Breast Feeding; It's Not As Easy As It Looks

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“You’re starving him,” the pediatrician told me.

I looked down at my baby and started to weep. It had been a difficult pregnancy and it wasn’t any easier after my son was born. The doctor told us that nursing was simple. In fact he said, “I’ve only seen it not work once and the woman was doing it wrong.”

So basically, any idiot can nurse a baby. Just not this idiot.

When my son was born he came out blue. He was whisked away and within minutes (it felt like hours) he was back to me, pink and beautiful. When I tried nursing him, he couldn’t latch on. Years earlier, I had been there when my sister had her daughter and I remember what an overwhelming moment it was when my niece immediately started nursing. But for my boy and me it didn’t happen like that.

Not for lack of trying, though. The first night in the hospital a nurse grabbed my nipple, squeezed hard, and shoved it in my baby’s mouth. She then grabbed the back of his head and pushed. This wasn’t an effective breast feeding tutorial for us. Nurse after nurse came in and tried using a similar method. On the last day my son seemed to be getting enough milk.

But when it came time for our visit to the doctor days later it was clear that wasn’t the case. He was not gaining weight and had lost more than was normal. The doctor said to give it a few more days and supplement with pumping and he would be fine. The doctor suggested pumping every 2 hours and feeding every other hour until my milk came in properly. So that’s milk production every hour for 24 hours. The options were to do that or start giving him formula.

Formula was not an option. Everything I had read (and I read everything) said that if I didn’t nurse exclusively then I would give my son Type 1 Diabetes. My husband has Type 1 and another autoimmune disorder, celiac disease. Having those diseases aren’t the worst thing in the world, but I was going to do everything I could to make sure they didn’t happen because I couldn’t handle a breast pump or because I needed a few hours of sleep. So I became a nursing machine. I slept a half hour here, a half hour there. I was depressed and crazy. And when anyone told me I was depressed and crazy (they used nice words like postpartum depression) I didn’t listen. I had a job to do.

We went back to the doctor. He weighed my son and shook his head. “You’re starving him.” I burst into tears. I was failing at the one thing that was supposed to be the easiest thing; taking care of my baby. “You have to give him formula.” So even though it wasn’t what I had planned or wanted, my husband mixed a bottle of formula and fed my baby while I went to sleep.

When I woke up it was quiet. My baby wasn’t crying or fussy because he had eaten well, probably for the first time. And I wasn’t as crazy because I wasn’t as sleep deprived. There was no book that had prepared me for that (or what was to come), but I know that a couple of bottles of formula didn’t do irreparable harm. All the information I had on how it was supposed to work and what I was supposed to do made me feel like I was doing everything wrong. After a few weeks of supplementing with formula, I was back to nursing full time.

That was 8 years ago. I wish I had known about mom blogs then, but it was just me and the books.