Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Love is the Drug

When breastfeeding goes wrong, it can go wrong fast.  As a clueless first time mother, I failed hard.  By the time I figured out that we had a problem, our son was being admitted to Children's Hospital, dehydrated and jaundiced.

Freddie is laughably, blessedly healthy now, but I'll never forget those horrible first few days of confusion and uncertainty, followed by that endless night in the hospital.  I pumped breast milk and supplemented with formula whenever I fell short.  By the time he was a few months old, it was over - Freddie was on Enfamil full-time.

Fiona is a few weeks old now, and I'm relieved to report that breastfeeding is going just fine.  Here's what's different this time:
  • I took a fabulous breastfeeding class before I delivered.
  • My delivery nurse was a certified lactation consultant who made sure we got off on the right foot.
  • Our hospital encouraged rooming in, meaning that Fiona and I fell into a rhythm from the first.
  • The maternity ward was filled with lactation consultants who were helpful and available.
  • I came prepared with the best book ever - Breastfeeding Made Simple.
And despite all this, the most important difference was me.  I was fiercely determined not so much to breastfeed, but to follow my instincts.  With Freddie, I knew something was wrong but kept thinking it was just new parent nerves.  With Fiona, I knew things were going right from the first.

Which makes some parts of my experience baffling.  While our hospital was, overall, pro-breastfeeding and very helpful, a number of nurses clearly were biased in favor of formula.  The second night, after my daughter had lost a lot of weight, one nurse bullied me into feeding her some formula.  I'm strong-willed and mule-stubborn, but she managed to put me into a full-scale panic.  Since she came on duty at 11 p.m., it wasn't as if I had access to a second opinion.  I gave Fiona a taste, but as soon as I had, it hit me.  This is wrong.

So I checked with a lactation consultant in the morning, and our pediatrician when he visited and even though two more nurses tried valiantly to convince me to supplement, I politely ignored them.  "She's lost 7% of her birth weight.  Maybe you can give her some formula?"

"I think we're fine."

"We don't want her to lose too much weight."

"I think we're fine.  Thanks so much."  Cue big smile.

And don't get me started on the nurse who compared formula to dessert.  Would she tell me to feed my 4 y.o. a hot fudge sundae after he eats his waffles and OJ every morning?

Because we live in a big city, our nurses were from every corner of the Earth.  I wonder if some of that had something to do with it.  The lactation consultants were women like me - white, educated, vaguely hippie-ish if you looked beyond the scrubs.  Some of the nurses looked at me like I was a crazy, vaguely hippie-ish privileged white woman.  

They're probably right.

Except that they're SO clearly wrong about breastfeeding.  Because my daughter is thriving.  She gained back her birth weight plus five ounces by her two week doctor's appointment, and now ranks in the 75th percentile for weight.

And we're managing without any special gear or equipment.  Well, I did send Franklin out for those gel packs.  But after the first few days, I haven't even needed them.

Don't get me wrong - I'm grateful that formula exists, because feeding Freddie was a challenge.  Between having no maternity leave and a disastrous start to breastfeeding, if not for formula, he might have been truly sick - or worse.

But I wish every mother would have the chance to breastfeed successfully.  Because I am so in love with my darling daughter, and this feels like the ultimate expression.