My son, K, was born at a healthy 9 pounds, 1 ounce at 40 weeks, 3 days. I was induced and after 14 hours of labor (2 of those hours pushing,) I was rushed into an emergency C-section because K refused to come out and his heart rate was dropping dangerously low.
As soon as K was born, he was whisked to the nursery to be checked out, with my husband following. His blood sugar levels were checked and they initially came back at 43. The pediatrician overseeing K’s health called the OR to see if I had been transferred back to my room so I could breastfeed him, but I was still being sewn up. The doctor checked K’s blood sugar again 5 minutes later; it had dropped down to 33. At 30, babies can start having seizures due to low blood sugar so it was decided to give K formula with the hope of bringing his levels up.
After I was wheeled back to my room, we tried breastfeeding for about 30 minutes and were successful. K’s levels were checked again and they had risen to the mid-40s. He was taken back to the nursery to be bathed and given his vitamin K shot. Finally around 3 am, he was brought back to our room. The pediatrician said that his blood sugars were still low but they were high enough for him to sleep with us. Around 6 am the following morning, a nurse came to check K’s sugar levels again and they had dropped back to dangerous levels. He was taken away to get an IV of sugar water placed so that his blood sugars would regulate.
Throughout our hospital stay, we had a routine every 3 hours of giving K a bottle of formula, nursing him, and then me pumping any colostrum I could get and giving it to K via syringe. Every 6 hours, K would have a heel prick to check his blood sugar levels. If his levels were above 60, we would bump down the amount of sugar water he was receiving. It took a while for my milk to come in; I was getting milliliters of colostrum during day 2, and my milk eventually came in by day 5 when we left the hospital.
Unfortunately, giving K formula in the hospital caused some problems for us. We had stretched his tiny stomach with the amount of formula he was getting and I wasn’t making enough milk to satisfy him. For the first week or so at home, we had a very fussy, hungry baby while his stomach shrunk back to the normal size. I was determined to breastfeed however, and over time, his stomach shrunk as we got the hang of breastfeeding.
At his one month appointment, K weighed in at 9 pounds, 13 ounces, which put him in the 39 percentile. I was worried that he hadn’t gained much weight, but his pediatrician said he was doing fine. At 2 months, he weighed in at 10 pounds, 8 ounces, which was the 11th percentile. At 3 months, 17 days, he weighed in at 10 pounds, 14 ounces, which was the 0.4th percentile. I had to beg the doctor to plot his weight gain on the percentile chart and see how far he had fallen. He had gone from the 93rd percentile at birth to the 0.4th percentile at 3 months, which couldn’t be normal. K was also waking up wanting to eat every 45 minutes throughout the day and night and I was barely pumping anything. I was eating oatmeal, drowning myself in water, taking fenugreek and goat’s rue, and anything else I could find that promised me faithfully to increase my milk supply. Nothing helped.
The doctor agreed that K wasn’t getting enough food and suggested we start supplementing with formula. I knew that was what needed to happen, but I was devastated. First we had difficulties getting pregnant, then I failed at having a vaginal birth, and now I was failing at breastfeeding. Something that was so “natural” and “easy” turned out to be one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
After speaking to a lactation consultant, who agreed that K needed more calories, I made my first bottle of formula. I bawled as I gave it to K; I felt like I had failed him, even though I had worked so hard. He gulped the bottle down and slept the longest stretch he ever had.
I decided to continue breastfeeding as long as I could while we were supplementing with formula, even though it seemed like my milk was drying up in a hurry. In mid-March, after getting barely 10 milliliters of milk after I pumped both breasts for 30 minutes, I decided to stop pumping and nursing. K wasn’t interested in nursing because he was getting so little; I was driving myself crazy with pumping. I had come to terms with the fact that our breastfeeding relationship wasn’t going to last as long as I had wished it would, but deciding to stop breastfeeding was still a very difficult decision.
Formula was what K needed; at his 9-month appointment, he weighed in at 20 pounds, which is the 57th percentile. He’s a spunky, happy, funny little boy who hardly ever sits still. Giving K formula has also allowed my husband to have a special relationship with his son. My husband feeds K his bedtime bottle while they read a book, which is something I know my husband cherishes.
I am proud to say that K got 4 months of exclusive breast milk and another 3.5 months of breast milk and formula. I gave myself a lot of grief and guilt about not being able to breastfeed as long as I had originally planned, but if I have learned anything during the last 11 months of being a parent, it’s that things hardly go as planned. Babies and bodies have plans of their own and all we can do is go with the flow. If we are lucky enough to have a second child, I do hope to try breastfeeding again, but I will also try to be more gentle with myself. Breast may seem to be “best,” but it sure isn’t easy!
We are sharing stories this week about our triumphs and travails with breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2015, coordinated by WABA).*
“This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”
For more information please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not discriminate against how any parent chooses to feed their child. We honor that families always choose the best thing that works for them, whether that is formula feeding, breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or a mixture of any of these.