Redefining Breastfeeding SUCCESS: My Story

suc·cess/səkˈses/
Noun: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

Throughout this entire pregnancy, I read up, studied, and learned all I could about breastfeeding. Especially breastfeeding with PCOS, breastfeeding with my specific issues, and how to increase low supply. I had a list of supplements ready to be bought. I looked up latching techniques and researched pumps. I did all I could to prepare. I was determined to be SUCCESSFUL. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. I was determined to not have to give any formula. I was determined to sustain her life by my milk alone.

Sissy was born on September 10th, 2012. A beautiful baby girl, weighing 8 lbs, 10 oz at birth. We had an easy, 6 hour labor and delivery (you can read about it here). She was a little groggy after delivery, but latched on and nursed while we were still in the delivery room. We nursed and it was beautiful. During my pregnancy I had gestational diabetes (which was completely controlled by diet. I did not need to be on insulin), so the nurses had to check her blood sugar. The first sugar was borderline normal. So they checked again and now it was too low. Thus began our frequent sugar checks before and after each feeding. To which we learned that what I could give her, was not enough to keep her sugars up. In fact, the lowest number was AFTER I fed her. The nurse suggested formula and eventually had to take her away to the nursery for observation because her sugars were dangerously low.

I was devastated.

I had a panic attack. A full blown, hyperventilating, could not breath, panic attack.

And I watched. I watched as the nurse sat there and fed my baby formula. I felt like such a failure (again!), I felt like my baby was tainted and it was all my fault. If only… if only I could have controlled my sugars more… if only I was thinner and didn’t have gestational diabetes or PCOS or breast surgery… if only I had done something… different.

But, I continued to nurse. I nursed and I cried knowing she wasn’t getting enough. I nursed and nursed and then I passed her over to my husband who gave her formula to keep her sugars level and elevated. It killed me when her sugars did come back normal after the formula because it confirmed that I was the cause.

We left the hospital the next day (I stayed the minimum 24 hours). Her birth weight fell very little and we were instructed to continue to nurse and then supplement with formula to ensure that her sugars stayed level. I talked to an LC before leaving. She checked Sissy for tongue tie and confirmed what I already knew, PCOS and my other problems can cause supply issues and that the problems that I had were most likely caused by PCOS and Insufficient Glandular Tissue. I left with a hospital grade pump, instructions to nurse as frequently as possible, no longer than 2 hours between feedings, and to pump as frequently as possible to build my supply. I had supply issues with Sweet Pea and never made it past day 5.  See, I was determined to do better. “Breast is Best.”

So we got home and I nursed. And I nursed… and nursed… and nursed… we spent HOURS nursing; latching and re-latching, waking her up, doing breast compression  pumping, and then nursing some more. I took supplements, ate oatmeal, drank Mother’s Milk Tea and I nursed and nursed and nursed. After each feed we gave her a minimal amount of formula and it was not even an ounce. Sissy would nurse for an hour at a time and would fall asleep frequently. She never did seem satisfied. My milk came in on Thursday, September 13th. Hope restored!

But the above continued; the endless hours of nursing. Then the dirty diapers stopped. She was sleepy. She didn’t nurse efficiently  I kept trying though, don’t think I gave up! We went to our first pediatrician appointment on Thursday as well. Sissy was down to 8 lbs even. Not bad… still within normal range. Hope restored again! So we continued to do what we were doing, praying that my milk was doing enough.

I never had a great feeling though. Sissy was never satisfied and she nursed so frequently and so long. I feared she kept loosing weight. The hardly there poopy diapers really had me concerned (she was going every other, then every two, and now we didn’t have one for 3 days). I counted every single wet diaper, noted the time and analysed the amount. She had the bare minimum.

So we made it to the 2 week appointment with the pediatrician. I had so much anxiety going in. I feared, FEARED, more weight loss or not enough weight gain. At this point, babies SHOULD be close to their birth weight. I held my breath as Jon undressed her and put her on the scale. I watched anxiously as the nurse moved the weights around on the scale.

Seven Pounds, 14 ounces. A 2 oz LOSS.

