I knew I probably wouldn’t be writing much in the weeks after Niko’s birth, but I had hoped that I would be able to come back and do a little bit of writing. I’d still like to get her birth story written out, but I’m putting that off a bit longer. Instead, I wanted to write about breastfeeding during Hannah’s first three weeks of life.
One of the first things Geordie and I talked about when we found out I was pregnant with Lauren was whether or not I would breastfeed. It didn’t involve a lot of discussion. Geordie was very supportive right from the start, and I knew that it would be the best thing for both her and me. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, but I wanted to try it before I wrote it off completely. My mom had a hard time breastfeeding me, but I hoped that it would go smoother for me and Lauren.
In the end, of course, I never had the chance to breastfeed Lauren. I was given medication to keep my milk from coming in, which I was thankful for. The last thing I wanted was to have my milk come in when I had no baby to feed. But I did not give up on the idea of breastfeeding, so when I became pregnant with Hannah, the plan stayed the same. If it worked for us, than we would stick with it. I had a set goal of wanting to stick with breastfeeding for six months, but honestly, I wanted to go a whole year. I knew it would be challenging and that I’d have to be persistent, but it was what Geordie and I both wanted for Hannah.
And Hannah was all for it. More than one lactation consultant called her latch “textbook.” She latched immediately and nursed like a pro from the beginning. And – more surprisingly for me – I really enjoyed nursing. I didn’t exactly enjoy the getting up at all hours to feed her part of it, but once she was latched and nursing, it was terrific. It was hard, but I loved the closeness to her, I loved the feelings I got, I loved spending the time with her. I loved nursing more than I ever thought I could.
Then, on the 3rd, we took her to her first postpartum appointment and found out she’d dropped to 6 pounds, 3 ounces. [Her birth weight was 7lbs, 7oz; when we left the hospital, she was 6lbs, 14oz.] The midwife was concerned but not overly worried. She gave me all kinds of suggestions: hydrate well, eat often and at least 3000 calories per day, drink Mother’s Milk tea, rest whenever I wasn’t nursing, feed baby every two hours even if I had to wake her up – and usually we did have to wake her up. We left the birth center anxious but hopeful. The midwife told us to come back in a week for a weight check.
We did everything we had been told to do, plus more. We woke Hannah up every 2-3 hours to feed if she wasn’t demanding, and she fed well and long. I pumped just to make sure she was getting everything. We even called our insurance and ordered a better pump. We tracked feedings and diapers, and everything looked fine and healthy. She showed no signs of dehydration, her skin color was good, and her activity good. But when we went back on the 10th for a weight check, she had dropped to 5lbs, 13oz. The midwives were no longer just mildly concerned. They recommended a lactation consultant. They told us to take her to her pediatrician. They told me that I was not “broken” and that formula was not necessarily in her our future but that we needed to take action. I fed her at the birth center, crying the entire time, and Geordie called the LC and arranged for her to make a house call.
The LC did her best not to panic us, but she was clearly thrown off by how much Hannah had lost. Admitting Hannah to the hospital was discussed. Fortunately, the LC works closely with the pediatrician we had chosen, and she contacted him (Geordie had already made an appointment for the next day), and he felt that it was not that serious and that if we supplemented with formula and fed her through the night, she could wait until the morning appointment. That’s what we decided to do. The LC had me nurse Hannah so she could observe and determine if anything was wrong. Again, Hannah did her job wonderfully. But when she was weighed again, the LC said she’d only taken in a half an ounce of milk during a thirty minute feed. She told me bluntly but kindly that she thought the problem was my supply. Unfortunately, it wasn’t simply a matter of building it up and getting it to sufficient levels – she told me she thought the problem was Insufficient Glandular Tissue, also known as hypoplasia. As she put it, I just don’t have the “factory works” to make enough milk to fully nourish my baby. It’s a real thing, and there isn’t much I can do about it. Supplementation was, and continues to be, our only option.
When we took Hannah to the pediatrician on the 11th, he agreed with the LC’s “diagnosis,” that the problem was my supply. I stopped nursing her directly because it was so much effort for so little. We bottlefed her what I pumped, but it showed how little milk I was producing; I got barely 3oz of milk a day. Once we started on the formula, Hannah started improving almost immediately. Her weight gain was slow, but that was to be expected, given what she had lost. We had daily weigh-ins at the doctor’s office until the 16th, when she was back up to 6lbs, 13oz. We did have to switch her from a milk-based formula to a soy-based one because of telltale milk allergy signs, but since then, she’s continued to do well. For the first time in two weeks, I feel like she’s getting all the nutrition she needs.
I just wish that she was getting it from me. As much as I don’t want to, I’m allowing my milk to dry up. I hate pumping. It’s cold and unfeeling and unpleasant. It’s one of the more depressing things I have ever had to do, especially considering the meager amount of milk that results from it. Every time I pumped, it reminded me of how little I was doing for my daughter. I could tell myself over and over that even a little bit of breast milk was better than none, but the truth was that it only made me feel worse. It reminded me that, once again, I was failing my child. There is still a deep part of me that feels guilty over Lauren’s death, that feels that my body is to blame. This just added to it.
So, I’m giving up on breastfeeding. It’s not what I want to do, but it’s what I feel I have to do, if just for the sake of my mental and emotional health. I wish it wasn’t happening this way; I miss nursing Hannah, even those times in the middle of the night when I could barely keep myself awake. And I’m sad that I can’t give her what would normally be the best thing for her right now. But she’s getting better with the formula and gaining the weight that she needs, and that’s the most important thing to me. If this is what’s best for my daughter right now, then it’s what I’ll do. As long as she’s happy and healthy, that’s the best thing for both of us.