When my daughter A was born, she weighed a mere 5lbs 12oz. Despite an emergency C-section, my milk came in, and her tiny mouth was able to latch onto my comparably enormous nipple. But the day we were set to leave the hospital, Alexa had dropped weight (as all babies do) and was down to 5lbs 3oz. The pediatrician instructed me to supplement her feeds with formula to ensure that her weight didn’t drop any further.
A nurse helped me attach a tiny tube to the end of a syringe and then tape the tube to my nipple so that I could add formula to her feed as she nursed. This worked well for us for the first two days, and I was sure that we were on our way to establishing a solid nursing routine.
I had hired a postpartum doula for a couple of hours a day. She arrived at our apartment on the third day, took one look at the feeding tube and told me it was unnecessary. “Just give her the formula in a bottle,” she advised. “It will be so much easier for you.”
Two days later, Alexa refused to latch. She had developed “nipple confusion.” Her weight had picked up and it was no longer necessary for me to supplement, so I began to pump and feed her breastmilk from a bottle. But I wanted her to latch again, so I found a lactation consultant to help me.
On the first day, the lactation consultant arrived minutes before A was due to wake up for a feed. I told her what had been going on, and she assured me that she could help. Then my daughter woke up, screaming so hysterically that the lactation consultant was visibly shaken. We both tried in vain to get her to calm down enough to try and latch. Eventually the lactation consultant ordered me to give her the bottle.
As my daughter sucked happily on the silicone nipple, she told me that she hadn’t seen a baby this hungry in some time. She advised me to continue to pump and give her the bottle at the beginning of each feed to take the edge off and then to try and coax her back onto the breast. She showed me how to use nipple guards to mimic the texture of the artificial nipple and to dribble a little breastmilk onto them to make them more enticing. She assured me that as my daughter’s hunger was satiated and she grew stronger, she would find her way back to the breast. All I had to do was keep offering it to her at each feed and spend hours skin to skin in bed with her.
Every day for the next four weeks I spent most of the day in bed with Alexa. And when we weren’t in bed she was in a baby carrier pressed against my chest. At each feed, I dutifully began with a bottle and then followed up with my nipples, only to be rejected over and over again. It was painful. With all the hormones still raging in my body, it was difficult not to feel devastated that my baby didn’t seem to want to bond with me. And I felt guilty. What was wrong with me?
Some days I didn’t have the emotional strength to handle her screaming until the bottle was offered again, so I took a break and tried again the following morning (often with my husband’s encouragement). But the constant pumping was getting me down, and I started to set time limits in my head. I decided I would probably only make it to three months. And so what? After all, I was a formula-fed baby, and I hadn’t turned out too badly.
The reason I didn’t throw in the towel earlier was the fact that I had gestational diabetes during my pregnancy. I had read that breastfeeding could lower the likelihood of both of us developing diabetes in later life.
But as more time passed, the idea that my daughter would still remember how to latch seemed counter-intuitive. I figured she would lose the instinct as she grew older. Then I saw a posting for a meeting of the local La Leche League and decided to attend.
The room was filled with nursing mothers and I felt distinctly self-conscious taking out a bottle, even if it was filled with breastmilk. The La Leche League leaders went around the room asking each woman to share her experience. I quickly realized that almost everyone had struggled with breastfeeding in the beginning — sore nipples, low milk supply, blocked ducts and, in some cases, oversupply.
Then a woman who was happily nursing her son began to speak. This little breastfeeding pro was 10 weeks old, and it turned out that he had only begun latching two weeks earlier. His mother was able to coax him back onto the breast by taking lots of baths with him and putting him onto her chest in the warm water.
Just hearing that someone else had actually managed to achieve what had begun to feel like the impossible gave me the extra boost I needed to keep going. And a few weeks later, I too had managed to get my daughter to latch.
I was no longer a slave to the breastpump. I finally had the bonding experience I had so longed for, and ultimately, I nursed my daughter until she was 14 months old.
Image via Pinterest.