This is my story and our family’s journey to and though breastfeeding. The good, the bad, the ugly.
In 2008 I was pregnant with our first child, a son. At 18 weeks we found out that there was a problem. The baby had intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). At 23 weeks 3 days when they found our son had not grown at all in the last month. I was admitted into the hospital, and placed on bed rest.
During our stay a NICU doctor came to speak with us. He asked if I was planning on breastfeeding. I said yes I wanted to try, my mother breastfed my sisters and I for a few months each, and that I knew it was best. He then said that breastfeeding was going to be the biggest deciding factor in my baby’s life that I had control over, because he was going to be very tiny and his entire system was immature and needing every chance for survival. He explained the condition NEC, something I had never heard of, and how breast milk could prevent it. By breastfeeding I could save my baby’s life. Sadly, only a few days later we found that my Son was no longer with us. Part of me died with him. I was induced and 14 hours later on Aug 15th 2008 at 25 weeks gestation my son Joel Robert-Lee was born at 11.5 ounces and 10.5 inches. His cord had become tied.
That NICU’s Doctors comments on breastfeeding has stayed with me, and will forever.
A very short time later (to short). We found that I was again pregnant. I lived in fear every single day, but thankfully, my pregnancy was mostly normal. When I was 38 weeks pregnant I asked to be induced as soon as possible, because of the fear she would die inside me. At 38 weeks 6 days I was induced. First off, the hospital couldn’t find my test results showing I didn’t have strep B so I had to have antibiotics, then they started my pitocin, broke my water, I had a epidural at 7cm, and gave birth in 4 hours at 11:05 am. She was tiny, the doctor had made a guesstimate that her weight was around 7 pounds, he was wrong. I remember him saying “she’s small”. She was only 5 pounds 9 ounces and 18 1/4 inches.
I was an emotional mess, talk about post traumatic stress. I couldn’t stop crying. I was so sad, so happy, and filled with so much fear. I could hardly hold her, all I saw was my Joel, but I didn’t want to let her go. My husband held her for most of the time before she was taken to the nursery. I didn’t nurse her when she was born, and I wouldn’t be able to for 5 hours, because the nursery nurses took so long to bring her to us. She latched fine, but ended up with jaundice (a “pit.” birth and delayed breastfeeding I’m sure had a lot to do with it).
I had no information, no Lactation consultant, and no one who knew anything about breastfeeding exclusivity. At 2 1/2 weeks we added formula per the pediatrician, because I felt like she wasn’t getting enough food. The pediatrician did nothing to sooth my fears. I returned to work early, because of many things, but I pumped 3 times during work for 15 minutes each. I would breastfeed her and give her bottles. For the first 2 1/2 months I slept in her room in a bed with her and breastfed through the night. Eventually by 2 1/2 months she slept through the night and I could no longer have that time with her. The pediatrician had advised us to use Enfimil AR and that I was to only pump and add rice cereal to each bottle. At that point I stopped the actual act of breastfeeding, and at 4 months we added food per that pediatrician. At 5 1/2 months I threw in the towel. I felt like my body had failed me again.
Then in January of 2011 I found out that I was pregnant again. This time I had to use another Doctor and hospital. I educated myself about breastfeeding. I read and read on low supply and what to do. Then 13 days before our son was due I went into labor suddenly at 3:33 am. I didn’t think it was real labor because it didn’t hurt enough. I had two previous induced births and the natural contractions in my mind weren’t hard enough to be real labor. I went to sleep and awoke again after 6am. We went to the hospital, we arrived at 7:00 (on the dot according to the clock in the car. At 7:19am naturally, unmediated, and very quickly I gave birth to my 2nd son. He was 6 pounds 8 ounces and 20.5 inches long. The nurses cleaned him and took his vitals. Suddenly, they realized and asked “Are you breastfeeding” I answered an ecstatic “yes!”. She apologized and brought my son to me. I held and fed him for the first time, and we connected. He and I laid there I’m not sure how long. I healed during that time. He and I looked at each other and I thought of my other two children. I talked to God. I knew what had happened with my daughter at that point and I remembered how long it took for us to “connect”. I regretted her birth. I had taken it away from her. I didn’t trust Her, my body, or God. Her birth was the first mistake I made in our breastfeeding journey and as her mother. I felt so sorry I could not give her what was best nor had I been able to give her all of me. I made a promise that I was new. I had lost part of me but I found a new part and a much stronger person.
