Our Breastfeeding Story
Nobody talks enough about breastfeeding. The conversation about breastfeeding seems to always revolve around where it's appropriate to breastfeed (apparently not Victoria's Secret). The one thing I needed to know that no one told me: breastfeeding is hard as f*ck.
I watched hours of breastfeeding classes on YouTube while I was pregnant, but none of them mentioned that babies have no idea what they're doing. They have the rooting reflex and the sucking reflex, but it takes tons of practice for the baby to understand how to get milk out of a breast. Once I started talking about how my baby would aimlessly stare at me with the nipple in his mouth, everyone I spoke to had similar stories. Why didn't anyone share these valuable stories beforehand?!
Kabir has been a wonderful baby. He's happy and reserves crying as a very last resort to get what he wants. Our only struggle has been feeding him, or even more so, the amount of conflicting information we have had to juggle about feeding him.
BIRTH & TIES
I chose to birth at an independent birth center, meaning I selected a place to birth that would have only extremely limited access to pain medication or chemical induction methods. I wanted to be sure my baby was welcomed into the world in a peaceful environment and was alert when we got to meet one another. One of the benefits of having a clear-headed new baby is that they immediately bond and are quicker to breastfeed.
Kabir was born at 7:20am. He was pulled out of the water of the birth tub and immediately opened those big, beautiful eyes and stared at me. His eyes focused on me right away and he looked at me as if he had been expecting to see my face.
At some point, we got out of the bath and he was transferred to his daddy. One of the midwives checked him over and let us know he had a lip tie. She said we'd need to have it corrected immediately for him to eat properly, and to avoid gap teeth and speech impediments in the future. He weighed 7 lbs 14 oz and had no other issues.
As soon as we tried to place him on the breast, Kabir fell asleep. He slept for the additional hour we were at the birth center, then continued to sleep for hours once we took him home. It was a solid 6 hour nap for everyone in our house, called "the big sleep".
When he woke, we tried breastfeeding again. He barely opened his mouth. He'd purse his lips and give me little kisses. He wasn't limp or fussy. He just seemed like he either didn't know what to do or wasn't interested. I hand-expressed a few drops of colostrum, the fatty pre-milk produced before milk comes in on day 3-5, and he would drink it.
By the evening, he was still refusing to nurse. He was clearly hungry, but continued to put the nipple in his mouth and just stare at me. I started expressing into a spoon and spoon feeding him. Every couple hours, Kabir ate a few milliliters and fell asleep easily afterward; however, my husband and mother-in-law were nervous that he had only eaten about a third of an ounce that day.
LACTATION CONSULTATION & FORMULA
Around 9:00pm, Kabir still hadn't latched. None of us were super concerned, since he'd been eating, but my midwife blamed his lip tie and recommended a lactation consultant visit that night, just to be sure breastfeeding was established.
For $200, this woman drove to my house in the night to help coach me on breastfeeding. She said he needed 30 ml of colostrum per feed, which was substantially much more than I was able to express by hand. My baby didn't seem hungry, though, so my gut kept dismissing her guidance. For two hours, we tried letting him latch for himself (he crawled across my body to lay his head on my breast and fall asleep), and stuffing his mouth full of nipple (he didn't care for this). The consultant didn't blame the lip tie and even told us to wait to correct for a couple months. She said he was just a bit lazy because, even for babies, breastfeeding is hard. She recommended we visit a chiropractor in case his jaw was too tight to open his mouth fully. When she left late that night, Kabir still hadn't latched.
By midnight, I was under immense pressure. While I was pregnant, Enfamil had sent cans of formula as "samples" (which should arguably be illegal). Ravi was desperate to make sure Kabir had enough to eat and I couldn't explain why I believed my baby didn't need any extra milk. He didn't seem hungry to me after his small feeds.
Canned formula is cow's milk and chemicals, masquerading as breastmilk. It's hard on a baby's digestive and immune systems and there are studies that suggest a link to type 1 diabetes. I refused to open the formula, "baby junk food", and I ultimately had to call my midwife, at my wit's end. I needed someone to hep me convince my family that I wasn't starving my baby.
"I've only been able to express 11 ml of colostrum today and Ravi wants to give him formula." She used her most soothing voice, "Your baby's stomach is the size of a hazelnut. 11 ml is a lot. You're doing great." She continued to reassure me that the 30 ml recommended by the consultant was an arbitrary number and my colostrum was the most suitable food for my baby. If he cries in hunger after feeding or stops producing wet diapers, then we would discuss other options. My household collectively sighed in relief.
Your body makes what your baby needs. Trust your instincts and do not let yourself be pressured by anyone else's fears. Everyone thinks they know best and wants the best for your child. You intuitively know your baby and your body.
On day 2, we switched to syringe feeding. We kept trying breastfeeding; he kept refusing. We would try nursing for sometimes 10 minutes until he was completely inconsolable. I felt guilty for letting him get upset and didn't have the emotional fortitude to keep trying to force feed my distressed child. Kabir suckled down 5-8 ml per feed every 2 hours. It didn't feel like enough, but he'd sit quietly while he ate and quickly fell asleep afterward.
WEIGHT LOSS & MILK PRODUCTION
On day 3, Kabir had his first well-baby visit. He was healthy and happy and had only lost 7 ounces of weight.
All babies lose weight in their first week of life. Expect your baby to lose about 10% of his body weight and know that it is completely normal. The placenta continuously feeds him in the womb and it takes a little while for his body to adjust. He should regain any lost weight by the 2 week well-baby visit. If your pediatrician recommends supplementing with formula based on a 10% weight loss in the first week , find a new pediatrician.
