Adventures of a formula-feeding, pumping, AND nursing mom

I posted this several years ago on MySpace. I posted this several months ago on Facebook. I’m posting it once again (with a few edits, of course – I mean, did you read my last blog?).  I believe it’s an important story to share, and that may be self-indulgent . . . but isn’t that what personal blogs are all about anyway? ::Smile::

I should also add that this my longest blog to date!

My mom started chemotherapy when I was 2 days old. She never had the option to breastfeed. As a teenager, I once mentioned how I thought breastfeeding was disgusting. She told me how sad she was that she never had the opportunity. The expression on her face struck a nerve, and I can still picture that sadness. Since that time I’ve known that I would breastfeed my children. I learned of all the benefits later on, but first and foremost, I felt like it wouldn’t be right for me to give up something that I am inherently able to do when there are others out there who are not so lucky.

I spent no time during my pregnancy researching formula. There was no need to – it wasn’t an option. I never considered any complications. It was natural. It should be easy. The only woman I knew who had breastfed her child was my sister-in-law (for whom I am eternally grateful). She seemed to have a relatively easy time with it. I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be the same for me.

I put my daughter to my breast about 20 minutes after she was born. I had the nurse help me get her latched. It hurt like hell. But I was told discomfort was normal and I dealt with it.

My daughter’s first night in the word was a completely miserable one. She screamed incessantly and wanted to do nothing but nurse. The next morning my nipples were scabbed over.

The hospital hosted a breastfeeding support group with a lactation consultant that morning. There I was told that while discomfort was normal, pain was not. The lactation consultant came to my room. She told me that my daughter wasn’t latching correctly and she tried to help. Still, Abby couldn’t latch correctly. As Abby screamed, we noticed that one side of her mouth wasn’t opening all the way. The lactation consultant said that there wasn’t anything we could do.

Abby had been up all night screaming because she was hungry.

Abby's first bottle

I started pumping less than an hour later. I wiped the colostrum off the pump with my pinky and let Abby suck it off my finger. We had to supplement with formula because my milk wasn’t in yet. So, finally, my baby got to eat . . . and there was peace and she was happy.

The pediatrician came in and told us that Abby had a facial palsy that was caused by prolonged pressure during childbirth. He said that sometimes it goes away on its own in 6 to 8 weeks. He said if we don’t see a change in that time, we should go see a neurologist.

Great. The thoughts running through my head?

“I didn’t push hard enough.”

“My daughter can’t nurse and it’s my fault.”

“Less than 24 hours and I’m already screwing up as a parent.” . . . Ok, logically, I knew all this stuff wasn’t true, but when the wonderfully amazing supportive people in my life turned around, I cried.

My nephew, Jayden feeding Abby

<Abby was supplemented with formula for the first 4 days. Once my milk came in she was fed exclusively pumped breast milk. I hooked myself up to that damn machine 7 times a day for 30  minutes each time. There were times my daughter would be screaming in her bouncy seat, and I couldn’t do anything about it because I had to pump. It was heartbreaking. I almost gave up because I didn’t know which was better, pumping the milk, or getting those 3 1/2 hours a day with my daughter back.

But I kept pumping. I had to. I wanted to. It just felt right. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, but my daughter was worth every second of it.

I joined groups online for exclusively pumping moms. They were a godsend. I needed to talk to other women who knew what I was going through.

Every so often, Abby and I would try to nurse and each time we’d have no luck. We tried nipple shields. Still nothing. It broke my heart because every time I held her, she would root. I could see how badly she wanted to nurse. The other pumping moms tried to get me to be more realistic. They told me that the odds of her nursing after so long on a bottle were very slim. They told me to be prepared for her never being able to nurse. A part of me knew they were right, but in my heart I just knew that one day she would latch.

When she was about 8 weeks old, after there had been no noticeable change in her mouth, we took her to see a neurologist at CHOP. He took one look at her, rolled his eyes, and said that she didn’t have a facial palsy. He expressed anger at the pediatrician and continued to explain that she has a weak muscle on the side of her mouth. It’s genetic. There’s nothing I could have to done to cause it or prevent it.

He told me that the weak muscle would never get stronger, but as she grows the other muscles in her mouth will develop and compensate for the weak one. She may end up with a cute crooked smile, but it will never seriously affect her. He also encouraged me to continuing trying to nurse.

A couple of nights later, I gave it a try. I was lying on the couch with Abby curled up next to me. I lifted my shirt and immediately she went to nurse. I prepared myself for another disappointment . . . But I didn’t need to. She latched and there was no pain. My lil’ pumpling was nursing for the first time! Little beads of sweat covered her forehead. It was the most beautiful moment of my life, and we both fell into the most peaceful sleep afterwards.

That weekend I put the pump away and just nursed. Her latch was still not perfect, but it was enough.

