Catharsis

(noun) elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression.

I feel the need to write one (hopefully) last entry on breastfeeding.  Mostly because I have a few lingering things that I just need to let go.

I do not regret our decision to go to 100% formula when the kids were eight weeks old.  At that time, in those circumstances, with that experience, it was the right decision.  And it has afforded some notable advantages. Other people can help with feedings, for instance, which allowed me to be better-rested than many new moms.  And at this age, when they hold their own bottles, it’s pretty sweet to just hand them bottles in the stroller and run an errand.  It’s expensive as hell and I can’t wait to move on to whole milk, but it has had its benefits.

But breastfeeding was something I had really wanted to do, something I prepared for, something I felt confident I was going to be able to do.  And it just didn’t work out.  Maybe it was meant to be that way, and maybe no matter what, that’s how it would have ended up.  But with hindsight being 20/20, and all that I know now, I can’t help but think I could have done some things differently.  And as I may not have any more kids and be able to benefit from my own experience, maybe this will resonate and help someone else.  Or maybe not, and maybe this is just for me.  That’s OK, too.

Before I launch into my list, let me be clear.  I am not sad and in need of consolation or advice, I am not bemoaning the way my life turned out.  I think things have turned out rather well, in fact.  I just have had these ideas bouncing around my head for a while, and I want to get them written down so that I can let them go.  Breastfeeding (or not) is such a loaded, emotional issue, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get over if it doesn’t go the way you hoped.

So here you go, the things I’d change if I had it to do all over again.  Would all of these have been realistic?  Would they have made the critical difference? Who knows, and it doesn’t really matter.  They’re just ideas…

1. Nurse more in the NICU.

This is a very hindsight kind of thing. Because when you have a baby (or two) in the NICU, your only goal is that they will be able to come home. And one condition of coming home is to take all feeds by mouth and gain weight. Daniel was pretty slow to transition after he was born, and would fall asleep before finishing his whopping half-ounce, and the rest would go down the little nasal tube. I didn’t want to tire him out at mealtimes, so I didn’t nurse. Bottles were always easier. Guess who had the seemingly incurable latch issues? Rebecca and I tried more, and were more successful, but she was just so darn tiny.  In hindsight?  Be aggressive about trying to nurse as much as possible, nasal tube be damned. It probably wouldn’t have meant more than an extra couple of days in the hospital, which seems like no big deal right now, but of course would have felt awful at the time.  Ah, the fantasy of hindsight.

2. Throw away the schedule, at first.

We came home from the NICU with the kids on a predictable 3-hour rotation, and they were supposed to get high-calorie formula every-other feeding. In my attempts to nurse, of course, sometimes they would want to eat again after an hour or two. Because the 3-hour schedule was so concrete in my brain, it made me nutty when they wanted to eat more often, as well as convinced I couldn’t possibly make enough milk for them. So I’d give them a bottle of formula, which stayed in their tummies a bit longer, and didn’t actually tell my body to make more.  I wish I had been able to just let go of the 3-hour idea and just sit and nurse all the damn time for the first couple of weeks to actually get a supply going.  Maybe do a bottle of the high-cal stuff every 6 hours, just to do what the doctor said, and pump those times, but you get my idea. Save the schedule for a little later, nurse constantly for the sake of establishing milk production. By the time someone told me to do that, I was so married to my 3-hour schedule that I couldn’t handle letting it go.

3. Throw away the pump, sort of.

From day 1, my life revolved around the dreaded pump.  The seeming lack of results, combined with the milliliter-counting that is life in the NICU, was really demoralizing.  And the whole pumping-then-bottle-feeding is an absolute nightmare.  You prep bottles, you feed bottles to slow-eating babies, you burp babies, you put them down and go pump for 20 minutes… you label and refrigerate bottles, you clean the pump parts… leaving you with approximately 15 minutes to do things like, say, hang out with your babies. And while I didn’t feel like my body responded well to the pump, I probably was, in fact, producing enough at the time for one baby.  But if I wasn’t nursing two babies, my body was never going to learn to produce for two babies.

The pump can be a useful tool, of course.  It was good to have in the hospital when my babies were not in a position to nurse, and it would have been good as a supplemental tool to help boost supply.  But while I was sent home with instructions to pump every 3 hours, I do not feel like I had any idea of how to get off of the pump.  Hindsight verdict: chuck the pump and nurse all the time, only use the pump maybe at the times that I did the high-cal formula bottle.

