Today marks the last time my son, Sammy, will be getting any breast milk from me. Despite what I was told, simply possessing an ample rack does not guarantee that one will be successful at breastfeeding. Whenever I would express any doubts about being able to breastfeed, the person I was talking to would eye my cleavage and then say something along the lines of, “Well, you certainly shouldn’t have any problems.” Apparently my body didn’t get the memo that my awesome boobs were supposed to be able to feed a small horde of babies.
There were issues from the beginning: first of all, Sammy refused to go on the breast and acted as though I was trying to kill him with my nipple any time I attempted to get him to latch. He screamed like a banshee and flailed wildly; had he any teeth, I’m sure he would have bitten me in his anger and frustration. Even without teeth, he managed to draw blood on a few occasions with his nails — not exactly the Lifetime Movie experience I had been envisioning in which I cuddled my angelic baby close to me in peaceful bliss as he nursed contentedly while soft music played in the background.
During our time in the hospital, I worked with every lactation consultant on staff in an attempt to get him to breastfeed. Each time a new one would come in, I would tell her of the difficulties I had been facing with Sammy, and they would nod, probably thinking, yeah, I’ve heard that before but it’s nothing I can’t handle. By the end of each session, however, they were singing a different tune. One actually patted me on the shoulder and said, “You should be commended for your dedication.”
Physically, there weren’t any reasons keeping Sammy from breastfeeding; the only explanation that anyone could come up with was the simple fact that Sammy was a lazy feeder and he didn’t want to have to work for food. Normally, the solution would be to keep at it until hunger and desperation finally got him on the boob, but that wasn’t an option for me as he was severely jaundiced and had to be supplemented with formula every two hours on doctor’s orders. In between finger feeding him in an effort to avoid nipple confusion in the future, I was hooked up to a pump while I willed my milk to come in. To say the experience was a little stressful would be an understatement and I felt completely betrayed by my body. How could something that was supposed to be so natural be so hard to do?
My milk finally came in two days after we left the hospital. I was still finger feeding Sammy formula and pumping around the clock, but now I was able to give him a little breast milk here and there. Eventually I was producing enough milk to cover most of his day feedings, but I was far from where I needed to be to cover his every meal. I was also attempting to get him to nurse at every opportunity, but he was still fighting me tooth and nail. My stress levels were through the roof.
At about day ten of doing this I just couldn’t take it anymore — I was trying to get Sammy to latch, pumping for twenty minutes, and then finger feeding him, which took another twenty minutes or so. Then I had to wash the pump and before I knew it, it was time to start the whole process again. So I made the executive decision to bottle feed him expressed breast milk. In my mind, it was the best of both worlds–he was getting breast milk and other people could help me feed him, so it wasn’t all on me all the time.
This continued without complication until Sammy hit his six-week growth spurt. I was pumping like crazy, trying to keep up with him, and popping so much fenugreek that I reeked of maple syrup. My supply just would not increase to meet his needs. Eventually his formula feedings began to outnumber his breast-milk feedings. A few days ago, I noticed that I was producing less and less milk with each pumping; on Saturday it took me all day to produce four ounces, which equals one feeding for Sammy. On Sunday, it was even worse; I only netted three ounces for the day. It seems that the proverbial well had run dry.
And so it ends. On one hand, I’m happy with my decision to forgo pumping because I no longer have to worry if what I’m eating will effect Sammy in some way–I can have as much chocolate and caffeine as my little heart desires, not too mention the new-found free time now that I’m not tethered to a pump every two hours. On the other hand, I mourn the loss of what never was. My goal all along was to breast feed for at least six months; when that became a no go, I decided that I would try to give Sammy expressed breast milk for at least that long. Well, at least he got about two months’ worth, which is more than Jim or I ever received, and we turned out okay. Besides, Sammy is happy and healthy and that’s what really matters the most.