There's a lot of propaganda going around about the wonders of breastfeeding. A photocopy of "101 reasons to breastfeed" was thrust upon me several times at prenatal classes, and once again at the hospital. They were preaching to the converted. My Mom breast fed me and my sibs, and my sister had no trouble getting my nephew to chomp at the boob. Besides, why would someone who hates dishes as much as I do spend her life needlessly scrubbing bottles?
The breastfeeding propaganda machine has some golden rules about boob-feeding:
- Give your baby the boob the moment he's born. He needs to get to learning right away.
- Don't give baby pacifiers or bottles until he's six weeks old. Otherwise he'll get nipple confusion, and never learn to boob-feed properly.
- Formula is evil.
I broke rule number one right away. When William was born the nurses and doctors were carrying him all around, weighing him and measuring him and cleaning him. I trusted that someone would hand me my baby at the appropriate time, but two hours later he still hadn't tasted booby. When I finally tried to feed him he screamed and wouldn't latch. I figured I was doing it wrong, and decided to wait until baby and I had some some sleep before trying it again. (Birth is tiring business).
Later, every nurse in the hospital had a turn teaching me how to hold my boob and position William properly for a good latch. Sometimes he would latch on for a split second, just long enough for the nurse to go "Good" and walk away. But he always started crying as soon as she was gone.
For those of you who have never breastfed before, I should give some background on how the whole process works. You don't randomly turn into a cow, what comes out of your nipples immediately after birth is a teeny tiny bit of clear gooey nothingness, which is supposedly the best thing to feed your baby. The nothingness is called colostrum and will make a baby immune to everything and will cause him to grow up to be a genius. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to motivate a newborn to suck and suck his little cheeks out for the benefit of less than a millilitre of liquid. Amazingly, most babies do get it. I know this because I shared a hospital ward with three other mothers and got to hear them happily nursing their babies day and night.
One nurse brought me an electric breast pump to try out. Two scary-looking plastic cones with baby bottles attached to them are hooked up via tubes to a serious yellow thinga maggig. All you have to do is hold one cone to each of your nipples and use your third hand to turn it on. When activated the pump will go to town and suck the all-important gooey nothingness out of your boobs and into the bottle below. And since you asked, yes, this process is exactly as uncomfortable as it sounds. And it doesn't work. After fifteen minutes of nipple tug-o-war I was left with barely a drop in the cone, and none in the bottle. I gave the drop to William using my finger, but who knows if he actually swallowed it?
I cried the first time I gave him formula. Not only had I broken the "formula is evil" rule, but I'd waited so long to give him any that he must have been on the verge of becoming a pot-bellied Ethiopia baby. It was one of those "you're a bad mother either way" type of decisions. I had this perfect little baby and I was already ruining him.
The hospital where William was born (also where my nephew was born and where my grandmother spent a two months before getting into a nursing home) has a breastfeeding clinic. The word "clinic" brings to mind a sterile doctor's office, but in fact it's a room full of comfy couches, pillows, and wall to wall breastfeeding propaganda, where everyone knows your baby's name, but calls you and your husband Mom and Dad. They have a clever way of seeing how much your baby is eating by weighing him before and after a feed.
The breastfeeding police gave me a "plan" which was basically what I was doing anyway. They said to give him a little formula or expressed breastmilk to settle him, then try to boob feed. They also said to pump after every feed to keep my supply up (cause, you know, if baby doesn't drink boob, boob dries up). My husband bought me a hand pump, which was a gazillion times more comfortable than the electric pump, but might be giving me a bit of carpal tunnel. Whatever. The point is that the breastfeeding police thought it was okay of me to give formula, so I wasn't a bad Mom after all!
Unfortunately William had started to really love the bottle and really hate the boob. It got to the point where just lying him next to my breast would cause him to freak out. He would get so mad that even his toes looked angry. The breastfeeding clinic gave us some stuff to try: a syringe to inject milk into his mouth while he was latched on to trick him into thinking he was getting more milk than he actually was, a "shield" to put over my nipple to make it more like the bottle. The syringe didn't work at all because William never latched long enough for me to inject the milk. The shield worked a little but not consistently, and it was awkward trying to hold it on. Plus it got all gungy and caused me to leak milk all over my hand.
Sometimes, randomly, William would just get it. He would latch, drink for a good forty minutes, and I would think our problems were over. Then the next feeding we were back to freak out baby.
The breastfeeding clinic also noticed that William has a tongue tie. This means that that bit of skin that attaches your tongue to the bottom of your mouth is too far forward and makes it hard for William to stick his tongue out and feed. The breastfeeding police said that this happens in four percent of babies (lucky us) and that midwives used to keep one finger nail longer than the others so they could cut it (very hygienic). It might sound weird, but I felt relieved to hear about William's tongue tie. It meant that his difficulty with the boobs had nothing to do with my waiting too long after birth to introduce him to my nipple, and wasn't related to my getting an epidural. My boobs weren't too big, my nipples weren't too flat, and my technique wasn't flawed.
One thing I did that I think may have helped, is I laid him next to my boob after he had finished feeding from the bottle. I figured he would begin to associate the boob with being all full and happy instead of being all hungry and frustrated. Who knows if that worked, or if it was something else, but last Thursday, when William was exactly one week old, he began feeding from the breast tongue tie and all. It was also the day his umbilical cord fell off. My little baby's growing up!
So there you have it, my baby is a genius. We're still waiting for a referral for an ear, nose and throat doctor (with long fingernails) to look at the tongue tie. Now that William's feeding, though, there's really no urgency.