What I Learned About Breastfeeding

1. It’s not as simple as it should be
Considering mothers have been breastfeeding for ages, you’d think mother nature would make this a more natural task. It’s actually more like a job for many women, despite how easy some lactation consultants say it is. Mothers should innately know what to do and babies should naturally latch. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. That’s why there are so many resources out there.

2. Campaigns use a lot of scare tactics
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen many posters, brochures and consultants, and many of them use subtle scare tactics to get women to breastfeed. I know these are just quoting stats, but I hate it. For example, breastfed babies are “x” times less likely to develop condition “y” or mothers who breastfeed are “x” times less likely to get cancer. To me, this says if you don’t breastfeed your child, you’re doing harm to both yourself and the baby. Sure these stats are positive for women who are already or considering breastfeeding, but what about those women who just can’t? It’s just not fair.

3. There’s no right or wrong way
I’ve learned and tried many different holds (the football hold, cradle hold, side lying, etc.) and methods (compressing when baby sucks vs. consistent compressions, tube feeding, etc.), and no matter what anyone tells you, there is no right or wrong way. I had one consultant that was very adamant about doing it her way. She was very specific about sitting positions and the types of breastfeeding pillows and chairs to use. I can appreciate her method, but she is absolutely incorrect in saying that’s the only method that works 100% of the time. The main goal is to get your milk to your baby, in whatever way works best for you.

4. Sometimes it just won’t work
There’s no shame if the mother/baby just can’t connect. After speaking to several consultants and nurses, I’ve learned that some mothers just can’t produce enough or the baby just won’t latch on. Knowing how much effort a mother would put into breastfeeding if she really wants to, if it’s not working, there is a point when she can say she did her best, and there shouldn’t be any judgement.

5. Supplementing with formula is totally okay
I hear a lot of breastfeeding advocates claim that formula is a big no-no. To me, I’d rather not be an ‘exclusive breastfeeding’ snob; I just want my baby to get the nutrients he needs.

You can read about my experience here.

My Breastfeeding Experience

Baby latched on perfectly within an hour of delivery. I was so relieved. Maybe breastfeeding wouldn’t be as difficult as I expected.

I was wrong. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a hiccup that now requires a lot more effort than I had hoped. Because baby developed jaundice, this made him very sleepy, which meant he’d fall asleep at the breast–and less sucking meant less stimulation and less production. And this made his jaundice worse. It was a vicious cycle.

Needless to say, my milk was delayed in coming in and I had to intervene with constant pumping to get things going. The first time I pumped, I was able to get 4 ml in a 15-min session. Only four! This was terrible. In the meantime, baby was being bottle-fed with formula while in the hospital to make sure he’s getting enough nutrients. That’s right–bottle-fed. This was another hiccup. I was trying to avoid the bottle until baby was able to breastfeed with ease, but the baby needed food so I had no choice.

I’m now on day 7 of pumping and up to 60 ml per session. I’ve made progress in that respect.

Next mission: counteract the effect of bottle-feeding. I’m still breastfeeding the baby each time he’s hungry — for as long as he’d take it, just so he doesn’t get used to the bottle. I know he’s not getting enough but at least he’s still practicing the act.

Because of these challenges, my ideal 1-hr breastfeeding sessions are, instead, 1.5-2 hr sessions consisting of breastfeeding, bottle-feeding (with either pumped milk or formula) and pumping. And this is done every 3-4 hours, which means I have about 1-2 hours from the time I finish until I start the next session. This is much more work to feed a baby than I anticipated, but I’m trying my best. My goal is to eventually produce enough milk so that the baby won’t need to supplement with formula (and just save bottle-feeding for daddy to do when I’m away). Every time I look down at this innocent face, I know it’s all worth it.

