By Grace Zell, staff writer for The Attached Family
When I was pregnant for the first time, I wasn’t sure what I would do and I was actually a little afraid of committing to breastfeeding and being my child’s sole source of sustenance.
After my son was born, I decided to combine breastfeeding and bottle-nursing. I was ready with a breast pump, sterilized bottles, and formula. My son was a very alert and agitated infant, and he awakened every hour during the night in the beginning. Bottle-nursing gave me the ability to sleep for a four-hour shift while my husband took over. I had planned to fill the bottles with breast milk, but my son was such a high-needs infant that I fell behind with pumping and, after about three weeks, gave up completely and used formula in his bottles.
An Early End to Breastfeeding
I had been unable to get my son to latch on for nursing and did not get very nurturing support from the lactation staff at our hospital. They had led me to believe that I wouldn’t be able to pump and bottle-nurse. (I have since seen women who pumped for several months without their baby actually nursing and a woman who got her infant to latch on after about three unsuccessful weeks of trying.)
I suffered from terrible engorgement from this ambivalence. I tried to soothe my rock-hard, painful breasts with cabbage leaves, but the only relief was pumping. Each time I pumped, however, it started the whole cycle again by signaling to the breasts to produce more milk. I finally suffered through a day or two of terrible swelling and pain in the breasts, without pumping, before it finally stopped.
I felt torn about my decision, but I did everything to make feeding time a wonderful bonding experience by rocking and holding my son while he had his bottle. My husband and my mother also enjoyed feeding him, which gave me a short time for napping. The pre-mixed formula was expensive, but I thought the powdered mixture tasted bad and it was inconvenient to keep mixing it when you have a ravenous infant who needs to eat two ounces every one to two hours.
The Trouble with Bottles
Bottles accumulated in the sink faster than I could wash them, and I felt panic-stricken at not being able to keep up. There were also multiple problems with heating the bottle quickly enough and with the nipple flow not being consistent; some nipples didn’t let enough milk out and some let it out too quickly, and it was hard to trouble shoot all of it at 3 a.m. with no sleep.
My son often seemed to want more, and we would keep heating a few more ounces to keep feeding him when we didn’t start out with enough. In reality, though, he needed the sucking to soothe his agitated states but not necessarily more calories.
Feeling Guilt at Not Breastfeeding
My son grew and thrived, and we bonded. To this day, I have never known such a loyal love as his. He did develop food allergies that we discovered at around 18 months, and while the allergist repeatedly assured me that it was not because I fed him formula, I still thought so.
I also felt guilty every time I heated a bottle during the local moms group while everyone else opened their shirts.
To Breastfeed or Bottle-Nurse?
When I became pregnant with my daughter, I had a more relaxed attitude toward breastfeeding and was more dedicated since I thought it might help her avoid the allergies my son had. The allergy experts and books I consulted varied on the issue – some saying that the minute amounts of proteins from the usual allergens that make their way into the breast milk help the baby tolerate them and yet I had met many mothers in the allergist’s office who had breastfed and whose children had food allergies. One even felt as guilty as I did that she had given them to her son through her nursing, but I felt safest trying the breastfeeding for my second child.
What also fueled my decision to breastfeed my daughter were the memories of the difficulties of heating up the bottles and guessing amounts and dealing with nipple flow problems. I wanted to see if breastfeeding might be easier.
I set up a support network and hired a doula to help me at home in the first few days after my daughter’s birth. I had the bottles sterilized, just in case, but was shocked when my daughter latched on to my breast right in the delivery room and it gave me confidence to be able to nurse.
Sticking with Breastfeeding
The first few times she nursed, I didn’t feel that my daughter was getting anything and I allowed her to get formula in the hospital until my milk was definitely in. At home, the beginning was a bit rough; my breasts became engorged again and if I pumped or nursed until I felt relief, it just got worse. The latch-on also became very painful since my daughter’s infant mouth was so tiny and couldn’t take enough of the nipple in. I curled my toes and tried mental techniques to get through it. I cried to the doula, and she assured me it would take about two weeks for the milk production to regulate to what the baby needs and for the nipple to become less sensitive. She admitted that it can be painful despite a correct latch-on and promised that it would get better. I felt an odd relief that, despite the pain, I was doing it right.
I used nipple shields to keep my bra from sticking to the sore places and I regularly applied Lansinoh ointment to prevent cracking of the nipple. My daughter developed blistered areas on her lips, which I was told was normal.
Another difficulty with nursing that developed about four weeks in, was that my daughter would sleep a decent stretch after her 10 p.m. feeding, and then after nursing at around 2 a.m., she would fuss and murmur and seem to have a lot of gas and never get back into a sound sleep, which was brutal for me. A lactation consultant at a local hospital support group helped me to figure out that during the stretch of sleep I enjoyed from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., I was making a lot of milk but it was the watery, sugary foremilk that causes gas in the baby’s digestive tract. I had noticed that milk would spray out at the 2 a.m. feeding and the breasts were extremely full from the stretch of sleep. The lactation consultant advised me to nurse on one side for two feedings in a row to empty it out and teach the other breast that it didn’t have to make so much milk. I was afraid I would get mastitis or clogged ducts with this technique, so I instead pumped off an ounce or two of the foremilk before feeding. This helped but was hard in the middle of the night, making me very tired for awhile.
The Breastfeeding Honeymoon
As my daughter matured, so did breastfeeding, and at around five months, I enjoyed the problem-free convenience and pleasure of nursing that I didn’t get with my son. I was able to sleep for the longer stretch without waking up engorged and full of foremilk. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, especially since I was also taking care of my three-year-old son and most of my friends had given up nursing their second and third children after just a few months.
I found nursing at this point to be very easy, and I ventured out knowing that I could have my daughter’s nutrition at any time at the right amount and temperature and no bottles to wash.