Okay, so now that I got your attention…
This post IS about boobs, but not in a fun way, rather, in a “what boobs are actually made for” way.
I thought I’d write a little about breastfeeding, because this blog is supposed to be about our journey with Thatcher, and breastfeeding was a huge hurdle in our journey. I’m super pro-breastfeeding, but I think that if you give it the ol’ college try and it’s not working for you, at the end of the day, it’s not super important WHAT you are feeding your baby, what matters is that you ARE feeding your baby.
So I wanted to share our story for those mamas out there who are struggling with breastfeeding, or those mamas-to-be that have this ideal vision in their head that they are gonna pop out this baby and stick them on the boob, and that baby is going to latch and bond and everything is going to be beautiful and wonderful. Chances are, it’s not. Not all the time. But it will be eventually, and your hard work will pay off. And THAT is beautiful.
So. Getting to my story.
Thatcher was born on a Tuesday around noon, and I think I tried him on the boob for the first time about half an hour after he was born. I had no goddamn clue what I was doing, but I figured that I didn’t know how to push a baby out of my hooha a few hours ago, and I did that pretty darn well, so breastfeeding would be another skill I would conquer. And I did. For a while. He latched pretty darn well, despite a few nurses telling me that he probably wouldn’t because of his Down Syndrome. Apparently babies with Down Syndrome have a poor suck, but not my little man. It seemed like he was born to eat. Thatcher slept in the mother-baby unit room with me that night, in the little clear bassinet beside my bed, and I sat up most of the night staring at him, then googling Down Syndrome, and crying my eyes out because I was sure that he was going to have all of those comorbidities that Dr. Google was telling me that he would have. That’s a topic for another day entirely. Anyway, I was up half the night, but he was a quiet baby, and under the suggestion of the nurses, I woke him up every few hours through the night and nursed him. He didn’t wake up on his own at all, and slept through half his feedings (unlike the baby in the neighbouring bed, who screamed his damn face off half the night). The next morning, a lactation consultant came to see me, and she was amazed with how well T was nursing. His latch was great and he seemed to be sucking like a pro. All seemed pretty well in terms of feeding.
Fast forward to about 1900, and shit hit the fan. We had seen specialists all day, and had multiple tests done including an ECG, and echo, bloodwork, and hearing tests (the typical newborn one and a high-risk one). We were exhausted and overstimulated, stressed beyond belief, but again, that’s a story for another time. So right at shift change, 1900, T starts going into distress. I call the nurse, who comes in, calls the NICU assessment team, and within 10 minutes he has a NICU bed and we are wheeling the little isolette he is in down the halls to his new room.
Since Thatcher had extremely high bilirubin, he had to be put in an isolette with three different lights on him for phototherapy, plus a biliblanket underneath him. He had to wear little fake soft sunglasses to protect his eyes, and they even took off his diaper so that he would get maximum light to every square centimetre of him. He was hooked up to leads to monitor his heart rate, BP, and SPO2, and he had an IV in the side of his head for the sepsis they thought he might have. Since the jaundice was so bad, he had to stay under the lights constantly, so he was allowed out only to nurse every three hours. At 3, 6, 9 & 12, am and pm, I would get to take the stroll down the halls of B-wing from my mother-baby unit bed to the NICU, swipe my little card, wash my little paws like crazy, and hold my baby boy. I was allowed to nurse him for seven minutes on each side, and then he had to go back into his isolette and back under the lights. The nurses told me that since seven minutes wasn’t enough time to get a solid meal, they would supplement him with formula. Nobody mentioned any other options, just that formula would be given. I had bought bottles “just in case” and done my research about nipple confusion and which bottles were the best, so I asked the nurse if I could bring my bottles from home so that he could have his formula in them. The nurse said I could, so I made my mum go to my house and sterilize like she’d never sterilized before, because I didn’t want him to get nipple confusion from the random nipples that the hospital used. If only that was my biggest problem. Ha!
Daddy feeding Thatcher in his isolette after his 7 minute per boob nursing session.
