This post was initially published on September 09, 2016 and has since been edited after reading about a first time mother who lost her child just ten days after his birth due to accidental starvation. Looking back now, that easily could have been me. Now instead of celebrating almost two years with my handsome rambunctious boy, mourning his passing.
As a first time mom I was hesitant to share my new mom struggles on social media. I believed that my “complaints” would cast a bad light on motherhood, a beautiful experience. Now, however, I realize that sharing these struggles can actually cast more good than harm. I now understand that sharing my experiences may help at least one other mom find peace in her own struggles…
Although I did not understand it at the moment, my breastfeeding journey began during my first pre-natal visit. The nurse asked if I would be breastfeeding and I quickly answered yes. After all, I had just read a pamphlet in the lobby of my “baby friendly” hospital about all of the benefits associated with it. The pamphlet did not mention that breastfeeding was not as easy as I thought.
Fast forward a couple months later, the night my son was born he latched on quickly. I felt a sense of relief that things were going as planned. The nurse instructed me on how often to nurse him. She also told me that although I wasn’t producing milk yet, the colostrum would be enough to keep my little guy full until full production came along. Like a clock, I nursed my son as the nurse had instructed. He hardly cried, he passed all of his tests, and a little over 24 hours after his birth we were on our way home. At this point I felt empowered: my child was great, I was doing great, I was rocking motherhood.
Our First Night Home
Everything changed that same night. My son cried the whole night. Nothing comforted him. I then felt the struggle that the mom in the room next to mine had felt the previous nights as her little one cried and cried. My husband and I were thankful our little one barely made noise. And now, two days later I was that mom. I nursed him, rocked him, and sang to him to no avail. The following night was exactly the same.
Two days after my son and I were released from the hospital we went back for our first follow-up. By that point my son had lost 7.1 ounces and looked “yellow.” I was also told I wasn’t producing enough milk and in essence had been starving him. Because he wasn’t eating accordingly, he was not passing the bilirubin he needed to get rid of. It wasn’t until then that we were given a couple bottles of ready to use formula and told to supplement until my supply increased.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that coming out of the appointment I felt stupid, useless, as if I had let my son down. I couldn’t think about anything other than the fact that I had been starving him. He had lost so much weight and now had jaundice, all because of me. I also began to question why the nurses had not told me I could and should supplement with formula since the beginning. If they hadn’t been so stuck on #breastisbest maybe they would have given more options. I also began to hit myself on the head for not thinking about it before. I’m an educated woman, I thought, how did I not realize my child was crying because he was hungry?
We returned for a second check-up a day later. We were being “monitored,” were we not good enough parents? After a day of formula feeding, my son gained 2.3 ounces. That day he was also diagnosed with jaundice. For the third time in his four short days of life, my little one had blood drawn once again. I cried with each cry he made. I knew he was hurting.
For the next three days we fed Nick every two hours around the clock. We wrote down every dirty diaper he had. At this point I had given up on breastfeeding, I was just desperate for my son to be healthy. Throughout it all, we received a call that his bilirubin levels had increased. I felt helpless. My worst nightmare was becoming a reality. My husband and I found ourselves in and out of the hospital day after day, with the possibility of a hospital stay lingering. I saw as my son got weaker as each day passed.
I understood then how easily it is for new moms to develop post-partum depression. During my pregnancy I had done everything in my power to keep my son healthy. Everything I did for those months was with his health in mind. And now that he was out of my womb, I was helpless. I had failed him since the beginning, how was I to raise him properly?
On July 4th we visited our hospital’s pediatrics urgent care once again testing Nick’s bilirubin levels. Finally on that day we were given the okay, Nick was out of the danger zone. We walked out that day feeling a sense of relief. Two days later we returned for another follow-up. Although jaundice was no longer an issue at that point, my son’s medical records now noted we were on “Dietary surveillance and counseling.” I was met with countless of questions about my breastfeeding practice. By that time, my main concern was to have a well-nourished child. Breast of formula fed, but just fed.
I listened to snarky comments about why I needed to give breastfeeding another chance, how maybe I didn’t understand its importance as a “young mom.” I was in awe. I wanted to scream: “I am a good mother, I am not horrible.” But I couldn’t. I was scared, I felt judged.
