Breastfeeding Struggles

Before Bode was born I had planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I bought a Medela pump through our insurance company, registered for all of the breastfeeding essentials, purchased a nursing tea and tincture to help with milk production, and stocked up on nipple butter to soothe sore nipples that I had been warned about–I was ready to go.

I will be honest, when I was younger I thought breastfeeding was a little weird but the older I got and the more I learned about all of the benefits of breastfeeding it became a simple choice for me to breastfeed, if we were given the opportunity. I pass no judgement on any woman’s decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed. There is no right or wrong–only what a woman or a husband and wife feel is right for their little one, family, or situation.

Within the first hour of Bode being born the nurse helped him latch on and held him during his first feeding. I was exhausted from childbirth and was happy to have the nurse in the room helping. I was nervous to breastfeed on my own because it was something I had never done before. I felt like I would have no clue if I was doing it right or wrong, or if he was getting the colostrum/breast milk out. We had a lactation consultant come in two times during our stay to help me. From her observations, she felt like he was latching on good and things were going as they should be.

When we got home and as I started to get into a breastfeeding routine, I was enjoying it more than I thought I would. I have heard some women say they love it and some who say they don’t, so I wasn’t sure how I would feel. It was good bonding time and the noises and faces Bode would make when he was feeding were so cute. It really is a natural process that was hard for me to imagine until I experienced it. Here are a few breastfeeding images Cody captured in the first few days we were home. Don’t mind the shirt over the lamp–that was our ingenious way of dimming the lamp light. 🙂

Although I was enjoying breastfeeding, I still wasn’t convinced things were going as they should be. It seemed like Bode would feed for a long time on each side and wasn’t completely satisfied after a feeding. He was very squirmy and would root around like he was still looking for food. I was waiting for the “milk comas” to hit him but they rarely did. We actually called the lactation consultant we met in the hospital and had her come to our home to evaluate everything again. After this evaluation, she still felt that things were going ok.

When Bode was born he was slightly jaundice. His bilirubin level was considered high-intermediate, which meant that it had to be watched but wasn’t high enough for intervention. Two days after we got home, Cody noticed that his eyes and skin looked more yellow than before. We did call the pediatrician but she felt we could wait until our appointment the following day to do a blood draw and test his bilirubin levels again.

At his appointment everything looked good physically. We did notice that some of the nurses commented that he looked jaundice but no one seemed overly concerned. We learned that a lot of babies have jaundice so we just assumed this was a normal thing that would work itself out. They drew his blood right before we left to test his bilirubin level. That afternoon, about 3 hours after his appointment, we got a phone call from the pediatrician telling us that we needed to head back to the hospital immediately. His bilirubin level was at 21 (25 becomes dangerous) and he would need UV light and phototherapy treatment right away to bring the number back down. We closed up the house and booked it to the hospital as fast as we could. Cody and I were both a wreck. After our journey in and of itself to conceive Bode, we were scared for his little life. Of course, we did exactly what you are NOT supposed to do and began looking on Google. After learning much more about jaundice from the pediatrician, we now realize that everything we were reading on Google was “worst-case scenarios” and that Bode’s bilirubin level was caught in time for proper treatment. We are thankful for his pediatrician. Here is a picture of him laying on the photo light.

We also had noticed that he was not having the correct amount of pees and poops per the chart we were given at the hospital. After much discussion with the pediatrician and nurses about this, we now know that he was not getting enough breast milk from me. He was underfed and dehydrated–this is part of the reason the bilirubin levels were rising. Bilirubin is excreted through waste and if he was not going to the bathroom as he should, he wasn’t able to properly remove the bilirubin from his system.

Upon starting his treatments in the hospital, we were told that we would need to remove Bode from the therapy lights to breastfeed him every two hours. After having been told that we needed to bring Bode in immediately for treatment, anxiety and stress levels were at an all-time high and we did not feel comfortable removing him from the therapy lights to breastfeed him when it was obvious he was not getting proper nutrients from me. I asked the nurses if we could give him formula. My main goal was to get food in my little baby’s belly in whatever way possible. She discouraged me from it and repeatedly told me “breast is best.” With encouragement from my mom and Cody, I demanded (in the nicest way possible) that he be given formula in combination with pumped breast milk. Pumping alone wasn’t producing nearly enough. With the combination, we would know exactly how much he would be eating and could get him on the path to pooping and peeing proper amounts.

