As Breastfeeding Awareness Month continues, Bump Club and Beyond continues to celebrate the beauty of authentic breastfeeding relationships. We are grateful to be in the company of women who are willing to share their stories with one another at events, playgroups, and now… with the world.
Remember- There is no normal when it comes to breastfeeding. Every mama, even those with rather uneventful experiences, will face challenges and doubts. In the end, you will do what’s best for your family and whatever that looks like in practice is wonderful. Every day counts, and you deserve a pat on the back for each feeding- whether you transition after the first week or three years later.
Kristin’s Story- Breastfeeding Through Post Partum Anxiety
Kristin with her son just one day after giving birth
When I was born in 1970, breastfeeding was not as popular or encouraged as it is now. Formula was all the rage, and my mother had a hard time finding information or support for nursing. One day, she called my new pediatrician to ask a question about nursing, and the nurse answered sternly, “You should be feeding her every four hours and no more.” My mother hung up the phone, sat down on the floor and cried, and fired that pediatrician.
Fast forward 38 years to 2009, when my son was born. I have a litany of allergies, and I was determined to breastfeed so that my son would have the best chance of fighting those tendencies. What I didn’t count on that September day were two things: the recovery from my C-section, and that I was already fighting the onset of postpartum anxiety, which was going to throw a major wrench in my wheels.
After my son was born and I got to meet him, he was whisked away for tests and my husband went with him while I was wheeled away to the recovery room. For 90 minutes, I alternated between “I can’t wait to see my…” and “zzzzzz”. Finally, once in my room I requested a lactation consultant and did the best I could to figure out how to help him latch on with the help of my nurses. There is nothing quite like having strangers help you learn how to breastfeed in terms of losing your modesty, very quickly.
My son was born on a Friday, and by Saturday I was gently pressured to start him on formula because my milk supply hadn’t come in yet (which I didn’t realize was normal). I was offered a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS), which was very difficult to use but was better, to me, then surrendering completely to the bottle. The SNS brought a lot of anxiety and frustration but satisfied the doctors that my son was not going to fail to thrive.
Saturday afternoon, a neonatologist walked into the room and told us that our baby was mildly jaundiced. I asked a few questions and then said, “Well, what does that mean, exactly?” The Worst Bedside Manner award goes to… this neonatologist. “Jaundice is… [insert medical description]… and it can cause brain damage,” she said bluntly. I stared at her in shock as she abruptly ended our appointment and walked out. This encounter, I believe, added greatly to my anxiety and stress. And note, our son never needed to sit under the lights to treat jaundice for even a second.
By Monday, finally, my milk came in, as did a lactation consultant. She helped me figure out how to use the nursing pillows and gave me some confidence. Once I was discharged from the hospital, my supply was weak, and I researched into the night to decide what to do. In the end, my doctor prescribed Reglan to increase my milk supply. I pumped like a madwoman, measuring every teaspoon. I didn’t realize it, but I was wearing out my mind and body by pumping too much on top of nursing. I was driving myself into the ground.
Two weeks at home, I called Debbie, the lactation consultant I had seen at the hospital, and requested a house call because I was unsure whether I was producing enough milk for my son. She patiently and compassionately went through the steps of weighing my baby, watching my technique, and weighing him again after feeding. My husband didn’t love the $125 cost, but to me, the peace of mind was worth every penny. I was suffering with cracked and sore nipples and exhaustion, but at least I knew my son was getting enough milk.
At the one month mark, in the face of postpartum anxiety and terrible sleep deprivation, I knew I had to beat the creature taking over my existence, but I could not get past it. The anxiety was building and building, and by the time I saw my obstetrician, I had full-out insomnia, was sleeping two hours a night, and was shaking like a vibrating bouncy seat. I could not focus long enough to read one page of a magazine. I hovered over the crib, checking my son’s breathing.
