I read through two whole parenting books without ever learning how much breast milk a newborn should consume. The oft-repeated advice, in pages and on the lips of professionals, was to let baby run the show: let her eat when she wanted for as long as she wanted, and she would naturally consume the right amount. Well, that advice rests on two factors: that you have a baby with functional breastfeeding instincts, and two working boobs. In my case, I had neither.
Well, let me clarify: the boobs were fine; the nipples weren’t. I had a “flat” left nipple, which our newborn didn’t like one bit, and she refused to keep it in her mouth. That would have been enough of a problem on its own, but she didn’t seem to be taking to the right nipple, either.
In the first few days, breastfeeding with her was an ordeal. Not only did she refuse to drink from Lefty, but I basically had to catch her in a good, calm mood in order for her to get a decent meal from Righty. If she was the least bit upset, impatient, or agitated (you know, like hungry babies are prone to be) she wouldn’t eat. Oh, sure, she’d try: she’d latch on, suck a few times, then throw her head back and cry. Or she’d latch on and start sucking but then fidget, flail her arms, and work herself right off the nipple, followed by even more crying.
I hand-expressed some to whet her appetite, I walked with her, I tried to coo her into calmness, and some times, if I was lucky, eventually she’d be serene enough to latch on and stay there. But the rest of the time, I was stuck in a mothering nightmare: our baby was hungry, but when I gave her even the good breast she would push herself away and wail.
My milk was due to come in at any moment, which meant she would no longer be counting on her fat stores for most of her caloric requirements. To top it off, she’d left the hospital with a common case of infant jaundice and she was going to need lots of food going through her system to help her body clear it out. The occasional feedings we were getting in were no longer going to be enough: she needed to be eating more, and eating more often.
In the haze of hormones and New Mother Guilt, wherein part of my otherwise rational brain was screaming at me that I HAD to be doing something wrong, that I MUST be a bad mom, I realized it was time to go back to the professionals and get some help. I had to either figure out breastfeeding or give up and start buying formula.
He and his wife had solved their problem by starting feeding sessions with a bottle of formula until the baby was satiated and calm, then they’d move him over to the breast. Eventually the baby figured out how breasts work and they were able to drop the formula appetizer. There were other ways — syringes and “Supplemental Nursing Systems” — to “train” a baby on proper breastfeeding, but with the jaundice getting worse and two feeding-related issues to overcome (the bad nipple and bad breastfeeding skills), I didn’t think I had time to train. So I decided to throw in the towel, live with the dreaded “nipple confusion” those books warned me about (that once she got hooked on bottles, there was no going back to the breast), and start Plan B: Pump and Bottle-feed.
The first time I gave our girl a bottle, she practically inhaled the contents. If she fidgeted or flailed her arms around (which she still did often), I was able to keep the nipple in her mouth and avoid a complete meltdown. And best of all, the pump finally allowed Lefty to join the feeding effort. Sure enough, after a week at the bottle she flat out rejected my breast, so the books were right on that count: I’ll probably never have our baby feeding directly off me ever again. But I’m not broken up about it. To see her fat, happy, and pink is worth it.