The Lactation Consultant
I decided to visit a lactation consultant as a last resort. I wanted to know what I was “doing wrong,” as my pediatrician so eloquently put it. I felt ashamed that I needed help with something so natural. In my perspective, I wasn’t allowed to just formula feed and felt as if I was put under so much pressure for wanting to do so.
Almost two weeks post-partum I was still not producing enough milk to nourish my son properly. Then, the lactation consultant said not to worry, after all it may have not all been my “fault.” She said it appeared that my son may have been a little slow. What? Yes. I was told that because my son had been “premature,” I should be prepared for him not to meet milestones along with his peers. Of course, I was furious. I could not understand their fascination with blaming everyone but themselves and their practices.
My son was deemed “premature” because he was born fifty minutes before he turned 37 weeks. Fifty minutes would have made him “normal” in their eyes. I wanted out. I was fed up with everything. I just wanted a healthy little boy. I wanted all of the nurses and doctors to stop trying to force breastfeeding down my throat and stop insulting my son and I.
At the end of my meeting with the consultant I asked for a nipple shield. Some infants are unable to latch on properly because a mother’s nipples may be flat specially if the baby has gotten used to bottle. Long story short, that’s what did the miracle for me.
The Happy Ending
For the next two weeks I breastfed my child with the help of the shield. Only supplementing with formula a couple times a day. Those two weeks I didn’t have to meet with any other nurse or doctor. At the next well baby checkup everyone was happy, since I was now reporting our diet as exclusive breastfeeding. Of course, I didn’t tell them I was still using the shield. I used the nipple shield for about a month and a half until my son finally got the hang of it.
Being able to breastfeed my child has been an amazing journey. The benefits that a child derives from beast feeding are countless. But we must also understand that breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. The last thing that new moms need is judgment. I cried myself to sleep many nights because I wasn’t living up to my doctor’s and nurses’ expectations. I cried because they were looking for someone to blame. Was it my inability to be a good mother or my “slow” child to blame? No, it was just that sometimes nature takes a little longer.
I am happy to report that Nick still breastfeeds at 14 months. My supply decreased at around six months. However, Nick is still able to nurse for his bedtime routine. Oh and FYI for that lactation consultant, my child has reached every milestone according to plan, sometimes even earlier. Take that for my “slow” child.
After reading the above linked article and doing my own research I now know that babies who lose greater than 7% of their birth weight are at a higher risk of developing excessive jaundice and hypernatremia levels that can cause long-term developmental disability. My son lost over 7% of his weight in his first week of life. I have also learned that there is no data to show that the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative is safe, that the indirect fasting and weight loss due to exclusive colostrum feeding is safe. In fact, there is extensive research to show that infants who go through this type of experience, in extreme levels, actually show a decline in their ability to pass literacy and math proficiency tests at 10 years of age. The effects of such practice extend well beyond their infant and toddler years. Studies also show that the practice of exclusive breastfeeding has traditionally been considered a risk factor for the development of indirect hyperbilirubinemia in the first two weeks of life. Hyperbilirubinemia is the condition where there is too much bilirubin in the blood, which causes jaundice. More than one in five newbors are at risk of starvation-related complications if exclusively breastfed from birth. Several children have been diagnosed, later on in life, with speech impairment, autism, and ADHD among other conditions. Most of these children’s brain cells were affected by severe dehydration in their first days of life. Taking all of these factors into consideration, wouldn’t you agree that “Baby Friendly” should mean a well nourished baby, whether through breast milk or formula? Wouldn’t you rather feed your little one formula and forego exclusive breastfeeding if it meant less chances of you losing him or her? My son could have been another statistic. I could have lost my first born to a practice that was pushed down my throat. I could have been mourning my son’s death at this very moment instead of celebrating all of his accomplishments thus far. My son could have starved to death. I could have let my son down.
This post is not meant to bash or favor one form of feeding versus the other. Its meant to open the eyes to the struggles that new mothers go through. The struggles we endure when we are not listened to and want to all be placed in one pod. We are all different. What works for one, may not work for the other. But at the end of the day, we all have one interest in common: our children.
Did any of you experience similar breastfeeding situations? I would love to hear from you and your experiences. I am determined to have a better experience with my second child (in about five years lol).
XOXO – L.