I’ve been planning this post for weeks, but I wanted to wait until we had things all worked out to do it. I think (hope?) we’ve gotten to the point where we have a sustainable plan for getting Fiona to eat, so here we go!
Let me start by saying, I always planned to breastfeed. I never thought it would be a problem. My mom breastfed me with no problems, I read a whole book about breastfeeding, and my pregnancy had been so easy I just felt like I must be made for baby-having… which I assumed meant I’d be able to feed my baby with no problems too.
Not the case.
Because I had a c-section we knew my milk might take a little longer than usual to come in, but I know that babies generally do lose some weight at first and then gain it back and it just isn’t that big of a deal– you keep at it. So I started breastfeeding as soon as I could (tried the first time in the recovery room less than an hour after birth). I also got a lactation consultant (LC) to come see me within a few hours of birth at the hospital to help work on Fia’s latch. I knew it was more shallow than it should be, but couldn’t figure out how to make it better.
While in the hospital I had visits from LCs twice/day every day I was there. By the time I left we thought we’d worked out a pretty good latch with her, although it still hurt me and was still causing me a bit of damage. We thought that maybe it was just a learning curve and normal new breastfeeding pain. Also while we were in the hospital Fia was diagnosed with jaundice (on day 2) and the pediatrician told us the best way to treat was by supplementing with formula. The best natural way to treat jaundice is to make sure the baby is pooping a lot (because that clears out their system) and in order to do that– they need to eat a lot. So we said okay to supplementing and started a process of breastfeeding, then pumping and feeding her whatever I’d pumped, and then supplementing with formula. Every 3 hours. The process took 1.5 hours, so we were spending half our day, day and night, feeding her. It worked though and her jaundice levels came way down and eventually resolved themselves with no further treatment– and when we left the hospital on Friday her weight was back up to 8 lb 2 oz (birth weight of 8 lb 4 oz).
That next Monday we saw the pediatrician who gave us the blessing to stop supplementing with formula, as the jaundice had resolved. Her weight was still 8 lb 2 oz, but the pediatrician seemed happy that she was so close to birth weight at only 1 week old.
Thus started two weeks of hell. Fiona cried all the time. No really. All. The. Time. If she wasn’t eating or sleeping, she was crying. Luckily she slept decently, and I was feeding her every 2-3 hours (each breastfeeding session taking 60+ min). But that still meant that she was screaming 5-7 hours/day. Like literally screaming. Not whining, fussing, or sad crying. Wailing. We were losing our damn minds. It was not a good week in our home.
The next Tuesday we saw the pediatrician again and we told her that Fiona was crying ALL THE TIME. She said some babies cry a lot. Sigh. Fiona’s weight was 8 lb 3 oz. Which didn’t seem like enough to me– but the pediatrician said it was close enough to birth weight and they were just looking for her to be at birth weight by 2 weeks so it was fine. Enter week 2 of hell. Eat, sleep, scream, repeat. I tried to make an appointment with an outpatient LC but she wasn’t available until the next Monday. I called an LC help line and asked about my supply and she said that if Fiona was eating all the time, it was fine. Also by this time I was in a LOT of pain breastfeeding. I had large open wounds and feeding was extremely painful for me.
The next Monday we met with an outpatient LC for the first time and did a weighted feed. Fiona weighed only 8 lb 5 oz at 3 weeks old. And during the weighted feed she got only 2 oz from me. The LC said with certainty– I have a low milk supply and our daughter is hungry. She’s not gaining enough weight (she gained 3 oz in 2.5 weeks– newborns should gain 5-7 oz/week). She’s not getting enough from me. That is why she is eating for over an hour per session. That’s why she is sucking so hard she is wounding me. Thats why she’s screaming even when she’s done eating. She was hungry for two weeks and we didn’t know. (Cue guilt). She recommended we start supplementing again to get this kid fed while I work on my supply. She also prescribed All Purpose Nipple Ointment to help get me healed.
That week we started a cycle of breastfeeding (no more than 40 min as per the LC), then I pumped while B fed Fia whatever I’d pumped last time and then supplement with formula. It was a long week but Fiona was sooooooo much happier. Immediately the screaming reduced to almost nothing. It was like magic and I finally started falling in love with my baby, rather than loving her because she was mine but also sort of fearing her every time her eyes opened because I knew it meant screaming.
