Last January I sat crying in a rocking chair in our bedroom. I sat there with my breasts hanging out and leaking, as my newborn 6 lb. daughter screamed. My husband sat across from us, helpless on the bed after making sure we were as comfortable as possible, scrambling to help in anyway he could. As I put the hungry baby to my breast she nuzzled, hungry, in search of the food she needed so dearly. She would suck as I positioned my boob this way or that, held her like a football, behind me, in front of me as her frustrations grew as she was unable to get the milk she needed. A wave of hopelessness washed over both of us. How could my child not breastfeed? What is wrong with her? What is wrong with me?
This went on since the day she was born. When Gwyneth and I were reunited in the recovery room, 45 minutes after she was delivered via c-section I placed her to my breast. She wasn’t interested in it the least bit. No nuzzling, no suckling, just a content little baby absorbing the new world around her. I was concerned, but the lovely recovery nurse calmed my fears by saying that most babies aren’t all that interested in feeding at first. For that first day of her life Gwyneth was content and happy, until she began to get hungry.
As I placed her to my breast throughout the day it became evident she was frustrated. We immediately asked for the assistance of a Lactation Consultant only to be told we were too late, they had gone home. We tried and tried to put this fragile life to the breast, only to have her latch, fall off and begin screaming. We paged the nurse on duty to come in but she was clearly busy and didn’t have the time to hang around to make sure the baby stayed latched. Throughout the entire night we had several nurses get her to latch, only to have her fall off immediately after they had already fled the room. It was a long night of an exhausted and clueless Mama, Daddy and baby with no help whatsoever.
Finally, after persistent pestering first thing in the morning the Lactation Consultant could see us. She came in, grabbed my boob and shoved the baby onto it. The baby would latch, suckle, become frustrated that there wasn’t any milk, unlatch and scream. The lactation consultant went through her entire bag of tricks. Nothing worked.
I was instructed to pump my colostrum and feed the baby via a syringe placed next to my nipple. God forbid we give the child a bottle (gasp!) to avoid the baby getting nipple aversion (which is basically what we were dealing with although she never had a bottle).
So imagine this, a frustrated, terrified mother, holding a screaming/hungry newborn, while her husband shoots milk into the baby’s mouth with a syringe at just the right moment to get her to try and latch. It. Was. Terrible.
This quickly became our only way to get the baby to latch. I finally moved onto a Nipple Shield which is exactly what it sounds like: a latex nipple that goes over your nipple, giving the baby more nipple to latch onto. This was the only way the baby received any nutrition in the first weeks of her life.
But have you ever used a nipple shield? While it was helpful and necessary, it was a major pain in the ass. It had to be put on just right, cleaned and warmed with water before each use. After I painstakingly applied it just the right way and would place the (screaming, wailing) baby on it, it’d freaking fall off. I may or may not have cursed and threw that damn thing across the room on more than one occasion.
Meanwhile I went to the breastfeeding support group the hospital offered. I went two days after we came home from the hospital because we knew it had to be something that could help our situation. Barely able to walk, I hobbled in with my screeching newborn and sheepishly whipped out my boob with all the other moms. The same lactation consultant who had helped me in the hospital was in the support group. She was sweet and encouraging but sadly didn’t take notice of the severity of our situation.
Gwyneth’s weight dropped drastically. She was below the normal range newborns were supposed to lose and gained very little. Our pediatrician gave us the instruction to give her at least two bottles a day to ensure she was getting the milk she needed. This was the only reason Gwyneth maintained her weight. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I went to the same group when Gwyneth screamed in hungry frustration that two other lactation consultants recognized what was going on. They gave me the card to a lactation service (Starfish Lactation) and instructed me to go home at once to give that child a bottle and get a private consultation.
I did just that and met with the lactation consultant, Robin, the next day. Robin was the breath of fresh air I needed. She watched Gwyneth latch and gave us the prognosis of a dwindling supply due to the baby not nursing. I was told to go home and pump my brains out, which I did until there was milk coming out of my ears. I pumped 8-10 times a day, every 2 hours.
My supply was up, Gwyneth was back on track with weight and we were still making unsuccessful attempts at putting her to the breast. Everyone kept saying, “It’ll happen, just wait.” “One day it’ll just click.” We tried everything, the re-birthing in the bathtub, lots of skin-to-skin contact, you name it, we tried it. And every time it brought back an entire flood of emotions. Failure, defeat, worthlessness, and disconnect.
As I sat in the middle of a support group several months later with women nursing their babies I explained how we tried to breast-feed again and failed. I cried. I cried in front of 10 strangers and cried even more when I saw their complete lack of understanding from our situation.
I stopped going to breastfeeding support groups because of how difficult it was to connect with the women who were breastfeeding. There was an unspoken pressure to not give up and continue to put the baby to the breast. Meanwhile pumping and giving her bottles worked great. It was the solution to all of our problems. Putting Gwyneth to my breast only brought back all the emotions of failure, so I finally gave up trying and embraced an exclusive pumping lifestyle, which lasted 10 and a half months.
I am proud to say that Gwyneth received her recommended one-year of breastmilk. As awful as it may have been, pumping made it possible for Gwyneth to get that year’s worth. It may have been unconventional and not the way we had planned, but the end result is the same, Gwyneth will most definitely be a genius (it’s true, I’ve read what the statistics say).
It was equally as difficult on my family. My husband helped in anyway he could, watching his wife and baby go through a struggle he could do nothing about. Not to mention how he had to listen to my incessant whining about pumping for an entire year (and never snapped once). The dude deserves a medal for this alone. Had it not been for his support and dedication to the cause I would’ve thrown in the towel during the first week.
There was a time when I was completely heartbroken that my baby wouldn’t nurse. I cried many tears of frustration and self-doubt over what I thought would be second nature. But in the end it all worked out and I couldn’t be more proud of myself. Also you can bet your bottom dollar we will have a paid lactation consultant waiting upon our next child’s arrival.
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