And here I am, writing this same post again. For the third time.
Once again, I find myself struggling to get my newborn to grow and gain weight. I’m going to write out what we have experienced this time, in a different state and with civilian doctors, but I’m not looking to make excuses. Breastfeeding is the most difficult thing I have faced as a mother, and to me, it’s my biggest failure. I know, I know, I’m not a failure if I can’t make breastfeeding work, but it disappoints me, a lot. It’s something that is so important to me, and something that I want desperately to experience. But it ultimately comes down to the big picture every time, the battle that I have to fight to continue to breastfeed means my babies struggle to gain and thrive. And that battle, it isn’t worth it if it isn’t best for my babies.
Jeanie was born at 7lbs 8 ozs (exact same weight as her biggest brother!), at discharge, just two days later, she weighed in at 6lbs 15ozs. Two days later at her first pediatrician appointment, she was 6lbs 13ozs. It seemed to me, for that first week, that Jeanie was the most natural nurser of my four kids, she had a strong suck and a desire to nurse from early on. She wanted to nurse ALL the time, constantly. And as far as I was concerned, that was fine with me, I wanted to establish a strong supply and make sure she gained weight. However, within five days, I was severely cracked and bleeding. Her latch looked perfect from the outside to both the pediatrician and the lactation consultant, but it was excruciatingly painful; they chalked it up to normal ‘toughening up.’ So I started using a nipple shield, both to train her on how to latch consistently, and to protect me from further trauma and allow me to heal. It did help some initially, but I never really healed and she was more inconsolable, wanting to nurse constantly, having trouble sleeping unless I was wearing her or she was latched on. She seemed to be half hungry and half wanting to use nursing as a pacifier. I let her do both hoping it would be different this time.
At 12 days old, I finally voiced the concerns over her weight gain to my mom and we weighed her. I was not happy with the numbers on the scale, so the following day I went to a breastfeeding support group at the hospital. After spending an hour nursing at the group, she weighed in at 6lbs 8ozs. The lactation consultant was VERY concerned. She basically informed us we weren’t leaving without getting some formula in Jeanie as she was on the edge of dehydration. We tried cup feeding, syringe feeding while she sucked on a finger, and finally bottle feeding (remember this is in the midst of a BREASTFEEDING support group with two lactation consultants, who were trying every method but breastfeeding to give my daughter formula). None of the methods worked. It quickly became apparent that there was something bigger going on with Jeanie’s sucking. Just like Jonah, she could not get her suck, swallow, breathe reflex to function properly and she would not even suck on a bottle. Eventually, we ended up with her nursing while I used the syringe to push formula in the edge of her mouth. She drank about an ounce of formula over the span of 2.5 hours there and was exhausted. We left with strict instructions to start supplementing immediately and see the pediatrician the following day.
I hate, hate, hate that feeling. Sitting there, listening to someone tell you that your baby is starving and barely getting enough milk to stay hydrated. To hear that the reason she wants to be held and be on the breast constantly is because she’s using all her energy to get any drop of milk she can. It’s the third time I’ve heard it. And every time, it’s devastating.
Just 24 hours later she weighed in at 6lbs 3 ozs and the pediatrician prescribed high calorie formula and gave us 3 days to get her weight up. We were sent home with instructions to continue breastfeeding but to work on bottle supplementing every 2 hours around the clock. She agreed there was some suck disorganization and entered a referral for speech therapy (once again, just like Jonah). She also prepped me on the signs of dehydration and told me to take her straight into the ER if she got any more lethargic or wasn’t able to get at least 2ozs every 2 hours. We drove straight to the grocery store to purchase one of the cans I swore I wouldn’t need this time. Later the pediatrician confessed that she was on call on Saturday and kept waiting for us to show up in the ER. She was certain that Jeanie wouldn’t be able to bottle feed and would end up needing fluids. The only reason Jeanie didn’t? Because I’ve done this before. I immediately started using the same bottle feeding modifications on Jeanie that we used on Jonah. It took all weekend but she finally started get a couple of good sucks in a row and would latch on a bottle. I continued pumping, but later that day, I discovered I had a massive breast infection, thrush, which had worked it’s way into my milk ducts. It was very painful and I was instructed to pump and dump and keep her off the breast until it cleared. Let’s just say, what little supply I did have took a nosedive (and yes, I was doing every single thing in the book to increase supply.).
We spent the weekend feeding, pumping, feeding, pumping. In less than 2.5 days, she weighed in at 7lbs 5ozs, she gained over a pound! The pediatrician was thrilled and told us to continue what we were doing with the goal being 2-3ozs every 2-3 hours. A couple of days later we met with the lactation consultant who felt that she had a posterior tongue tie (both my boys had anterior tongue ties that were clipped in the hospital) which was causing her sucking disorganization. This can be clipped, but had to be diagnosed at speech therapy the following week and then clipped by an ENT at a separate appointment. In the meantime, she set us up with a feeding tube to try and give her formula while on the breast with the nipple shield. I left with a hospital grade breastpump in the hopes of increasing my supply. She struggled so much with the feeding tube though. Her suck reflex is so poor that she had so much trouble getting suction on the breast with the tube there. So I ended up manually pushing formula in her mouth the whole time. It was taking her 45 minutes just to get 1.5ozs of formula and she was exhausted. And I still was getting basically nothing pumping despite frequent pumping with the hospital grade pump and lots of measures to increase supply. After just a day of this, we made the decision to switch her back to the bottle instead of feeding tube on the breast. Almost instantly she started eating 4ozs every 2-3 hours, sleeping much better, and being more content and happy. She was struggling with a lot of nipple confusion, but after a couple of days on only the bottle, she got into a much better suck rhythm and remembering what to do. She was clearly gaining weight and looking healthier.
This is where we are now. Pretty much done with breastfeeding. There’s only so much mental and physical battle I can do. I have been in constant pain for the past 3 weeks and I am still fighting the thrush infection. It has become apparent to me that what is best for Jeanie is the same as what was best for Jonah. Just focus on the bottle and getting good at sucking on the bottle so she can get the nutrition she needs. The speech therapist gave us more modifications to help her as she gets tired towards the end of a feeding and confirmed that there is a lack of muscle tone. But once again, it seems to be just maturity related like Jonah. Hopefully, over the span of the next two months she will get stronger and continue to develop those muscles. However they doubt she will have the muscle tone to breastfeed successfully for at least a month or two. So despite how much it frustrates me to be doing this AGAIN, we are opting to bottle feed Jeanie formula.
Ultimately, it’s humbling. I try my hardest to be the best mom I can be for my kids, but breastfeeding has been one big bombing experience. I think it’s one way that my sweet Lord keeps me humble and turning towards Him. I CAN’T be the perfect mom in every way, it’s not possible, and that is just fine by me, and Him. So grateful for His grace.