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Learning to Listen to My Baby

Denise C.
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 104-105, 113

Nobody ever told me that breastfeeding my baby could be such a challenge. There was never a question in my mind of whether I would breastfeed my babies. It just seemed like the only natural way to nourish and bond with a baby. Besides, I am a registered nurse and I know all of the physiologic benefits of breastfeeding for my baby and for me as well. In my mind, it would have been almost a sin not to breastfeed. My older sister had breastfed all four of her babies until nine months of age and she hadn't had any problems. My goal was to breastfeed for one year and no less.

I think my problems all started when I was pregnant. Late in my pregnancy, I was a little worried that I had not seen colostrum yet. Even though I knew this was normal, I wondered if my breasts really could produce milk to nourish my baby. A friend who was due two months before me had noticed colostrum in her seventh month. So where was mine? I was not completely stressed out and worried until after I gave birth and the Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) helped put Chloe, my new baby girl, to my breast. Chloe took my nipple into her mouth and then spit it out. She tried again, sucking briefly, and spit it out once more. After that she would try to suck, but she couldn't figure out how to latch on and stay on. She would bob her head to my breast and away, crying the whole time as if she were starving and there was nothing there. It was almost as though she was confirming my worst fear, that I simply was not capable of producing milk.

After one day in the hospital, we came home. Chloe had produced several meconium stools and one wet diaper, meeting the requirements for hospital discharge. I figured that maybe being at home would help all of us relax and work on nursing. Relaxing, though, was the last item on my agenda. Although I was on maternity leave from work, I was in the middle of a semester in graduate school when she was born. When Chloe was two weeks old, a fellow student came over to finish a project that we would present together. She happened to be a labor and delivery nurse. She helped me get Chloe into the nursing position known as the football hold and helped my daughter to latch on correctly, which quickly healed my sore nipples. She had helped me immensely, but my nursing woes were far from over.

Every night, my husband would come home from work and usually find me glued to the recliner and crying while I held a crying baby. I was so stressed out! I worried about whether I was producing enough milk, whether Chloe was growing enough or having enough wet diapers, and about how I was going to get my homework done. I tried to use a manual breast pump to leave milk for Chloe while I was at school, and I could barely get an ounce. This furthered my suspicion that I wasn't producing enough.

When I was at school I was only getting about two ounces total each time I pumped, while my friend who was breastfeeding was getting six to eight ounces from one side. All the while I knew that statistically it is very rare for a woman to have an inadequate milk supply and that medically I was very healthy. I began to count feedings every day, I watched the clock during and in between nursings and always tried to figure out how many ounces she was getting. I tried putting her on a rigid schedule of frequent feedings, taking an herbal supplement, and increasing my water intake, all to increase my supply. Nothing seemed to be working.

I made many phone calls and read pamphlets and books. I got online to breastfeeding sites and emailed back and forth to a friend who I had met in my childbirth class. Everyone gave good advice, but they all ended on the same note, asking if Chloe was producing enough wet and soiled diapers. She was, but I still felt that my supply was inadequate. It took Chloe three and a half weeks to regain her birth weight, and I had read that most babies reached their birth weight by two weeks. Until she was on a normal curve on the growth charts at two months my paranoia about her growth rate did not decrease.

From birth to three months, Chloe would breastfeed every one to one-and-a-half hours for 45-60 minutes each time. Half the time she was bobbing on and off crying like she wasn't getting enough and the other half she was sleeping. By the time I had changed her diaper, I literally had 15 minutes before she would nurse again. And although she would sleep through the night (she never napped), I was up half the night doing homework. I noticed that she was increasingly fussy toward the evening and wanted to nurse continuously without breaks. I dreaded every night. My husband suggested we give her a little formula to see if she was really hungry. I initially shot this idea down and accused him of not being supportive. Finally I gave in to his suggestion and offered her some formula. We tried this a few nights, but it didn't seem to make a difference. She was still fussy and wanted to nurse all night. I later found out that many babies have fussy periods and they often occur at night.

I feel as if I struggled every single day until Chloe was four months old. Even though I felt I knew a lot about breastfeeding, it didn't really help because what I needed was the support of other breastfeeding women who could sit back, hear my story, and help me realize that my problem was more likely a lack of confidence in my ability to produce milk and my stress level rather than an inadequate milk supply. I got this support at my local La Leche League Series Meetings. From the day of my first meeting forward, my breastfeeding problems literally disappeared. I decided after my maternity leave ended to work only one day a week and go to school part-time. Chloe is now a very happy and healthy eight-month-old. She still nurses about every two hours and usually sleeps through the night, but her nursing sessions are now lasting only 15-20 minutes. I really think that my baby nurses so frequently just to be close to me, emotionally and physically, now that she eats other foods as well. I've learned many lessons as breastfeeding has become easier for me. I've made sacrifices to reduce stress and enjoy my little one more, and I've learned to listen to my baby because she will tell me what she needs.

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