Breastfeeding and its Challenges

A very upset little guy
A very upset little guy

Before Nathan was born, my husband and I decided I would exclusively breastfeed as long as I was medically able to. I set a goal for myself: a minimum of a year. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life, for a minimum of a year or longer as long as it is mutually desired.  The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of two years and longer. I did hours and hours of research on the benefits of breastfeeding, joined forums and support groups, and talked with other breastfeeding moms. I thought I was going to be a pro. Well, Nathan had other ideas about how things would go… but it wasn’t his fault.

The first time I thought I would have to quit breastfeeding was before it even began. When problems with jaundice arose in the hospital, the doctors and nurses there pressured me into giving him formula to help rid the bilirubin from his body. Although we were adamant about the hospital staff not giving Nathan artificial nipples (bottles and pacifiers), they didn’t listen. We also tried to feed him via syringe, dropping the formula into his awaiting mouth. Nathan developed nipple confusion. He would scream every time I tried to breastfeed him. Distraught, I was a hair from just giving up and letting him just have formula. The staff tried to help, but they contradicted each other when it came to how to get Nathan to latch on. If it wasn’t for the WONDERFUL International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) on staff at the hospital, I’m sure I would have thrown in the towel. She was able to fix his latch and turn the nipple confusion around. She was amazing! Nathan did wonderfully for the next two weeks, gaining his birth weight back during that period. I was as proud as a preening peacock for my accomplishment.

Nathan, however, had other tricks up his sleeve.

For the next month, I dealt with him screaming, thrashing, and fighting me at every single feeding, without fail. It took an enormous amount of patience to get him to eat… but I did it. He gained an adequate amount of weight and suddenly, all our problems seemed to vanish and he started really enjoying our nursing sessions.

The next two months after that were a breeze. I couldn’t have asked for it to be any better.

When he turned about four months old, however, he went on a nursing strike.  It was horrible. I couldn’t get him to eat no matter what I did. He would fight me, scream, scratch, arch his back, and kick like a deranged jackrabbit. I halfway wondered if my milk was poisonous, causing him to writhe like he was being electrocuted. A couple weeks later, we went to the doctor and she said the dreaded words: He’s off the growth chart and underweight. Let me note that there is a separate growth chart for breastfed babies since they gain weight differently than formula-fed babies. The pediatrician argued with us, saying all breastfed babies are supposed to be fatter than formula-fed babies. Was she ever so wrong! She sent us home with instructions to feed him more.

In the meantime, I met with another IBCLC to discuss how to get Nathan’s weight back up and techniques on keeping him at the breast longer. She recommended renting a hospital-grade breast pump to increase my supply. We did, but my supply was at a standstill and Nathan still would not comply. He loved getting his bottles, but I simply was not ready to give up on breastfeeding. Frustrated and worried sick, my husband and I changed pediatricians to one my doula recommended. The new office was wonderful, helpful, and quite knowledgeable. The  Nurse Practitioner we saw breastfed her twins for 14 months, so she knew what she was talking about. She recommended trying to feed Nathan by breast first, and when he refused, to supplement with 5-6 oz of expressed milk or formula after each feeding. I loathed the thought of using formula- I wanted so badly to exclusively breastfeed him for the first 6 months of life, as recommended by the AAP. However, I simply could not pump out enough milk. Let me make a note here that the amount of milk pumped out is NOT an indication of how much of a supply you have… many women simply do not respond that well to a pump. A baby is much more efficient at extracting milk than a pump. Anyway, we caved and started supplementing with formula during the times when I had no expressed milk. After a worrysome experience with blood in his stool (from a cow’s milk protein reaction) and switching formulas multiple times, we finally found one that is working well, so far. I have been taking the herb Fenugreek to boost my supply, and it is working wonders. (Note: do not try to boost your supply unless an IBCLC has determined your supply is too low. Oversupply can cause a myriad of problems with both mother and baby.) I met with the IBCLC that helped me in the hospital after Nathan’s birth, and she determined his screaming, thrashing, and writhing were probably caused by teething. She told me to use some teething medicine on him before his nursing sessions. We like Humphrey’s Teething Medicine, which is a homeopathic remedy that works wonders. Nathan is finally eating fairly well again, although we still have issues where he refuses the breast and ends up getting a bottle of expressed milk. He is gaining wonderfully, growing fat rolls on his arms and legs, and catching up quickly to where he is “supposed” to be on the chart.

Multiple times, I have thought I would have to give up breastfeeding and just switch to formula, but I am so glad I didn’t. It takes patience, perseverance, and pure will power to get through the hard times, but it’s so worth it. I will bend over backwards to ensure he still gets the benefits of my breast milk, and I look at adding a little formula for a supplement as an extra boost in calories. We still have our breastfeeding bonding time, and he is gaining weight at the same time. Everything always works out in the end. If you are a breastfeeding mother going through a rough patch, just remember that this too shall pass. Don’t give up!


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