Monday, March 12, 2007

A lot Learned from Bad Advice

Those of you who (somewhat)regularly read have probably already read about my bad experience trying to nurse Hana. This post might sound a little familiar to you.

I have the privlidge of participating in the Breastfeeding Carnival, the topic being Breastfeeding advice. I was told they wanted the good, the bad and the ugly.

Well here's my attempt at giving nursing advice. It feels like an odd thing for me to do because I'm not nursing. Perhaps its one of those "those who can't, teach" situations. This is my story, and I think it definitely falls into the "ugly" category, but I hope it will be able to help and encourage someone.

When I was pregnant with Hana I was so excited about being a mom and everything that goes with that. I was especially excited about breastfeeding. For me it was something special, I was going to be the first woman in my family to breastfeed. I'm sure my pride over this soon-to-be accomplishment rivaled that of those who were the first in their family to do to university or own their own business. I was nervous, excited, and had my heart set on things starting out right.

As my pregnancy progressed, things weren't going exactly to plan. At 32 weeks Hana was still breech and my OB was concerned about her size compared to my size. There was mention of a c-section but there was still lots of time. I knew a section could possibly have an effect on a nursing relationship, but I knew lots of people got through that hurdle, and we could too. The next bump in the road was being unable to attend my breastfeeding class because I was still working. It was frustrating, but I was assured I'd have access to a lactation consultant and we'd have plenty of time to work on nursing if I happened to be in the hospital recovering from surgery. I was told not to worry about it, to relax because, after all, breastfeeding is natural and it won't be a problem. That's where the bad advice all began.

Hana was born November 3, 9:54 am, butt first. My section went well, no complications, and I had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The only problem was minor, the spinal had been a bit too effective and I couldn't feel anything from my toes to my collar bones, so I was told to wait about an hour before trying to nurse her that's bad advice #2, just in case you're keeping track).

Over the next four days in the hospital we continued to have issues. We had latch problems, I was bleeding, but the LC assured me we'd get it right if we kept trying. She showed me another position, it still didn't quite work, but she had to run to another appointment. One of the nurses told me I had to supplement because Hana was loosing a lot of weight and getting dehydrated, so we gave her a cup and I pumped. I was told I only needed to pump until she started nursing for more than 20 minutes without pain.One of the doctors came in and assured me that even a drop of my milk was better than any formula, and to keep going. That was the most encouraging thing I heard, and I wish I had remembered that doctor's name so I could have called her back for more encouragement.

The night before I was to be discharged my milk started to come in. I can't tell you how happy I was to see the little white drops in the corners of Hana's mouth, I cried with joy, just knowing things were going to be ok, that we would make it work. That night she nursed for over an hour. Then a nurse came in and told me she had been nursing too long and I needed to supplement. She said that Hana wasn't getting enough and if she nursed any longer she would burn too many calories. At that point all my joy, all my hope, all my confidence in my ability to provide for my daughter melted away. I cried, they offered to take her to the nursery so I could sleep, and they gave her a bottle.

I kept trying to nurse every two hours. In my anxiousness and fear I had a hard time latching her. She would get frustrated, I would get frustrated, we would both end up crying and the blisters were getting worse. After my first night home we were visited by a community nurse. We had decided to supplement Hana that morning because I didn't think she was getting enough (she had nursed for over an hour again). The nurse supported that decision and suggested I keep supplementing and rent a pump to help get my supply up. She also suggested that I stop nursing for a few days to give myself a chance to heal. Just as they were almost healed I was checked for a blood clot and told not to nurse for 48 hours because of the dye used for the CT scan.

That was really the end of our nursing relationship. I didn't know it at the time, but it was. The six days of not even being offered the breast caused nipple confusion. She would scream every time I put her to the breast, no matter how hungry or content she was, no matter what position I tried. The hospital grade pump I had rented wasn't very effective and I could only pump about two ounces per day. The medication that I was on gave me headaches and (I believe) caused depression. I began to resent Hana every time she cried, knowing she was hungry and I couldn't satisfy
her. I felt chained to my pump and wasn't getting any results. The support and encouragement I had received was beginning to turn into concern about my supply and questions about my commitment to nursing. I wasn't offered natural remedies (like fenugreek or blessed thistle), and neither the LC nor any of the nurses I met with (5 over the course of 3 weeks) offered nipple shields or a supplemental nursing system.

