I can’t begin to tell you how many times throughout my pregnancy, my husband and I said we could not wait to meet our son. Sonogram after sonogram, he started looking more and more like the baby I would soon hold in my arms and the anticipation was killing us. On May 18th at 11:07PM after 18 hours of labor ending in a caesarian section, Desmond was born and we had our sweet little bundle we waited so long to meet. 10 pounds 2 ounces, 22 inches long and hands already ready to hold a football, he stole our hearts immediately.
2 days in the hospital, things were going great. I had decided early on in my pregnancy that I wanted to breastfeed my son and that was what happened for 3 days in the hospital. Sore and cracked nipples, the lactation specialist, provided by the hospital to me, claimed that everything was going great, it was just going to take time for my body to get used to it. He was wetting diapers and passing stool so he must be getting enough food, so much so that I was allowed to go home a day early.
When we got home, the typical baby blues set in, “wow, I am really a mom. How are we going to do this?” Luckily, Desmond’s arrival coincided with Nick’s week off so Nick and I were able to endure the first week home together 100%. Like I was saying, the first day was a weird mixture of emotions. I was a kind of tired I have never been before.
Day 2, our mothers wanted to come spend the day with us and make dinner. Desmond did not sleep more than a solid hour through the night. I was up constantly nursing while Nick sat there and watched me become more and more tired. The crying was on another level. He could not be consoled. Nick and I called it a “chipmunk cry” because of its sound. Something wasn’t right. I was nursing every hour and Desmond would not stop crying. It soon became apparent to me that I didn’t think he was getting enough food.
Being that it was only day 5, my milk had not come in. I was nursing 20 minutes on each breast but he was not getting the nourishment his 10.2lb body demanded. Our mothers, Nick and I came to the conclusion that I needed to supplement. We gave him 2oz of formula and he drank it so fast and was more content than I had ever seen him .He was so hungry, that is why he was crying.
I can’t really describe the way that made me feel. Something my body was made to do, it couldn’t; I couldn’t provide for my son. I cried…a lot. I cried to Nick saying that I couldn’t give birth naturally and now I can’t feed my son naturally. I honestly felt like a failure, as dramatic as that sounds. Those feelings on top of raging hormones and lack of sleep, I was a mess.
I continued nursing for 20 minutes each breast, to continue milk production, and supplementing with a bottle of formula. He would completely finish the 2oz bottle of formula after nursing for a total of 40 minutes. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! He clearly wasn’t getting what he needed. I was ready to give up. Why nurse when he isn’t getting anything from me. I remember everything in class about colostrum and the “first milk” how what it lacks in volume it makes up for in nutrients/calories but the bottom line was it wasn’t enough.
I received a double electric medela breast pump for free through Nick’s insurance. I never anticipated using the pump until going back to work. But after the endless waterworks and feelings of quitting, Nick suggested I started to pump. He hated watching me cry over the pain in my breasts and the over-dramatized feelings of failure. He wanted to help feed him at night and desired the bond that feeding creates. I reluctantly agreed, “I am not producing milk Nick, nothing will come out.” But I remember him just begging me to try, knowing how badly I wanted to give Desmond breast milk. I hooked up the pump, pumped for 20 minutes and produced only enough milk to thinly cover the bottom of both bottles, not even an ounce. “So much for that!” I remember yelling, and I poured it down the sink.
We went to see the pediatrician for his first newborn visit. The doctor was so sweet and cooed over our sweet boy. We striped him down, diaper and all and the nurse placed him on the scale. 9.1lbs. My son had lost over a pound, I was the world’s worst mother. I truly was giving up. The doctor begged me to talk to their lactation specialist, another person telling me what I thought I knew. She showed me how to get the perfect latch. She told me to stop the formula and feed on demand, whenever he wanted it to help my milk come in. Well, she didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know. Nick encouraged me to try what she said, use her tips but not to stop pumping. So here I was, nursing for 40 minutes, then pumping for 20 and Desmond was eating every hour. Now correct me if I am wrong, but there are 60 minutes in an hour and that was being used. So I was a feeding machine, adding to my baby blues and still discouraging me because he still needed formula.
Finally, we decided to exclusively pump or e-pump after that appointment. This meant that until my milk fully came in and I had enough for a bottle, he was drinking strictly formula. I pumped every 2 hours for 30 minutes and I was diligent about it. Nick gave him bottles and I pumped, that was our system. After one day of pumping, I was making 2 oz per breast, enough for a bottle each time! HE COULD HAVE BREAST MILK AGAIN! We were on the upward climb. Still giving him formula at night, he was drinking mostly breastmilk, only on formula for 2 days! At the re-weigh, he gained all his weight back! I felt my spirits lifting.
Fast forward to today, I produce 5 oz per breast per pump. This rate of production has been steady since week 2. Desmond being a 10+lb baby, drinks a 50z bottle every 3 hours. He steadily increased ounces, almost like clock work (3oz at 2-3 weeks, 4-5oz at 4 weeks and now a steady 5oz every feeding, for the most part). My supply amazes me every day. I think back to sitting in my bedroom sobbing at the pitiful .5 oz per breast while my son guzzled down formula. I think back to how overly dramatic my feelings were but how very real they were. I wanted to give my son the best. I know that there are formula fed babies with impeccable health and I know it is a great source of food but I wanted to do what my body was intended to. There was no social stigma or ideas I had, I just wanted to feed my son with my milk, I can’t explain the innate desire. I now freeze over 30 ounces of breastmilk per day and I have been able to drop pumping sessions down to 5x a day as opposed to 8 times without a drop in my supply.
I wanted to write this post to share my experience with anyone interested in breastfeeding/e-pumping or anyone who is curious about the process. Breastfeeding is not for everyone and either is e-pumping. I cannot stress enough how important it is to do what works for you. No matter what you do, someone has an opinion. The lactation specialist told me that e-pumping would never work. One pediatrician told me that formula fed babies have larger “stretched” stomachs due to larger quantities of food. Another pediatrician told me whatever I was doing was working, due to his weight gain. Regardless of anyone’s opinions, FED IS BEST. If you really want to breastfeed, push through. Find a way to make it work. That way may be e-pumping but if you don’t feel like it is working for you THEN STOP. A couple of days of doubt is normal but if after a couple days/weeks you are still feeling like you want to feed your baby with formula, then do what you need to do to be happy. In the end, if you are happy, your baby will be happy. When people talk about a baby thriving, it is not only about the food they receive, it is their environment as well. If you are miserable, over-tired and discouraged because you are forcing the breastfeeding issue, your baby will not thrive in comparison to a baby who is formula fed, no matter what nutrients are in your milk.
Thanks for taking the time to read this novel! I hope this helps someone who is trying to decide methods of feeding or who is struggling with providing breastmilk, like I was.