I continued to nurse and pump milk, though Abby was making up for lost time – she had no interest in the bottle. She would eat from a bottle when I wasn’t around, but only enough to hold her over. I started to fall back a bit on my pumping. I had several bags saved in the freezer and she was nursing so well that I allowed myself a little freedom. After what felt like a lifetime being stuck with the pump, it felt so good to just nurse my daughter naturally.

When Abby was 6 months old, I went back to work full-time. I was teaching pre-school in a day care center. My daughter was only down the hall. I would nurse her right before starting work, during my break, and as soon as I picked her up before taking the bus home. Still, she needed a couple of bottles a day.

I had to start pumping more, but my supply had started to dwindle. I would pump each breast for a half an hour and get a whopping ounce and a half of milk. I tried everything under the sun to build my supply back, all the little tricks that had helped when I was pumping exclusively. I ate oatmeal constantly. I took fenugreek. I pumped around the clock – every hour for 24 hours straight. But nothing worked.

Hind sight is 20/20 and looking back, I can tell you all of the things I would have done differently leading up to this point. I shouldn’t have given up the hospital grade pump so soon (I traded it in for a more portable pump). I should have waited a little longer to nurse Abby, till her latch was a little stronger. I shouldn’t have gotten lazy with the pumping once she started nursing. And so on and so forth. But what was done was done.

Abby still nursed well . . . as any breastfeeding mom can tell you, a baby is much more efficient at getting the milk out than a pump. But I still needed to make up those couple of bottles a day. After much debate with myself and tons of anguish, I decided to stop pumping all together and to give her formula for those two bottles. Though, just like with the bottled breast milk, she seemed to drink just enough to hold her over until I was there.

Abby's first birthday

We continued breastfeeding and supplementing with formula until  shortly after Abby’s first birthday when she weaned herself. I held on as long as I could, but she was always a child to know what she wanted. It was heart breaking and I still miss that feeling dearly.

I hope to one day know what it feels like to nurse a newborn. I miss that I never experienced that. But I am so grateful for every second of my breastfeeding endeavors. I am proud of myself for what I did. I’m proud of my daughter for overcoming that hurdle so early in life. I treasure that I was able to experience what my mom was not. And I know that she is looking down on me and smiling.

The purpose of all of this was just to show that while not all experiences are easy-going and “natural”, they are, in my opinion, well worth the effort. I don’t consider myself a militant breast feeder and I won’t condemn those who choose not to breastfeed. I believe that breastfeeding is better for both baby and mommy. It’s what we have breasts for after all! But I think education is the most important thing. Not everyone has someone else’s experiences to help them along. As I said earlier, I am extremely grateful for my sister-in-law. While she may not have had the problems I did, she knew where to direct me . . . and most importantly, she supported me and cheered me on.

Here’s a few links as well, for those who are interested.

Breastfeeding.com

Kelly Mom

Breastfeeding Laws

I would love to hear your nursing story, if you have one to tell 🙂

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Loved reading your beautiful story, and my heart broke when you blamed yourself for what wasn’t even true and certainly wasn’t your fault. Glad it ended with your pumpling, a nursling! 🙂

    I breastfed all three of my boys: nursing was the one thing my eldest could do and because he was not reaching other milestones, but was nursing like crazy, he was one little Buddha baby. I still smile at his rolls in his pictures. (and I did a good bit of pumping with him because his father and I separated when he was 5 months old and I had to pump enough for his visits to his dad’s every other weekend)

    My middle son only nursed for 6 months. He was, what we called, the “Red Hornet” because he had such a temper. When he would get hungry and if I didn’t nurse at THAT moment, then nursing him was not exactly pain-free. One night, he got so mad that he flew out of the bed. Seriously, he jumped, Superman-style, and landed belly on the carpet with arms and legs sprawled; his face was red from screaming so much. He still is my most demanding child. I was relieved to give him a bottle.

    My third son I breastfed longest. I didn’t have any problems with him because we spent 10 days in the hospital and I was able to use the hospital grade pump–no engorgement, mastitis nothing. If I ever have another child, I will rent one of those things. The only time he was given a bottle was while in the NICU (He was 9 lbs and in the NICU. None of the equipment fit him.) I never supplemented or pumped after that because he wouldn’t take a bottle (or a pacifier); he went from breast to cup.

    I don’t condemn mothers for bottle-feeding either because each situation is unique–yours was one of the most unique I’ve heard, but one of my closest friends here just had a baby and didn’t even consider breast-feeding. I was floored, but haven’t said a word (until just now! :). It’s been hard to keep my opinion to myself!!

    Reply

    • Wow, Ginny! Thank you so much for sharing your stories! It’s amazing how each child was so different. 🙂 I’m also fascinated with how children’s personalities are shaped so early — like your “Red Hornet” who is still your most demanding child. . . . The hospital grade pumps are fabulous. If I ever have another child, I’m definitely renting one again. It’s funny you mentioned not having any engorgement — The first weekend that Abby was nursing (when I put that pump away), I was in Babies-R-Us with my step-mom and my daughter. For the first time, I was engorged. I looked at my step-mom and said, “I HAVE to go nurse. NOW!” 😛

      With my family, formula feeding was and still is the norm. While everyone supported my decisions, I know that many of them did not understand why I went through so much to nurse my daughter. I respect their decisions not to even try breastfeeding, though I don’t personally understand it. Like most other things, I think education is so important. Our culture as sexualized breasts to the point that breastfeeding seems “dirty” to so many people. . . . Ah, I should stop – I could easily get on a rather long rant with this one!

