My Journey with Breastfeeding: Abby's Story
We have all heard “breast is best”. Although Baby Whisperers fully supports breastfeeding, we often wonder if pushing breastfeeding so strongly has lead to increased mom guilt for those who have chosen not to, or simply cannot, breastfeed.
In this week’s blog post we share a friend Abby’s journey with breastfeeding and how she felt when her beautiful baby girl landed in the hospital with jaundice. Enjoy!
Did you Plan on breastfeeding prior to giving birth?
My husband (Aiden) and I’s plan through our pregnancy was to breastfeed, in an attempt to follow the “breast is best” movement. In my early twenties, I had a breast reduction, so I always had an understanding there was a potential I may have difficult breastfeeding, and thankfully my husband has always been supportive of that. Going into labor, the L&D nurses all knew we were intending to try breastfeeding, granted my previous surgical history.
Once baby was born, did you breastfeed?
I went into labor early, giving birth at 37 weeks on the day. When my daughter, Riley, was born, she was immediately placed on my breast. She did fantastic latching on and coordinating sucking. It was truly a very bonding moment between us two.
When you tried breastfeeding, how did it go? If you had difficulty, why was that?
In regard to Riley’s ability to latch on and coordinate sucking, she did great! The problem was, that due to my previous surgery, I was having difficulty producing milk. I made a small amount of colostrum, but minimal compared to the average. When it came time for my milk to come in, I never made much more than 1ml, even several days out. The lactation consultants, though very supportive and kind, really tried hard to work with me to ensure breastfeeding be successful. Within hours of having Riley, it was evident breastfeeding was going to be difficult and they had me started on the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). I would initially put Riley to my breast; Then after she had spent time on the breast, I would pump what I could; And lastly Riley would be put back on the breast and a small tube would be put into her mouth, the tube connected to a syringe full of the little colostrum I pumped and supplemented breast milk from a donation bank. She would suckle the breast while we syringed her milk through this small tube, and this is how she got her nutrition for her first days of life. I tell you what, for an EXHAUSTED brand-new mom, this was an extremely difficult and trying process to keep up with. The feedings themselves would take over an hour, and Riley woke up every 2 hours.
Within 24 hours in the hospital, I noticed Riley getting Jaundice (yellowing skin related to increased levels of bilirubin in the blood). I was concerned with how quickly this occurred. We had to stay a couple extra days to keep an eye on Riley’s bilirubin levels, keeping her under the “bili-light.” We were ultimately sent home, with a portable “bili-light,” and supplies to continue the “SNS” method. We were instructed to follow up with pediatrician within 24hrs to continue monitoring the bilirubin levels. For 2 days we had to go into the hospital for daily blood draws. By the 2nd day home, we were re-admitted into the children’s hospital, because Riley’s bilirubin levels continued to increase, and her jaundice worsened. My husband and I were concerned about what this could mean for the potential health of our child, why wasn’t she getting better?! My anxiety was through the roof, my exhaustion had hit its peak, and post-partum emotions were creeping in.
I can still remember, my wonderful husband sitting at Riley’s bedside under those “bili-lights,” telling me everything was going to be okay, encouraging me to take this time to get some rest. It was during that night in the hospital, that they discovered not only was Riley born a couple weeks early and had a differing blood type than mine, but she had been malnourished up until this point (less than a week old). All contributors to high bilirubin and jaundice! They started Riley on formula feeding around the clock, and by the morning she was doing much better and able to be discharged home! It was that night of being under the lights and constant nutrition that got our baby girl healthy again.
Did you feel pressured to breastfeed? Did you feel guilty or not?
I would say in current society, there is absolutely pressure to breastfeed! I mean, I myself was compelled by the “Breast is Best” movement. Between what society says, being in a family that breastfeeds, wanting the best for your child, and the lactation consultants in the hospital driving into your mind “you need to do this, you were built to do this, it’s hard but rewarding,” I absolutely felt pressured to breastfeed. I almost felt as if I was doing a disservice to my child if I didn’t choose to breastfeed. The day I officially stopped breastfeeding and pumping was the day we brought Riley home from the hospital the 2nd time. After seeing how much her health improved after being on formula for 24hrs, I knew that is what I had to do.
I felt extremely guilty not being able to breastfeed, I felt like I was letting society, my family, my husband, and my child down. I knew I was going to miss that bond we had created over the past week. I wondered if Riley would even be able to connect with me if I didn’t breastfeed her. Looking back now over 1 year later, I see those were all silly thoughts and fears. My family and husband have been more supportive than I could have ever dreamed, I must say not having the sole responsibility of feedings being on me has been nice. Daddy got his fair share of night formula feedings while momma got a couple extra hours to snooze, turned out better for everyone! And as for Riley… she is a momma’s girl all the way, even without spending months and months on my boob.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to your pregnancy?
The advice would be to not put so much pressure on myself regarding what society thinks about breastfeeding, newborn health, and how to be the “perfect mother.” For the next child, if we are blessed with others, I will confidently enter the L&D room stating that I would like to give my baby as much nutrient rich colostrum I can, but formula will be her main source of nourishment. No guilt, no shame!
In motherhood, there is so much emphasis on the “mom guilt” and “mom shame” on how we chose to parent our children. We must have grace on ourselves, lift each other up, we are doing our best, we are exactly the mother our child needs us to be. As long as you feed (no matter what method), clothe, shelter, and love on your child… you are giving them what they need. My pediatrician said it best, “I don’t care how you chose to feed your baby, the most important thing is just feeding your baby!” I’ve have realized, there are no “societal norms” when it comes to motherhood, you have to do what is best for you and your child, and no one else can tell you how to do that. After taking several days to figure out what feeding method worked for Riley and our family, we are blessed to now have a strong, beautiful, energetic and sassy 14-month-old baby girl!
Thank you so much Abby for sharing you and your family’s story! Baby Whisperers feels it is so important to emphasize that “fed is best”, not just “breast is best”. Sometimes a baby just simply cannot breast feed, and this is okay.
If you have a similar story, or would like to share your breastfeeding story, please reach out to us!
As always- like, comment, and share!
Jeri Ford, RN, BSN, CPN