4. Get better nursing attire.

This may seem like an odd one, but I think it would have been helpful.  One of my big stumbling blocks was that I was very uncomfortable nursing in public.  Less for reasons of exposing the boobs, but more for fear of exposing the belly. I’ve always been overweight and self-conscious… add in a big, squishy, stretch-marked postpartum belly, and do you really think I wanted to lift up my shirt?  But getting out of the house was really important to me, and I’d just end up bringing bottles and not staying out long.  What I wish I had done was gotten some of those nursing tanks to wear under my shirts (so the belly would remain covered, even if I had to lift up my regular shirt), or those pull-aside nursing shirts, or something.  I really had no nursing clothes, save for two sort of transitional nursing bras and one non-functional nursing tank (there are better kinds out there.  I think the right attire would have made an enormous difference in my ability to nurse while not at home.  Also… a hooter hider! I knew about these things at the time, but as nursing was looking questionable, I didn’t want to spend the money in case it didn’t work out.  Alas.

— — —

There you have it, my woulda, coulda, shoulda list.  Would I have been able to do them in my post-partum hormonal state? Would any of it have made a difference with Daniel’s weird-tongue-thing and hideous latch? Would doing all of these things have saved breastfeeding at the expense of losing my mind?  Who knows. Maybe not, and I’ll never know.  But now I can stop bouncing these things around in my brain when I can’t sleep, I will know they’ve been written and not lost, I can come back and reference it or link it for someone, or add to it if I think of something else.

It’s done.

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9 Comments

Filed under Infants, Mommy confessions, Newborns

9 responses to “Catharsis

  1. I’m definitely bookmarking this post for future reference. I really hope that when the time comes I’ll be able to bf, but I’m also realistic in my expectations. My sister was SO happy the day she stopped pumping – it was so time consuming!
    🙂 Becky
    http://www.stinkylemsky.typepad.com/

  2. This is a very thoughtful post and I’m going to read it again in another month or so as I hope to get more mentally ready for the kids’ birth. I know from my blog post how emotionally charged a topic this is but I feel pretty strongly about wanting to work hard to make it work. Wait until you see my post on my “birth plan”. That is sure to bring out the comments! 🙂

  3. Maybe I should write up a post on breastfeeding, because it worked for me, for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. The clothing, while not cheap, was absolutely essential to success. I nursed every 2 hours, and on demand for the first few months (although always both twins, I wanted to keep them synced up). I was lucky not to have twins in the NICU, so I never used the pump. I was lucky lucky lucky, and I know it, because it really worked for me.

    I think by talking about it, we can help other moms out there, and your post does just that. Good job!

  4. Great post, Liz. You’re right, it is such an emotional issue. I still think about what I “should” have done. When I see my SIL still bfing her seven-month-old, despite immense pain and mastistis at the beginning, I think, Gee, I really should have stuck it out better! But, it’s all in the past now, and I will definitely be looking back at this list when it’s time for #2!

  5. I’m so glad you’ve been able to find peace with this. I hate when people beat themselves up for years. You made the choice that worked best for your family, so hold your head high…no apologies!

  6. Dani

    Great, great post! I have an August baby too. I love your blog and read it daily–I should have posted on delurker day, but . . . GREAT post!!

  7. Katie

    Great ideas Liz!! Just to let you know I’m at month 4 and still have problems breast feeding at times. I’m constantly worrying about my supply and whether I have enough to leave for Madeline when I’m gone. I think feeding your baby whichever way you choose is so emotional and you are constantly wondering if you are being the best parent to your baby.

  8. Rebecca

    Great post. I hope it helps another mom get through those hard first few weeks. And yes, hindsight is 20/20—-but I also remember those days and how freaking hard you tried to make it work for you, Daniel & Rebecca. I think you should also be proud that you gave up the pump when it got to be so stressful (ugh, pump) and spent that time enjoying your little guys.

  9. Lisa

    You and I had ours during the same week, and I was also entrenched in that %$#@ three hour schedule. Literally, by the time you finshed feeding and pumping, you have 15 minutes to yourself (or laundry, dishes, cooking, etc). I hated that. Like you, I should have fed on demand and only pumped when I bottle fed the high calorie formula. I breastfed for 5 months, but did not really get the hang of it until months 3 to 4. I stopped at 5 only because I had to get back on to a medication that wasn’t safe for Katie. You did everything right and I clearly remember your posts during that decision. You became a happier mom because of it, so it truly was the best decision for your family.

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