So. We are Having…

So. We are Having Trouble with Breastfeeding. This is despite the help of not one, not two, but three separate lactation consultants who have tried to help (and who have all been somewhat helpful, but not quite enough, or not soon enough). And despite our initially having a strong commitment to trying to breastfeed exclusively (due to the many and varied health benefits that pretty clearly accrue to exclusive breastfeeding). We did sort of okay on Friday and Saturday; we managed to stick to just nursing, though it took a ridiculous amount of time. They say that initially breastfeeding takes eight hours a day, and before going through this, I couldn't figure out why that would be. It's actually more like sixteen hours a day, at least for us, because it goes like this:

  • noon: start trying on right breast
  • baby refuses to open wide enough
  • you coax her to open up
  • 12:15: she finally opens enough and you shove her head forward and get a good latch
  • 12:20: after sucking a few times, she falls asleep
  • 12:22: you wake her up (by tickling her feet, or rubbing a wet cloth on her forehead, or squeezing her ear), and she starts sucking again
  • 12:25: she loses the latch
  • 12:30: repeat
  • 12:40: repeat
  • 12:45: give up on that breast; switch to the other, having managed maybe 10 minutes of feeding so far
  • 1:00: baby wails because it cannot get a decent latch on that breast, due to inverted nipple
  • 1:10: even when you get nipple to do what it's supposed to do, baby is crying too hard to latch
  • 1:15: you try not to wail because baby wailing is driving you crazy
  • 1:20: repeat process from right breast
  • 1:30: baby loses latch even faster on this side
  • 1:45: give up, having managed another 5-10 minutes of feeding
  • 1:50: let baby go to sleep, which is all she wants to do
  • record on sheet that you have accomplished 20 minutes of feeding (exaggerating slightly, because the truth is too depressing) in about two hours of trying
  • rest for an hour (sleep, or shower, or eat something, or check e-mail, or read a few pages)
  • start trying again at three p.m.
  • continue, twenty-four/seven
So by Sunday morning, we were all exhausted and discouraged. And then, to make matters worse, they came in and told us that Kavya's bilirubin levels were climbing, and that she was developing jaundice. If we couldn't get the levels to go back down, she would have to stay in the hospital and let them treat her for it (which involves tube feeding, light therapy, and moving her to the Peds department with a bunch of sick kids). Very upsetting.

Now, we tried not to freak out too much. The Mayo book told us that more than fifty percent of newborns develop jaundice, because their liver just isn't quite developed enough, and that it usually clears up within five days. But it also told us that if left untreated, jaundice could lead to deafness, severe brain damage, etc. Argh. The main treatment we could do was to feed frequently; dehydration was the most likely culprit in her jaundice. So her pediatrician told us to start supplementing with formula. We also started pumping, because my breasts are producing plenty of milk; she's just having a tough time getting to it.

This has all led to a whole host of people trying to help us fix the problem, which is great, except that they often disagree on what's the best thing to do. The lactation folks are very focused on breastfeeding solutions; others, like our pediatrician, strongly advise to just give her bottled formula for this week as needed, and don't worry about it; we can always go back to breastfeeding exclusively once the jaundice clears up. The breastfeeding folks say fine, but you want to set up good breastfeeding patterns now, or baby may get too attached to the bottle and refuse the breast later. And pumping too much can, paradoxically, end up stunting your milk supply. And, and, and...

It's been awful, honestly. We were hoping that her bilirubin levels would go down yesterday, and we'd be able to leave Monday as scheduled. But no. They didn't climb much, but they did keep climbing. We've been feeding her like crazy -- breast and pump and formula -- and they drew more blood yesterday evening and will again at six this morning, and we're hoping that the levels will go down, and we can all go home together today. If not, they're going to send me home, because they've kept me as long as they can justify with the insurance folks, and keep Kavya here. Argh.

And even though I know, intellectually, that this is not my fault, that I've been doing everything I'm supposed to do, and working really hard at this, there's tremendous emotional and hormonal pressures. They hand you this fragile little baby, and you just want to do everything perfectly for her. And instead, you immediately start messing up, and in ways that threaten her health. I know, I know -- it's not my fault. But it feels like it is. And so I ended up spending much of Sunday weeping uncontrollably, off and on, which doesn't make breastfeeding any easier, let me tell you. I was mostly better Monday, but lost it again for a while Monday night. Better again now. We'll see how I do today.

Everyone has been pretty great and helpful. In addition to the medical professionals (who are sometimes difficult to deal with, but do all mean well), Kevin has been a trooper, trying to help me find good positions for feeding, helping to hold Kavya in position, washing pumps and bottles, changing many diapers, and generally doing everything he can. And Heather and Aaron and Devi and especially Nilofer and my sister went out of their ways to rearrange their lives so that they could hang out with Ellie and we didn't have to send her back to the kennel and Kevin could then be here with me and baby. Without the help, we'd be falling apart even worse.

But that said, I really want to go home. I want to go home with a healthy baby, and I want to sleep for more than an hour at a time, which I'm not sure I've done since Friday. At this point, we just wait for the bloodwork results, and see what happens.

6 thoughts on “So. We are Having…”

  1. (We have a friend, Jed, in common, and I’m a recent lurker here)

    I’m sorry to hear that you and Kavya are having trouble and the only thing to tell you is that you are strong and smart and you will get through this. You will get through it however it makes sense to–in the end, you will go with what works for your family so that you have a healthy beautiful baby AND some sanity at the end of the day.

    We went through what you are going through with both children. Brynnen had poor latch and my milk never came in fully after the c-section; Max has such great latch that he was sucking like a Hoover and never got enough milk because my body wasn’t producing. With both babies we did formula and breast milk when possible. We went through the hysterical tears (both mine and the baby’s) and they are certainly not an enhancement on the experience. And you feel awful–agonizing over every moment when you want to KNOW what’s right, incompetant when you need to be masterful, completely dependent on others when you want to be self assured, clunky when you want to feel graceful.

    Take it easy on yourself and live into the newness of this experience. You and Kevin and Kavya will find what works together.

    (By the way–both our children seem to be perfectly fine health wise and love us. We seem to have managed ok)

  2. I’ve been a lurker on your site for a very long time. I just wanted to offer some encouragement. Your experience sounds very similar to what I went through with my daughter. Breastfeeding was very difficult for me. I spent many hours in tears feeling inadequate and like every drop of formula was ruining my perfect daughter. Crazy! I have no magical feeding tips. I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone in this experience and that life will get easier. Hope you get some rest.

  3. I had infant jaundice, and I flatter myself that I hide the brain damage pretty well.

    It’s hard when people give you a not-so-subtle message that they think the best care for your baby involves taking her away from you. I remember hearing my mom mention it when I was younger; now that my peers are having kids and I’m starting to understand it from that side of the relationship, I should really ask her about it again.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    What’s harder, I think, is having the experts disagree. I’m pretty trusting of medical authority in general — sure, I know doctors get things wrong, but usually, I figure they’re working with much better info than I am, and can advise me well on how to proceed. Here, it seems like everyone has a slightly different (or very different) opinion on how best to proceed, and they all feel very strongly about it, which makes for a lot of uncertainty in us. Ugh.

  5. Oy. That sounds awful. I hope I didn’t sound too flippant in my comment last post.

    I would like to strangle anyone who wants to send you home without your daughter. That’s really inhumane.

    Rooting for you! (No pun intended, argh)

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Thanks especially for all the specific advice and personal stories, guys — they’re so helpful and encouraging!

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