Friday, December 27, 2013

Breastfeeding woes to joy

When I was pregnant and people would ask if I planned to breastfeed my answer was always I hope to do so. I had seen too many friends struggle with breastfeeding forced to go the route of exclusive pumping or just plain not be able to make it work. So while I fervently hoped, I also was realistic that it could be tough and that ultimate success was out of my hands.

Little did I know what was in store for me though.

First we’d struggled with infertility (strike one). I didn’t know it at the time, but I’m told that the hormonal issues often tied to infertility can also affect breastfeeding, according to one of the many lactation consultations I met with in this journey. Born at 36 weeks and two days my daughter was a preemie (Strike two). I had a c-section(strike 3) because my daughter was breech. If this were a baseball game we’d be out. Yet the strikes kept coming. Nursing sessions left both of us frustrated and in tears (another strike because stress is about as anti-successful breastfeeding as you can get.). I desperately wanted her to breastfeed for many of the reasons she was having trouble which made me feel like I was failing her at something that was supposed to be so natural. A family friend pulled me aside about six weeks in and half joked that there’s nothing natural about breastfeeding. I had to agree, at least with learning how to breastfeed. There may be natural instincts but it isn’t just getting your child in position and nature takes over. At least not in our case, that’s for sure.

While at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford I lost track of how many official lactation consultants I visited with and nurses who cared for us that were also lactation consultants. I asked anyone who might know for help hoping to get this. Our first visit with the pediatrician she was nothing but encouraging of my quest to breastfeed but also was very supportive in saying that my sanity was key too and that she herself had had difficulties. Something about my pediatrician herself having trouble made it seem like less of a personal failure. The days of pumping and having very frustrating nursing attempts continued to add up moving into weeks rather than days. I told myself while she wasn’t nursing successfully she was still getting my milk and thereby the end result was the same albeit much more work for me.

I resigned myself to the pump, but also quickly realized that while I needed to follow the lactation consultant’s rules, I also had to make it work for me otherwise it was time to give up now.

I shortened my goals from wanting to breastfeed for a year to six months down to just that week when times got really tough. I kept going and kept trying to offer breastfeeding to my daughter once a day or more. We continued to have to use the shield, the only way she’d even try nursing. The weeks clicked by and it wasn’t until about week 8 or 9 that she was able to nurse successfully enough not to need a bottle of breast milk for 90 minutes. I did a happy dance. It was HUGE for us. Then the next day she did it again. Then came a patch where she wouldn’t try or certainly not enough to eliminate a bottle.

But we kept trying and eventually at 11 weeks and five days old she figured it out. I won’t forget that day. She nursed. She nursed without a shield. She nursed with gusto. And she didn’t need a bottle afterward. Wow, I thought. That was amazing. So the next time she was ready to eat we tried again. Again, success, her first time doing it twice in one day ever. Later again, more success. We went 19 hours without a bottle. I was shocked, amazed and really proud. We did it! The next morning we cautiously tried again and again success at a 24-hour stretch this time. Now, would it have been easier to have this happen earlier and not two days before I returned to work? Sure, but I’ll take it. Because what it means is now I get to spend my time away from work with my daughter not a pump. I get to feed her wihtout the bottle between us. We get to cuddle in the nursery rocker like I envisioned while pregnant and have a quiet bedtime routine. It even makes all the tears and daydreams of smashing the pump to smithereens worth it.

I’m so thankful that my friend made a point to tell me to keep trying, because if I hadn’t we wouldn’t have found our groove and I would have missed these special moments. I had always figured they either “get” breastfeeding in the beginning or not at all. There is so much out there about nipple confusion I figured we were doomed. I never in a million years would have guessed that at 11 weeks and five days the flip could switch. And it makes me wonder how many aren’t able to keep going until they reach that magical milestone or don’t know to keep offering it and resign themselves to exclusive pumping.

For us breastfeeding is now becoming more natural. My pump and I are still frenemies several times a day and I’m now trying to figure out how to fit pumping into my work day. The bottom line though is that she’s getting nearly all breast milk and has most of her life. And we are making breastfeeding work for us which really is all that matters in the end. Was your road breastfeeding picture perfect or did you also experience bumps in the road?

Jennifer Erickson is a Sr. Communications Specialist with Texas Health Resources and Mom to a 14-week-old daughter.

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