My son was Exclusively breastfed from 3 weeks until 6 months. I and my husband gave some formula around 3 weeks for fear he was hungry. At that point I sought out help, and started to attend weekly support group meetings. I was educated about “The Virgin Gut” of a newborn, and I threw out all the samples that we I had been “gifted”. I met many moms and learned so much. I, also, got a few friends. They were and are blessings.
For my whole pregnancy I had prepared a long maturity leave. I enjoyed both my children during that time. At 11 weeks postpartum I returned to work on the Thursday before thanksgiving. I took pumping breaks every 2 hours for 20 minutes each. the next week of course was only a 3 day week (perfect planning). Things went well and mostly as planned for a couple months.
Then my son and I got sick when he was a few months old with RSV. My daughter had cought it and so lovingly brought it home to share. He quickly wasn’t able to nurse properly and that effected my supply. I started supplementing with my own stored milk with a syringe at my breast. First, I tried fenugreek, then goats roe with the fenugreek, finally I got a prescription for Domperidone. I had enough milk to supplement 3 days while I was at work. By the next Thursday if it didn’t work quickly I would have to find donor milk, or use formula. I started friday morning, Saturday woke up and nursed and pumped like a crazy woman the whole weekend. By Monday I woke up with the “full feeling” and i knew it had worked like a charm. I used Domperidone from about 5 months till my son was 10 months when his food intake was enough for me to risk slowly stepping down off of Domperidone. Finally, at 10 months I was starting to collect 4-6 ounces of extra milk a week so I began extending the time between my pumping breaks to every 2.5 hours, as well as weaning off domperidone.
I was eventually given the opportunity to donate that extra milk to a beautiful adopted baby girl of a woman in our support group. The mom was inducing lactation and wanted her baby exclusively breastfed, if possible. Later I donated to one other child. I ended up pump at work for 22 months to help provide milk for those other children. I’m still amazed I went from perceived Low supply to real low supply all the way to milk donor. I never thought I would get there.
Our pediatrician, Bless her heart. I think I will call her Dr. “breastfeeding is never complete nutrition”, the same one who recommended formula at 2 weeks for My daughter continued to be our pediatrician. Dr. “BF NcN” tried pushing me to add baby cereal at 4 months. I flat refused stating that the AAP, CDC, and WHO said to wait till 6 months. At around 6 months I would not add baby cereal, but I would add “real” foods. He didn’t need the cereal according to the research I had read. Dr. “BF NcN”s response? “hummph”, yeah cocked her head to the side and poked her lips out and everything. She then stated that if the mothers Iron is low then so is the babies. That the cereal was needed to add that iron that the mother was lacking, and told me I was going to give him rickets that will cause bone defects and anemia that would cause him to be learning disabled. In my head i was thinking “So you are telling me Human milk isn’t enough for a human? nor is it full nutrition? That I’m a bad mother? or both? I informed her that I had given blood only a week before and that amazingly enough my iron level was great! That when we went to WIC for his 3 month check-in his iron was great, too. She had nothing else to say. Needless to say we didn’t go to the next visit and we scheduled the 12 month appoint with a new doctor. I did make it to magical 12 months. I then set a new goal of 24 months. After pasting that goal the last goal was till he was done. My son nursed 33 months, 3 weeks, and 1 day.
My son is beautiful, strong, has straight legs, and has no learning disabilities. Contrary to what poor Dr. “BF NcN” warned I would cause by exclusively breastfeeding past 4 months.
More than nourishing my children breastfeeding made me a better parent in the end. It set me out on a journey that has given me strength that I never knew existed in me. It changed me forever. I know now that I did not fail at breastfeeding my daughter, I did breastfeed her. What happened is I didn’t meet my goal. I’ve learned to set reachable goals for myself and my children. I’ve been taught that not reaching a goal isn’t failure, but not reaching a goal is a learning opportunity in itself. Life doesn’t always go our way. You have to learn from your mistakes, and those of others, to find a new way.