When I originally wrote my post on the 10 things people don’t tell you about breastfeeding, several people told me I was lucky that breastfeeding worked for me and that it didn’t hurt. I felt compelled to explain that breastfeeding only worked for me because of my persistence and that it did hurt until I reached out for help.
I actually believe that most current medical establishments are unsupportive of breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding past the six-month mark should be considered a major personal achievement. For each of my two pregnancies, I used two different medical groups, where I had strikingly opposite experiences.
I received medical care through the Sharp medical group with my first son in San Diego County. My prenatal appointments went well and I received great medical care. Closer to my due date, I took a breastfeeding class where two hours to learn about “fish lips” and the various latches seemed adequate to learn about something as “natural” as breastfeeding. During my last OB visit, I was the lucky recipient of a tote bag containing containers of baby formula, formula coupons, and a booklet from a formula company explaining it was OK if I failed at breastfeeding and that formula was perfectly OK for my baby. Hmm, I’ll never need that stuff, I thought, so I’ll save it and donate it to another mom who can’t breastfeed… I shoved it all in a closet when I got home.
I gave birth at Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. I attended a pre-birth hospital visit where the guide looked more like a PR executive in her corporate suit than medical personnel. There I learned the hospital handled over 6000 births a year. I felt in good hands, only to realize later that a hospital managing that many births may be more appropriately labeled as a “baby factory”, rushing you in and out to make room for the next birth. By the way, mom and dad can order a steak & lobster celebration dinner for $40 after the baby’s birth. Forget about that milkshake or burger you’re craving for after hours of labor, and upgrade to surf & turf!
On the day of my scheduled c-section, we soon found out that the buzzing excitement among the hospital staff was due to a rare event – a mom scheduled to give birth to quintuplets on that same day. Yes, five babies! All I can wish to any first-time mom is NOT to give birth on the same day as a large multiple birth. Nurses and doctors will clearly show that your baby’s birth is quite insignificant in comparison, rushing you out of the delivery area to “make room” for the event of the year…
My baby and I were assigned to a room and I tried to breastfeed him. That’s when I quickly realized I had NO CLUE what I was doing. I asked the nurse to check on us. She quickly glanced at my boob and expressed things looked OK. Overnight, I was in pain due to the surgery and wasn’t sure anything was coming out of my breasts to feed my baby. The night nurse told me it could take a few days for my milk to come but I should keep nursing to offer colustrum, without checking if I was producing any. By the next morning, my son’s bilirubin levels were high and the attending pediatrician explained we wouldn’t leave the hospital until his numbers went down. He explained I’d have to feed my baby well and often, so I kept putting him on my breast but noticed he was mostly sucking my nipple and falling asleep after a few minutes.
After two days in the hospital, my baby was losing weight and his bilirubin levels were still high, so I requested to see a lactation consultant. I was told I’d only see her on my release day (huh???) and that all nurses were trained to help. Sure they were, and each gave me different advice, apparently not making any difference in the results. Three days after birth, another pediatrician ordered that I feed my baby formula, accommodating my breastfeeding wishes by letting me use a small feeding tube alongside my nipple. By then I was exhausted, getting almost no sleep trying to feed a baby who sucked my raw nipples for a few minutes before falling asleep for hours. The formula order was a huge blow to my decision to breastfeed and made me feel inadequate as a new mom. On day 5, the baby looked better, clearly thanks to the formula and not me. The lactation consultant did stop by upon our release, noticed my raw nipples and suggested we see a lactation consultant after we left. Duh, where the heck were YOU for five days???
I left the hospital tired, angry, frustrated and with a hungry baby. Fortunately we quickly got an appointment with a lactation consultant, who in my opinion should be called “baby and mom lifesaver”. The kind lady patiently listened to my story, explained that c-sections usually delay milk coming in and that pumping several times a day and taking fenugreek should help stimulate production. She then showed me how to get my baby to latch properly and warned me that since my baby developed bad sucking habits, I’d have to be diligent and mentor him, including stripping him down to his diaper if he fell asleep while sucking. Finally, she told me that I should have enough milk to feed my baby without need for formula. I spent the next week nursing, pumping, gulping fenugreek and visiting the lactation consultant. After two weeks, my baby was back to his birth weight and gaining more every day.
The next few months had their ups and downs. First thrush, then acid reflux, none of which couldn’t be solved with medication. By the time I reached the six-month mark, the painful experience of the first few weeks was almost forgotten. I ended up breastfeeding my son until he was 13 months old without another scoop of formula. I did donate the formula cans I received at the OB’s office, as well as the several cans I received afterwards in the mail. The formula manufacturers surely spend a lot of marketing dollars on new moms to support their multi-billion dollar a year business!
I had my second baby through Kaiser Permanente, again in San Diego. During my last pregnant month, I was given reminders about breastfeeding classes and hospital visits. The hospital visit was given by a real delivery nurse in scrubs who shared real birth stories. There was no mention of steak & lobster dinner. Bummer…
There was no large multiple birth on the day I delivered either. Knowing I’d have another c-section, I had gotten myself ready to nurse by taking fenugreek several days before and knew I may have to pump in the hospital. Somehow the fenugreek made me produce colustrum before the birth, so my hopes were high I’d have something to feed my boy. I gave birth in the morning and got a visit from the official lactation consultant in the afternoon. By then I was proud to tell her that things were going well and that baby #2 looked like a natural born sucker! On the second day, the same lady stopped by and congratulated me for being such a pro, pumping me up (no pun intended!) to continue with my nursing plans. I then heard her consult the first-time mom sharing my hospital room who had had problems nursing her baby and was ready to switch to formula. The LC stayed for 30 minutes until that baby latched properly and I heard that mom expressed relief and thanks. The hospital sent me home with a real nice diaper bag (not a tote bag), with NO formula samples or coupons inside, but instead a booklet on breastfeeding and a large cloth to use as a nursing cover. You can love or hate Kaiser Permanente, but I give them a lot of credit for promoting breastfeeding and saying no to the high pressure of baby formula lobbyists.
I continued breastfeeding my youngest until he was 14 months old with no bumps along the road. I wished my first had been as easy but I have no regrets having gone through such challenging times, as I believe it built up my resilience as a mother. I had no idea I’d need so much of it today, when my boys are four, and two and a half years old!
My advice to all moms who plan to breastfeed out there is to: hope for the best, get ready for the worst and reach out for all the support you need to help you succeed. You may be surprised how easy it is for some pediatricians to choose the easy road and entice you with formula feeding. An understanding lactation consultant will be your best ally to find a solution that is best for you and your baby, whether it implies breastfeeding, or formula feeding, or both. The ultimate goal is for your baby to be healthy and you to be happy.
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