A little while ago I put my foot in it over on Facebook. I received a brochure in the mail from a formula company containing a message I disagree with. I shared my disagreement via a status update that I ought not have made. Afterward I received messages from friends, people I like and respect, who felt hurt. Women who had struggled very hard to breastfeed their babies without success. And I felt bad, really bad, because I’ve been there.
When Hannah was born, she was 6 weeks early and I lost a lot of blood. They took her from the delivery room within minutes of her birth at 4pm, and other than a quick visit while I was too weak to sit up, I didn’t see her again until around 9:30 the next morning. By that time she had received a bottle of formula. I’m not sure if it would have made a difference if we’d had a chance to nurse before she was fed using an artificial nipple, but I would have liked the chance.
Regardless of what I could have done differently, or they could have done differently, the result was I had a very small baby who refused to nurse. I started pumping my milk to feed her, but was not able to get enough, so she was topped up with formula as well. She spent 6 days in special care, and not once did she nurse successfully. I received various advice from each of her nurses, some helpful and some not, much of it contradictory. I thought that maybe once she was home and we could just relax and be together things would be easier.
Things did not get better when Hannah came home. In fact, they got worse, because I was still weak from my own ordeal and now I was waking up several times a night. It was an involved regimen – warm the bottle, try to nurse and fail, feed the bottle, pump, clean the pump and make up the next bottle. Add in the sleep deprivation and the feeling that my baby was rejecting me and it was quite the cocktail of misery.
Just over 24 hours after we got home, the midwife came to visit. She found me at the end of my rope. I was sobbing, convinced that I had totally failed. I was ready to give up breastfeeding, because I could not take the rejection and the lack of sleep and the feelings of failure. I was also convinced that I couldn’t make enough milk, since I couldn’t pump enough milk. At that point, the midwife suggested a nipple shield. Jon bought one, and the next morning I tried it out.
Hallelujah! Hannah nursed right away, and nursed well, with the nipple shield. She stopped showing interest in the bottle. She had her last few ounces of formula that day. Her weight gain was monitored closely, and it really took off once she was exclusively breastfeeding. I returned the rented hospital pump within a few days and didn’t look back.
It took us a few months to get off the nipple shield, and a few hours of turmoil. Once Hannah was off the nipple shield I breathed a huge sigh of relief. She was OK, I was OK, she was nursing and we were going to make it.
In the end I nursed Hannah until she was nearly 3. It was the right time for us to wean. I was newly pregnant, she was no longer nursing to sleep, we were both ready. It felt sort of like a completion, moving from one stage of our relationship to the next.
If I hadn’t tried the nipple shield that day, I can pretty much guarantee you that Hannah would not have been breastfed. I’ve since heard stories from my friends who spent much longer than I did struggling, who went much greater distances, and it didn’t work out for them. All that I can say to that is that I am amazed at their effort. I am impressed by their commitment to their children. And I know that any breastmilk they were able to give their babies was beneficial.
Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Much like pregnancy and childbirth are natural, but can go sideways, so can breastfeeding. Having good support and information, such as you can find through La Leche League, is helpful. Another great place to visit online is Kellymom.com – it’s one of the first places I turn for information about breastfeeding and parenting. Very few of us spend any time alone with a newborn until we have our own. Reaching out to other mothers is a great way to get help as you adjust to breastfeeding and all aspects of baby care.
To the people who feel that I judged them, I can only say I’m sorry. Please know that my frustration with a particular brochure is no reflection on how I view mothers who may use formula. I have done so many things I said I’d never do since I became a mom, made so many mistakes, I’m in no position to judge anyone else. Just come to my house at around 5:45 on any given evening and listen to the commotion and you’ll know, I am not always the mother I would like to be.
And I will be much more careful in the future with my Facebook status updates.