 

Read My Breastfeeding Experience – Part 2

SickKids Hospital and My Baby

On day 5, my son saw his pediatrician for a routine newborn appointment. The doctor noticed that he had developed jaundice and informed us that he had lost a significant amount of weight. We were told to get his bilirubin tested to determine the severity of jaundice, so we went to the Just for Kids Clinic at St. Joseph’s Health Centre to get tested. It took a few hours for his results to come back, and as soon as they did, my son was admitted for phototherapy. This treatment involves being placed under a set of blue lights to help remove jaundice — a common treatment for a common condition. I wasn’t too worried. He’d be in and out in a day or two, I thought. After an hour under the lights, I was told that they will be transferring my baby to the NICU at SickKids hospital. Now, this freaked me out. The doctor and nurses reassured me that it was nothing serious; they just want Jarvis to “have access to the best resources.” Fine. That’s exactly what I want.

I calmed down a bit, until I walked out to see the transport vehicle. It was an ambulance. And the sirens were on. How serious was this?!?

ambulance.jpg

Turns out Jarvis’s bilirubin levels (jaundice) were close to requiring a transfusion, should the phototherapy not work. Thankfully, it worked. He needed the blue lights for only two days. The remaining two days in NICU were to monitor his sodium levels, as he was dehydrated and they needed to gradually bring back the numbers within a normal range.

My sweet baby recovered quite well and we were transferred back to our home hospital to ensure everything remained stable without any treatments or fluids. After four long days at SickKids, I was happy that we were closer to going home for good and I felt extremely grateful for the treatment both baby and I received by all the doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers. The nurses were always so kind and helpful and never minded my questions, regardless of how silly they were. They also had a lactation consultant work with me every day to make sure I get back on track when the baby’s ready. Plus, I saw some of benefits from the hospital’s many programs run by volunteers that provide comfort to patients and family. During our stay there, Jarvis received a knit hat made by a volunteer and a cloth that’s used to pick up my scent and placed in the baby’s crib for comfort.

On our way out, I put together a necklace of “bravery beads” that patients collect as they undergo different treatments or experience milestones at the hospital. Here’s Jarvis’s. The final bead (yellow with gold sparkles) means discharged. It was so nice to add that last bead.

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Under these scary circumstances, I was able to see that SickKids Hospital definitely lives up to its reputation of being a world-class institution. Thank you for taking care of my baby, SickKids.

My Labour & Delivery Story

Warning: I’m going to be frank, so stop reading here if you don’t want TMI. :)

Monday, April 7th

11:50PM – I went to the bathroom to pee and when I wiped I noticed there was a bit of blood. It wasn’t pink tinged; it was red blood. We had just had intercourse so I thought that could be a possible reason, which I heard was pretty common. There was no cramping, no pain, but being 38+ weeks pregnant, I didn’t want to risk it, so we went straight to emergency.

Tuesday, April 8th

12:05AM – I explained my situation to the triage nurse and even though she didn’t think I was in labour, she had me wheelchaired to the Labour & Delivery unit for an assessment. I felt funny being in the wheelchair because I felt fine; I was able to walk (waddle). When we got there, the nurse strapped a monitor around my belly and we just waited for the doctor. For the hour that we were waiting, I started feeling cramps/contractions. I wasn’t sure if these were real contractions or just false labour. They were pretty consistent at about 5-10 minutes apart. The doctor arrived and checked me internally. He confirmed that I was in pre-labour and 2 cm dilated. However, it’s not going to happen soon (probably in a day or two) so he sent us home. By the time we got home, my “contractions” diminished. I was feeling them about once an hour.

