We just assumed the baby would breastfeed. It was a given. It’s what your body is supposed to do, right? So yeah, that’s what we’re doing. Breastfeeding for the win. We bought bottles knowing that eventually, when I went back to work, I’d be away for long hours and someone else would be handling the feedings. But the contents of those bottles would come from me and my boobs.
After a relatively uneventful pregnancy with no complications other than some very unattractive swelling (hello, elephant ankles…), came the unexpectedly crazy complicated labor and delivery. Twenty-seven hours of labor and emergency c-section delivery, to be precise. Then there were the post-delivery challenges of excessive blood loss, puking three times on the operating table, passing out from the excessive blood loss, uterine infection, high grade fever, and some other things my mind has tucked away for now. I couldn’t even attempt breastfeeding until two and a half hours after delivery. Baby latched on fairly well, according to the nurses in the room, but he didn’t want to suckle. At all. Just not interested.
Because of his size at delivery (over 10lbs), the nurses came in regularly every two hours to check his blood sugar levels. They were concerned that because he wasn’t getting much from our breastfeeding attempts, his body wouldn’t be able to regulate its blood sugar and a drop could mean seizures or even a coma. Exactly the kind of thing an already exhausted and stressed out brand-spankin’ new mama wants to hear, right? I’m sure they were just warning of the rare, worst case scenario but still…
So we kept on trying to get him to breastfeed. He’d latch with no problem, then fall asleep. I mean, can you blame him? We’d been through quite the ordeal just a mere hours before. I was wiped out, too. Somehow, he managed to get just enough colostrum to keep his blood sugars stable but, barely. At one point, the nurse rigged a system of delivering formula through a nipple shield with a syringe and tiny tube to hopefully spark some enthusiasm in the kid, but nope. Still not interested.
The next day, the pediatrician came in to do a routine exam. He said baby’s heart rate was faster than he’d like. He explained this as a common thing with c-section babies that usually resolves itself within 24 hours. But baby’s heart rate was still high 48 hours later with no signs of improvement. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my two-day old infant was being wheeled to the NICU. Meanwhile, I was still waiting for my milk to come in. Being suddenly separated from baby did not help the milk situation.
I tried to make it down to the NICU for as many feedings as possible and was advised to continue pumping every two hours on top of that. Mind you, I too was just two days out from a harrowing delivery where I was told afterwards that there were “multiple” close calls. Multiple times when my body had to fight not just through contractions but to actually stay alive and keep my baby alive. I glossed over the delivery experience earlier, categorizing it as “complicated.” It’s easier to downplay it than relive the full experience in the retelling. Suffice it to say that if it were any other circumstance other than delivering a baby, I would’ve been on strict doctor’s orders for bedrest and as much sleep as possible. Instead, I was attaching a device to my boobs and pumping them like a dairy cow every two hours in between attempts at actually breastfeeding baby. My nipples were cracked, blistered, and bloody but I kept going. Even with all that effort, the milk still refused to come in.
It wasn’t until after the fifth day, after we were home from the hospital, that the liquid gold finally made an appearance. Hallelujah! Oh happy day! But by that point, baby wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. He’d get frustrated after a few minutes of suckling and pull away crying, all too accustomed to the speedy delivery of a bottle thanks to his supplemental feedings in the NICU. We continued practicing every three hours while I pumped every two hours around the clock to make sure he got every single drop either from the boob or the bottle. Just think how many alarms you’d need to set on your phone to remind you when to pump and when to attempt a feed. So, so many…
Then, baby hit a growth spurt. Normally a very exciting time in a newborn parent’s journey. Physical validation of your efforts at feeding and sustaining life! But my body couldn’t keep up with the demand. And believe me, I tried. I drank the teas, ate the lactation cookies, took the breastfeeding supplements, did the massages – I did pretty much every single thing the three lactations consultants I visited plus a bunch of other stuff suggested by mom friends. Instead of increasing my supply, it just dwindled. At one lactation visit, baby got the equivalent of one teaspoon of breast milk after AN HOUR of breastfeeding.
Finally, after three weeks, baby gained back everything he had lost and surpassed his birthweight. And that never would have happened had we not supplemented with formula. And after six weeks of the pumping / breastfeeding / supplementing madness, I decided to transition him fully to formula. I was spending more time bonding with my breast pump than my baby and each feeding was getting more stressful than the last. So I stopped the madness. And even though I felt betrayed by my body, I knew it was the right thing for both of us.
Through our breastfeeding experience, I’ve come to realize that feeding an infant is an intimate act no matter how it’s done. This tiny, vulnerable, adorable little human being is completely dependent on you for nourishment. In that moment, their life is sustained by you. Literally. You’re embracing each other, often heart to heart, and almost always sharing each other’s sacred personal bubble. You spend minutes in sustained eye contact, gazing at each other as you study the details of one another’s face. And the most beautiful part of it all is, it doesn’t matter how the feeding is done, the physical closeness of the act is shared among bottle- and breast-feeders alike. It’s a loving, selfless act that should never be the cause of stress or trauma for any parent. Fed is best, for everyone involved. However you’re feeding your baby, you’re doing a great job.