When we found out we were pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed if I could. Our approach with Enzo has really been about keeping things as natural and organic as possible. We use a free and clear detergent, organic bath products for him, cloth diapers, and plan to make our own baby food. So breastfeeding seemed to fit naturally into our parenting ideals. I attended a breastfeeding class to learn about the common challenges, and read a couple of books to further educate myself. I ordered a pump and got all the supplies. And then I crossed my fingers.
As soon as Enzo was born and checked out by the doctor’s we did skin-to-skin time for quite a while. He naturally found his way to the breast, latched, and nursed. I think it also helped that we had a wonderful labor nurse who helped guide that whole process. Later that evening we moved to the mother and baby unit and Enzo successfully nursed again.
The next day is a bit of a blur because it was Easter and we had lots of visitors but basically Enzo didn’t nurse much and he slept quite a bit. No one really seem concerned about this throughout the day. We tried to nurse and struggled a little bit with latching and him just falling asleep. The nurses showed us how to try to wake him up but he really didn’t care. He was tired.
Our troubles really began when the day shift ended and the night shift began. The nurse on the night shift was really concerned about him not being all that interested in nursing and with his troubles latching. I remember being told that if he didn’t nurse well before 10pm that day we’d have to introduce a nipple shield and supplement. From everything I read I thought this seemed a bit aggressive but what did I know? Surely this nurse knew better than me. Enzo didn’t nurse well and we were introduced to a nipple shield. We also had to give him formula via a syringe. And I had to pump to try to stimulate my breasts.
The next morning the pediatrician on duty really set things off. Ours wasn’t on rotation at the time. He was extremely concerned with Enzo’s eating and recommended that he take 30-45cc in supplementation per day. This set off many of the nurses on the floor and the lactation consultant. A newborn’s stomach isn’t even big enough to hold that amount is what they all said. The day nurse that day was extremely supportive, as was the lactation consultant. Everyone really felt that Enzo was just kind of lazy when it came to eating but he was doing just fine latching with the nipple shield. We got a TON of advice. And different advice from the doctors, nurses, and lactation consultant. It was a bit overwhelming and in hindsight we didn’t really know enough at the time to just take the advice and trust our guts.
We were discharged late on Monday afternoon since the pediatrician wouldn’t discharge us until Enzo peed. We had to sign and agree to a supplementation plan in order to leave. Every 2 hours we went through the same routine, breastfeed for 15 minutes per breast, then supplement, then pump. In all the process took almost an hour and half if I were to do it alone. Michael would give him the supplement and while he did that I would pump to save us time. So it was an hour on, an hour off. It was a pace that was challenging to keep up with and exhausting for everyone. The first night home was basically a nightmare. At some point all 3 of us cried. Hence we had a rule in our house for a while that only one adult could meltdown when the baby was melting down. I’m happy to say that now we have a rule that only of the 3 of us can meltdown at a time.
That Tuesday we had to go to the pediatrician for a weight check. Our pediatrician agreed that the plan we were sent home with was a pace we could not maintain. She suggested that I pump every other feeding so we would have more time to rest. And she cut back the amount of supplement he got. We continued to go every other day for weight checks. Less than a week after birth Enzo had gained a full pound. We were all anxiously awaiting my milk to come as the pediatrician felt that then we would be able to stop supplementing. My milk did come in but I never felt engorged, I never leaked, I never felt full, and I never felt the let down. Still no one was too concerned. I continued to pump 3 times a day to increase my supply and we used that milk to supplement.
I ate every food in the books to increase my supply. I had steel-cut oats everyday for breakfast, boobie balls for snacks. I drank Mother’s Milk tea and tons of water. I took fenugeek and brewer’s yeast. It seemed like for a while things were finally clicking. The pediatrician gave us her blessing to wean off formula and just supplement with pumped breast milk when needed. Enzo was latching and nursing at times without the nipple shield and was continuing to gain weight. Things seemed to be going well.
Enzo was still a bit fussy and really hard to settle at times. I remember having our newborn photos done and we couldn’t get him to calm down. He was happiest being held so I ended up wearing him all the time. Motion also seemed to help so walks in the stroller were also good, as was the Mamaroo that we ended up getting basically out of desperation. We didn’t think much of this and just figured we had a fussy newborn. My mom was in town that third week and somehow got him to nap in the crib for 30 minutes and it felt like huge progress!
