Within an hour of Jake’s birth, we did skin-to-skin contact and he breastfed beautifully. We were off to a great start.
But later, in postpartum at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, I was having trouble getting him to latch. And when he did latch, he wouldn’t stay on for very long. He’d just stop and start screaming at my nipple angrily. One of the nurses brought me a nipple shield to help, but this made his latch feel very painful. I wasn’t sure if it was an incorrect latch pain or a just a new-to-breastfeeding pain. Either way, I grit my teeth and kept at it hoping he was getting some colostrum.
By the end of day two, we were still having troubles and my nipples were absolutely killing me. Things didn’t feel right. The nurse took him to have him weighed and we learned he’d lost a little over eight percent of his body weight. She told me they suspected he also might be on the line for having jaundice. They worried he was not getting enough nourishment due to our breastfeeding struggles, so they wanted to cup feed him some formula.
That’s when I completely lost it and began sobbing uncontrollably. I was failing at breastfeeding and my son was suffering because of it. This was the beginning of a cascade of negative feelings that would continue to haunt me for the coming weeks – frustration, guilt, and inadequacy as a mother.
First thing the next morning, a lactation consultant came to visit me. The wonderful nurse from the night shift must have arranged this after my emotional outburst. She offered some great tips and taught us to insert a syringe with formula underneath the nipple shield to get Jake suckling, and hopefully the stimulation would get my milk to come in. I was also told to pump after every feeding to get things flowing. I left the hospital on the third day feeling confident and ready to conquer this breastfeeding thing, thinking my milk would come in the following day.
It didn’t. And I still couldn’t get him to latch for very long, even with the nipple shield filled with formula. Feeding was extremely stressful for the both of us, and little Jake screamed with hunger. This was not the blissful bonding experience I envisioned. We fed him formula with a syringe directly, and again I had an emotional breakdown.
I couldn’t let him starve. Finally I gave in and decided we’d need to feed him formula from a bottle, knowing that introducing an artificial nipple this early could sabotage our already dysfunctional breastfeeding relationship. But I didn’t know what else to do. I was so upset, disappointed in myself, and beyond stressed. At this point, it probably would have benefited me to contact a lactation consultant again for help, but I was so filled with anxiety at that moment that I felt like I didn’t have it in me to keep trying. I just wanted to get my son some nourishment in a way that was quick and un-stressful for the both of us.
I did keep using the breast pump, and what little milk I could get out I fed to him to supplement the formula.
Days into formula feeding, I was giving Jake his bottle one morning at 3 a.m. as he stared up at me wide-eyed and alert. He seemed to be taking in all the details of my face like a little sponge. I loved it. At that moment, for some reason, I relaxed and forgave myself a little. If this is the way it had to be, it was going to be okay, I decided.
When I woke up later that morning, I was covered in breast milk. Finally it had come in! It felt like Christmas to me.
But when Jake still wouldn’t latch, I called a lactation consultant at the hospital for help. She told me I’d have to take away the bottle for 24 hours and really work at it with him. But what if it doesn’t work, I fretted. I didn’t think I could let him not eat for that long. I asked her about exclusively pumping and if she thought that was okay. She assured me there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, and what’s important is that he’d be getting breast milk.
For a few days we gave Jake an equal mix of both formula and breast milk, until finally I was producing enough that we could feed him pumped breast milk exclusively. Although I’m thrilled about that, I’m still disappointed in myself for not being able to make breastfeeding work. I wanted the bonding experience, I worry about my supply going down, and every time I feed him from a bottle and then go pump I shake my head at the inefficiency of the process. If only I could cut out the middleman.
But sometimes things just don’t go as we planned. And if we’re good parents, we focus on the big picture – a happy, healthy baby – instead of obsessing about what didn’t go exactly as we thought it would.
Did you have trouble breastfeeding? What was your experience like?
Megan Brooks is a Sr. Public Relations Specialist for Texas Health Resources, Stepmom, and a Mom to a six-week-old son learning to balance expectations and reality.