The third day was was also the day of my milk transition. My mother in law had been especially concerned that my milk hadn't come in- she expected it to come in hours after birth. When it took longer than she expected, I had a bit of extra pressure when I was refusing to use the formula. She suggested all kinds of home remedies for my lack of milk: fenugreek, ayurvedic supplements, ground melon seeds, milk, wearing a really tight bra. Ultimately, your milk comes in when your body is ready for it to, typically on day 3-5. Until then, whatever colostrum you produce is exactly as much as your baby needs.
THE MAGIC OF CHIROPRACTIC
After his well-baby visit, we went to the chiropractor. She massaged his jaw and his skull, saying that birth had been difficult on his bones. He seemed content to let her adjust him. I was surprised when she gasped at his lip tie, urging us to have it corrected immediately because 'it's severe.' Now I had two very conflicting pieces of advice, since the lactation consultant said it wasn't significant and we should wait to correct.
After about 15 minutes of adjustment, she asked me to try nursing. It took him a few tries, but Kabir latched on and fed from me directly for the first time. It felt like a miracle. A $35 miracle.
He breastfed for about 24 hours before I realized he had been biting me. By then, my nipples were broken. They were blistered and were starting to bleed. Every time he was hungry, I was almost in tears. I was tense and stressed, which seemed counterintuitive. Breastfeeding is supposedly best because oxytocin promotes bonding, but I wasn't feeling closer to him during feeds, nor was I feeling happy about breastfeeding. For a couple days, I pumped breastmilk and fed him with a bottle just to give my nipples a break.
The chiropractor had warned us that he'd probably need a couple adjustments before his joints started to cooperate long-term. She also warned us about using a bottle or a pacifier since nipple confusion could make him quit trying to nurse. I had no choice, though. I needed to let my nipples heal.
A few days later, we visited her office again. This time, we had 12 hours of breastfeeding success, but Kabir was more frustrated with each feed and midnight screams stressed us all out. Maybe it was nipple confusion, or maybe Kabir is just lazy. Every time success with breastfeeding waned, we went back to the bottle, feeding him breastmilk I'd pumped. He was happy, filling diapers normally, and sleeping for longer periods of time. He just seemed more comfortable overall and pumping didn't make my nipples bleed.
Mom to mom, I asked the chiropractor whether she really believed breastfeeding was better than pumping. "Of course- breastfeeding is how babies develop independence and self esteem."
I was an exclusively soy-formula fed baby. My mom said I refused to breastfeed (probably like my own kid is doing). For anyone that has ever met me, I am nothing if not independent and self-loving. Clearly, the relationship isn't causal.
Other fun things I've heard: breastfeeding increases IQ (no studies support this), breastfeeding is more convenient (I don't agree), and that breastfeeding is soothing (so is bath time, skin on skin cuddling, and singing to your baby).
To date, I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why someone should put themselves through the ringer to make nursing work when they are able and willing to pump and bottle feed.
WEIGHT GAIN & TIE CORRECTION
After a week, we finally made an appointment with a dentist that specializes in the correction of lip and tongue ties. He uses WaterLase, which "erases" the extra flesh without pain. We had to wrap Kabir in a swaddle and several assistants held him in place while they separated his lip from his gums. They also found a tongue tie. "I'm surprised he has been able to eat anything at all."
The dentist kept insisting that he would start gaining a ton of weight and that breastfeeding would be painless moving forward. I almost rolled my eyes. He had already been eating well and felt like he was gaining plenty of weight. There were plenty of benefits to having the correction, but improving breastfeeding was only one of them. I was skeptical that correction would make any difference in nursing.
The correction may have been painless for Kabir, but it was traumatic to watch. My tiny baby hated having several hands in his mouth. At some point, the water seemed to flood in his mouth and he screamed through it, making horrible drowning sounds. It scared the hell out of us, but it was over before we could stop what was happening. Kabir almost instantly fell asleep, so it must not have been that bad.
The day after the correction, Kabir was weighed again at his 2 week well-baby visit. Our little man had re-gained all of what he'd lost and then some. Since his last appointment, he'd gained 1 lb 6 oz. Even though feeding had been a roller coaster, our baby was thriving.
WHERE ARE WE NOW
Kabir is 3.5 weeks old and I'm (almost) exclusively pumping.
Unfortunately, the lip and tongue tie corrections didn't make a difference in breastfeeding. I had a pretty strong feeling it wouldn't change much for us. My son is a biter and I have no idea how to re-train him not to do that. We tried breast shields- they feel useless and complicated. I researched all I can and have tried everything anyone's suggested.
I am still not convinced there is any legitimate benefit of breastfeeding over pumping. I am relaxed and I feel more organized and prepared when he's hungry. I can measure how much he's eaten. I can share the responsibility of feeding him with others. I have a bit of freedom. He takes a bottle just fine and I'm not upset that breastfeeding hasn't worked out.
We still nurse every once in awhile. Sometimes it's a couple times a day. He's not totally unwilling, but he only eats enough to curb his hunger before he quits. He almost always needs to eat again within an hour afterward. I can tell that he only eats 1-2 oz while nursing, whereas he eats 3.5-4.5 oz per feed when he takes the bottle.
LISTEN TO YOUR BABY, NOT THE ADVICE. If your baby doesn't seem hungry, he's probably not. If your baby seems healthy, he probably is. If you feel the need to second guess some advice you've gotten, you're probably right. No one knows what's better for your kid than you do. Not your pediatrician, your midwife, your mom, your in-laws, your chiropractor. They all have the best of intentions, but no one has the right answer for you and your child.
It look Ravi and I a lot of learning, and about $750, to figure out the best way for us to feed our baby. We love Kabir and want to give him the best. I think we're doing it. I'm proud of that.