Throughout the night, he started to pee and poop regularly. I never thought I could be so excited to see poop in a diaper! With proper nutrition and the therapy lights, his bilirubin levels started to go down overnight. I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I have been that scared. I am so thankful to have a loving husband who is a great dad and a supportive family (immediate and in-laws).

I continued to pump overnight and into the next day even though I was producing such small amounts. I wanted to give him what I could. I requested a lactation consultant come in and evaluate my pumping to see if I was doing something wrong. I also wanted her to evaluate my right breast because it was so red and irritated I thought I possibly had mastitis. She was very kind and was in and out all day to check on me and help me pump. She had me put ice packs on my breasts, then take a hot shower, and then pump. I repeated this cycle all day long in the hospital and overnight at home once we were released. Unfortunately, it did not help and with each pump I produced less and less. It was so frustrating because I was in a lot of pain and my breast were engorged. They were rock solid and there was almost no release with pumping. They hurt like hell. It was really taking a toll on me physically and mentally. I literally had hickeys on my areolas from the pump and my nipples were raw. Mentally, I felt like it was taking away from my bonding time with Bode. I was starting to feel very negative about feedings. Several times, I broke down and ugly cried. Poor Cody, he would just hug me but there wasn’t much he or anyone could do or say to console me.

Deep down, I wanted to quit pumping and go strictly to formula but I had SO MUCH guilt around this. I felt like I was letting Bode down because I wouldn’t be feeding him the “liquid gold.” To be honest, I also worried about what other moms would say about me going to formula so soon. I know that is crazy talk but it is the truth. I would never mom-shame someone else for formula feeding and I would encourage another woman to do what is right for her situation. There is no right or wrong. I don’t know why I was having such a hard time taking my own advice and being overly concerned about what others would think. Am I the only one who has felt this way? After some sleep, having a serious conversation with Cody, and confirmation from the pediatrician and OB-GYN that Bode would thrive on formula, we made the decision to put away the pump and break out the bottles for good.

Going to formula was the BEST DECISION we ever could have made for Bode, myself, and our family. Once Bode started getting food in he was a completely different baby! His first few days he was pretty fussy and cried a lot–it didn’t seem normal to me but I had nothing to compare to so I just chalked it up to the fact that babies cry. I now know I should have followed my intuition. He was starving! He is so much more content now. It is amazing to see how much more settled he is–I know how cranky I would be with no food! I no longer feel the pressure of “producing” and I can really enjoy feeding him. Instead of having anxiety around feeding him, I now look forward to it. My favorite part of the day is after a feeding when he is sleepy and snuggly–it doesn’t get much better than that.

It didn’t take too long for my milk to dry up. My OB recommended wearing a tight bra and putting cabbage leaves in it. I have heard of that old wives tale before. I don’t know if this is fact but he thought there was an enzyme or something in the cabbage leaves that helped to dry up the milk. Again, I have no idea if that is true or not. Maybe one of you knows? Anyhow, I did it! I kept the cabbage leaves in the refrigerator to keep them cold–it was sort of like using an ice pack. We kept joking that they would go in my bra cold and by the time I switched them out they felt “cooked.” We had to find some sort of humor in it!

I wanted to share this story with you to let you know that you are not alone if you have experienced something similar, or even for those expecting moms who are planning to breastfeed but may find out you are not able to. It can be pretty hard to plan on doing one thing only to find out your body has other plans. In the end, things work out the way they are suppose to and you have to do what you feel is right in your heart. Please don’t feel shame in any decision you make. Chances are, you are giving yourself more grief than anyone else would give you. Only YOU can know what is right for you and your baby. Trust your heart and your intuition. When you follow what you know is right things will fall into place exactly as they should.

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