From Breast to Bottle

Today’s story comes from our newest contributor “The Professor”…

As a new mom, we all want to do absolutely everything “right” for our newborn. We read all the books, research on the internet, get advice from other moms to help us make the important decisions about what is best for baby. There was never a question in my mind that I would breastfeed my son. I had a Boppy and a Brest-Friend. I dragged my husband to the breastfeeding class through the hospital. I had nursing bras and pajamas. I was nervous about nursing, but ready to go. But as we all know, even our best intentions do not always go as planned…

I knew from talking to friends, that breastfeeding could be a challenge, but I could never have been prepared for the difficulties from the very beginning. The day my son was born the nurse came into my hospital room and told me I should try to feed him and then just waited, as if I would just know exactly what to do. It was tough at first, so I asked for help. I did not expect that the nurse would then go get four interns, including a male intern to “help” me learn how to nurse. I am a very modest person, so there I am, exposed to the world, all these eyes staring at my breasts as I struggle to feed my poor hungry baby. Once they left, I let the nurse know that I needed help, but would prefer some privacy. She seemed taken aback, but finally conceded.

The next road block came that evening. I had always imagined keeping the baby in the hospital room with me, but as the pain from the C-section started creeping in, my husband suggested we take the offer to have the baby go to the nursery for the night. When the nurse came in to get him he was very hungry and upset and she said she wouldn’t take him unless I fed him or she could give him some formula. I tried again with no help and no success to feed him, with the words of the lactation nurses in my head to not offer formula or a bottle. Exhaustion and pain finally got the best of me and I let the nurse take him and give him formula, hoping that a night of sleep would prepare me to jump into motherhood the next day.

When the baby was brought back to me in the morning I was told again to feed him. Once again, no help. Where were these lactation nurses we had been promised? After a morning of almost nonstop crying, my husband finally hunted the lactation nurse down and I felt that maybe I could do this after all. She went over everything, helped get him to latch on, set me up with a pump. What a relief. After nearly 24 hours of feeling completely helpless, there was hope! Or so I thought… Over the next few weeks, breastfeeding became a part of my life. The baby latched on very well, but was a lazy eater, so the lactation nurses suggested I pump and feed him from bottles at night so he would sleep longer. My days consisted of sleeping, nursing, and pumping. On top of that I was recovering from the C-section and dealing with a horrible rash that I had broken out in the day I gave birth. Physically, I felt awful. Emotionally, I realize now that I was dealing with some post-partum depression. Nursing became increasingly more and more painful, but I just figured that was part of the process. When my son was about 3 weeks old, I noticed some very hard places on both breasts and I started running a consistent fever. I automatically just knew that I had developed mastitis. At my two week check up I had mentioned to the doctor that I thought I might be heading toward mastitis, and she said no, I didn’t have all the symptoms. She’s the doctor – of course I believed her. So, on Easter Sunday with a 102 fever I called the on call doctor – the same one I had seen at my two week check up. Were there hard places? Yes. Are you running a fever? Yes. Is there any redness over the hardness? No. Well, then it’s not mastitis.

My fever continued for about a week. My OB was still out of town, so I went in to see, unfortunately, the same doctor who had twice told me I did not have mastitis. She was who was available. Once again, with no breast exam, no mastitis. I must have a touch of the flu, that’s all. Who am I to question the doctor. So, thinking I had the flu, I made an appointment with my general practitioner. At this point, my son was already 5 weeks old. Her diagnosis – mastitis. At this point I had been dealing with it for over a month and between the infection, the rash that still had not gone away, and the healing surgery incision I was physically a mess. I just wanted to be healthy so I could enjoy my son! My GP put me on a series of antibiotic injections to hopefully clear up my now raging case of mastitis, but they did not work. The infection was too deep by that point.

This is NOT the enemy!

Six weeks after my son was born I had my six week check up with my OB who was horrified by what I had been through. She was shocked that this other OB, her colleague, had missed the mastitis. I had been able to clear up the infection in my left breast on my own, but the mass in my right breast would not budge. It had been there too long. I was sent to a specialist for an ultrasound which showed a very deep blockage, lodged behind some fibroids. It if did not go away on its own it would require surgery. I knew that the first six weeks were the most important for a baby to get breast milk. I had hit those six weeks. My gut told me that I had done all I could, but that it was time to stop for both my physical and emotional well-being. The main thing keeping my nursing was the pressure from other people. I was faced with a very difficult decision.  Nine weeks after I gave birth, I was once again at the doctor’s office for a follow up and she made the decision for me. I had to stop nursing. My health was suffering too much. The longer I nursed, the more chance there was of the mastitis never clearing up and that I would need surgery. The relief I felt brought tears to my eyes. I had enough breast milk frozen to give my son another week and then he switched to formula with no problem. I was finally able to focus on healing myself which made it so much easier to enjoy being a mommy.

I can appreciate how passionate women are about the benefits of breastfeeding. We are very lucky to be able to provide for our babies in such an amazing way. But I wish that women could have as much passion for other women, the ones who struggle with nursing. Through my ordeal I did not feel support from other moms, I felt guilt, especially from women that didn’t know me. I hated that I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t breastfeeding because I’d get an earful from some woman who was not willing to hear the whole story, just thought that I was harming my baby. We women need to be there for each other, and have compassion for all situations. When I would explain what had happened to me, instead of support I was usually told that I could have kept nursing through it. Who cares what my doctor said, right? I was a strictly formula-fed baby and am just fine. My son is now four months old and as healthy as can be. I have another breast ultrasound this week and see the breast surgeon the week after to determine if I will need surgery to clear up the blockage. Will I nurse if I have another baby? I’m certainly going to try, but if I can’t for whatever reason, I need to forgive myself and hope that instead of the judgment that I felt with this experience, I will find support and compassion.