Breastfeeding – a tale of two hospitals

Breastfeeding - it takes persistence

Breastfeeding - you can do it

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.

BABY #1

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!

BABY #2

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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21 responses to “Breastfeeding – a tale of two hospitals

  1. It’s interesting reading your experience. Before i got pregnant and took the nursing class i always assumed breast-feeding was natural and never realized how many people have a difficult time with it. I’m grateful and thankful that my experience both with the hospital i delivered at (Plano Presbyterian) and with nursing was somewhat of a breeze especially after hearing stories from friends who had babies about the same time as me who were having a really hard time. From baby not latching on right to not producing enough milk. Of course i had the raw and aching nipples and boobs that looked like soccer balls and were pretty uncomfortable. I was about to throw in the towel because the pain and discomfort of first time nursing was too much for me to handle as a new mom but after speaking to my sister (mother of 4) and mom (mother of 5) – they told me to hang in there – it would get better and it did. I’m glad i was able to nurse for as long as i have and never take anything to do with motherhood for granted. Ever. I wish there was more support for mothers who want to nurse their babies for however long. It seems like some hospitals are in bed with the formula making companies – trying to shove formula down your throat. Thankfully that wasn’t my experience at PP. When i asked for baby to be fed formula because i was worried i wasn’t producing enough milk, they advised me to give it some time before giving her formula especially since i was planning on B/F- i’m glad i did.
    (PS: sorry my comment is so lengthy! It’s just that i take this whole B/F thing so personal)

  2. This was an excellent post on breastfeeding. The importance of reaching out for support cannot be understated. And even from a dad’s perspective, the resiliency the first few months of life develop are so necessary for the toddler years.

    • Thanks, Pop! I really feel breastfeeding can work for most moms and babies, but just like the rest of parenthood, it’s not easy. Like everything, you can choose the easy way or the harder, but quite rewarding, way.

  3. Pingback: Perfecting motherhood

  4. Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
    I also am amazed by how much $ and time goes into marketing baby formula, while most women can offer the PERFECT nourishment for their baby. I was lucky enough to have help from the beginning. My story is a long one and I won’t share it here, but suffice it to say that I was even offered a special apparatus that rests on your breast and the baby can suck on while he also sucks on your nipple (until my milk came in) so that we would have that bonding experience. And they even gave my baby organic formula, knowing how upset I was about giving him synthetic food. The hospital staff was sweet, caring, and knowledgeable. But I do know that this is not a common occurrence, and empathize with those who did not have support.
    That’s why we should be vocal and try to make a difference for those who come after us. I fear that this issue is getting worse, not better. Too much money involved.
    Wishing the new moms all the best of luck.
    If I may, I would like to plug in our store http://www.milkmommymilk.com where we offer products to help moms nurse their little ones. All organic!!!!
    Thanks again!

    • I think as long as there’s a way to make money off new moms by convincing most of them formula is better and easier than breastmilk, it’ll be hard to fight against. Money always wins against the interest of the people.

      • Very sad but true. That’s why we have to keep trying to open their eyes. The way I see it, if I can get at least my close friends to give breastfeeding a fair try I’ll be a happy person.

      • One person at a time is a good way to go. Some reasons / excuses why moms don’t breastfeed show that education and support can go a long way.

  5. Thanks for the post.

    Although, I am convinced that breastfeeding is the way to go (I don’t say that lightly, my son was not breastfeeding, using my breasts, and I pumped exclusively for 7 months), In some cases breastfeeding just does not work, and it is in my opinion, advisable, to not make the poor moms that cannot/ don’t want to breastfeed feel guilty about it. I think it would be kind and realistic to add a word of caution to this dialog: breastfeeding doesn’t always work even after trying over an over again. Bottom line, Formula is an alternative and as long as baby and mom are healthy there is no reason to feel bad about feeding formula to a baby. It’s a certainly better alternative than having a mother in distress over breastfeeding.

    • I agree with you that having a baby is quite a major event and adjustment, and new mothers shouldn’t beat themselves up if they experience problems with breastfeeding. But I also think that moms need to know that with the right support and education, most of them can make it work. Surprisingly, people who should be supportive (e.g. hospitals, pediatricians, etc) can be quite the opposite, so moms should be prepared to insist on getting the right help.

