Saturday, June 5, 2010

How I Defeated My Own Breastfeeding Success

I've had a very hard time with breastfeeding. It was something I wanted to do exclusively until Jack was six months old, and it just didn't happen. While he gets some breast milk every day, the vast majority of what he eats is formula, and every single bottle that I mix reminds me of what I did to destroy my own chances of success. If I could go back in time and visit the two days postpartum Jenn, I'd change what I did, and those changes would have made all the difference.

It is too late for me, but maybe someone can learn from my mistakes. These are the things I would have done differently.

1. I wouldn't have left the hospital without confidence in my breastfeeding abilities. I made the very novice assumption that because breastfeeding is natural, because it has been around since the very beginning of people, that it would be easy or come naturally. That is so not true - there is so much to learn, and because we as a society keep breastfeeding on the down low, motherhood is often the first time that any of us really get to learn anything about breastfeeding at all.

My hospital has a wonderful lactation department, and I was visited by two lactation consultants while in the hospital. Both were great, and with their assistance, Jack latched on well. However, Jack and I were discharged on a Saturday and the LC department closed at 2p.m. that day. When I got home Saturday afternoon, nothing I could do would get Jack to latch properly. The LC's answering machine told me that their office wouldn't reopen until Monday morning. How was my baby supposed to eat from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning? He's hungry now! I needed help now! In desperation, I turned to the breast pump. I spent more time in those important, early days pumping than I did sleeping or bonding with Jack. I began to absolutely dread the pump: it meant time away from my brand new baby, it meant time away from sleep, it meant pain, and it was miserable. I knew I would be pumping once I got back to work, but I never expected to be pumping at 3 days postpartum. I began to loathe the pump.

I wish I had asked more questions of the lactation consultants. I wish I had asked what to do if the LC's office was closed and I needed help. I wished I had dug deeper and found community resources, like La Leche League, that don't necessarily keep banker's hours like the LC did.

2. Those free cans of formula from Similac? I'd have tossed those in the trash as soon as they arrived in the mail. While I was pregnant I had gotten onto some new mom mailing list, and Similac took it upon itself to send me two nice, expensive cans of formula. I set them with all of my ready baby gear, keeping them as a "just in case." That was a mistake.

In those early days of breastfeeding, if those cans weren't in the house, exhausted new mom me would have had to figure out breastfeeding. I would have had to work to get a correct latch. I wouldn't have had the "I'm tired, I'll just mix one bottle" option. Those early days are so important to establish supply, and they are also the hardest because as a new mom you are struggling with the challenges of motherhood, the sleeplessness that is life with a newborn, and any shortcut sounds like a great idea.

This great idea affected my supply. I know it did.

3. When I felt like giving up, I wouldn't have. I would have carried on. My biggest mistake came four weeks after Jack was born. Frustrated and tired, I decided that I wasn't going to continue breastfeeding. I was already supplementing about six ounces a day, and about 5 of 6 feedings were done via the pump. I had enough. I quit breastfeeding for 36 hours. And then I regretted it. I recalled the reasons I had wanted to breastfeed, and I got right back to it only to find that my supply had taken a huge hit. Where I used to pump three ounces, I'd pump one ounce. My supply never fully recovered.

What would I say to new mom Jenn, if I could go back to a time five months and one week ago?

Don't give up. The struggle is worth it. The exhaustion is worth it - Jack will only be a newborn once, and it won't last long. Throw out the formula. Use the pump as a last resort.

Most importantly: I'd tell myself that I can do it.

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