I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before but as soon as we’d found out we were pregnant, one thing that A and I both agreed on was that we wanted to at least attempt to breastfeed; give it the ‘old college try’ if you will. Not only did we feel that it was the healthiest start we could give our baby, but it was also significantly cheaper than formula. Formula feeding also opened the doors for confusion over the insane amounts of brands and choices, potential food allergies, lactose intolerance, stomach upset, etc, and we figured the less variables we introduced the better we’d feel as first-time parents.
Now this being said I was aware that breastfeeding isn’t necessarily an option available to all mommies and I’d never take anything away from any mother that did what they had to to feed their baby. Sometimes milk just doesn’t come in, or at least not in adequate amounts to feed tiny, angry, growing bodies and other times there are physical difficulties with a good latch, lactation support, colic or a host of other small things that stand in the way. Breastfeeding should be a positive experience and if it’s causing nervous breakdowns or panic attacks, a trip to the Walmart formula aisle might be just the ticket to restored sanity!
I’ve already posted about my personal relationship with my pump and the good luck I had with my production, but figured I’d dedicate some time to reliving our first attempts at natural nursing, although we ended up, unfortunately, abandoning the concept later on in favour of getting V home with us as soon as possible.
Once we reached the NPCU (aka the feeding and growing room), one of the things I started to bug our nurses about was breastfeeding V naturally as opposed to syringing it through his nifty little gastro tube. Since they had introduced a bottle that same week it seemed to reason that he would also be awake enough to try and nurse. We set up a meeting with our LC for the first attempt so I could be taught how to properly hold, adjust and latch the baby onto my ‘lovely lady lumps’ (am I showing my age by quoting ‘old school’ Black Eyed Peas?). The nurse set up a privacy screen, handed me a nursing pillow, and told me to strip down my top half while she weighed V.
The NICU is absolutely fanatical about weighing the babies before and after any breastfeeding attempts. Since the amount of milk swallowed can’t be tracked like a syringe or a bottle the baby is weighed before and after each feed with each gram gained equal to one mL of milk swallowed. V was up to 35 mL every three hours so we were hoping for a 35 gram gain!
I eventually had to learn the art of weighing a newborn since we did attempt nursing every visit after the first experience. This is hands-down the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do as a parent! Imagine holding a 3lb baby covered in monitors and tubes, stark naked, squirming and screaming, all while trying to reset a scale, lay down a cloth so you don’t freeze their tiny buns off and then cap it all off with this crazy flip to rest them on their tummies which the nurses seem to be able to do in their sleep for the most accurate measure you can get. The first time I tried to weigh V I literally stared at him, then the scale, then him again and then asked for help. For some reason my brain could not send the message to my hands on how exactly to get my face up, in my arms baby to end up face down on the scale without dropping him, or his head falling off, or some other scenario my hormone filled and sleep deprived brain was flashing through my consciousness. I eventually got the hang of it, but was never something I was truly comfortable with and gladly pawned the chore off on Daddy when he arrived for his evening visits.
Anyways, back to the first attempt. After I was sitting half naked , mostly shielded by the screen, in the middle of a room full of other parents (have I mentioned having a newborn rids you of any modest, inhibitions or shame?) the nurse handed me my diaper-clad baby and helped me get the hand of the nursing hold. For anyone who has never nursed, or attempted it, it is this slightly awkward one handed grip when you hold your infant across your chest and use the other hand to mash their face into your cleavage. Due to my post-baby voluptuousness this whole concept made me very nervous as I was sure he was not going to be able to breathe! The LC assured me that infants will tip their nose to make sure they are able to get enough oxygen and then went to help me get V to latch properly.
Well much our surprise V didn’t need any help at all, he just hooked right on and went to town. I about hit the ceiling since the sensation is like nothing you can describe. Weird definitely covers it, but natural at the same time. The LC would only give me 20 minutes to get all I could into him and then we had to call it quits since breastfeeding is very energy intensive for little babies. V actually stayed latched the whole time until we had to pry his tiny self right off! The nurse went to weigh him and I had high hopes, he stayed on the whole time right? Well, yes…but he’d apparently been using me as a soother since he only went up 4 mL. Ugh… This was followed by a lesson in observation so that I was better able to determine if he was actually swallowing or just sucking…tricky on a tiny infant and in V’s case swallowing was actually a rare occurrence.
The next few attempts we tried all sorts of tricks to get him to take more than he was getting. This first attempt had been post-pump, so the next time we tried before I pumped. Well V almost drowned! He just wasn’t able to deal with the letdown, breathe and swallow at the same time so he started to choke. From then on we went back to the post-pump timeframe and tried to see where we got. Unfortunately due to his size V wasn’t capable of putting out great suction and my letdown just wasn’t quick enough for him. We spent a solid 3 weeks with him using nursing as self-soothing and bonding time, but not for any actual nutrition. Frustrating to say the least.
He would also fall asleep while nursing and because we were on a strict time limit we had a whole bag of trick to try and wake him up. I guess cuddling skin to skin with his mommy was nice and cozy! We tried keeping him uncovered so that he’d stay a bit cooler, and theoretically awake, but that didn’t work. We tried tapping his cheeks and the bottom of his feet, re-latching him, switching sides and even putting him down on the couch/chair/bassinet to wake himself up…no dice! This kid sure was one deep sleeper.
The one plus to nursing was definitely the bonding time I got alone with V and the immense pride I felt as a mother and woman that I was fortunate enough to be able to ( or at least attempting to) provide nutrition for my son. We got to snuggle, the two of us, skin to skin and just enjoy the time we had together. I can definitely understand why a lot of modern mamas try to keep up nursing as long as possible, although don’t get me started on that crazy Time magazing cover…
In the end, V’s inability to take a full feeding from the breast (the most we ever got to was 20mL over the 8 months we attempted – you can’t say we didn’t try!) most of our experience with breastfeeding was frustrating. We were hoping to take him home completely breastfeeding but the nurses wouldn’t let you piggyback a nurse, then bottle then tube if all else failed. V had to get his meals either with breast/tube or bottle/tube, not a combination of the three since it was both exhausting and confusing for him. Double Ugh! Being that our whole criteria for getting V home was that he had to eat tube-free for 48 hours we definitely had some hard decisions to make….
On a random sidenote at the end of this post: Sometimes I wonder what V will think of this blog when he’s old enough to understand. I may keep it for blackmail purposes when he’s trying to be ‘cool’ in front of his little 13-year old buddies…