It was a painful thing to pack up my pump and stop trying to put Hana to the breast. Within 36 hours I was dry and it was over. At three weeks old she became exclusively formula fed. I slowly stopped crying when I fed her, and she slowly stopped screaming with hunger every hour. We started to bond, I started being able to smile at her. The depression lifted and she started thriving.

Now she's a happy, healthy, wonderful and beautiful 4 month old, and I am an attentive, loving, relaxed mother. It still hurts to think about what was lost, writing it out is both therapeutic and excruciating. At the time, switching to formula was what needed to happen, but had I known better and not been given such bad advice (over and over again), I know we wouldn't have gotten to that point. Now that I know better I know that next time I will be able to nurse, and that will help heal the loss of a nursing relationship this time around.

My advice for new nursing mothers - keep doing it. A nursing relationship is a choice and a right. There is help, there is support, there is a solution to every problem you can face. It is your right to nurse your child, but unfortunately you might have to fight for that right. Talk to people you know who have nursed. Go to La Leche League meetings. Meet with a LC before your baby is born, especially if anyone in your family has had nursing issues in the past. Let everyone around you know that you want to nurse, and tell them that if they aren't going to support it that you'll wait to talk to them until after nursing is going well. Get a baby carrier and keep your baby skin to skin as much as you can. Take baths and relax with your baby. Fall in love with your little miracle and know that you have within you the ability to provide nourishment for body, mind and soul. When someone tries to undermine this ability (be they nurse, doctor, mother, mother in law, sister, friend or even husband), seek a second opinion and protect yourself with people who will support and encourage you. It might not be easy, it might hurt, both of you might cry, it might seem like the most unnatural and awful thing in the world, but you can make it work.Trust me, it will be worth it.

Read the other posts in the carnival:
The Lactivist: Exclusively Pumping: Good Advice is Hard to Find
Motherwear Blog: The Fifth Carnival of Breastfeeding: Good Advice, Bad Advice.
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: How to Get Good Medical Advice on Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Mums: Good Advice/ Bad Advice
Mama Knows Best: Breast Feeding Advice

Guest entries for the month can be found at the Black Breastfeeding Blog, Mocha Milk, Cairo Mama, The Twinkies, and The Baby Gravy Train


Richards' said...

That's really good Steph! I think many people could benifit from your point of view! BFing was not easy for me starting off... I think my motivation to keep at it was my mom.... she was always pushing me everyday to put Gabby to the boob or pump..... Once she was 1 month old, she did it... without my mom, I probley would have given up.

Dena said...

I nearly cried reading your story. I knew you had struggles, and it was really hard, but I had no idea all that you went through. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps next time (should there be one), knowing what you know now, you can ignore the bad advice and have more success. The important thing is you tried. You did everything in your power, and it was not possible right then. The manner of feeding is not as important as the fact that she has been growing, and you two a great relationship now. Most moms have a hard time starting out, whether it includes BFing or not. Being a new mom is hard, and no amount of good advice can adequately prepare you. You just have to learn as you go. Fortunately most of us don't do anything so bad in the learning process that harms our child, and neither did you. I think that's why God doesn't let babies have memories for the first couple years, it's His grace to parents!

Anonymous said...

I identified a lot with your story which also brought tears to my eyes. My eldest son was born in England. I was determined to breastfeed but had no idea how hard it would be for us. I received no support and a lot of negative comments about my breasts being small and the nipples poorly shaped for feeding. My son was a poor feeder and required care in the NICU as he was also a little premature. He was fully formula fed by 5 weeks (I thank goodness for the breastmilk he did receive). I too experienced relief when he thrived on formula however, the sadness at my perceived failure and our loss still haunts me. I returned to New Zealand and my daughter was born here in a system much better suited to me. I had my own midwife and was able to stay in the hospital for three days learning to breastfeed her. It was not easy, it was painful in the early weeks probably due to my inexperience and very full breasts. But my midwife kept encouraging me and prescribed me 8 paracetamol a day for the pain. I could not believe it sometimes that my body was nourishing this beautiful baby all it by itself but my baby's good health kept me motivated. My greatest achievement that year was to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, she never has had a bottle and is still feeding now at 2 years 2 months. We managed to keep feeding through my third pregnancy and I am now tandem feeding her and my baby son who is 3 months old. This may not suit everyone but I am determined to do it my way and it is testament to the power of the female body.
Best wishes to you for next time round,