So I got to keep my mother-baby room until Friday, basically because I told the nurses that I wasn’t leaving the hospital until my baby was leaving the hospital. On Friday morning, I had an ultrasound because I had been having some kidney pain. They booked my ultrasound for 9am. I protested and told them that I couldn’t possibly go to an ultrasound at 9am, that my baby had to eat, and my kidneys were secondary. The nurse asked me if I knew how to hand express. Hand express? What? What was that?! In all my pre-baby research, I had spent about ZERO time actually researching breastfeeding. I mean, if babies can just jump on there and latch themselves an hour after birth, how hard could it be, right?! Ha again! So here I was in a hospital room with a med cup, with a nurse showing me how to squeeze my boobs just so, so that I could get some milk out. By this point everyone had seen everything, and I’d been in the hospital four whole days, so I didn’t really give a shit about dignity. It was WAY out the window. So, here I am squeezing my boobs vigorously, with two hands, milking myself like a damn cow, and my husband is holding the med cup for me to catch the milk. You know it’s love when… I get about 5ml out, and I send Devin to the NICU to take my precious milk in to feed my kiddo while i go for my US (which was fine, btw). So, when I come back, the nurse asks me if I’d rather pump in case I have to miss a feed again. Pump? Is that an option? Turns out that the hospital actually has a crapload of Medela Symphonies for mamas to use. But you need to ask, or nobody tells you. So, mamas… lesson #1. Advocate for yourself and your babies. In medical emergencies, doctors and nurses will do what they gotta do, and they will obviously take the easiest route to get the results they need… like giving formula. But breastmilk is an option! You just need to ask the right questions!
So. Fastforward to Friday. It’s noon time feed and my friend Brit is visiting and meeting Thatch for the first time. I’m telling her how great nursing is going. Except suddenly, it’s not. I latch him on, and milk is POURING out of his mouth. It’s overflowing and it’s everywhere. It’s a huge milkfest and someone forgot to tell me. The poor little bird can’t handle the massive tidal wave of milk coming out and he’s basically drowning in it. So, he does what all of us would do. He screams and pushes away, and refuses to latch on again. I try again at 3pm. He will not latch. I try again at 6pm. He will not latch. I think it was around 8pm when we got word that there was a room open on A pod (we were currently on B pod, which is higher intensity), that we were being transferred because Thatch was in the clear with the possible sepsis, he was off the bill lights, and he was managed on oxygen, so we could be stepped down to a lower level of acuity. They carted us and our stuff down the hall and we moved into the room we would call home for the next thirteen days.
By this time, Thatcher hasn’t successfully nursed in eight hours, I’ve been pumping every three hours anyway and we’ve been giving him expressed milk. It’s a tired game… I fight with him to take my boob for half an hour, I give up, I pump for half an hour, and we give him milk in a bottle. Rinse and repeat. I am thoroughly exhausted but I am not giving up. When we get to A pod, we get settled into our room and our nurse, Linda, introduces herself. We tell her our main struggle (besides keeping up his SPO2) is feeding. He suddenly just will not take the boob. He was a champion before! And then it all went to shit. Linda tells us that she is a Lactation Consultant too, and my mind is finally at ease. Then she looks at my gross unwashed hair, the huge bags under my eyes from my trip to Holland, and the tears that won’t stop welling up in my eyes. She tells me to go home. Go home, get some sleep. Try the 9pm feeding, sure, do my pumping, it will give them enough milk for the night. Then go home and get some rest. By this point, I haven’t stepped out of the hospital doors since Monday at 2pm, so it’s been over four days. I’m tired, and I’m broken. My entire future has changed. And I’m not coping. Not one bit. I protest and protest, but she pushes and I agree. I will go home and miss the midnight feed and the 3am feed, but I will be back for the 6am feed, ready to rock. She asks me if I’m opposed to an NG tube (nasogastric tube, it goes from their nose to their tummy and is the quick, easy, and removable way to tube feed), and even though Devin protests, I agree to it. I’d rather Thatch be tube-fed than bottle fed, because there is no risk of nipple confusion this way. I mention to Linda that the nurses had given Thatcher a pacifier to calm him down during bloodwork, and that I would prefer no pacis. Then I take off for home.
