Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our Breastfeeding Journey

Here's the story of our breastfeeding journey.  It's a bit of a bear as we had many bumps along the way to what ultimately became the most rewarding experience I ever had.  Literal blood, sweat, and tears, I never worked so hard at something and I'm so proud of our experience.


Before Baby:



I knew I wanted to try my hardest at breastfeeding, though I definitely wasn't in a "I HAVE TO" mind frame.  I've had a lot of friends face struggles with their supply, baby not latching, doctors pushing formula and it just not working out.  I didn't want to place the pressure on myself to feel like a failure if I wasn't able to to produce milk or help my baby healthily gain weight.

Also, I was only breastfed for 3 weeks  before being switched to formula.  I had severe reflux and had to be hospitalized because I was losing weight, the only thing I was successfully able to keep down was soy formula.   And as the old adage goes -  I turned out fine!  I don't have any allergies or asthma, I graduated high school and college with high honors, and never had rare or recurrent illnesses - all things the anti-formula pushers try to scare you into believing will automatically happen if your child sips anything other than breast milk.

So while my goal was to breastfeed for a year, I never wanted to place pressure on myself to make that the only option.   I just wanted a healthy baby who was thriving, on whatever form of nutrition it might have come from.


Baby's [unexpected] Arrival:


Ashlynn surprised us when she was born at 35 weeks gestation.  At this point, we had just finished our birth class the week prior and I hadn't even read up about breastfeeding.  I was planning to get to that in my final month so it'd be fresh in my mind.  Plus, I had heard fabulous things about the lactation consultants at our hospital, so I was hoping on getting more hands on learning as we went. 



When Ashlynn arrived and was placed on my chest (read the birth story here and here), she was given the chance to nurse.  She started rooting immediately and eventually found a latch.  Looking back, I'm not sure if she was truly latched or even getting anything at all, but after a small bit of time, the nurses gave her to her daddy to supplement with formula.  We were barely asked if this was okay, but since she was preterm and only 5 pounds, it was essential we do what we could to keep her weight and sugar levels up to keep her from visiting the NICU. 



So our routine began at the hospital, every 3 hours I would start the process of letting Ashlynn attempt to nurse for 20-30minutes, then let the husband feed her the colostrum I pumped from a syringe, then an ounce of formula, while I pumped again (both sides for 15 minutes).  After our two day stay, we took this routine home. 

My milk came in overnight our first night back, and it came in like tsunami from all that pumping!  This set me up for a very uncomfortable start.  We attempted to nurse, switch off, I'd pump and Pete feed. Finally I was pumping more than enough milk to completely fill bottles.  We started our freezer stash all while keeping her fed with the two ounces or so she was taking at the time.  She started gaining weight and things we going well, all aside from the actual nursing part.  

Painful and pretty sure she wasn't getting much nutrition from the source, she constantly was falling asleep at the breast.  We would tickle her feet, strip her down, you name it, she would just snooze.  I was getting defeated by the hospital grade pump (I hadn't yet purchased my own since I was waiting for my registry completion discount and she arrived before it did!).  I felt like a dairy cow.  We also found out after Ashlynn's first doctor appointment that she had jaundice - which is known for making breastfeeding even harder.  We had a bili-blanket delivered and trying to feed a glow worm baby who was literally plugged into the wall, was awful.



About a week to 10 days in, I called a lactation consultant to work on our latch.  At the time of our appointment (maybe around 2-3 weeks), we were having decent feedings on the right side, but the left side was just awkward and very painful.  She gave me a nipple shield and that really helped things along.  After a few weeks, we were able to drop it with out a problem and the left side feedings became as smooth as the right.


Over time our feeding schedule of 20 minutes one side, 20 minutes the other, bottle of pumped milk, and 15 minute pumping session and clean up (roughly 90 minutes) and then starting the process again 90 minutes was killing me.  I needed to stop pumping.  It seemed I was producing more than our tiny little baby would ever consume, yet no guide (kellymom.com or the Le Leche League books) or professional, really had an answer for our situation - preterm baby with a mom who's been pumping from the start, a no-no in their world.  I felt so confused where to start and how to go about transitioning out of our routine without causing harm to my supply or her needs.