It was also during my Mom’s visit that Enzo started to get really fussy around 4:30pm. He was only happy on the breast so we kept feeding him. We just thought he was cluster feeding. For the first few nights this was ok but then eventually he was on the breast from about 4pm to Midnight with only short breaks of about 15-20 minutes in between. It just didn’t seem right. He also no longer seemed to like his walks and would just scream the whole time. His face had started to break out and he seemed like he wasn’t looking as chubby. That week he didn’t poop for days. I called the pediatrician out of concern and was told that this was OK because he was breastfeed. They asked if he was stilling having wet diapers and I said he was (in hindsight he wasn’t but I was a new mom and didn’t know any better).We talked about his fussiness and they thought it could be gas. They suggested gas drops to help calm him. This seemed to help a little but was no means a solution. He ended up pooping before too many days had passed and before we knew it and it was the weekend. I remember that Saturday night he just screamed for hours. Out of desperation we drove him around in the car just so he would sleep and we could have some peace and quiet. We were up all hours of the night…I would feed him, Michael would try to calm him. It was the only way anyone could get some sleep. He also really started to fight me every time I’d feed him. He’d claw at me and I would basically have to hold his head to my breast in order for him to eat.
The Sunday following our desperate Saturday evening car ride I remember lying in bed with Michael and Enzo crying out of frustration. I wasn’t feeling like breastfeeding was a magical experience and I felt like a machine. At this point I was feeding him so much that I really didn’t get to experience the good stuff like snuggles, tummy time, and baths. I was just so relieved to not have him attached to me at that point. I was also feeling so anxious about how we would have any life with him breastfeeding so much. Or how I would ever be able to go anywhere alone. It also made me feel awful that he was clawing at me when he would eat. It was a really low day.
Things didn’t improve that night and by Monday morning Michael had reached a breaking point. All he could think was that Enzo was hungry and he wanted to give him some formula. He ignored my tears and pleas not to ruin all my hard work and gave Enzo 2oz. of formula (thank god he did). It was gone in about 30 seconds. Another 2 oz. proceeded to disappear just as quickly. We were on our way to watch the Boston Marathon with friends and their newborn. Enzo slept the whole time we were out and was the happiest we had seen him in weeks. He was so relaxed and easy. On the way to the marathon we called and made an appointment with the pediatrician. We wanted to have Enzo weighed and go from there.
At our appointment later that day we discovered he’d lost all of the weight he’d gained and was actually a lower weight than when we left the hospital. Our pediatrician told us we had to supplement. I could keep breastfeeding but only for 15 minutes and then we had to give him as much formula as he wanted. It was obvious I wasn’t producing enough milk to feed our little guy. We had a long discussion about whether to switch to formula completely or to stick with breastfeeding. She felt that Enzo had received almost a month of breast milk and that was great. Her advice was to make a decision and just go forward. It wasn’t worth dwelling on it or making ourselves feel bad. She also assured me that we had put in quite the effort.
When we left the appointment I spent most of the afternoon crying. I felt horrible that we’d been essentially starving Enzo. We talked a lot about what we wanted to do and we both agreed that some breast milk was better than none so the plan was to breastfeed and supplement. Later that evening I ended up feeling really lousy. My boob hurt, and I had horrible chills. The next morning I woke up with a 102F fever. Mastitis. Enzo wanted no part of the breast and I couldn’t force the kid anymore.
Over the next week I continued to pump multiple times a day. At first I was getting about an ounce a day but that quickly diminished and by the next week it would take days to get an ounce. I was only getting 5ml total per session at the end. Luckily I have amazing girlfriends who told me to give it up, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy my freedom. I did end up doing that because I felt that the time I was spending pumping could be spent nurturing Enzo in some other beneficial way.
In all Enzo received breastmilk for the first 4 weeks. I felt such relief when we switched to formula completely. Enzo became a totally different baby. He was so happy, barely cried, slept great, and was a joy to be with. We finally started having that incredible mother/baby relationship everyone describes and we were able to start experiencing things as a family. We no longer felt confined to our home and Michael and I didn’t need to worry about whether or not he was getting enough. It was amazing to see Enzo gain over a pound each week and to get caught up in terms of his growth. Our pediatrician couldn’t get over how much better and happier our whole family seemed once we stopped breastfeeding. Switching to formula completely changed our family dynamic. Michael could help with night-time feedings, I could get sleep. We were even able to go on a date. EVERYTHING got better for us once I stopped breastfeeding. I’m happy I stuck with it and put the effort in but we do often wonder how the early weeks could have been if he had just been getting enough to eat.
We do also wonder how our experience could have been different if we had a different pediatrician and nurses on duty that night in the hospital. Since we’ve shared our story we have learned that the approach was rather aggressive and not very pro-breastfeeding. Also wonder how our experience could have been different if we trusted our guts a bit more. But we were first time parents just doing our best so it’s hard to beat ourselves up over that.
We’ve learned that a lot of people have had similar stories and yet, I never heard this story before I gave birth. No one talked about it. If we were to have another baby I would certainly try to breastfeed again but I’d also have a back up plan should we experience something similar once more. My doctor told me that our experience could be totally different with a second baby or it could be the same. No one really knows.
My biggest take way from our experience was that yes, breast is best. But formula is also best. And ultimately either are best if they result in a happy, healthy baby that grows and thrives. It’s so hard to tune out all the noise around this subject when you are a new parent but we learned that you really need to do just that and choose the option that will work best for your family and your situation.
What has been your breastfeeding experience?