Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Feeding frenzy

I made the decision to breastfeed very early on in my pregnancy. I was really excited about all the money we would save not buying formula, about the prospect of bonding well with the baby, about all of the health benefits I would be able to pass on to Luke without spending any money. It was something I felt really strongly about, and my mind was absolutely made up.

Luke did great in the hospital, and took to breastfeeding like a fish to water. He seemed to have a good latch, especially whenever the nurses or lactation consultants were in the room. I dutifully woke up every two or three hours to feed him, which took up to an hour at a time, and occasionally even longer. He didn't even lose much weight in the hospital, and I felt really confident in our feeding relationship when we went home.

But after a few days, we had to make a day trip that ended up being pretty strenuous, especially considering that I'd had a C-section and had only been out of the hospital for three or four days. The next night, I had a fever and chills, and by the next morning (Sunday) I was running a 104 degree fever. We put a call in to the OB nurse, and they advised us to go to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a painful case of mastitis, given IV antibiotics and a prescription for 10 more days of medication, and advised to rest.

We went to Luke's second appointment with the pediatrician the following Thursday, and he hadn't gained any weight since his first appointment eight days earlier. I cried all the way through the rest of the appointment, which really irritated me because the nurse kept asking if I was all right... but I was just frustrated and felt totally inadequate, which was only reinforced when the doctor advised us to supplement Luke's feedings with formula, visit a lactation consultant, and buy a $300 breast pump.

The next day, Friday, I went to my OB office to have my C-section incision checked, and the nurse practitioner also checked on my mastitis and prescribed a (pricey) compound prescription to help heal things up. She also recommended a lactation consultant, and the expensive breast pump, and to keep trying...

My parents were in town during this time, and so they watched Luke while I went to the pharmacy to pick up the expensive prescription. On the way home from the pharmacy, I kept thinking about how I was having such a hard time with breastfeeding, how I was sleep-deprived and losing my mind, how what was supposed to be the "free" and natural way to feed our baby was turning into an expensive, overthought, overwrought process that I was still going to have to supplement because I wasn't able to feed our baby as much as his growing body needed.

So I made the decision on the drive home to quit breastfeeding. I got home, pulled out the bottles that we had and sanitized them, pulled out the canister of formula we'd gotten at the hospital, and made the switch right away. I had a couple of days of discomfort, but the harder part was that for that whole weekend, every time I sat down to feed Luke a bottle I would feel like crying. It took me a few days to mourn the decision, but I kept trying to remind myself that it was what Luke needed to grow into a healthy boy, and my body was just not keeping up - in fact, it was worn out and losing steam.

By the end of the weekend, I felt much better - my mastitis was nearly healed, I had caught up on some lost sleep by having the luxury of handing some feedings off to Ryan, and I was starting to feel like myself again. On Monday, Luke and I both had follow-up appointments. Luke had gained 11 ounces in just five days, and the pediatrician was so pleased with his weight gain that she gave us the okay to let him sleep as long as he wanted at night, instead of having to wake him up every two or three hours to eat. In the afternoon, the nurse practitioner told me to just finish out my antibiotics and let them know if the mastitis returned.

I still have occasional pangs of guilt that I gave breastfeeding up, but it has been great for our family. I am not a sleep-deprived, crying mess of a woman, and can even enjoy a beer or a glass of wine every now and then (I'm still a lightweight from 9 months of tee-totaling). Ryan can feed the baby while I sleep sometimes, although I'm still taking on the early morning feeding out of habit. But most of all, I am able to care for myself and for my son because I have the mental strength to do it, which I was losing very quickly. I'm glad that at least I was able to feed Luke for the first two weeks of his life, and we will just take the rest as it comes.