Thursday, February 7, 2013

Breastfeeding

"A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three." ~Grantly Dick-Read

I keep thinking I should write a post about my breastfeeding experience so far. After reading about Jens experience with her two children and about Mayim Bialik weaning her 3 1/2 year old son I got inspired to finally do it I guess.

Breastfeeding is hard. Really hard sometimes. And also easy. Its weird like that.

When I was pregnant I knew I was going to give breastfeeding my very best shot for as long as I could hang in there. I tried not to put too much pressure on myself or set any kind of minimum amount of time. When asked how long I planned to breastfeed (yes, people ask things like this, its crazy, but that's another topic altogether) I would say "for as long as it is still working for both of us". And that was the plan.

When my son was born after a very long and difficult birth for both of us, we had some difficulty getting started with breastfeeding. We were both so exhausted it was a challenge just to keep both of us awake for a feeding in those first few hours. I had a very difficult time getting him to latch. There was talk of giving him formula from a dropper for fear of his blood sugar dropping too low. I really didn't want his first nutrition to come in such a sterile unnatural way.

After several failed attempts the nurse gave me a nipple guard to help shape my nipple to make it easier for him to latch. We finally had some success. I was told some babies mouths are just too small or they just have trouble sometimes. No big deal, I could drop the guard after a week or two. I was just happy to be able to be the one to nourish my baby.

In those first few weeks our nursing sessions were incredibly long, anywhere from 30 minutes to and hour and a half. They were also incredibly frequent, anywhere from every 30 minutes to an hour and a half, maybe two if I was lucky (it was a little better at night thank goodness!). That's right, I was spending half of my time with a baby attached to my boob.

I was also dealing with sore cracked nipples, plugged ducts, general inflammation and soreness and just everything that comes with starting to breastfeed. It was not so much fun in those early days.

After three weeks of very long and very frequent feedings and having no luck weaning him from the nipple guard I decided to hire a lactation consultant to come to my home. I called Debbie Gillespie for an appointment right away. I didn't even really know what to ask. I just knew this wasn't working. I just wanted to have someone come to me and focus just on me and my issues and tell me what to do. I was happy to pay the $110 (this was reimbursed by our health insurance!).

I can't tell you how glad I am that I did this. I really believe Debbie is the reason we are still breastfeeding today. She walked in the door with her scale (to weigh the baby and see how much milk he was getting) and other equipment and got right to work. While I filled out some paper work she examined my son. Within 10 minutes of her being there she said "yep, tongue tied, there's your problem".

Tongue tied? My son, tongue tied? Why didn't my midwife notice this? Why didn't the pediatrician at the hospital notice this? Why didn't the two different lactation consultants I met with at the hospital notice this? Why didn't the multiple nurses who examined him at the hospital notice this? Why didn't my pediatrician notice this at his newborn visit? Tongue tied?

Now that she pointed it out it was really pretty obvious. When he cried, mouth wide open, his tongue would barley reach up half way to the roof of his mouth. This can cause all sorts of problems with breastfeeding, including difficulty latching and long and frequent nursing sessions. Without full mobility of the tongue the baby is unable to suck efficiently and has difficulty getting enough milk.

Fortunately for us I have a very strong milk supply. An oversupply actually. If this were not the case we would likely be having even more difficultly Debbie informed me. I hate to think what that might look like.

So at her recommendation we took my son to a specialist. At 5 weeks old we had a procedure done to liberate his poor little tied tongue. Every time I see him blow a raspberry or stick his tongue out or bite it while he is concentrating really hard it makes me grateful we went through with the procedure at such a young age.

Things got much much better after this. But not perfect. Oversupply may have saved us in our first few weeks but this is a problem all on its own.

During nursing my son would frequently cough and sputter at the breast due to my forceful let down. He was having reflux issues, huge amounts of spit up on a regular basis. I also noticed that his poops were very runny, even for breastfeed newborn poops, and sometimes greenish in color. These are signs of a baby getting too much foremilk and not enough of the fatty nutritional hindmilk. The poor baby gets full before he even gets to the good stuff at the back.

I kept hoping my milk supply would regulate itself over time but this was not the case. At about 12 weeks when my son started waking more frequently at night things only got worse. It was time to address my supply issue.

So again, Debbie to the rescue. She advised me to start block feeding. Meaning feeding my son on the same side for a block of time, we started with 4 hours per side.

Milk production is regulated in two ways, demand signaling supply to pick up and milk building up in the breast signaling supply to drop. By letting my son feed on demand on one side only for a block of time, setting the demand, the other side would rest and become full signaling to my body to cut back.

We actually took the block of time to 6 hours (I still feed in 6 hour blocks to this day) and even then I had to take a few doses of sage, an herb that naturally cuts milk production usually only taken by women ready to wean, in order to get my supply where it should be.

It took some tweaking but finally I started to see some improvements in my sons poops and spitting up. Breastfeeding sessions became much more relaxed and comfortable for both of us without the forceful let down and related coughing and sputtering.

We are now enjoying a very happy breastfeeding relationship thanks to Debbie's help.

It sure seems like breastfeeding should be obvious and straight forward. It should come naturally right? But it's not and it doesn't. It does for some of course but for many women and babies it just isn't all that easy.

On the other hand, breastfeeding is just so beautiful in its simplicity. Breastfeeding costs me nothing. I don't have to worry about running out (that much is for sure!) and needing to go to the store for more. I don't have to worry about washing bottles, sterilizing nipples, getting a bottle to the right temperature. I don't have to worry about having enough in my diaper bag or having a place to mix, warm, or make a bottle.

Whip out a boob, cuddle up with baby. Done and done. No muss no fuss. It's wonderful.

There are no words for the pride I feel at seeing his growth at each doctors appointment. I did that! I can't begin to explain how it warms my heart to be able to sooth my son at the breast when he needs it most. It is just such a special connection and after 7 months I am in no rush to wean.

I'm still sticking to my original thought that we will keep breastfeeding for as long as it is still working for us. I can start to see how it might work for us for an extended period of time, perhaps beyond a year. I have no goals here, my feelings might change but it does seem plausible at this point.

Breastfeeding has been such a healthy positive thing for my son's health and for our relationship. I see no reason to give that up anytime soon.

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