Progress:



Around 6 weeks hit our stride.  I would feed on one side, since she was getting a full meal there, and pump the other.  Slowly I cut the pump time down and got ourselves to just feeding one side every 2-3 hours (on her cues).  Sure I was a bit lopsided, but I was also back to being very small. I'm a B in denial, so it really wasn't noticeable at all until feeding time.  I honestly have no idea where the milk came from.  Finally, I had weaned out pumping by about 2 months.


It was also at this time I noticed Ashlynn's reflux (and severe projectile vomit episodes and diaper rash), might be related to dairy consumption.  I decided to cut out obvious dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream) and see what happened.  I noticed less vomiting, but we were still battling the rash.  I think after two weeks, I added it back, and back came the reflux.  This was around July 4th and I knew we had to cut dairy for good and I scheduled an appointment to see a GI specialist.  To keep this already long post from becoming even longer, I'll post a separate MSPI post to cap off that journey since I've chatted about it a few times, but never how we ended.


Wait, what about the milk stash?
You may remember, we filled our freezer - fast.  Literally, we couldn't have bought ice cream if I wanted to eat dairy because there was no where to store it.  However, since all this milk was pumped while I was still eating dairy, it now became of zero use to us.  Afraid of a power outage and it all spoiling, or just expiring before we'd ever get to it - if we ever could, I signed up with The National Milk Bank and donated it... all 373 ounces.   That's 2.9 gallons of milk pumped in less than 2 months all while still feeding a newborn (and you wonder why I felt like a dairy cow!)



Bottle Battle
Since we no longer had stored milk, and I no longer was pumping because I was trying to keep my supply regulated to Ashlynn's demand, we stopped using bottles.  We had been using bottles from the moment she was born, and while I never expected to quit using them completely, I did want to limit them as much as possible when trying to get her to nurse during that week 3 to week 6 time frame.  I was afraid she might not nurse if she knew she'd be getting a bottle after and not have to work as hard. Once she finally was making strides nursing, it became so easy.  We could feed anytime, anywhere.  No clean up or prep or defrosting or sanitizing needed.

Also, once my supply was regulated to her demand, I could no longer pump a full bottle in 15 minutes time.  I would get an ounce, may two if I was lucky.  It would take me 4 nights of an added pumping session to get one bottle prepared for the weekend.  I did this when we had events like showers or doctors appointments and might need to have a bottle ready to go. However, after our GI follow up at 5 months, she never had a bottle again.  This also means, yes, I never left her side long enough to miss a feeding.

Go ahead, judge the insanity of that one.  However, it worked for me and worked for our family.  This made me extremely grateful to be a stay at home mom and have this opportunity.


The Reward


Being the one that could feed the baby, while a huge commitment, was so rewarding on so many levels.  This meant, no help in the middle of the night, no help so I could get my hair or nails done,  leave for a girls night out, etc.  It also left my husband out of the feeding portion of her needs for few months, which did suck. However, he was still able to bathe, snuggle, rock, change, and nap with her like the best of them.  And he was so supportive.  He saw how hard I worked those first 6 weeks trying to get her to latch and nurse and break the bottle and pumping cycle that was breaking me down.   He was a great cheerleader (who I think secretly was enjoying the sleep) and supported my decisions and ultimately wanted what was best for us, and that was the ease of nursing.

Back to the bond, being the one she needed created such a deep bond between us, still to this day if she falls down or is crying, she wants her mommy.  I never minded the middle of the night feedings, so long as she would actually feed and go back to sleep, which she did through most of her babydom.  The teething didn't really start until she pushed one year, so we never had an issue with biting - thank goodness!  I am so proud we made it as long as we did and so glad it became easy as pie after the rocky start.  There were times I wasn't sure how long it'd last, like in the early days when she couldn't nurse from the left, or the dairy intolerance, but I'm so proud I stuck through the difficulties and tried to give her what was best for her and keep our bond and snuggle time alive.


