May 19, 2011

Got Milk?

Several titles came to mind for this post ... Milk Duds, Booby Trapped, Bum Boobs, Booby Blues, Got Milk? ... though none of them make me very happy. I'll be honest, my boobs are not a topic I ever thought I'd write about here on my blog. Though, upon reflection, I'm not sure why, given breasts are a huge part of early motherhood. Anyways, it seems I have bum boobs and that leaves me, well, pretty much bummed.

As an expectant mother who fully intends to breastfeed, you have these notions of what it will be like. And really, my notions weren't unrealistic. They weren't of snuggles and cuddles or all motherhood and apple pie. I have enough friends and family who've been through the breastfeeding rounds to know that (despite the assurances that's it's not supposed to hurt) it would be somewhat painful, exhausting and simply hard work. So I entered into it with eyes (or should I say nipples?) wide open and wanting to do it anyway. Breast is best after all. The proof is in the puddin' ... in those plump sweet-cheeked baby puddin's.

My pre-baby breastfeeding notions were that, despite the exhaustion and discomfort, I would do this and breastfeeding would happen the way nature intended. My milk would come in, my babe would get the hang of latching on and together he and I would work out a mutually beneficial mealtime arrangement. What I hadn't expected was that I may not make enough milk for my wee one to eat. Yes, I had heard the stories of people who had those experiences, even of people who didn't make milk at all, I just hadn't expected it to be me.

After two weeks of regular feedings and pumping and topping up with expressed milk at bedtime, my little man went from noshing on one boob to demanding both. No biggie, you want both, you get both little man - you're the boss after all. Yet. despite that increased access and hour-long feedings every two to three hours, little man just did not gain weight. He should have been back to his birth weight around the two-week mark, but two and half weeks in he's still coming up short or perhaps I should say light. In the second week, he only put on a half ounce total when he should have put on about a half ounce to an ounce a day. Mama was calling him her little chicken and then took to calling him her skinny little chicken.

My doctor suggested I supplement feedings with formula to help boost the little man into a Fatty McGee. While I was far from happy about introducing formula, putting some rolls on those chicken legs and making sure little man is healthy was my top priority. So, through many many many tears (emphasis on many), I began a regime of breastfeeding with one breast, topping up with formula and then pumping the other to keep the supply and demand production on the go.

My hope was that this process would put weight on da' babe and more milk in mah boobies, allowing me to transition back to exclusively breastfeeding. Unfortunately this isn't how the whole scene played out. Little man did start to gain weight - almost a pound in one week! - however, mah boobies were milk duds and just weren't making any more milk than they were making our first week home. I drank litres of water, ate well and rested as best I could. I did breast compression, massage and warm compresses. I'd nurse and pump and nurse and pump and then pump some more to stimulate production, but barely get an ounce out at any given time. Though I think I cried pounds of tears. It was a bad scene all around. Once we knew the little guy's weight was back up, I even tried nursing him from both breasts and pumping off what was left, which was barely anything and yet the little man was still ravenous, rooting and wailing for more. More of what I didn't have to give.

Turned out I have a low milk supply meaning my breasts simply did not make enough milk to satiate Hudson's appetite. It was heartbreaking to watch him try and try and try to nurse and become frustrated at my breast when it wasn't enough. It was exhausting for both of us as the whole nurse-supplement-pump regime was taking an hour and a half or more, every two to three hours. The more we tried, the more we both cried. This wasn't working out the way I had envisioned, hoped or wanted.

I talked to the nurses at the breastfeeding clinic. I talked to my doctor. I talked to my husband and my mother. Or perhaps I should say I cried to the nurses, the doctor, my husband and my mother. I needed to know my options. The nurses suggested a drug to enhance milk supply. I did my own research into the drug and found the FDA does not recommend it for this purpose, as the drug is not approved nor intended for that purpose. My doctor also did not recommend that option, unless I insisted upon it. Concerned that my family physician of 10+ years and the FDA are not favouring the drugs and aware of the possible side effects, I decided it wasn't for us.

My remaining options were to either continue the supplementing regime or switch to full formula feeding. As much as I wanted to continue breastfeeding, the supplementing process was also not working for us. Hudson was working much too hard for food from my breast and still ending up hungry. Mama was getting more stressed and exhausted by the hour, which of course is good for neither mom, babe or daddy. I also knew in my heart that, at most, I might get another week or two before my body or baby decided to put an end to it for me.

So, with my husband and my mother supporting me in whatever choice I made, I finally allowed myself to consider full formula feeding. And it was far from easy to make. I sat in my doctor's office and cried to break my heart, listening to her logically explain that it was not "bad" to choose formula, yet still feeling somehow like I was failing. Failing myself, failing my son, failing my family.

Before I had my own babe, I had heard mothers talk about the guilt and anxiety over using formula. At the time, I thought what's the big deal? Both work as nutrition for your child and it is a personal, intimate decision that only parents can make. It's about what's best for your baby and your family, so go with whatever works. Now, as a mother, I understand. More tears have been shed over formula and feeding in the last six weeks  than I could have ever imagined. I wanted to breastfeed. Breast is best. Yet, despite the being physically unable to do so, I feel guilty. Why? I think it's because that's what "they" say we "should" do. It's because we, as expecting mothers, are told we're "supposed" to do. And when you don't or can't, somehow that's become a bad thing. This societal expectation leaves me as a new mother feeling guilty and anxious, it leaves me feeling angry and upset at myself for not being able, it makes me feel like I'm being judged. Right or wrong, that's the way it is.

Even having made the decision to switch to formula after nearly a month of trying to make breastfeeding work when there was little milk to work with, I still well up when I think about it. This is despite having a happy, healthy, satisfied little boy who no longer has to work hard for food or get frustrated trying to eat. This is despite mama being able to actually get some rest throughout day. This is despite being able to spend quality time reading and playing together rather than spending that time stressfully trying to feed. This is despite daddy being able to partake more in the bonding and feeding process. Somehow I still feel bad and guilty about something that is working for our family.

With all my heart and soul, I wish I "Got Milk?" instead of getting "Milk Duds", but I didn't. So, I write this mostly as it is cathartic for me to do so, in the hope that I can reflect on it with reason and logic at some point in the future. I also write this in case it can be shared with some other new mother who can't or chooses not to reach the bar set so high by society knows they are not alone and knows that is is OK.


Karen said...

Colleen - I can't think of one single person who would be a better mother than you in EVERY way!! Hugs to you, Karen xoxo

Alex said...

Been there and done that. It's such a difficult decision and a truly awful experience to go through.

But Hudson will be happy and healthy -- breast or the rest. I have a lovely four-year-old that can attest to that.

Thanks for sharing. Many new mothers have had a similar experience. It's nice for someone to say, "it's OK."

Anonymous said...

I so sympathize with this post...went thru it with my first and all the tears and feelings of is so much pressure, especially when you combine it with exhaustion and hormones....really a bad combination. Hudson will be healthy and happy and having a few weeks of breast milk is still awesome! Don't beat yourself up. I am certain that you are an amzing Mom in every way! Heather Keats

Lana said...

Sounds like my experience on my first. I did nurse for 6 months and supplemented. Like you, I did all the right things. Better on the second. Some mothers are milk machines. You are a fabulous Mom Colleen - don't beat yourself up.