The next week at our LC appointment Fiona weighted 9 lb 6 oz! She was certainly making up for lost time and the LC was thrilled. But unfortunately when Fiona fed again, she still got only 2 oz. No increase in my supply. The LC told me I could stop pumping after every breastfeeding session and just breastfeed and supplement as needed. She also told me that since I was still dealing with such extreme pain, and since my wounds had actually gotten worse rather than better in the intervening week– she wanted us to get Fiona evaluated for a posterior tongue tie. This is the type that is very hard to see/diagnose and you need to go to a specialist to get fixed. A specialist that is 1.5 hours from our home, and that unfortunately was on vacation that week. The earliest we could get in was the next Friday. She also said that my open wounds were putting me at risk for a breast infection and I really needed to get myself healed, so she thought I should take a break from breastfeeding and just pump/feed until I was healed, but she warned me that sometimes when young babies take a break from breastfeeding they refuse to start back up. So I opted to just breastfeed at night and pump during the day.
So we toughed it out another 1.5 weeks and took Fiona to be evaluated at 5.5 weeks. She did have a posterior tongue tie AND a lip tie. We had both “clipped” via laser– which was probably more traumatic for me than it was for her (although she was not a fan). That weekend she went on a nursing strike and refused to breastfeed, but by the following Tuesday she was willing to nurse again. I was still nursing at night and pumping/feeding during the day because I was still not healed, but I noticed that her latch seemed better than ever at this point and breastfeeding her started to hurt less.
Then the next Sunday rolled around, and we had another nursing strike. I called the LC on Monday and was told that because I’d been unable to breastfeed her exclusively she might be developing a bottle preference and if she refused to nurse there wasn’t much I could do. She suggested trying a nipple shield, and said if that didn’t work I’d probably just have to give up nursing and pump/bottle feed.
She did NOT care for the nipple shield but the next morning I tried nursing her again (sans shield) and she did it! I decided enough was enough, and wounds or not I was going to breastfeed my kid. So I just breastfed her every meal despite the pain from my (still not healed) wounds, and supplemented afterwards. Everything was going great and I was really hopeful that we had worked out our issues (finally) after 8 weeks. She seemed happy, I was thrilled to be back to breastfeeding and not having to pump, and I actually seemed to start healing a little bit now that her latch was better.
Everything was great until the next Monday when it was like a switch flipped and Fia decided she hated bottles. She would finish breastfeeding and be clearly still hungry (she has a specific hungry cry + she chews on her hand), but would fight and cry and thrash when we put the bottle in her mouth. If we kept trying she’d eventually take it and then eat ravenously. But as the week wore on, we lost more and more battles. By Friday I had only been able to get 1.5 ounces from a bottle into her, which is about 8 short of what she needs. That night she cried for an hour because she was so hungry, she’d already breastfed and I had nothing more to give her, and she refused to take the bottle.
It was a tipping point. I’d bought into all the “breast is best” data— but for MY kid? When I wasn’t making enough to just breastfeed her and breastfeeding her meant that she would refuse bottles and then be hungry? Something had to change. I decided to try going back to just breastfeeding her at night and bottle feeding all day. I thought if she was only breastfeeding twice/day and bottle feeding 5 times/day she’d get used to both again. But she didn’t. She would continue to fight us on the bottle throughout the weekend, and any progress we made with her on Saturday was destroyed on Sunday by my breastfeeding her overnight.
So I quit.
I was honestly, shockingly, heartbroken over it. I never thought I’d care. Breastfeeding had been such a crazy (painful) challenge for me that I would’ve thought I’d be happy to be forced to give it up. But that bond (the one I’d always rolled my eyes at because I just didn’t get it)? It sneaks up on you. And I miss the snuggles, especially since Fiona is not a very snuggly baby. And I miss the way she’d fall asleep nursing and sleep in my arms for a few minutes (the only time she ever slept on me anymore). That sleepy happy milk-drunk face, that honestly can’t be replace by a bottle (at least not for her)…
But it wasn’t worth it. Not if it meant hours of crying every day because she was hungry and wouldn’t take a bottle.
So now I pump. And we bottle feed. She gets about 2/3 breast milk and 1/3 formula, and now that she never breastfeeds she fights the bottle far less. We’ve been at the new plan for a week and I wouldn’t say we’ve got it entirely figured out. She still refuses the bottle and screams sometimes and we’re not sure why. But for most meals she takes the bottle with no problem now and we have our happy baby back.
I never ever expected feeding my baby to be so hard. I assumed I would breastfeed and it would just work, like it has for billions of women across the millennia. Or if for some reason it didn’t work it would be immediately obvious and we’d formula feed and I’d be fine with it. I never expected two months of struggle and pain and lactation consultant appointments and fighting. But I’m hopeful that we’ve now found what works for Fia and we can put this battle mostly behind us.