When I was pregnant, I was asked, “Are you going to breastfeed?”
My answer was a resounding, “Yes.”
Science supports the mantra that “breast is best,” and breastfeeding is cheap and convenient. It seemed like a no-brainer, and the purported benefits of breastfeeding on a baby’s immune system and brain development were solid sticking points.
When he was born, our son took a few minutes to latch correctly, but he was keen on nursing. He nursed regularly at the hospital, every two to three hours, and he nursed for 30 to 45 minutes. From the outsider’s perspective, our breastfeeding relationship was going well. Success!
That’s when every problem reared its ugly head.
First, our son had jaundice. Jaundice made him lethargic and unwilling to feed.
Second, he lost 12.8% of his birth weight (on average, babies lose from 5-10%), and he struggled to thrive. He gained some weight, but within a week, the progress had reversed itself. We took him to the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and both paediatricians that examined him suggested we supplement his meals with formula.
Third, he has become a lazy nurser. Even as he started to gain weight, as his jaundice cleared, and as he becomes more energetic, he is reluctant to nurse. Feeding takes 45-60 minutes, and within seconds, he’s mouthing his fists and crying with hunger. I’ve tried every trick – stripping him down to his diaper, oodles of skin-to-skin contact, massage to keep him awake, a cold washcloth on his forehead, and frequently switching sides. Nothing has worked. He still falls asleep, and eventually, when he’s offered a bottle, he gobbles the formula and passes out in a drunken stupor.
I’ve been seeing a lactation consultant at The Alex Community Health Centre. She prescribed domperidone to boost my milk supply, which was affected by our ongoing struggles. I rented a Medela Symphony breast pump, and I pump every 3 hours, in addition to offering the opportunity to nurse.
Nurse. Feed. Pump. Repeat.
It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. I’ve shed many tears, exhibited frustration, even refusing to feed my child, because an irrational section of my brain believed feeding formula would damage my child’s development. It broke my heart to realize that I can’t naturally feed my son, and I felt like a failure. Some days, I still feel like a failure.
My friends and family (well, some members) have given me permission to quit breastfeeding. They’ve given me permission to make choices that have positive impacts on our entire family’s well-being. They encourage me to spend more time forging positive interactions with my son, that “fed is best,” regardless of methods used to nourish my child. I am grateful for their support, their own stories, and their empathy.
However, I haven’t given myself permission to quit, and I’m worried my desperation will lead to wilfull ignorance of my deteriorating health (okay, my health isn’t actually deteriorating). But, what will I sacrifice to maintain this seemingly negative relationship, and will doing so permanently harm the bond I should have with my baby?
Today, I’m still breastfeeding. Well, I’m trying to breastfeed. I supplement with both breast milk and formula, and the little one is growing well and seems happy. Slowly, I’m learning that these are the most important things, but it’s an ongoing struggle.