Weaning
I planned to wean Ashlynn sometime after the one year mark.  I was hoping to transition to milk and replace our feedings with sippies of milk and letting it take it's course at her time.  I didn't want to be nursing at 18 months, but if it two 2 or 3 to completely drop a final feeding, I'd be okay with that.


But life is what happens, when your busy making other plans...  in our case, pregnancy.  When I called my OB to set up my first appointment I asked about weaning and what they recommended, they said as soon as I could since my body was using resources to both create and sustain this developing life as well as produce my milk.  I also asked her pediatrician since she was a few weeks shy of 12 months and I wanted to know if I could supplement our dropped feedings with milk instead of using formula for 2-3 weeks then transitioning.  They were all for it and didn't place pressure on me to rush, but did agree I was probably feeling exhausted due to doing both.

As I mentioned in her weekly updates, we took exactly a month to fully wean.  We found out we were expecting on April 5th and her last nursing session was before bed on Cinco de Mayo!  Fiesta!  We started with 4 feedings and basically dropped one each week.  I was slow dropping from 3 to 2 because of her birthday week.  I didn't want to disrupt her and throw her off schedule when we had visiting family and a party to throw.  Once that was over she dropped so easily from 3 to 2, I waited one week and dropped to one.  I noticed she really didn't even notice so two days later I just stopped and never looked back.  She never seemed to care, although we did need to work out some new bedtime routines.


Other bits

I did come down with some sort of a mastitis/clogged ducts twice.  Each time I woke up with a fever, chills, and an incredibly sore boob. I would pump and use heat compresses and nurse as much as I could and within a few hours my fever and chills would have subsided.  So I never needed a prescription for antibiotics, so it might have just been a clogged duct, that started with mastitis like symptoms.  Still not sure, but it was NOT fun!


As I said, Ashlynn was a late teether, so I never had to deal with biting.


Ashlynn gained weight in line with the breast fed babies growth chart.  She gained very quickly early on and around 6 months seemed to level out.  Actually, I'd have to check the baby book, but I think she gained 11 pounds in her first 6 months and less than an additional 3 in her second 6 months.  (seriously, look at her chunk - those arms!)

Due to my oversupply created by pumping, we also battled a forceful letdown that made nursing very difficult in the beginning.   I found expresses some milk before her feedings really helpful in getting a better latch and less choking and swallowed air.



In the end, while I still maintain nursing was harder than labor, I'm so glad we all persevered and were able to make it as long as we did.  I'm already getting anxiety over what baby #2 will bring in that department - will he/she be a natural and no immediate pumping required and let my supply develop naturally?  Will I have another oversupply or will I have an under supply and have to venture into new things like Mother's Milk Tea and Fenugreek?  Will we have latch issues?  When will I pump since this time around I want the option of bottle feeding and having daddy and other family members more involved.  Will we have issues with baby taking a bottle or quitting the bottle?  Things we never had to deal with, with Ashlynn.  I know I'm way ahead of myself and I'm hoping that things go as smoothly as possible and will cross whatever hurdles we meet when we get there.

So with that, I end our nursing journey.  If you made it this far, go treat yourself to some ice cream!


30 comments:

  1. This was a great story. I am loving all the pro-breast feeding stories I keep reading about. Yours is great. I am starting to wean Emma more and more. Trying to get her down to just bedtime and waking up. THen I will remove the morning one and finally the bedtime one. I will miss it like crazy. I know why there are some moms who keep going. It feels great knowing you are providing something your baby loves.

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    1. I hope it can encourage readers who may be suffering from similar situations - preterm baby, mspi, oversupply, etc. I definitely think if there's a will, there's a way, but I realize BF isn't for everyone and if formula will get your baby thriving - then use it!

