You know what I really thought would happen? I really thought I would be one of those parents who said, “oh, we had problems with breastfeeding in the first few months, but it all worked out!”
I was so prepared. I read books. I researched online. I went to a three-hour class. Breastfeeding was the number one thing I wanted to do for my child. I knew it could be difficult but I thought with the right help and enough patience it would work.
And then my baby came twelve days early (I haven’t even finished his birth story!) My luminous boy with a tied tongue. Or, depending on who you talk to, a forked tongue. A heart-shaped tongue.
It’s hard to understand how complicated something can be when you have never experienced it hands-on before. It’s all well and good if everything goes right. But if you have never breastfed before and a nurse asks you “is he latching?”…the answer is “uh, I guess so…” *
The nurses at the hospital gave advice on how to position but no one looked at how he was latching, or inside of his mouth.
Same with the hospital “lactation consultant”. She just seemed to want to get me to pump. At the time I didn’t understand why I would want to do that if I wasn’t planning on leaving my baby, wasn’t I going to make everything he needed? She said it was to keep up my supply and that seemed to me to be overkill, he was just born! Aren’t we supposed to give this a few days?
This was a baby-friendly hospital. My birth was free of trauma and interventions. My baby was caught by his father and placed on my chest right after birth. We were not disturbed in any way for hours afterwards. The minimal tests and treatments he had were performed much later, in my arms.
We spent two nights in the hospital. He was examined by two pediatricians, neither of which looked in his mouth.
My midwife recommended a lactation consultant, who came to the house within an hour of our return from the hospital. I answered the door topless, with a blanket wrapped around me and hospital bracelets still on my wrist.
The (yes, IBCLC, I did my research remember?) lactation consultant examined us and gave me a breast shield.
All of a sudden my baby was on! sucking! swallowing! Breastfeeding was happening, baby. I was so excited that we had such a quick fix, and I treasured that little piece of slicone. Or as my husband put it, that thing is the only way we can feed our baby, don’t lose it.
At 7 pounds, 2 ounces** there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room to experiment with feeding in those early days.
Four days after he was born, after almost continuous “breastfeeding” Zane was down to 6 pounds, 4 ounces. Our pediatrician yelled at us.
Within the next week he started to gain but nowhere near where he needed to be. (And yes, we were looking at the WHO charts, not the CDC. I was prepared remember?)
He would not even be close to his birth weight by two weeks of age. We saw the lactation consultant again. This time she diagnosed the tongue tie and recommended we see Seattle’s only “Breastfeeding Medicine” MD.
We had to wait ten days for an appointment. In the meantime the LC recommended I pump and use a supplemental nursing system to feed our baby. As she put it, you’re making enough milk, you just have to get it into him. My husband had to run all over town getting the supplies and renting a hospital-grade pump. I cried.
It all seemed so difficult, I was barely getting into the swing of caring for our two-week-old baby, how on earth could I do all of this extra work for ten whole days? (I’m glad I didn’t know this was just the beginning.)
We ended up getting in to see her a few days early, rushing to her office after a cancellation opened up a spot for us. There was never a more thoughtful, knowledgeable, breastfeeding-friendly doctor in the world. She spent almost two hours observing us, and how we were feeding, adjusting positions, teaching me. Then she made a cut in my baby’s frenulum to open up his tongue movement.
A few weeks later we came back for a follow up, and a second cut was needed. At this point she looked at or baby’s weight and strongly urged us to supplement with formula in the SNS in addition to the pumped breastmilk he was getting.
I cried over giving my baby formula, but I had no choice. He was at the -3% of weight and not back up to his birth weight at almost a month old.
After that we came back a third time and then she was beyond extremely worried about his weight. She urged us to up the formula. And while she thought Zane needed another cut she didn’t want to do it when his weight was so low.
I had to go across the street to buy formula so that she could demonstrate a different type of SNS to me, and the cashier made a joke about the price of formula. I felt so angry at the whole freaking universe. I never wanted to know the price of formula! I hated that I was feeding this to my baby! It was not what I wanted for him, at all.
