Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Farzana Gounder, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Photo: Farzana, Peter & Jackie
My baby rejected the breast in favor of a bottle…
Having always been career oriented, I was under the impression that raising children could not be as difficult as working outside the home. I believed the myth that bringing up children was written into a woman’s DNA, and that breastfeeding was instinctive for both the (ecstatic) new mother and her child. In reality, it took me two months to get my son, Peter, to start breastfeeding. My determination to breastfeed stemmed from my desire to give Peter the best start in life. My success was in large part due to the encouragement of my La Leche League Leader.
When Peter was born, my husband, Ryan, and I stared in amazement at this perfect little boy. Peter’s birth involved forceps. I’d had an episiotomy and was not allowed to take him with me when I had to go into theatre for repair. Ryan held Peter skin-to-skin and gave him some formula milk, so I missed the opportunity to put him on my stomach to let him search out my breast. We soon realized that Peter preferred sleeping to feeding. He would latch on, drink for a short period, and, while still on the breast, fall fast asleep. After that, much to the amazement of the nurses in the maternity ward, nothing could be done to wake him to return to feed. Because of the worry that he was not getting enough fluid, the hospital staff provided me with a pump, and Ryan and I fed him via a syringe.
I stayed an extra day at the hospital hoping that he would wake up and start breastfeeding properly. But on that third and final day at the hospital, feeling quite exhausted and dejected as I syringed yet another feed into Peter, I felt like giving up on breastfeeding. When I came home, however, I doggedly continued expressing, which helped keep up my milk supply.
A week later, a friend told me that her babies (now adults) had also been quite sleepy and she had found it helpful to contact La Leche League. She suggested I do the same. I contacted Jackie Wheeler, an LLL Leader and lactation consultant. She came round that very day and was marvelous. With her help, I was confident that within a week I’d have breastfeeding sorted. But Peter had grown to love his bottle. It didn’t matter what sort of teat the bottle had, or even whether the milk was cold, he would drink it, just as long as it came out of a bottle. Peter would fall asleep and refuse to open his eyes or mouth. Jackie warned me that there would be good days and bad days, good feeds, and bad feeds. She also warned me that it might be a while before Peter began breastfeeding.
At Jackie’s suggestion, I spent days holding Peter skin-to-skin, which was a nice way to bond. We changed the teat on Peter’s bottle to one that mimicked the breast to help him change his sucking pattern. We tried using a nipple shield, which, to some extent, did work. I even tried switching very quickly between bottle and breast in the hope that he would latch on and this worked sometimes. Finally, we tried a Lactaid (at-breast supplementer). But nothing we did would induce Peter to start breastfeeding regularly. Despite my best attempts to stay positive, I began to feel rejected as a mother, as day after day Peter refused to breastfeed, and would turn instead to the bottle.
Expressing around the clock and simultaneously taking care of a newborn was becoming quite stressful. My determination to breastfeed was beginning to waver. This is where Jackie’s friendship was invaluable. In addition to visiting on a regular basis, Jackie also kept in constant phone contact and I believe if it hadn’t been for her efforts, I would have given up. These on-again, off-again scenarios continued for two months, as I despaired that breastfeeding was not for Peter and me.
I decided to give breastfeeding one final attempt. I made up my mind that for three days Peter would not be given the bottle and that if at each feeding session he didn’t breastfeed within a couple of hours, I would give him expressed milk via a cup or spoon. This was not a decision I felt I could have made when Peter was younger when it might have resulted in failure to thrive. But at just over two months, Peter had achieved a good weight gain and had shown that, when he was inclined, he could breastfeed quite efficiently. I asked Jackie if she could help me through what I knew would be a very trying period for Peter and me.
Peter made a fuss the first day, pouting and crying, while Jackie carried him around and soothed him. Because Peter had always been a settled and happy baby, I found it extremely distressing to hear him crying and I began to ask myself whether it was worth putting him through this stress. Jackie and Ryan were supportive. At the first feed on that first day, we gave Peter small sips from the cup and teaspoon as he protested loudly at not being allowed to have the bottle. Eventually, Peter became calm enough to breastfeed, but he was determined to tell us that he was not pleased and, even while feeding, he kept making growling noises.
At the next feeding session he made less fuss, and we were able to decrease his time on expressed milk even further until, by the end of the day, he was a lot more willing to breastfeed. This pattern was repeated on the second day, but with slightly less protest. By the third day, Peter was exclusively breastfeeding. The day became a week and I knew that finally we had succeeded.
Now at three months, Peter prefers being breastfed to being bottle-fed. Very soon I will be going back to work, armed with my hands-free expressing kit to supply Peter’s feeds while he is at daycare, but each day I can look forward to breastfeeding and bonding with Peter when I return home.
Being a mother has made me reach deep within myself, and I have found a strength and resilience that I didn’t know I had. I have also made a wonderful friend, and one day, when Peter is older, he will understand how lucky he is to have had Jackie come into our life.
Dr Farzana Gounder is a lecturer in linguistics, whose research focuses on discourse and identity. Following her experiences, she has begun research into identity issues associated with the discourses around breastfeeding.
I spent days holding Peter skin-to-skin, which was a nice way to bond.