Disclaimer: Like most of my posts recently, this one may contain details that you really didnt want to know about me. Read at your own risk In addition, this account may paint a gloomy picture of breastfeeding. Its my understanding that its rarely this tricky for most people so dont let my story scare you.
Breastfeeding is hard. Many of the women whose birthing stories I heard or read mentioned that they had trouble breastfeeding. Thanks to this, I knew that breastfeeding, while natural, is not necessarily easy. I prepared as much as I thought I could. I read numerous books, attended a La Leche League meeting, and both Jaeger and I attended a breastfeeding class at a hospital. In addition, most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff for new mothers. As a result, while I expected there to be some minor challenges, I thought I had enough resources to figure it out.
At first, everything seemed to go great. While I did have a cesarean, Calvin was breastfeeding within an hour of being born. The latch looked great and he loved to suckle. I fed him 15 minutes on both sides and hed still want more so Id go back to the first side again (the lactation consultant told me I shouldn’t allow him more than that during any one feeding). We did have some minor issues with him latching on to my left side but he seemed to figure that out without too much trouble. Naively, I thought that would be the extent of my breastfeeding issues.
By the end of the first full day, my nipples were tender. I knew that a properly latched-on baby shouldnt hurt but it was unclear exactly how much discomfort I should feel. By the end of the second day, my nipples were bleeding. This seemed sub-optimal but all the nurses assured me that the latching looked great so there didnt seem to be a reason for my nipples to be so uncomfortable. However, Saturday night, they weighed Calvin and he had lost 14 oz of his birth weight. It is normal for babies to lose up to 10% of their birth weight. However, the nurses were concerned about how fast he had lost weight. They barely managed to convince us that he needed to be supplemented with formula. We were very unhappy with this but I wasnt comfortable ignoring medical advice so we went ahead and started finger feeding. After breastfeeding each time, Jaeger or I would then finger feed Calvin additional formula. Calvin accepted the finger feeding fairly easily but I felt incredibly guilty every time I fed him this way.
All things considered, I felt very good after the cesarean so we went home on Sunday. Sunday night was a nightmare. I think I had become engrorged and Calvin couldnt latch on. I tried manually pumping and taking hot showers but I didnt seem to get anything so my breasts wouldnt soften. It wasnt that it was painful for me, it was that poor Calvin was starving and wouldnt go to sleep. I think I got about 2 hrs of sleep that night when Jaeger woke up and finger fed him for a bit. First thing that morning, I called the hospital lactation consultant, R, and we went in to see her. After listening to my problem, she agreed that I was probably engorged and hooked me up to her hospital grade pump. She also evaluated Calvins suck and determined the reason my nipples were so sore was that in addition to sucking, he was also chewing. Unfortunately, Calvin had lost another ounce and was down from his birth weight of 8 lbs 15 oz to 8 lbs even. The lactation consultant said that we needed to get his birth weight up as soon as possible and we needed to stop finger feeding him and start bottle feeding him. R also suggested that we should let my nipples heal up before trying to breastfeed again. She rented me a hospital grade pump, suggested some herbal supplements to boost my milk supply, and we went back home.
It was a huge relief to figure out what the problem was. I was almost completely incoherent with lack of sleep and frustration. Monday night was completely blissful. I had to get up to pump but even then, I got substantially more sleep that night. After that day, we settled into a routine of me pumping every 2 hrs during the day and every 3-4 hrs at night. Jaeger had the week off so he fed Calvin most of his night feedings. Neither of us were getting huge amounts of sleep but we both were sleeping.
Several days later, my nipples had healed. I tried breastfeeding Calvin again but it was still painful. In addition, my milk had allegedly come in by this point but my milk supply was much lower than the lactation consultant wanted. As a result, I was only able to provide about half of the milk Calvin needed and had to continue supplementing the other half with formula. However, now that we were feeding him, Calvin steadily started gaining weight.
R would check up on us every other day and suggest some other way to boost my milk supply. Even though Im not always a huge fan of supplements, I was pretty desperate so I started taking More Milk Plus, alfalfa tablets, soy lecithin, and brewers yeast (I did clear all of these with my doctor). My milk supply didnt substantially increase but Calvins appetite did. I started taking 3-4 oz a feeding so the percentage of breast milk he got continued decreasing. I continued faithfully pumping every 2 hrs (this is two hrs from start to start so I really have about 1 ½ hrs in between pumping). I read all the books I could about low milk supply issues and almost all of them said the best way to boost milk supply was to breastfeed more. However, I still couldnt handle breastfeeding for more than 5 minutes a couple of times a day. In addition, these books all seemed to claim that if I truly had a good latch, it shouldnt hurt. I couldnt find much information about infants chewing or how to go about correcting that.
Initially, learning that Calvin had a chewing problem was a huge relief. Having a problem meant that a solution might be possible. However, since a solution didnt readily appear, the pumping and feeding routine started to become overwhelming. About a week after Calvin was born, my mother arrived to help out and Jaeger went back to work. I started doing both my nighttime pumping as well as feeding Calvin so Jaeger could sleep enough to go to work. Each morning after mom got up, Id hand Calvin off to her and get a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep before reappearing for the day. The pumping/feeding situation was sustainable but just barely and only if I didnt need to do anything else. Many of the books I read indicated that Calvin might spontaneously outgrow his chewing habit sometime between 4-6 weeks so I started hoping the problem would eventually magically go away.
A week ago last Friday, I started Reglan. One of the off-label uses of the drug is to increase lactation though it can have pretty severe side affects for some women. I’ve been lucky and haven’t noticed anything. Last Tuesday, I went to a local La Leche League meeting. I almost didnt go because I was exhausted but Jaeger convinced me that it would be a good idea. It was a good idea. I got a chance to talk to other breastfeeding moms as well as the leaders who all had a lot of experience breastfeeding. One of the leaders found several books that suggested various pumping techniques (many of the books I had found only considered pumping a last resort and so didnt discuss pumping technique). I read through those books and got several more hints of things to try. Previously, I had bought a breastfeeding bra from Walmart and cut it up so I could insert the breast pump flanges and not have to hold them the entire time I pumped. Among other things, this allowed me to use massage to express more milk than pumping alone. Most of the books I read emphasized the importance of breast massage so I doubled my efforts in that area.
Under the impression that more opinions on our breastfeeding situation couldnt hurt, Jaeger called to schedule an appointment with another lactation consultant. We met with E last night. She performed another evaluation of Calvin and believes that if we could get my milk supply up, his sucking problem may correct itself. She believes that hes pretty much outgrown the chewing problem but has become lazy and is now sucking improperly due to bottle feeding which is continuing to hurt my nipples. She suggested we could try SNS feeding with the tube attached to my breast. However, other than that, most of her suggestions were aimed at increasing my milk supply. She said that in principle, Im doing everything right but she did suggest some websites to read as well as some other pumping techniques to try.
Today, Im trying Power Pumping which is one of the techniques the lactation consultant suggested. It involves pumping for 10 minutes, resting for 10 minutes, and then repeating. It sounds like many mothers will try power pumping for an hour each day and then go back to their normal pumping schedule. Supposedly, this might trick your body into thinking you have a very hungry baby. Currently, Im trying the boot camp version of this which involves power pumping for an entire day. I dont know if itll work but it seems worth a shot.
Im hoping we manage to figure out these breastfeeding issues eventually. I have no idea how mothers managed to breastfeed back in the era when it was actively discouraged. (I have heard from several older mothers who indicated they wanted to breastfeed but didn’t have enough support and gave up. So, maybe it’s only those that had a relatively easy time that persevered.) Without the support of Jaeger and all the other resources available I would have given up long ago.