Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Pamela Wilson, Wellington, New Zealand
Photo: courtesy of Lena Ostroff
This is my breastfeeding success story and shares how I came to understand that success is not measured in ounces.
Before my baby was born I had intended to breastfeed her exclusively for the first six months and continue until she was at least a year old. I had read all the literature and I was determined to do the best for my baby. Because I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I was all the more determined to breastfeed to try to offset some of the negative effects.
During my pregnancy I was concerned because my breasts did not appear to swell by any significant amount at all. I had always been flat chested and wearing a bra was optional for me, more for fashion reasons. As my stomach swelled, my breasts became only slightly rounder and that was it. In addition, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But I had become pregnant without any assistance, so I (and my midwife) thought that breastfeeding would also come naturally. My midwife even said my nipples were the perfect shape for breastfeeding. So, with that reassurance, I put aside my initial fears and looked forward to a breastfeeding relationship when my baby was born.
After the birth, all appeared to be going well. My baby had an excellent sucking reflex and attached well, so we were discharged in less than 48 hours.
During the following three weeks bliss turned to despair and guilt as my baby woke frequently for night and day feeds. My hungry baby was losing weight and starving. She was feeding non stop yet still not getting the sustenance she needed to thrive. I was devastated. After her attempts to feed, tired from the efforts, I would be attached to the hospital grade pump trying to stimulate better milk production, while topping her up with formula. More formula was hastily purchased and bottles and sterilizing equipment followed.
I visited a lactation consultant. She examined my breasts and noted that the underside of them lacked the fullness that was normally seen in lactating mothers. She recommended supplementary feeding, which involved a tube to supply formula attached alongside my nipples, so when baby suckled she would get a combination of formula and breast milk and her suckling at the breast would stimulate my milk supply naturally.
My baby’s lips were quivering after feeding. The lactation consultant said that this was a sign of her fatigue from feeding. My poor baby was tired by feeding but still she persisted. She was desperately trying to get more milk and forgoing sleep. Instead, she tried to feed constantly and as a consequence I didn’t sleep either. She was permanently latched on to me. Formula feeds became her dominant sustenance. Where I live, breast milk from a public bank was not an option open to me. I felt like an abject failure but I could not let my baby expend all her energy this way: she needed to gain weight.
I was prescribed domperidone to increase my prolactin levels. Fortunately my baby was very good at nursing and worries that she would reject the breast in favor of formula didn’t eventuate as she switched happily between the two feeding methods. I breastfed her until my supply dwindled and before she got too tired, then topped her up with formula. After the bottle of formula was finished, she would enjoy the warm comfort of the breast again and this would help soothe her and put her to sleep. Despite giving her most of her nutritional needs, the bottle failed to calm and soothe her and she preferred the comfort of my breast to finish off the feeding routine, to snuggle in, have a final small feed and sleep.
And so it continued, my infant became a toddler and carried on loving to breastfeed. When she cried or was upset for any reason, as soon as she saw my breast she would stop crying and latch on. Breastfeeding for her became a source of comfort and helped her to relax and bond with me. Before she could talk she would smile upon seeing my bared breast as she was being brought up to it.
Despite the awful start, I feel like I have been successful in feeding my baby. As I was producing so little milk, I didn’t experience any of the discomfort that may trouble some mothers, which helped extend my joy in being able to breastfeed. My baby is now over two years old and is still nursing. While she has suffered the normal colds and illnesses common in babyhood, I am happy to know that while I wasn’t supplying a lot of food for her, I was still able to give her some antibodies to help her fight those infections. For that alone it was worth persisting with breastfeeding.
Now that my baby is a toddler and can talk, she tells me she prefers breastfeeding. I sometimes ask her, “Is there anything left?” and she will shake her head. I then ask her, “Would you like a bottle or a cup of milk?” and she will shake her head and say “Mummy milk.” I’m so glad that she has this option.
To any women out there struggling to breastfeed, my breastfeeding journey was not what I had planned at all, but despite my early experience I am glad that we persevered. When I say “we,” I am giving much of the credit to my baby, who didn’t give up. La Leche League supported me through my emotional turmoil after my unsuccessful attempts to stimulate my milk supply, even after I had spent weeks in bed with my baby feeding on demand around the clock. I believe that persisting and being relaxed with my baby when she was feeding, in spite of the stress I felt, helped to create a happy bond between us.