Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The first newborn hurdle: feeding

Moments after Noah was born, the nurse lay him across my chest so we could meet for the first time.  Then they swept him away to clean him up, check his vitals and assign an Apgar Score (I found out later he got a 9).  In the meantime, the Dr. delivered the placenta, added some stitches (ouch!) and cleaned me up.  Within minutes we were both wrapped in cozy blankets and staring into each other's eyes again.

I asked the nurse about breastfeeding and she helped me to place him onto my breast for the first time.  I will never forget the look on his face - his mouth was WIDE open and he latched onto me like a hungry animal!  At first it pinched, which surprised me, and then it slowly got better.  Over the next day at the hospital, I nursed Noah every few hours.  He was only getting colostrum but it seemed to satisfy his tiny tummy.

As we were leaving the hospital, the nurse gave me a small box of ready to feed formula, "just in case" we needed a late night top up.  Later when I told the lactation consultant about this, she was furious!

The next day, I started pumping.  The nurse suggested I try it to get my supply going.  For the first few days there wasn't much, but then my milk came in.  And boy did it come in!  I had SO much that when I was feeding Noah and I would "let down", it would often choke him and he would pull off.  And then, of course, the milk would keep coming, so both of us were frequently wet and frustrated.

Generally breastfeeding went well.  He fed better on the left side than the right side, possibly because the right supply was significantly more.  At times he was screaming because he was hungry, and I was trying desperately to help him latch, but he had his hand on my chest pushing me away.  It was extremely frustrating because I knew his anger could be solved easily.  But still, we pressed on.  We went to see the lactation consultant at the hospital, and she gave us some great tips for position and approach, but she was even surprised about how strong he was when he fought me.

I started pumping regularly so we could alternate feeds with a bottle, and so hubby could help with a few night feeds.  It was a big help but also became a huge chore.  Every time Noah napped, I was pumping.  And I was constantly worried about where his next meal would come from, and if I could pump enough.  It became very stressful, especially when I tried to pump exclusively and my supply started to drop.  When that happened, I went back to 1-2 bottle feeds a day, and the rest on the breast.

After a few weeks, I noticed that it took a long time to settle Noah after feeds, especially at night.  He was very hard to burp, and it would take about an hour of walking the floor and burping him at night to get him to settle.  And when he was waking every 2.5-3 hours, you can do the math on how much sleep I was actually getting.

Needless to say, I was exhausted and frustrated (and also very concerned about his gas and subsequent screaming).  I asked the Dr about it and he said that gas was normal, and I shouldn't worry about it.  I pressed at several appointments that something was wrong, but he wasn't concerned.

At that point I decided to take things into my own hands.  I did some reading and discovered that something in my diet, usually lactose or wheat, could be affecting him and I could do an elimination diet to figure out the cause.  I was barely eating anything That's when I started to consider formula. I spoke to some friends with newborns and they mentioned that there were formulas made for sensitive tummies.  I tried him on Enfamil Gentlease and started to notice a difference.  I was trying to transition him slowly so we were alternating feeds with formula and breastmilk.  Then I noticed that he was screaming in the breastmilk feeds (I was pumping and bottle feeding), but not the formula feeds.  I wasn't sure if it was a latent reaction to the formula or an immediate reaction to my milk.  So we decided to go "cold turkey" to figure out the cause.

We started him on formula exclusively and overnight he was like a new baby.  He was burping easier and screaming a lot less.  The feeds were much more pleasant.  Then I was faced with a dilemma, try to solve the breastmilk mystery or leave him on the formula.  After much guilt and reflection, I decided that we needed to do what was best for him and what made him happy....so we left him on formula.  I continued to pump for a week after, just in case I changed my mind.  But he was doing wonderfully!

I breastfed Noah for the first six weeks and he's been on formula for the last five.  I have to admit, it's nice to make all of his bottles for the day at once.  No worrying about pumping, whether I have enough supply, keeping a stash of towels nearby for the inevitable "pull off/soaking".  I loved the intimacy and bonding of nursing him for the first six weeks, and I will definitely breastfeed our next child.  But this was the right decision for Noah.  If it was jiving with his tummy, we would still be giving him breastmilk, but since it wasn't, we had to make a decision based on his happiness and well being.

Before I had Noah, I had low expectations for breastfeeding.  I knew a lot of people who had supply issues or general frustration with the process, so I fully expected I would face some obstacles myself.  That said, it went way better than I ever expected, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I see so many women putting pressure on themselves to nurse, and when it doesn't work out, it's crushing.  I think that going into it with my eyes wide open helped me.  And yes, I got lucky with my supply, but in the end it's about what's best for my baby.

What were your breastfeeding experiences?

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