The doctor took one look at my face and could see I was floundering; she diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety, the close cousin to PPD. She prescribed Zoloft to regulate my sleep and anxiety, and it took two excruciating, terrifying weeks for it to kick in. I was heartened to know that I could still nurse with this prescription, and a friend helped me through it by sharing her experiences.
Even as the Zoloft was working its way into my system, I took Ambien – with great hesitation – to help me sleep. I started with a half of a tablet and slept for three hours in a row. Reading about the side effects of Ambien, I started having nightmares about sleepwalking and trying to care for my son as a zombie. In desperation, I alternated between Tylenol PM, which made me worry about my milk supply, since it included an antihistamine; and Ambien, which scared me overall.
The light of the mornings saved me, even after a desperate night. Finally, I got back on track. The sun came out. I could see how beautiful my life was again and it was even shinier and more gorgeous than I remembered it. My son smiled through it all – although he’s never been a great sleeper, he was consistent and mellow through his first couple of months, and he nursed well. In fact, when he weaned himself at 10 months, I was a little sad. I had enough supply in the freezer to keep him on breast milk until he was a little over a year old.
Overall, I was proud. I had set a goal to nurse my son for a year, and I did it! When it comes to nursing and postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety, every mom should arm herself with information, just in case. It’s scary, it’s real, and she may not even know she is afflicted. Asking for help is hard, and surrounding yourself with people who can help and will help you without question means the world. You can do it.
Kristin is a mother of a sweet little boy and wife to a 6th-generation Texan, living in Austin, Texas. Loves: family, airplanes, airports, classic cars, sports, Italy, and dessert; not necessarily in that order. You can reach her via Twitter @AustinKVS or via her blog Two Cannoli. Also featured on Afamilyvillage.com, hersocialnetwork.com, and ScaryMommy.com.
Jennifer’s Story- Beautiful Bonding, Managing Expectations, and Letting Go
I made the decision to breastfeed before I even found out that I was pregnant with my daughter. I’d attended a class on breastfeeding a few months before her birth and felt I was all set to go. Despite what I had learned in the class, I was surprised by the challenges we faced in the first week or so after she was born. We struggled with an assortment of the typical adjustments that many mothers face: helping her latch on successfully, sore nipples, getting used to sitting still for large chunks of time while she nursed. Once we settled into a routine, I found myself craving the intensely bonding experience and was amazed at how easy it suddenly felt. It was wonderful.
My husband and I had noticed that our daughter would get really agitated and cry out whenever she was having a bowel movement and made a mental note to bring it up at her next appointment with the pediatrician. A few nights later, we stood over her bassinet gasping at the sight of blood in her diaper. Understandably shaken and concerned, we took her in the next morning and found out that she was likely unable to digest something that she was getting through my breast milk. I was advised to cut out all dairy and soy to see if that would solve the problem and I willingly did so.
Over the next two months, I made every attempt to keep both out of my diet, but we were still finding blood in her stool. I started to question if I should continue. How was this constant irritation affecting her? I consulted with numerous professionals and was reminded over and over again how good breastfeeding is for babies. I didn’t need reminding. I knew full well the benefits of breastmilk, and the last thing I wanted to do was to stop, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be the best thing for her. After much soul-searching (and many shed tears), I decided to stop breastfeeding.
The blood was gone within a few days of switching her to a special formula, and she never experienced any more issues with milk or food after that point. It took a few months to let go of the guilt and to get to the point where I wouldn’t get a lump in my throat whenever I saw the other women in my mama’s group breastfeeding. I would absolutely try to breastfeed again with another child, but I feel confident that I made the right decision in this case.
This whole process was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my two-plus years of motherhood. Looking back, I can see how, difficult as it was, this stumbling block gave me my first big opportunity to follow my intuition as a mother, and for that I am really grateful.
Jennifer Rustgi’s blog, Kid Culture Austin, is a great resource for recommendations on kid-friendly venues, activities, and events in Austin.
Did you have a chance to read JC and Nicole’s differing experiences with milk production challenges? Check out their stories here.