For the rest of the day, these contractions continued coming every 30 min to an hour. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t progressing and that it might actually be false labour. That evening, my husband and I went for a long stroll to see if that would help. After an hour of walking, the contractions became a bit more intense and frequent (every 7-15 min). When I got home, I decided to start timing them with this awesome app called Full Term Contraction Timer:

contraction app

Wednesday, April 9th

9:30AM – I arrived at the doctor’s office for my weekly OB appointment and his receptionist was surprised to see me. She expected that I had given birth already, and they had already put my file to the side. Unfortunately, baby had not yet arrived. I described how my previous day went and the doctor said that considering the contractions weren’t consistent and increasing in intensity, he might have been wrong when he claimed I was in pre-labour–and that I was experiencing false labour, but he’d do an internal to check anyway. Once he checked me, he was excited to say that I was 5 cm dilated and I should go to the Labour & Delivery unit right away. He was surprised that I wasn’t feeling much pain but I was definitely in labour. My husband and I were so excited! The baby was going to arrive that day!

10:00AM – We arrived at the unit and told them I was in labour. Unfortunately, there were no rooms, so I had to wait. Husband went home to pick up all my things and I just chilled out in the hallway waiting patiently, with contractions coming every 5-10 min.

2:00PM – There was a room available but the doctor on duty wanted to assess me first to determine which patient was closer to delivery. She said I was fully effaced and 7 cm dilated, but my water was still in tact. She said that she rarely saw an ideal situation; everything progressed perfectly up to that point, hence the lack of painful contractions. Doctor confirmed that if things kept progressing fine, I should easily be able to deliver without epidural as I’d hoped. I was moved to the delivery room.

4:00PM – After taking warm showers, sitting on the birthing ball, and getting back massages with a tennis ball, my water was still in tact. The doctor came to check on me and recommended that they break it for me to move things along. I agreed, and she popped my water using a tool that sort of looked like a crochet hook. It felt like a gush of warm fluid and the “gush” happened during every contraction for about half an hour.

5:00PM – By this time, the contractions were frequent (every 3-5 minutes) and they were intense. I went back to sit in the shower to ease the discomfort. I started to feel the need to push. The nurse said to hold off and they’ll check in a hour to see how far along I was.

6:00PM – A resident came to check on me. Only 8cm. Back to dealing with the contractions. By this point, it was really painful — mostly in my lower back. My breathing technique turned from quick in and out breaths to dreadful moans. The contractions were so painful that I kept a bag beside me because I felt like vomiting each time. After half an hour, I wanted the doctor to check again. The nurse recommended that I wait a bit longer as they want to prevent the risk of infection by limiting the number of internals performed. I agreed to wait until 7.

7:00PM – The resident came back and said I was still at 8cm. I was extremely disappointed. I started wondering how much longer I could take it. The thought of an epidural crossed my mind. I went through a few more contractions and the doctor came in to tell me that I was feeling a lot of pain because the baby was posterior (facing up or back towards my back),  and she can “turn” the baby. I remember her saying that I can avoid an epidural by her doing this. I agreed and within minutes, she went in, somehow turned the baby, and all the pain was gone. I was totally at ease. Very shortly after, I was 10 cm dilated and it was time to push.

7:30PM – Pushing was not painful at all, but it was extremely exhausting. At every contraction, I had to take a deep breath and push at least 3 times. I wasn’t sure if I was pushing correctly as it felt like I was trying to push out a big poo, but the nurse acknowledged the progress each time. The pace, being about 1 mm at a time, seemed like it would take forever to get the baby out.

It was just the nurse and my husband in the room. My husband had the job of feeding me ice chips or giving me water to keep my hydrated. Every contraction, I hear the nurse encouraging me and saying the baby’s coming, but by 9:15, I started to doubt her. I asked how the much longer, naively hoping she’d give me a time so I can start counting down. She said, ‘By 9:30, the baby will be here.’ This gave me hope. Only 15 more minutes of pushing.

9:30PM – I looked at the clock; still no baby. A minute later, spotlights came on, and the doctor and another nurse came in. Things were happening. The doctor got right in there and said the baby was so close.

9:46PM – One last contraction and four pushes later, baby Jarvis arrived. I heard him cry and the nurse immediately put him on my chest. It was surreal. I was exhausted yet felt a sense of joy and calmness as I stared down at this little person. It was love at first sight.

jarvis-birth