Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Breastfeeding aka My Sad Tale of Woe

In my family - babies are breastfed. It's pretty simple. I have two older sisters - who have given birth to 9 children between them (one has 3, one has six. No fertility problems there!) After giving birth - baby is put to breast - and that's that. There are no visits to lactation consultants .. there are no tears .. there is no supplementing with formula .. there is just the "simple" act of breastfeeding and away we go.

And so - when I was pregnant - I fully expected to breastfeed my child. It was a given. I would never feed my child formula - such a thing was just not done in my world. My two sisters, breastfeeding champions the both of them, in fact looked down on formula feeders .. thought of them as lazy or less giving to their child .. an opinion I had grown to share since I KNEW I would breastfeed my lucky little baby...

Yeah. Well. Then my baby was born with a condition called "ANKYLOGLOSSIA" - or - "tongue-tie". Basically - it's a condition that results in a short frenulum - that tiny piece of tissue under your tongue that sort of anchors your tongue to the floor of your mouth. Jack's extended all the way to the tip of his tongue. And prevented him from being able to extend his tongue past the tip of his teeth. Breastfeeding and tongue tie don't go so well together. The baby's tongue is an important component of successful breastfeeding and successful latch. I knew none of this. Had never heard of tongue tie - had no idea what was around the corner...

The day Jack was born - my husband was great, he was very successful in gently nudging everyone to HURRY UP so that Jack could be at my breast within one hour of my C-section - that was the magic number - under an hour!! - for successful latch. I had Jack at the boob within 59 minutes of his birth. And - he latched on - and started sucking. It was so cool. And I was so happy. The midwife who had come to my C-section as a support person was thrilled - said it's rare for C-section babies to latch on so easily - and left shortly thereafter.

My C-section was on a Monday. By Wednesday - my nipples were raw and starting to bleed. By Thursday - they were forming black scabs and nursing had become very painful. I saw the hospital lactation consultants every day. It wasn't until my last day in the hospital that one of them suggested that Jack was tongue tied - and that it was having a negative impact on our attempts to breastfeed.

Well I don't mess around. We left the hospital on a Thursday - had his first out of hospital pediatrician visit that Friday morning - got the name of an ear, nose & throat specialist - and had Jack in HIS office Friday afternoon - at which time the tongue tie was corrected. Basically, they clipped the frenulum - so that he would have greater freedom of movement. He was 4 days old. My little baby. But we did it in an attempt to save our breastfeeding relationship - and also because from what we read about tongue-tie - breastfeeding was not the only issue. Speech impediments - and physical discomfort can also result from tongue-tie. So having it corrected seemed like a good idea all around (and I still think it was.)

By Saturday - breastfeeding was still painful - moving rapidly toward excruciating - and I started making calls. I called the Breastfeeding Center in my town .. I called the county Breastfeeding helpline .. finally I got a call back. It was suggested to me that I be seen at the Breastfeeding Center - and that I get a prescription for something called All Purpose Nipple Ointment. I got the ointment later that day and started using it - and made an appointment at the breastfeeding center for the following Monday.

Oh - I should mention too that on that Saturday - Jack was NOT interested in nursing. He was very, very sleepy, somewhat jaundiced, and probably in a little pain from having the frenulum clipped the day before. My milk had sort of come in - but wasn't terribly impressive. I was getting worried - but still had no idea how worried I needed to be.

OK you know what - this is getting too long. So I'm going to speed it up.

Things continued to go downhill. My boobs were a mess - Jack lost too much weight - we ended up in Children's Hospital for 4 days. THAT was awful. AWFUL. No one knew what was wrong with him because it seemed he just could not gain weight - even after we started supplementing A LOT with formula. I thought he was going to die. But on the 3rd day there he started to gain and then just took off. Thank God.

Back to my boobs - it would later turn out I was allergic to the "magic" ointment (no one figured that out until I'd been using it for several weeks and it had done a ton of damage to my boobs) - before that - at 2 weeks old I had to take Jack off of the breast and start exclusively pumping (or EP'ing) in spite of the idiot pediatrician who not only told me to stop breastfeeding but ALSO told me to stop pumping (as if it had ANYTHING to do with her but I was exhausted and vulnerable and listened to her - thank God a nurse at the midwife center spoke with me later the same day and convinced me to continue pumping - I would have been so angry down the road had I listened to that IDIOT pediatrician) - time went on - my boobs didn't heal - I ended with misdiagnosed mastitis, was given antibiotics, got thrush - more burning, pain & itching ensued .. then a few weeks later I got REAL mastitis - sick as a damn dog - more antibiotics - more thrush.

Finally - when Jack was a little over 8 weeks old - I was diagnosed as being allergic to the ointment and stopped using it for good - I also did a 2 week course of diflucan (that I had to beg my midwife for a prescription for, she was REALLLY leery of it) and it knocked out the thrush - and for the first time since my son was born - at around 10 weeks of age - the last sore healed over (and left a nice purple keloid scar on my nipple as a souvenir) and I could pump without pain.

There is so much more to this story - bad advice - missteps - but suffice to say - I learned A LOT. If there's a next time .. boy will I approach it differently.

I also learned that breastfeeding CAN go terribly wrong - that it can be really hard - and that it is just not for everybody. And that judging people who don't breastfeed is very stupid - because you NEVER know somebody's reasons and some people just don't want to breastfeed and that's OK. It's not the only great thing you can do for your baby and there's a lot more to raising a child than starting him or her out on the boob. And formula is not poison. (Edited to add: And my sisters, the breastfeeding champs, have learned this too. And changed THEIR attitudes as well.)

I am really glad I'm still pumping. Jack is 16 weeks old today. I never thought I'd make it this far - and my new goal is 6 months. I don't have a full milk supply (that's the "more to the story" that I'm too tired to even get into) - I pump about 20 ounces a day so Jack gets 4 breastmilk bottles of around 5 ounces each and 2 formula bottles around 6 ounces each - and if he wants more food he gets more formula, and I am fine with this. I'm doing the best I can. What more can a mom do, really?