Okay, I’m going to knock on wood as soon as I say this (please do the same for me!), but I think I might have the easiest newborn on the planet. When I referenced him being fussy and difficult in my last post, it turns out that it was literally just some kind of stomach upset that was making him so hard to handle. He was up half the night screaming from gas pains, but as it turns out, that’s not his norm. As soon as that passed about 24 hours later, he went back to being almost exclusively sleepy and happy no less than 90% of the time. I am not sure what got to him on that particular day (could have been germs he picked up at one of our two Thanksgiving dinners, or a bad reaction to the formula we had to supplement with for the first couple of days) but he’s been really great ever since. He’s even stopped being fussy about being held/touched constantly and will sleep through the night in his crib without complaint with 3-4 wakes for feedings. I honestly feel so blessed; I almost feel like he knows that I need him to be easy for my sanity’s sake because I have so much emotional baggage, especially with Brock’s birthday coming up on Friday. I really feel we’re finding a rhythm and I am so grateful for it, even though I realize it might change at any time… for now, it’s great.
One decision I’ve made that has caused mild to moderate controversy is the decision I made, after a week or so of trying, to give up on attempts to breastfeed and instead transition to exclusively pumping. I have several reasons for it that I think are perfectly valid, but none of them seem to be good enough for most people.
Our issues began on day one before he was even born, unbeknownst to me at the time: because I ended up delivering him sunny side up and a vacuum was used, his head really hurt for the first couple days of his life (go figure). It makes it hard to encourage a good latch when you can’t touch your baby’s head at all lest they start screaming bloody murder. He was too distracted by the pain to be able to focus on trying to eat, and every attempt to get him to ended in both of us crying tears of pain and frustration. When I was dispatched the day after his delivery, I was sent home with very little information on what I was doing after only one sort of successful latch – he tried to eat, which was the goal, but my milk wasn’t in yet and it was extremely painful for me. He has a high palate and a slight tongue tie, which, in combination with the vacuum aftershock and some significant lethargy because of slight jaundice, didn’t really instill faith out of the starting gate, but I tried to remain optimistic.
I resolved to keep working on it at home, but we continued to have issues. His hunger finally kicked in shortly after we got home from the hospital, and, since my milk wasn’t in and we couldn’t get him to latch, we had to supplement the first couple of days with formula while I kept trying to get him to latch and pumped to stimulate my supply. The couple of times where I got him to latch on my own still ended badly because he was still so groggy and lazy (and, perhaps, already spoiled by the bottle at this point) that he got mad when the milk didn’t immediately flow freely – he was not interested in working for it – so he’d give up and start crying again in a big hurry. Around this point, I was pumping enough to feed him and get off of the formula, but pumping for 30 minutes every 3 hours with a single manual breastpump was getting tedious, and picking up an electric pump was getting more and more tantalizing. I decided to grab one on Saturday night, figuring that it would at least come in handy for occasional bottle feeds in the future. I still kept trying to get him to latch once in a while, but admittedly probably not as often as I should have; the stress bothered both of us immensely, so I usually just went for the bottle because it saved us a lot of heartache.
On Sunday afternoon, we met with a pediatrician to double-check his bilirubin levels, weigh him, and discuss our other questions and concerns. At this point, I met with a really fabulous nurse who asked about his eating habits. I explained that I wasn’t having luck with breastfeeding and I didn’t feel I’d been given enough information to be successful at it, and she spent a good 45 minutes helping us work on our latch and explaining what I could do to have more success. She empathized with the lack of information that new moms often get about breastfeeding, and how, a few decades ago, women would stay in the hospital for a full week after delivery and get much more direct, hands-on help from the staff to make sure they were well-equipped to deal with new parenthood. She also said that one of the few benefits that she had observed as a NICU nurse was that there was no shortage of time for the mothers of NICU babies to get professional, hands-on help with breastfeeding; there was always someone available to help them out if they were having issues while they were there. She ended our short little class (the only time where I managed to get him to successfully latch and eat [a little] at my breast) by explaining that she didn’t mind what path I chose, and that they were all perfectly valid, as long as I felt I had the ability and knowledge to choose for myself rather than feeling like I was forced into one, or that I had ‘failed’ at breastfeeding.
I appreciated all her help immensely, and it got me to start thinking seriously about what it was that I actually wanted to do. Did I want to breastfeed, or did I want to bottle feed? Either way, I knew I wanted him to get milk, and both methods have their benefits. Bottle feeding would give me the freedom to share feeds with others and not be tied to our son 24/7, whereas breastfeeding was ‘natural’ and would, presumably, strengthen our bond. We kept trying to get a latch over the next few days, but it continued to be really hard for us to figure out , especially while I was so sleep deprived. When you’re exhausted after 2 hours of sleep and you wake up to the cries of a hungry baby, it’s hard to not want to just go to the fridge and grab a prepared bottle when you’re still trying to figure out the logistics of breastfeeding and it’s a complicated science to both of you (especially because, if I waited until he cried of hunger, he lacked the patience to give latching any real effort).
By day 7 of his life, my husband confided that he loved the system we had worked out – not only could he share the bonding time by taking some feeds, but I was less stressed when I wasn’t trying to fight with breastfeeding, Nate seemed to prefer cold milk anyway, and I was functioning better with the freedom to step out for an hour or two here and there – and we made the mutual decision to stop trying to force it. I might still give it the occasional attempt over the next few months, and, who knows, maybe it will eventually ‘click’ for us… however, in the meantime, I’m happy with the system we have going. I’m currently a little bit concerned about my supply (I’m only about 50 oz ahead, which is maybe a day and a half of food) but I’m really working hard to improve it, and even if I find I need to start supplementing somewhere along the way, some is better than nothing, right? This is the best solution I can come up with for now, and it’s what works for us, so I am trying to hold my head high and be proud even when others seem to think I should feel shame. I think the best response I’ve got so far, from people who seem to think it’s their business, is ‘at least he’s getting breastmilk’. Ah, so judgemental.
Anyway, that’s enough out of me for now. I’m sure I’ll be back to post on Friday, which will be a doozy of a day.