An exhausted mama and Thatcher, complete with all my tubes and wires.
It was crazy to be home, and I didn’t get to sleep until about 1am because all I could think of was my sweet baby boy, who I was already so in love with, swaddled in his bassinette all alone in A pod. I sleep until 4, get up and shower, and I am shocked when I look in the mirror. Whose boobs are those?! Did I become a porn star overnight?! Apparently this is the engorgement they were talking about. At least I look skinny now compared to my giant boobs.
So I go back to the hospital. Try to feed him. Fail. He gets breastmilk via tube. Try again three hours later. Fail. Breastmilk via tube. Days and days and days go by. Some days he will take the boob. Some days he won’t. Every time I feed him, it’s the same routine. Every three hours I strip him down, weigh him on the NICU scale, try for 30-45 minutes to feed him, weigh him again, and find out he’s only eaten 10ml of the 80ml they want him to have every feed. Then I call the nurse and have them tube feed the remainder of what he needs. I read articles upon articles about oversupply and breastfeeding. Kellymom becomes my favourite go-to site. I read more than any human should about every solution under the sun. We get a good feed here and there, but in general I feel like an absolute failure. He is gaining basically nothing. Sometimes, he will take up to 50ml per feed and I am elated! But the next feed he will take nothing. Sometimes that damn scale tells me he LOST weight while he was feeding. Cue crying and screaming and hair-pulling on my part.
I see the LC, I talk to my aunt who is a doula. I read and read. We try so many things. We try football and cradle and laying. We try nipple shield, no nipple shield, even putting SUGAR on my breast so he will be encouraged to suck. He falls asleep during feeds constantly, he is always drowsy and never cries; the nurses actually ask if he’s ever cried. So when he eats, I strip him down to his diaper and rub him with cold washcloths so he wakes up. I learn that too much light is overstimulating, so I dim the lights when he feeds. I try everything and anything, and he always latches when the LC is in the room, then refuses to latch the next few feeds. Of course, right?!
Mama and tiny baby bird having a heart to heart about how this late night cryfests (that mama is having) need to stop.
So finally, when he’s maybe 12 days old, he’s off oxygen and they aren’t worried about his heart anymore and he’s good to go home. Except that he’s not, because he’s not gaining weight or eating. The doctors say, “Remove the tube! He’ll eat when he’s hungry. Feed him on demand. Quit weighing him. We’ll weigh him daily.” I hope that by some magic it will work. It doesn’t, not really. We go through whole days where he will eat using the nipple shield. Then he will suddenly hate the shield and want nothing to do with it. He will scream and cry and pull off because it’s like a damn fire hose spraying him with so much milk. The nurses keep telling me how lucky I am that I can pump ten ounces in half an hour, that it’s gotta be some kind of record. If you struggle with low supply, you’ll think that having an oversupply is great, but I can tell you from experience, it’s a battle all it’s own. They always liken it to an adult trying to drink from a firehose, and that’s what it seemed like. He would cough and choke and gag and pull away and scream. The nipple shield worked sometimes only because it slowed down the flow of the milk, like putting a funnel over the fire hose. In his entire first sixteen days of life, he gained somewhere around 61 grams (2.1oz). In sixteen days, he should have gained approximately 388g, or 13.7oz. So, he wasn’t exactly thriving.
But of course, you can’t take up a NICU bed, costing the public thousands of dollars a day, just because you are too stubborn to give up and wave the big white breastfeeding flag. Eventually, you get kicked out. So, about 24 hours after Thatcher was finally weaned from his oxygen, we got discharge orders. But, since Thatch was not gaining any real, substantial weight, we had to follow up with the Nutrition clinic at the hospital in a few weeks, and a dietician came to see us before discharge. She strongly advised me to supplement his feeds with formula. She gave me a giant can of GoodStart, with instructions on it to breastfeed, then pump and mix my breastmilk with formula and give it to him via bottle. I told her I was not giving him formula. So we came to the mutual agreement that Thatcher was to see his new paediatrician on Monday. If he didn’t gain the appropriate amount of weight by then (I think they were aiming for three ounces, or 85g), I was to supplement with the breastmilk/formula concoction.
