Latch Issues, Etc. But Also: I Really Hate Lactating

Long story: I had my new baby a little early. I will probably write up a birth story one of these days, but the gist of it is that the high risk doctors monitoring me (gestational diabetes) saw some issues, so I was induced at 36 weeks. Then, New Baby was in the NICU for 9 days with hypoglycemia.

I wrote two years ago about my nightmare experience trying to breastfeed my first son.

Throughout my second pregnancy I thought that I would try to do it with this baby, but I gave myself permission to give up if it didn’t work out. My 2 year old drank formula for 11 months and he’s fine. He’s very bright and he’s hardly ever sick. We know lots of kids from playgroup- some exclusively breastfed, some not. Everybody is FINE. Don’t get me started about the breastfeeding vs. formula debate. Both my kids are growing up in an educated household (three masters degrees between us), in an affluent suburb of a cosmopolitan city. Everybody is FINE.

The main thing I wanted was to have the opportunity to hold my new baby and nurse him right away. I wanted that moment. If he was a pretty good latcher from the beginning, I would try. If not, I decided I wouldn’t bother and that was OK.

Well, New Baby was born with a very low sugar level of 36. Normal glucose is 60-120. But this time, they gave him right to me to nurse and I had that moment. He didn’t latch great, but he tried: we had our moment and it was lovely. Then they tested his glucose again and despite the nursing, it had dropped to the dangerously low level of 19. He was immediately given a bottle of formula and rushed off to the NICU.

When you have a late-term preemie in the NICU for hypoglycemia, you pretty much no longer have a choice about breastfeeding. Everything I read about his condition said breastmilk was the best treatment. I wasn’t on any medication that interfered with nursing and thus had no acceptable reasons not to do it. I had been ready to abandon the pressure, but now the pressure was on. I was forced to share a hospital room with a very nice lady whose baby was healthy and in the room with us. The NICU nurses asked me if I planned to pump all night. I said no, then sat on my bed with the privacy curtain pulled all the way around me and tried to cry as quietly as possible as I pumped for 40 minutes at a time and got almost nothing out of me.

Finally, one of the NICU nurses let me pump right there in the NICU next to my son’s isolette while she fed him a bottle. We chatted about our toddlers and the colostrum finally started flowing out of me. My milk came in shortly afterward and I’ve been fighting off engorgement and plugged ducts non-stop ever since.

I barely tried nursing him while he was in the NICU. Forcing him seemed pretty abusive and counterintuitive to me. He was tiny and had low blood sugar. He tired easily and needed to eat. I wasn’t about to force him to get his food the hard way. I figured I would keep pumping as long as I could stand it and then consult with a lactation consultant in a little while. I fed him bottles of my milk and snuggled him and let him get the rest he needed to grow.

I settled into a routine of pumping and driving to the hospital to feed him until he finally came home and things got complicated.

It’s very difficult and painful to maintain a strict pumping schedule while also trying to be an active member of your family that now includes a newborn and a 2 year old. I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept because I would always have to pump. My husband would start to do the dishes and I would frantically remind him that I needed him to be available for when I pumped because as soon as I hooked myself up to the machine, the newborn would fuss or the 2 year old would wander out of the living room into the kitchen and start yelling for crackers from the locked cabinet.

Every time we wanted to go for a walk, everything we wanted to do: we had to plan around pumping. And even with all the planning, I was always full and uncomfortable.

I had a consultation with a lactation consultant who weighed New Baby before and after he nursed to see what he was able to remove form the breast. After an exhausting hour of latching and re-latching and waking him and burping and re-positioning, New Baby had gotten about an ounce out of me. One lousy ounce. And this is with a nipple shield, too, which I didn’t want to use to begin with because I had hated it so much the first time. She said New Baby might have a tongue tie and I consulted with a pediatric ENT to see about getting him a frenulectomy. The procedure hadn’t helped with my first, but I was willing to give it a try. Of course, the doctor said his tongue tie was so mild that doing the procedure probably wouldn’t make a difference and I should probably just wait until he matured and grew more. Then, maybe, just maybe he would magically be a good latcher.

I halfheartedly tried to nurse him at home, but it sent a mixed message to my body and made me even more engorged.

I realized that I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to nurse, I don’t want to pump, Two years ago I agonized over my decision to quit nursing my first son and two weeks ago I did it again. And I finally realized that I just plain hate lactating and don’t want to do it anymore. If I enjoy doing something, I do it. I find a way to do it as much as I can. I don’t enjoy nursing. I know plenty of women for whom nursing is a deeply pleasurable and meaningful activity. For me it is frustrating and uncomfortable. Yes, I’m still a little sad. I’m sad I won’t experience the ease of being able to feed my child whenever and wherever. I’m sad I’ll have to spend another fortune on formula and that I’ll always have to remember to pack some formula with me wherever I go. But I already pack snacks and toys and diapers with me wherever I go, so I’m used to it.

Now for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to slowly wean from the pump and every moment is still excruciating. I’m trying to do everything the Internet suggests (wait longer and longer between pump sessions, pump for fewer and fewer minutes, put cabbage leaves in your bra, use ice compresses, avoid hot showers), and I’m definitely pumping less, but I’m constantly uncomfortable and furious about the whole thing. I want my body to belong to me again and I refuse to feel guilty anymore. I want to be able to feed my baby a bottle and then snuggle him as much as I want without my chest hurting and without having to put him down so I can pump. I want to enjoy nice bras again and to wrestle with my two year old without hurting and to sleep when the baby sleeps. I want to try wearing New Baby in a sling or a wrap without my chest hurting. I want a Jack and Coke on the rocks. I want to sprawl face-down on my bed. I want to stand under a hot shower and not have to turn my torso away form the water. I’m tired of hurting. My breasts have hurt for a month straight.

The baby is gaining weight and doing well. He cries when he’s hungry and tired and was a perfect angel at two doctor’s appointments today. The top shelf of my freezer contains nothing but breastmilk and I plan to ration it out slowly so he’ll still have been given about 2 months of breastmilk, even if the second month was mixed with formula. Last night, New Baby gave us two delicious 4-hour stretches of sleep between feedings.

Three weeks ago I pumped 30 ounces. Yesterday I pumped 12. I’m almost there.


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