      We also dropped the nighttime feeding last, and I time I miss it, but I still get before bed snuggles. We read 2-3 books, sing 2 songs and rock for an extra 2-5minutes before laying her in the crib. It really was a rewarding experience though!

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  2. Treat myself to ice cream after reading? Sounds good to me. ;) Good post and I know what you mean about leaving the babies side for long periods of time. Mariam is EBF so I'm never gone for more than 2-3 hrs the times I actually do leave her side. While I also breastfed my other 2 girls, they weren't EBF like Mariam and I think it has something to do with how super clingy to me she has been unlike the others. I also let her nurse soon after birth and there was that instant bond. I hope to make it a year with Mariam.

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    1. Ashlynn definitely has phases of being clingy, she was very between 8-10 months and now is getting better. She loves being with her daddy and even will play with her grandparents and not care where I am (used to always make sure I was nearby). She is still very cautious of new people (especially men) and I can feel her tightening her grip on me when introduce her, but she is definitely building independence. I've read that attachment parenting while you think would make kids super needy, actually helps them build confidence because they know their parents are there to support and help them. Good luck making it a year, I'm sure you'll do great!!

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  3. Congrats, you go girl!! Ashlynn is too cute :)

    http://hellonewlywedlife.blogspot.com/

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  4. No judging here for sure! Reed's refused bottles from about month 1 and he nurses every 2-3 hours, still at nearly 8 months. I can literally count the number of times I've been away from him on one hand. I am very hopeful that we can make it to one year, but I think I'll leave for an entire day just because I can when he weans! I'd be interested to hear about your bedtime changes since we'll be getting there pretty soon.

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    1. Yep, at 14 months.. I've only left for a short doctors appts and handful of errands. Any "events" she comes with, but she's at the age now where she needs to be left at home (ie. showers and dinners). I'll follow up about our routine and whats working!

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  5. Awesome job, it most definitely is not easy and I've never heard of anyone who didn't have some sort of unique struggle. A lot of people think that pumping makes it easier since people can help you, and it does in a way, but dear god I hate pumping. I too would rather just get up in the middle of the night by myself and sit in the glider half asleep!

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    1. Amen! I'd burn my pump if I wasn't having another and burnt plastic didn't harm the ozone lol!

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  6. Such an awesome journey and beyond proud of you for pushing through and making it work! That definitely took a lot of of patience, endurance and commitment. xoxox

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    1. Thanks lady! You should be proud of your journey too! Working and pumping is definitely a commitment and you did the very best you could for E! ::high five::

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  7. The nursing journey is such a challenging one. Definitely not something that I expected. I struggled a lot with it in the beginning, with Mila needing to take formula/etc. As you said, it all works out...but it is a very hard time. I'm about to embark on it once again when my son comes in a couple weeks!

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    1. Squeee! I wish you the best and hope he's a natural!

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  8. Yes, give yourself a pat on the back!! Good for you for pushing through a rocky start. I'd have to agree it's one of the hardest things, but so worth it. And what a blessing to have a supportive husband, they need a pat on the back too. :)

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    1. why thank you! and I'll give him a pat too ;)

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  9. Wow. What a journey you have been on! Since we really only have the option of formula feeding with Ellie I can say it is nice taking turns feeding at night, but I do miss the opportunity to create that bond with her through nursing. I am so happy for you and I think it's so great that little A is going to have a sibling!! You are going to do great!

    Ashley

    atparsons.blogspot.com

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    1. You are still creating a bond, Ellie depends on you and you are providing unconditional love! She is so lucky to have you! She might be your angel, but you are and husband are hers!

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  10. this is such a great and helpful post, thank you so much! I've been exclusively breastfeeding my LO but I'm weaning her off slowly now (she's 10 months) as I'm going back to work next month. I did find it hard especially at nights when she was younger but also rewarding in the end :)

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    1. I'm so glad it was helpful! I hope weaning goes smoothly for you!

