This month’s Breastfeeding Carnival is about beginnings and endings. I’ve chosen the first topic to write about but there are some good posts about the end of the breastfeeding.
My breastfeeding relationship with Reid started about two months before she was born when I first attended a La Leche League meeting. I had already read Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding but somehow that seems more like research than a relationship. I’m not the world’s most social person but I am a champion proactive worrier and so I made a point of finding a La Leche League group in my part of the city. And then I made myself go to a meeting. If you’ve not been to a La Leche League meeting, the women tend to be supportive and I was welcomed into the group. Our discussion topic for the first meeting was our favourite place to nurse. A couple of women answered “anywhere” and gave a range of examples. One woman said that she had recently nursed her toddler while sitting opposite the till where a cashier rang through her groceries. I was impressed at how they seemed to be living the “Any place. Any time.” slogan that Health Canada has put on it’s breastfeeding support posters. I wondered how long it would take for me to become that self-assured as a nursing mother. When it was my turn, I mentioned that we had a glider-rocker set up in Reid’s room that I imagined nursing in but I was nervous. I didn’t have family in the city and I couldn’t see asking my girlfriends for help, even though they’re wonderful people. One of the leaders came up to me after the guided discussion had wrapped up and said that she’d show me some nursing positions, that it was all about practice and confidence. She also said, “when you leave, you’ll have my number and the local help line.” And then she showed me how to hold a doll and gave me some phone numbers.
I also attended a presentation offered by the Lactation Consultants at the hospital where I was scheduled to deliver. While this didn’t have the feeling of community that the La Leche League meeting had offered, it armed me with “official” hospital information that I would need later:
1. There were Lactation Consultants on staff to assist.
2. The only way to come back to their (free) clinic after you and your baby are released is to see the Lactation Consultant during your stay. I decided to ask to see one, no matter what. I had no idea that the choice would be taken away from me.
3. Colostrum is all that the baby needs in the first day or two. I had read this but knowing that the hospital staff accepted it would be important.
At some point in the time leading up to Reid’s birth, I also read the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding but have to admit that I liked Newman’s book more. I read the pamphlets and photocopies on breastfeeding we got at our prenatal class. I read the breastfeeding information in the Mother of all Pregnancy Books and the Mother of All Baby Books by Ann Douglas, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff and the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, not to mention the Girlfriend’s Guide to the First Year by Vicki Iovine. I had read, listened and imagined and then I settled in to wait for a baby to arrive.
Reid was born after an induced labour during which if had an epidural and other interventions that I had planned to avoid. The neonatal team was on hand to check her out when she finally arrived but I was determined to breastfeed Reid as soon as I was able. Once she was put on my chest, Reid did that impossible-seeming newborn wiggle and began to breastfeed. There was some chance that Reid had an infection and so she was taken to the nursery for observation.
At first, the nursery would call when Reid cried and I would hurry across from the other side of the hospital to breastfeed her in the family lounge attached to the neonatal nursery. We had the impression of interrupting the nurses’ work when we were there and, of course, Reid had been crying for a while before I could get to her. I finally had a nurse in the maternity wing who made arrangements with the neonatal nurses to allow us to bring Reid to my room to be breastfeed. While Reid still cried for the trip in her bassinet, at least my room was more relaxing and private than the family lounge.
Within 6 hours of Reid’s birth the nurses in the nursery were telling me that Reid needed to formula as a supplement. I refused and one nurse, who we dubbed “Mean Jean”, told me that colostrum was not enough. Reid was a healthy 8.5 pound baby who might have had an infection and I had attended those La Leche League meetings and done all that reading and so was determined in my refusal. But I was scared I might be making the wrong decision. At 9:00 the next morning, less than 24 hours after Reid was born, a neonatal nurse again was pressuring me to supplement and I refused until I’d spoken with a Lactation Consultant. Angrily, the nurse called the Lactation Consultant on shift. The Lactation Consultant arrived and said that Reid was nursing just fine and newborns simply sleep a lot. We continued bringing Reid to my room to breastfeed and visit for no more than hour at a time (according to the neonatal nurses’ rules) throughout the second day of her life. I was discharged in the afternoon but Reid had to wait until her blood tests came back – she had no infection – and then for the pediatrician to do a checkup. In the middle of the afternoon, one of the nurses said that she hoped Reid didn’t suffer kidney damage as they’d been giving her medication that could cause this and she needed lots of fluids. This was the first time the extra fluid requirement had been mentioned in the context of the medication. Reid was crying just before the pediatrician was scheduled to arrive and a nice nurse counselled us to give Reid a couple of ounces of formula through a tube to settle her down so that we could get her released. We did and I felt pretty awful but believed that we just needed to get home and be with our baby full time. We left the hospital about 8 pm with a couple small cans of formula.
I suppose about this time my milk came in and Reid was having trouble establishing a latch. We struggled through our first night and ended up giving Reid more formula. At 8 am I called a local Lactation Consultant who couldn’t see me until the afternoon but she did arrange for Ken to come over immediately and get a double-electric breast pump to rent. She came to our house when she was able and coached me through a nursing session. When she was there, we managed but when she left, Reid and I struggled. I ended up pumping and trying Reid at the breast before giving Reid a bottle of breastmilk. I called my mom, who I’d asked to wait a couple weeks to come until my husband was back at work, and asked her to contact my older sister who was on vacation to ask her to stop on her way home to help me. I felt so overwhelmed.
My sister did come. She arrived, looked at me and sent me straight for a hot bath with hot cloths to help with letdown. When I was done, she sat with me on my bed, handed me Reid and said to just feed her. I did. With Karin by my side for a long weekend, Reid and I learned to be a successful nursing couple.
Alone once more, we kept breastfeeding. When Reid seemed to have developed a preference for one side, I went back to the hospital’s Lactation Consultants. They reassured me that some babies nurse only on one side but also gave me some tips on how to encourage Reid to try both sides. When I described my experiences with being encouraged to supplement so early, being told colostrum was not adequate for a newborn and the threat of kidney damage, they said that I was a perfect case of how to interfere with breastfeeding and congratulated me for my determination to breastfeed. They also pointed out that since Reid was receiving antibiotics intravenously, it would have been easy to add the additional liquid to the IV if it were required. I was glad that I’d attended the meetings and done my reading and also that I was stubborn, I guess. I’m sure that some mothers with babies who were born prematurely or with significant health issues would have many good things to say about the neonatal nurses. I have no doubt that they thought they were justified in the directions they were giving to us.
My comfort level with breastfeeding any where and at anytime was quick coming since I’d fought to breastfeed in the first place. I felt traumatized when I was being told to supplement with formula and during the day or so when I had to supplement with formula or breastmilk but triumphant when we worked out the “kinks” and establish breastfeeding.
- The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog – Weaning
- How to be a Badass Dad – The Breastfeeding Father
- Leche Baby! – Weaning a Toddler
- Mama Knows Breast – One Mom’s Story of Breastfeeding Challenges
- Breastfeeding Mums – Beginnings and Endings
- Adventures of Pip and Squeak – A Complicated Relationship
- Nature Moms – Mama Knows Breast
- Crunchy Domestic Goddess – Inauspicious Breastfeeding Beginnings
- Breastfeeding 123 – Beginnings and Endings
Edited to add links to the other contributors