Off we went that warm September Thursday, back to our home, which had been overrun by our dogs for sixteen days. Which was once deep cleaned, and now looked like a tornado hit it. Where I had been a handful of times in the past two weeks; stopping in to grab one or two things and then jetting back to the hospital. Where I had “slept” (I say that in quotations because it was really more of a nap) a total of two times in sixteen days.
And we nursed. And we nursed. And we nursed.
We went to see our paediatrician Monday. Thatcher had gained 115g. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I wanted to take that damn formula and stream it out the car window while driving a thousand miles an hour. I wanted to shout from the rooftops.
But it wasn’t easy. Not even after that amazing Monday. Thatcher started nursing better, yes. But to nurse, he had to use the nipple shield. And nursing in cradle hold wasn’t an option. I had to lay down, put him beside me, then hold up my boob with one hand while supporting him with the other. And he didn’t just eat for ten minutes. This was a 45 minute ordeal. I could watch an entire episode of Property Brothers in one feed. And this happened 8-10x a day.
Even though things were going better, we still had struggles. Sometimes he didn’t want to latch. He was such a drowsy baby, I couldn’t keep him awake through a feed. So cold washcloths were my new BFF. Sometimes I’d get Dev to tickle his tummy or back or feet while I rubbed under his chin to get him to swallow. And at times, I would just sit there and cry. I felt so helpless, like I was so alone. Everyone seemed to be having an easier time than me. I met a girl who had a baby who was a month younger than Thatch, and the baby fed for 5 minutes every three hours. My baby fed for an hour every three hours. Plus pumping took me 20-30 minutes. So basically every three hours, I was a milk machine for an hour and a half. I was spending 12 hours a day dealing with breastmilk. I felt like a Holstein.
But it was paying off. Slowly but surely, he was gaining weight. At four weeks old, he was in the 35th percentile. By 10 weeks, he was in the 36th, and at 13 weeks, we were up to the 52nd.
He used a nipple shield for two entire months. Then one day, he just didn’t. He let me cradle him and he nursed without any extra gadgets or gizmos, and he rocked it. And I rocked it too.
These days, my little bird is eating solids like a champ. He’s in the 78th percentile for his weight, and the 84th for his height. And he still nurses eight times a day. Was it easy? Absolutely not. It was a fight, and if I wasn’t so goddamn stubborn and opinionated, I would have given up long ago.
But was it worth it? Absolutely. He made it through an entire cold and flu season with two VERY mild colds, despite having smaller nasal and ear passages and a compromised immune system. He outgrew his three month clothing in a month. He has beautiful little chub rolls like the michelin man, which are sadly shrinking as he gets more mobile and gets some muscle and loses his baby fat.
So, is nursing for everyone? I’d love to say yes, but in reality, I know it’s not. And whatever you choose to feed your baby, you are making the right decision. You are a good mom. You are doing what is best for your babe. I think that Scary Mommy says it best… Good mothers love their children. That’s what it all boils down to. I didn’t write this blog to pick a side in the mommy wars. I wrote it to tell you, that if you are trying to breastfeed, and you are struggling.. you are not alone. Just because that bitch down the street from you can pop the baby onto her boob at two weeks old and feed for five minutes and that baby is good to go for four more hours… she’s the odd one out, not you. Motherhood is hard. All of it is hard. Breastfeeding is a struggle. You can fight, or you can choose your battles and say, “This isn’t for me.” But know that whatever you do, you’re not alone. I get it. Tons of other mamas get it. But stay strong, and if this is the battle you wanna fight, and breastfeeding is what you really wanna do for your baby… you can do it! It will be hard, it will be crushingly hard, but then it will be easy. It will be easy and it will all be worth it. Stay strong, mama! You got this.
Love Milk Coma snuggles..