One week later we went to Children’s Hospital to visit the “infant feeding expert” occupational therapist. Again, an extremely breastfeeding-friendly practitioner, again recommending formula. She explained that the shape of our baby’s mouth was severely compressed and she had never seen an infant with such difficulty latching. She couldn’t even get him to take a bottle. (So no, “just give him a bottle!” wasn’t even an option for us at this point. I might have given up on breastfeeding if it had been.)
Around this time, we had several appointments with an osteopath who opened up “compressions” in the back of Zane’s neck.
Eventually, we saw a little bit of weight gain. He was at 8 pounds, 7 ounces and two months old when we went back to the Breastfeeding Medicine doctor and she performed a third frenotomy.
She was hopeful, until our follow-up visit a few days later when she charted his weight and sad he was at failure to thrive and that we were looking at a baby who was “content to starve.” Meaning he looked happy and liked being at the breast but he was starving.
At that point we upped the formula to 24 ounces a day through the supplemental feeder (from about 10 ounces). He did start to gain the appropriate amount of weight as soon as we upped the formula in the SNS. Which was good because that meant there was no underlying metabolic issue, but heartbreaking to realize we had been starving our baby for weeks. He simply hadn’t been able to get enough food.
That was five weeks ago, and we’re still doing the same amount. So currently every feeding (7-10 per day, down from 12) involves a nipple shield and a slippery tube that I have to get into my baby’s mouth. Not to mention: bottles to mix up formula, washing the SNS and all of the parts.
On top of that, I try to pump as much as I can since I would rather give my baby breastmilk and I want to protect my supply, but honestly? Pumping often doesn’t happen, the rest is just so, so much.
Three weeks ago, the last time we went back to Children’s Hospital, the OT was so happy with his progress. He was up to the tenth percentile in weight (90th percentile in height) and the entire shape of his head had changed thanks to the frenotomy and the work of the osteopath.
During that appointment, she was even able to coach my husband on how to give Zane a bottle, and it actually worked! For the first time.
But by then my milk supply had dwindled.
My midwife prescribed domperidone which I had to order from Canada. I have been taking that about three weeks now. (And yes, there is also oatmeal and fenugreek and even beer. Prepared I was! Research I did!)
Even with his excellent progress, we still have almost zero wiggle room when it comes to his weight gain. Today Zane weighs 12 pounds, 8 ounces. That is okay for today, but he needs to gain 1-1.5 ounces by tomorrow, while he is catching up to his “genetic potential.”
Why am I writing all of this out? It’s certainly not an interesting blog post. Believe it or not, I’m editing some of the details out of the story to make the narrative flow better. There were actually more ups and downs than I wrote here but I can’t bear to write out even more detail. I’m so tired of it all.
I’m tired of counting ounces and feeling like I am force feeding my baby. I am tired of having to wrestle with him in order to get everything in his mouth to feed. I’m tired of feeling like I am missing out on his babyhood with all of this worry (And yes, even I hate myself a little bit for writing that–I know he’s healthy and perfect and I am so so grateful for that you don’t even know.) I’m more than tired, I’m heartbroken every time my baby cries in hunger and I have to disobey my every instinct and leave him to go mix formula.
So wait–I was asking myself why I am writing this? I just realized why. Today, after almost two months of feeding my baby through a tube attached to my breast, in the hopes that someday we would be able to transition to breastfeeding…today, I hit a wall. It all seemed so ridiculous and hopeless to me. All I wanted was to be able to feed my baby in the most intimate natural way possible.
No one was more determined to breastfeed than me. I would keep doing this every day for many more months if I knew it would work. But I don’t. There is no clear path. There is just struggle and hard.
Tomorrow we have another appointment at Children’s. And I’m writing this out today for myself, to show that I did everything I could. That I went to ridiculous lengths.
Because tomorrow instead of being the staunch martyr, “I’ll do anything to breastfeed“-mama, I am just going to ask one thing—how can we make this easier?
If that means getting better at bottle feeding formula then so be it. I give up.
I think I needed to write all of this out to be okay with that.
*For anyone who’s curious: just like an orgasm–if you have to wonder, it hasn’t happened.
**Really, America? Base-16?! Are you fucking kidding me? I need a mathematical equation to check growth charts to see if my baby is on track? That’s just what I need during this stressful time, math.
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