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  11. I loved this post. I might have to resurrect my blog just so I can get all my thoughts down about our breastfeeding journey. It has been so much more emotional and touching then I ever imagined. Like you we haven't done bottles (supplemented for the first 3 weeks with formula) and so it has been all mommy all the time. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Good job on your for all the hard work and dedication that you put towards making it a year!

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    1. Thank you and congratulations to you too!!

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  12. Awesome job, mama. I forgot about all of the road blocks/challenges you had in the beginning but you rocked it and I bet you rock it again. MIght even be easier second time around!

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    1. Thanks lady, you too!!! I'm hoping the second is a natural because I really question my ability to push through those battles with a toddler in tow! I also hope we don't have any bottle battles like you and CC did!

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  13. i had to cut out dairy too. Actually I cut out anything to do with a cow because my son had issues with the whey hormone which is everything to do with a cow. So no dairy or beef. I was one happy mama when my little man got weened! Nice big fat root bear float!

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    1. I feel ya! We actually cut all soy too, which if you start reading labels - is hidden in everything!! We already don't eat meat (only fish and poultry - and the poultry is a newer addition for me), so cutting out the dairy was rough, it was a major source of protein for me (hence why i started eating poultry more regularly. It must be so hard to cut beef and dairy when you are accustomed to eating both!

      Mmmmm root beer float, don't give me any preggo girl cravings! I swear I see sweets or treats and get instant "must.get.in.my.belly" moments!

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  14. thank you for sharing your story, it was a good read :) I posted mine recently and it's amazing that women have such varied experiences for something that's so "easy and natural." I've learned it's anything but :)

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  15. I am so impressed with your nursing story! I was lucky with a big baby that nursed well from the start and so nursing was relatively easy, not that it really is EASY! It takes major patience and commitment so I cant imagine going through the struggles you did in the beginning and still got your daughter to be such a great nurser. Seriously...mad props to you! My son is 13 months and I am slowly weaning him...I'm not necessarily in a rush, but I am ready to have my body be mine for a bit. I'm kind of at a loss as to what to do about dropping his naptime and bedtime feedings. I commit one of the big mom no-no's and nurse him to sleep for the most part and I haven't found many resources to help with weaning a 1+ year old that still falls asleep to nurse at times. Sometimes he is happy to go to his crib awake and falls asleep by himself, but more often than not I nurse him to sleep and I am completely fine with that. I enjoy that time with him and feel lucky to have the time to do it. When he periodically wakes up in the middle of the night I nurse him to sleep then as well. I could use a bottle but do not want to create another habit, and I do not want to traumatize him but just rejecting his want/need to nurse all of a sudden since that is such a comforting thing for him. I know you nursed Ashlynn on demand like I did and still would nurse her at night if we woke up, so how did you break that habit? Was it a hard adjustment? I guess I am just asking for a more detailed description of how you weaned because your nursing method/philosophy is very similar to mine so I would greatly appreciate your input! (I've seriously considered just getting pregnant if that's what's easiest....I am just dreading a rocky adjustment!)

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  16. Hi Carolyn, so sorry for the delay!! I've been meaning to respond and just haven't had the chance!


    I did the same thing for a long time. With the nursing to sleep in the middle of the night, I just stopped doing it. I'd still get her from the crib and go rock, but no nursing. She never seemed to care. We'd rock and she settle back to sleep and I'd put her down. I also slowly stopped nursing to sleep and would nurse, then just rock and sing before bed and got in the habit of putting her down before she was asleep. I knew she could do it since she would take naps without being nursed. I dropped from 4 sessions to 1st thing in the morning, after nap, and before bed. Then dropped after nap. Those 2 mid-day sessions I replaced with a cup of milk or water and a snack or meal. Eventually we did the same with morning, I would just get her up and go downstairs, give her a sippy of milk and make breakfast. Finally when I dropped the evening, she didnt even notice. Just did our routine the same (bath, jammies, books, and sing and rock in the dark) and she was fine. Hopefully it's a smooth transition for you!!

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