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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

To Breastfeed or Not To Breastfeed?

I want to start out by saying I believe 100% that breastfeeding is best for baby. It is also beneficial for mommy. This post is by no means detracting from all the good things that come from breastfeeding one's baby.

However, I want to write about the fact that I did not have a very good experience with breastfeeding. I don't really know who to blame for that - so I'm chalking it up to circumstance (basically, it's just how things turned out). When I delivered, I was so gung ho on breastfeed exclusively. I told myself that Jamie would be purely breastfed for at least the first 3-6 months. To prove that, I did not buy a single bottle, nipple or can of formula. Jojo and I were committed to making it work and we attended not only breastfeeding classes, but also breastfeeding clinics and sessions with lactation consultants.

The first few days after I delivered, we diligently tried to breastfeed round the clock. Every 3 hours, we would put Jamie to breast (morning, noon and night). We even woke her up when she slept through feedings. We did the usual 15-20 minutes per breast. It was really hard because I had to feed every 3 hours and each feeding took almost an hour. I had to feed Jamie and take care of her 24/7 all while recovering from a C-section! I was so tired and in a lot of pain - but I had to do it since this was the only food source for Jamie. I repeatedly declined the nursing staff's offer to give Jamie a bottle of formula. This is what I learned from lactation consultants and Jamie's pediatrician.

We noticed though I had no milk at that time. I was reassured that the baby had enough "extra food" in her body to get through my dry spell. I was also told that colostrum (concentrated milk) was coming out even if I could not see it. Jamie lost weight every day for the first 3 days which worried me, but I was told that babies lose weight during the first week anyway. So we kept trying even if it was already starting to get discouraging. By the 5th day (day before we checked out), we were alarmed when the pedia on call announced our baby lost 12% of her weight and he was ordering her to be put on formula immediately. You can imagine how devastating it was for me as a new mom. I found out my baby was hungry all 5 days and that she was losing too much weight. I had no milk even if we were doing everything we were taught and told. I was a wreck, blaming myself and feeling terrible that all my efforts were in vain. It did not help my recovery from the C-section had complications as well. I was still bleeding, bloated from all the excess water, and really physically tired and in pain.

When we left the hospital, I was still determined to breastfeed. We rented a hospital grade breast pump to help me extract milk. I did this round the clock too. I would put Jamie to my breast every 3 hours (or whenever she cried) and pump in between. My breasts were sore but we did not get a whole lot of milk. I was frustrated every time. We tried this for a week. Jamie was feeding about 8 times a day. We had her drink breastmilk from a bottle for 6 feedings, supplemented with formula for 2 feedings, and latch on to the breast in between. It was really physically hard. I was still tired from my operation, was still taking painkillers for the pain, and did not get enough sleep cause Jamie was extra fussy especially at night. I was cranky and depressed most of the time. I actually broke down and cried several times - all in one week!

The second and third week got a little worse. Jamie progressively needed more milk and I was producing the same amount or even less. Sometimes I would pump and get 30 ml of milk, while Jamie needed to eat 60-90 ml per feeding. I would have to pump twice (every 3 hours) to feed her once. This resulted in using formula more and more. Every time I used formula, I had feelings of guilt and self-doubt. It was such a frustrating cycle. My mom was making me all kinds of soupy dishes and healthy food - all in the effort to increase my milk production. I was on the web researching all sorts of ways to increase breastmilk - from fenugreek, to milk thistle, to blessed milk thistle. Nothing helped!

By the fourth week, we were down to 50% breastmilk and 50% formula (and then less and less each day). I was really physically, mentally and emotionally tired from breastfeeding. Jamie was also getting increasingly frustrated every time she latched. (By the way, her latch was ok - as per the lactation specialists we met with - I think it was more because she wasn't getting enough as compared to the bottle). Increasingly, I was under so much pressure that it was affecting the way I treated my baby, my hubby, and everyone else around me. It was then I decided to let it go. I would breastfeed as much as I could but I refused to let it continue to consume me. My rationalization was that I wanted to be a good mother and breastfeeding was not the only way I could do that.

By the 5th week, my milk supply was at an all time low. Sometimes I was down to 20 ml per pumping session and Jamie was already at 90-100 ml per feeding. I then decided that pumping was not helping so I decided to forego the pump and just have the baby latch on when she wanted to. By then, we were about 80-90% dependent on formula already. During this time, with the support I got from my mom, husband, sister, family and friends, I started to let go of all the insecurities I had about not being able to breastfeed. I started hearing of so many others who had the same frustrations, concerns and issues that I did - and it gave me some sense of relief.

By the 6th week, we were on 100% formula and breastfeeding just on occasion (sometimes just to pacify Jamie or to get her through the next feeding). Did I feel any guilt over this? I guess somewhat ... but I also felt that I was being a better mom to my baby because I could focus on doing other things for her rather than being consumed by just breastfeeding. I also felt it was better for me too (I had overcome the onset of a post-partum depression primarily brought about by my breastfeeding anxieties). And lastly, I was a better person to live with as I am sure my hubby, mom and sister can attest to!

Today (Jamie is at 7 weeks), I have stopped breastfeeding altogether. My baby no longer looks for it and I no longer offer it. I'm not proud of this but neither am I racked with guilt. It is what it is. I have finally come to grips with the whole breastfeeding issue. I still believe in its benefits and still admire women who are able to do it. I do realize though that even with the best of intentions sometimes it just does not work out the way we want it to. There are times when it is beyond our control. I refuse, though, to let my inability to do it define who I am or the kind of mom I can be. I still want to be the best mom I can be and I know there will be other opportunities and instances wherein I can prove that to my daughter.


Auntie Lillian said...

A good mother's care does not have to come through breastmilk. Its the other things you do for the baby that counts.

Junarakasa said...

I learned that the "hard way", Auntie Lillian =) Actually, I'm still learning that every day ... =)