."
I'm not sure if I wanted someone to tell me it was "okay" to formula feed, or if I wanted someone to tell me that breastfeeding would get better and easier if I just did it, or what. I'm not sure what I meant by a "totally practically-minded opinion." But the second sentence says it all. I somehow thought that all LCs would be as unhelpful as those in the hospital. I somehow thought that I didn't want someone to "push me" to try breastfeeding. Maybe I didn't at the time.

And, finally:
"Breastfeeding is the one thing only I can do for my son, and I'm not even sure I want to do it. I know I'm not alone. I know there are other mothers out there who tried to breastfeed and just didn't want to. But I never thought I'd be one of them. I never thought I'd find it so difficult or, frankly, unpleasant."
I want to go back to Jessica of November 2006 and pat her on the back and tell her it will be okay. I want to go back to her and say, "Yes! You're the only one who can breastfeed your son. So go for it! You'll do it! And you'll grow to love it." But, unfortunately, that isn't possible. So instead, I hope that other new mothers and mothers-to-be will see these words here and see a reflection of how she's feeling and know that "Yes! It will get easier!" and "Yes! You can do this!" and "Yes! It's so worth it."

The most important message I want to send, though, to those new mothers and mothers-to-be is ask for help. Don't be afraid of the advice you'll get. Ask for help. (But ask the right people!)

I put a teaser up there for the next post, in which I will describe what happened not three hours after my last breastfeeding attempt, and the definitive reason I ended up not breastfeeding. The drama continues...

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