I was devastated. A 2 oz loss! It had been 2 weeks, she shouldn’t have been loosing, she should have been gaining! We spoke with the pediatrician, who was obviously concerned. He asked me about her diapers, if my milk was in, how much I was able to pump (maybe 20 ml a session on a GOOD day) and he instructed us to give formula after every feed and to give as much as she wanted. He assumed that Sissy was maybe getting an ounce of breast milk from me, but needed more to sustain her life….

Oh I cried. I cried right there in front of him. I cried and I cried. I felt so inadequate. After dealing with infertility, I just wanted something to WORK. Something to go right, for once.

It just seemed that everything that identified me as a woman, was broken. 

BUT…

The pediatrician reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. He encouraged me to keep putting her to the breast and then to bottle feed after.

The Lactation consultant reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. She encouraged me to keep putting her to the breast and then to bottle feed after. She also told me to pump after each feeding and to give that to her after.

My husband constantly reminds me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. He encourages me to put her to the breast at any sign of hunger and to let her comfort nurse.

My online “village” reminded me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. They encouraged me to continue to put her to the breast and that supplementation  when needed, is NOT a bad thing.

My best friend constantly reminds me that ANY amount of breast milk is beneficial. That I’m a good mother, that I’m doing all that I can, that formula is NOT bad, and that I am doing what I need to do to make sure that my baby is happy and healthy.

Notice a trend?

Any amount of breast milk is beneficial! It finally clicked.

Any amount I was able to give Sissy was worth it, my efforts were not in vain. Do I feel like a failure, absolutely sometimes. It has taken me a while to come to this point of acceptance and I’ve had to redefine my idea of what breastfeeding success is. Is it exclusively breastfeeding my child and maintaining a virgin gut? Ideally, yes. But, we don’t live in an ideal world and with multiple misfortunes stacked up against me, this is not possible. I do not make enough milk. I make SOME and despite everything (supplements, pumping, continue to breastfeed, and even prayer) my supply will not increase enough to sustain my child’s life. I am the reason that formula was created. With out formula, my child would starve.

Three days after our 2 week pediatrician appointment, we went back for a weight recheck and Sissy gained 6 oz. She was more alert, content, and happy. She was no longer starving and burning all the calories she took in to nurse. All thanks to formula.

Breastfeeding Success FOR ME, was maintaining a breastfeeding RELATIONSHIP and giving her all that I had, trying my very best to give her what I could, and not “giving up” because I’m tired, exhausted, or I want the “easy” way out (and formula feeding isn’t really easy, It’s so much preparation and it’s expensive! Plus I was doing it anyways!). What I could give her was a couple ounces of breast milk and the closeness, the comfort that breastfeeding provides and enough formula to keep her belly full. That is MY breastfeeding success.

At four months, Sissy self weaned herself from the breast. She fought nursing and I had no idea why. My supply dropped from being able to pump a consistent 2 ounces to barely 1/2 an ounce a session. We spent 4 months breast feeding, giving a bottle, and pumping. Four months stressing about supply and taking supplements. But, I exceeded my goal. I aimed for November 13th, the day I went back to work. But, we made it until January 11, 2013 – two months longer than I set out. I consider that, success! 

It was hard, it was stressful, but I was successful and to me, it was worth it. It’s hard to go into a situation expecting one outcome and to work so hard, only to “fail” but if you can redefine that idea of success, you’ll be happier with the outcomes. Success is not the same for everybody and I know I can look back and say that I did all that I could and even though I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed my child, I know that I tried. With Sweet Pea there was always that “what if” factor – the what if I tried longer, what if I waited longer for my milk supply to come in fully, what if I tried supplements, tried pumping, and the list goes on – but I know, now, that my supply issues are real and it wasn’t because I didn’t try hard enough. That feeling of failure triggered my spiral down into postpartum depression the first time around (which I’ll write about at a later date), so for me, I had to do this. I had to know for sure that my “lack” of trying the first time was not the cause. So because of this journey, I’m happy with the outcomes and I know that when I go into the next cycle of breastfeeding a baby that it will be OK if I cannot excessively breastfeed. I know now, that if I have to give formula that it’s not because I’m lazy or not working hard enough. But it’s a necessity and if it keeps my child alive, growing, and happy, then it is absolutely the right thing to do. Though, I’ll probably still be a little heartbroken.

At 6 months, Sissy is thriving. She’s 75% on all of the curves, she’s thisclose to crawling and she’s happy.  That’s all that really matters in the end anyways, right?