  6. Thank you so much for your posts & encouragement. I am expecting my first child in April and plan to breastfeed. It shocks me how many people (including my own sister in law who is a baby delivery nurse) comment on how difficult breastfeeding is & its ok to “give up” if it doesn’t work right away. I appreciate everyone keeping it real & preparing me in advance for the potential difficulties but there seems to be an attitude of “oh well, if it doesn’t work, here is some formula”. What did women do before formula?

    overall attitude if oh well

    • Compared to so many other parenting challenges, breastfeeding is easier. I’d take that over temper tantrums any day! I think your biggest key to success is support. Ignore the people who tell you to give up and get the help if you need it. There are lots of services and associations that offer help and encouragement. Successful breastfeeding moms are also very helpful. Good luck! You’ve got the right mindset.

  7. I had a horrible experience at Sharp Mary Birch. Baby was in ICU and then the nursery. The nurses all gave me different advice, even when no advice was asked for. Since baby was in the hospital for 2 weeks, I would sit in the waiting room outside the nursery all day and asked them to come out or call me on my cell when he woke up to feed. The nurses would often not come out to get me and I would come in to check on him only to hear that they fed him my expressed milk or formula (without my consent).
    When I came in and out of the nursery they would look at me and they would act like it was so inconvenient that I wanted to spend time with my baby. When other parents came in they would say to each other in front of me “it’s going to be one of those days” They would get annoyed that they had to get up and sign parents in that wanted to spend time with their babies!!! So ridiculous.
    Some nurses would not let parents hold their babies when they were sleeping, said if we did the babies would become arms babies. Some parents would listen to them. I told them I was was fine with an arms baby I only have one. I thought it was sad because some parents could only visit once a day and if their baby was sleeping they couldn’t hold them!?!?!

    Now switched to Kaiser, hoping it will be much better.

    • I’m sorry you had such a horrible experience at Mary Birch. They really are a baby factory, constantly bragging about the almost 7000 births a year they have. But it’s all about numbers and not about quality of care. Most nurses just don’t seem to care and are there to collect a paycheck. I had such a complete opposite experience at Kaiser, it was refreshing to see not all hospitals, doctors and nurses are like that. I particularly LOVE the Kaiser urgent care system, where you can schedule an urgent care appointment rather than wait for hours in a waiting room full of sick people. It is such a wonderful system, especially with kids. When my kids were babies, I got nurse advice over the phone at 3pm or 3am, and we love our pediatrician and the fact we can see any pediatrician any day if we have a concern. I even used the pediatrics area of the hospital when my son had complications after his tonsillectomy and the nurses were wonderful, caring and very helpful, making sure both my son and myself were taken care of (I spent the night with him there). The whole Kaiser direct medical care system wants you to be healthy (you cost them less money) rather than any other system like Sharp or Scripps, which only makes money when you are sick.

  8. Thank you for the reassurance that I made the right switch. So far I have been very happy with Kaiser. The doctors really have been wonderful. I’m 38 weeks feel like I may give birth any day now. Looking forward to a better experience!

    • I think you’ll realize how great the Kaiser system works for babies. Free visits with the lactation nurse until things work well, free well care baby visits, and I love their urgent care system where you can call and get an appointment instead of sitting in a waiting room for hours. And being able to get medical advice from a pediatric nurse over the phone at 3am instead of going to the ER is priceless.

  9. Hi there

    I know this is a few years later..but I just read your post today after looking online for days trying to get some answers..I am pregnant with my 4th and I would really love to get the chance to breastfeed this baby. Unfortunately I did not get to breastfeed my first 3(had all with c section) because I was told each time that they are not getting enough. You are the only person that has said they took fenugreek before having the baby. I would just like to know how soon before the c section did you take it(as I am having another c section),how many did you take and would you say it was safe to take before having the baby?
    Many kind regards

    • I think I didn’t get any milk for 5 days after my c-section, so for the second one, I started the fenugreek one week before my scheduled date. 1 pill each morning and evening, and then 2 pills a few days before. If you have a breast pump, you can also use it a few days before to stimulate the breasts (or use your hands). It all tricks your body into making milk before birth and in my case, I had milk available on birth day. Good luck and I hope it works for you!

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