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A Different Kind of Breastfeeding Mother

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 1, January-February 2002, p. 9

I am the mother of two beautiful boys, ages three years and six months. For various reasons, my husband and I were in our 40s before we had our children, so they are all the more cherished. Breastfeeding was one of the gifts that I hoped to give to my boys. Little did I know where that desire would lead.

With my first pregnancy, I thought of breastfeeding purely to save money. Everything I read, however, pointed to breastfeeding as being superior nutritionally, as well as cementing the mother-baby bond. I began to really look forward to breastfeeding my baby! I took a breastfeeding class at my hospital, bought two nursing bras, and was ready to go. Unfortunately, when my son was born by cesarean section after an 18-hour labor, he did not latch on at all. During my hospital stay, many nurses worked with us, but none were successful at getting him to nurse. My son latched infrequently and pulled off screaming after only a few sucks. After three days, I was engorged and frustrated and my son was being given bottles of formula. I hated agreeing to the formula but didn't know what else to do. I asked for a breast pump and was given a pump and kit but no instruction on how to use it. Sadly, no one at the hospital seemed to think it was a problem that my son wasn't able to nurse. "He'll do fine on the bottle," was the general consensus. At home, I had to scramble to find the baby bottles I was given as gifts, but had packed away. I rented a breast pump, but didn't use it for several days, as I was depressed about my breastfeeding failure. I did not realize this would be detrimental to my milk supply. I was exhausted and in pain from my cesarean. Nothing seemed to be working out.

I finally called the local La Leche League Leader, whose number I had been given, and was referred to a lactation consultant, who spent over an hour on the phone with me. She really seemed to understand and support my desire to breastfeed. At our first session in person, she noticed that my son's jaw was sharply angled to one side. She referred him to an osteopath for treatment, and continued to work with him to try and get breastfeeding going. The first recommendation was no more bottles. I was to feed him with a cup or syringe, and later from my finger with a supplemental nursing system (SNS). In between, I was to do suck exercises. I tried my best, but getting even a small amount of milk into Erik using the alternative methods took a very long time, and then he would spit up most of what it had taken painfully long to get in. My husband was out of the house 15 to 16 hours each day and was uncomfortable with the feedings when he was around to help. We had no family to help with the new baby and the house. The lactation consultant worked with us for a number of sessions and provided extensive phone support, but my son did not seem to be progressing. Eventually, the stress built to the point where I dreaded feeding my baby. I knew then that I would have to stop using alternative feeding methods. Until my son was seven months old, I pumped and bottle-fed what milk I could get, and supplemented with formula. The osteopath told me later that it was unlikely he ever would have nursed due to the jaw problem, and I contented myself with the knowledge that I had given him at least some human milk.

During my second pregnancy, I had no doubts about breastfeeding. It seemed unlikely that this baby would have the same jaw problem as my first, and I anticipated no problems. When I was given my son for feeding after another long labor and cesarean delivery, he did not latch on or suck. I could not believe this was happening again! Gregory's first day of life passed without a successful feeding. On the second day, he latched on for four brief feedings, then quit. After not nursing for over eight hours, he was given some formula. I opened that bottle and smelled the smell that I remembered from my first child, and cried through the entire feeding. I pumped eight to ten times each day and bottle-fed my milk to Gregory. I also called the lactation consultant when I got home.

During our first session, the lactation consultant got Gregory to nurse fairly well over several hours, although not without effort. After she left, I was able to latch him on briefly, but when he awoke an hour later, he would not latch on at all. After nearly two hours of struggling, he was screaming, I was in tears, and I gave him a bottle of expressed milk to end it. During a follow-up call with the LC, she reminded me of cup or syringe feeding to avoid the bottles. Thinking of the hours of frustration and struggle needed to feed my first child that way was very disheartening. Also, my husband, having the same negative memories, made it clear that he did not support that regimen. We could not afford outside help, and I was overwhelmed by the prospect of pumping to keep up my milk supply, cup feeding, suck exercises, as well as caring for the baby, the house, my other child, and my pets. I made the decision to bottle-feed but not with formula.

Gregory is now six months old and has never had another formula feeding. He receives my human milk through a bottle, and recently started cereal. I pump five times each day and get over 40 ounces. I snuggle with and talk to my baby during every feeding: no bottle propping for us. I have tried a number of times to get him to nurse, but he screams as soon as I lift him into position to nurse and try to get my breast in his mouth. Needless to say, I don't try this very often. When I realized I probably was not going to be able to breastfeed Gregory, I wondered how long I'd be able to keep up pumping. At first, I couldn't think further than the next day. After several weeks seemed to fly by, I set my goal for three months, then six. Now I'm hoping to provide human milk for a year. Pumping, feeding, and washing bottles and pump parts is a hassle sometimes, but mostly it's become routine for me.

I have since met a number of women who have experienced serious breastfeeding problems, many of whom ultimately pumped and bottle-fed. On one Internet site is a message board dedicated to women who are exclusively pumping for various reasons. These ladies have been an incredible support to me. I have also joined a local La Leche League Group and have met more wonderful supportive women. Although I believe I am doing the best thing for my son and am mostly proud of my efforts, it is difficult for me to watch nursing mothers and not feel regretful and sad that I wasn't able to do it too. I question at times whether I really did my best where breastfeeding was concerned, but I believe that I made the best decision possible at the time.

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