Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Tale of Booby Traps

The website Best for Babies has put out a call for stories from moms about the booby traps they faced when attempting to breastfeed.

I think I've experienced every booby trap in the book - with my first baby. Now that the second is due in a few months I'm armed and ready for battle again. I hope it won't come to that.

My story of booby traps started with birth preparation - I went to a collaborative OB/Midwife practice that prided it self on a low(er) c-section and epidural rate. I was never, not once, asked about my plans to breastfeed.

The only class I took was a hospital-based birth prep class. I don't even think breastfeeding came up, and if it did all I really remember is my shock at hearing 94% of the women giving birth in that hospital had epidurals.

While the first 15 hours or so of labor in the hospital went fine, I ended up with the lovely "cascade of interventions" culminating in a horrible c-section. It was horrible because I think something went wrong, but I was never told this and it's not in my records. I was worn out, devastated, and had a TERRIBLE reaction to whatever it was I was on (the epidural, the anti-itching drugs, etc.). I was shaking so uncontrollably that it was probably an hour, at least, before I was able to even hold my baby. That didn't last long, either, before he was whisked off to the nursery for tests due to maternal AND infant fever (thanks to the medicine, not infection).

It was probably another 2 hours or so before I saw him again and was able to even attempt nursing. Post-bath, traumatic blood draws and separation, he was sleepy and I couldn't get him to wake up. We spent four frustrating days in the hospital trying to nurse. We had to track down the LCs, who just shoved the baby on my breast and left, leaving me wringing my hands in confusion. I was told not to keep him in bed with me, but if we were alone I could not get up and get him out of the bassinet when he cried. Well-meaning family and friends continually urged me to send him to the nursery so I could get some sleep.

I could still barely walk when we left the hospital, with our free diaper bag of formula, still unsure how to latch and high on pain killers. That first night home was one of the most traumatic of my life, with a screaming, hungry baby, a husband who was never breastfed and didn't understand my desire to, a hand-me-down pump from a friend that I couldn't get to work, and a feeling of utter failure. I felt I had no choice but to supplement with formula. My milk had finally come in and was leaking profusely, but I didn't know what else to do. To top it off - my husband contracted the flu while in the hospital. We were a total mess - first time parents where dad couldn't touch the baby and mom couldn't get out of bed.

I made an appointment with the hospital lactation counselor the next morning. There we rented a pump, weighed the baby, and worked on latch issues. I was given a nipple shield, syringe, and all other paraphernalia, with instructions to come back for a group class later in the week. Later that day we had a pediatrician appointment with a young doctor who didn't even have kids yet. She was nice, but with a bit of "know-it-all" attitude that rubbed me the wrong way. She told me I needed to pump, nurse, and supplement 1-2 oz at every feeding because our son had lost 11oz since birth. That routine sounded nuts to me, but I'm not a doctor.

The next day we went to see my OB/MW practice for follow-up. I was still in a TON of pain, but they were very flippant and told me I needed to wean myself off the painkillers. They removed my staples (5 days after surgery), said I looked great, and sent me home. My mother came to stay and help - she had breastfed myself and my two siblings, but had no idea how to help me. We still had problems nursing due to poor latch so I spent my days attached to the pump while someone else held my baby.

The following day was our group breastfeeding class for new moms at the hospital. There were 8 or 9 moms there, with 2 LCs. I was seated in the middle of the horseshoe, and the LCs started at the ends and worked their way around, assisting with positioning and latch. I was the last to get seen - and the most in trouble. Out of all the babies there, mine gained the least during the 1-hour class. He was lethargic, I was sore, and we were almost beyond help it seemed. The LCs instructed me to return the next day, for a reduced rate (none of this was free), so we could get more help.

So the next day we returned and got another private session. The boppy hadn't been working well, so we bought a My Breast Friend and worked hard on latch problems. We made some progress. The next day we returned to the pediatrician for a follow-up, and despite that I'd only been supplementing with my own milk for the most part (against the pediatrician's advice), we were given a thumbs-up on weight gain.

That was our first week home. It would be nice if the story ended there, but unfortunately it continues.

The following week, after having the steri-strips removed from my incision, I awoke to sopping wet underwear. My incision was leaking all over the front of me. We made another OB appointment, and I was diagnosed with an incision infection. The treatment I received during this was horrific, but in regards to our breastfeeding story it's neither here nor there. Suffice to say I was put back on bedrest and assigned a home-visit nurse, who would come and change my bandages & repack my wound for the next 8 weeks.

During this time of forced bed rest, we still experienced difficulties nursing. I was still supplementing with formula on occasion, though normally it was with my own pumped milk. We worked on a variety of positions, holds, and latch techniques. I went through one serious bout of pain that, after some internet research, I suspected was thrush. The pediatrician's office told me the OB needed to treat me, and the LCs there gave me two cans of formula. The OB's office told me they couldn't help me either. I had to start working from home at 6 weeks post-partum, because my job did not offer maternity leave and my sick and vacation leave were almost out. I was blessed to have a good employer that allowed me to work from home part-time for the following six weeks - but during this time I was still on bed rest and still having breastfeeding issues. A friend stopped by to visit, and seeing the problems I was having, left me with some reading. On Becoming Babywise was the first ever book on childrearing or breastfeeding that I ever read. I could never, ever recommend that to anyone as it's been linked to failure to thrive in breastfed infants. I'm glad I was too lazy/tired/overwhelmed to do more than read it and feel bad that my child wasn't perfect, and that I was a horrible parent for not putting him on a strict feeding schedule.

I eventually gave up on the LCs and sought out help online. I discovered the LLL online forums and Kellymom.com. It was there that I learned what turned out to be the key in fixing our nursing relationship - I had oversupply and overactive let-down. It went unnoticed and undiagnosed by everyone we'd seen, but a website with some practical tips taught me how to fix it. Gone was the love-hate relationship my baby had with nursing. Gone was the screaming before and after nursing, the engorgement, and the general feeling of hopelessness. This took a total of 11 weeks - one week before I had to return to the office.

Going back to work presented its own set of new challenges. I was already friendly with the pump (I'd bought my own after renting the hospital pump for a week), and I had oversupply, so milk production was never an issue for me, thankfully. I was even able to donate my extra milk via Milkshare.

My son turns 2 in March. As of this writing, we are still nursing, though that may cease as my pregnancy progresses. Well-meaning LCs, family and friends could not help me, and if I had listened to any of them I would have given up a thousand times. I'm not normally an emotional person or a crier, but I don't think a day passed when I didn't break down in tears during those first three months. The only reason I made it this far is that I HATE to be told I can't do something, when I KNOW I can. That makes me ornery sometimes, but in this case that's what I needed.


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