      Reply

  2. I still tell everyone how proud I am of you. I use your story as an exapmle when moms tell me its too hard to nurse. What you did is nothing short of amazing! You are such an amazing mom. I love you!

    Reply

  3. Wow! I’m glad you got to have that experience. Obviously, I have no personal stories to tell because I have yet to be a mommy, but I know that I plan to do breastfeeding, if physically able to, when the time comes. One of my sisters was never able to because she didn’t produce enough milk, so I know it could be an impossibility but if it’s possible, I plan to!
    Your daughter looks so cute in those pictures! 🙂

    Reply

    • Thank you!

      I know women who had the easiest time in the world breastfeeding . . . and others who suffered any number of problems. When the time comes for you, I wish you the absolute best to be one of those who has the easiest time in the world!

      And thanks about the pictures . . . I spent 2 hours trying to pick the right ones 😛

      Reply

  4. I am honored to pass on 3 blog awards to you: The Irresistibly Sweet, Stylish and Versatile Awards, because I enjoy your blog SO much!
    http://therealsharon.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/lost-found-and-belated-awards/

    Reply

  5. Dayle – I am so glad to read this wonderful story, and so glad you thought to repost it. This is a topic close to my heart as well. I had trouble nursing my son at first (nipple shield helped us, finally), and it took over 8 weeks for us to get it right. He did well, but when I went back to work, I was rarely able to pump enough to keep up with his demand (for the times I couldn’t nurse him while at work), so we also had to supplement with formula. I felt guilty every time I saw him drink a bottle of formula for a while, but l finally realized the important thing was to keep him fed! He stopped wanting to breastfeed at about 9 months, which made me sad, but I hoped it had given him a good start.

    With my daughter was born, we had many fewer difficulties nursing and enjoyed the process so much more. She hated the bottle as much as I hated pumping (it was our fault, we didn’t keep up with it) so I just fit in the nursing sessions as much as we could (sometimes nursing through a conference call–I work at home). She nursed until about 22 months (and I was interested to learn that every other country but the US typically nurses for 2 years rather than the 12 months the US recommends). I never thought in a million years I would nurse that long, but it really didn’t feel strange at all and I was always discreet about it–during the second year, I would nurse her at home in the mornings and evenings, and then just one session before bed. Like Ginny’s son, she went from breast to cup–would not take a pacifier.

    I am glad to hear you had a champion urging you on–that is so important. So many different things can be challenging about it, and it is such a wonderful thing when it works. So while I am very pro-breastfeeding and want people to try if they can, I do have to let them make the right choice for them. We all need to be gentle with each other and realize that there are many ways to feed our babies, and we have to do what works.

    -Alexandra

    Reply

    • Thank you so much for sharing your stories, Alexandra! . . . Like with Ginny’s stories, I think it’s amazing how each child can be so different!

      “We all need to be gentle with each other and realize that there are many ways to feed our babies, and we have to do what works.”

      I absolutely agree! And I think that can be applied to so many other areas of parenting.

      I had full intentions on nursing my daughter until at least 18 months. She just had other plans! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for AT LEAST 12 months. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond. . . . . Personally, I recommend breastfeeding for as long as mom and baby are able and comfortable with it! I have always gone with the philosophy – a day is better than nothing, a week is better than a day, a month is better than a week . . . etc.

      “I felt guilty every time I saw him drink a bottle of formula for a while, but l finally realized the important thing was to keep him fed!”

      I struggled with the same guilt and eventually came to the same understanding. It’s amazing how much we can beat ourselves up as parents even when we know we are doing the absolute best we can for our children! (This is one of my biggest reasons for why we need to stop judging each other – we judge ourselves enough as it is!)

      Reply

  6. WOW! What a success story, Dayle! =) I almost pumped my fist when I read that she finally latched! =) Haha!

    And how frustrating about that pediatrician. =( Sad to know that doctors get it wrong anywhere in the world. What frustrates me is that sometimes they’re overconfident. I’ve had a couple doctors here spend hours trying to prove something for me to later find out that they were wrong anyway. I’m so glad you went to see the neurologist who gave you renewed hope! =)

    Reply

    • Thank you so much, Sam!

      I have had issues with doctors since my mom was diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago. Her family doctor told her she was a hypocondriac because he couldn’t find anything wrong with her (she had been back and worth with various complaints for almost 5 years). Until I lost my health insurance, my primary care physician was actually a physician’s assistant. I love her!

      CHOP is the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia . . . they are fabulous! I am so grateful for that neurologist. I really was close to giving up. The renewed hope made all the difference in the world!

      Reply

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