Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Milk Maid

People have various opinions on breastfeeding. I believe that you can never assume to understand the situation and choices of others.

When Harper was born, we had a rocky start to breastfeeding. None of my friends nor my mother had breastfed, so I was in unfamiliar territory. My initial determination came from a want/need to save money. Why buy formula when I could make my own milk? Then I found that through nursing, my baby boy and I had a bond that I can't find the words to describe. When I returned to work, I immediately loathed pumping and the routine that went with it. Had I not quit to stay at home with him, I'm not sure how long I would have held out. We were fortunate that Harper completely self-weaned, which was an incredible experience.

While pregnant with Norah, I occasionally day dreamed about how great breastfeeding would be this time around. Armed with experience, I had a vision that the start of feeding the new baby would be a breeze. I pictured an immediate latch after delivery, and an immediate beautiful bond. That isn't what happened.

My blue little baby girl was whisked away to the NICU shortly after being born. She was connected to all sorts of things that helped keep her alive. My postpartum nurse brought me a breast pump. I immediately thought "Uggh... anything but that." Having had pumping supply issues with Harper, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to make enough milk for her. I was so very wrong. My milk came in quickly. There was so much in the nursery's freezer that they make Jeff come take some home. By the time we were discharged when Norah was two weeks old, I was pumping about 32 ounces a day. She barely needed something like 8 or 10. We had an overflowing little freezer full of milk that sure came in handy later.

What about breastfeeding? Norah was on low-flow oxygen at the time, and I worked with an incredible occupational therapist as well as lactation consultants who helped us try to breastfeed. We struggled, but I was determined. A lactation consultant said something like, "I don't say this often, but I have no doubt in my mind that Shauna is going to be able to breastfeed that baby." At 1-1/2 weeks old, an attending physician discovered that Norah had a cleft in her soft palate. It was physically impossible for her to get enough suction to latch. Her ENT said repair wouldn't be till around her first birthday. I cried for two days, mourning a sort of loss. Though I loathed pumping, I continued to do it.

Then came my gallbladder surgery when she was five weeks old. My supply tanked afterwards, so my midwife prescribed a galactagogue, domperidone, to increase my supply. It worked like magic for a good 5 months, then lost most of its effectiveness. I continued to take it, though it was $50 for a two-week supply. On Norah's 6-month birthday, I had the hospital change her feeds to a 1:1 ratio of breastmilk and formula. We made it to the recommended 6-months, but I was still bummed about the switch. A month or so later, I had them change it to a 1:2 ratio. My production continued to dwindle until a week ago, when I let let the dietician know that I wasn't going to be bringing in any more milk.

So I made it to 8 1/2 months, and Norah had enough milk to last another week afterwards. She had the last little bit of my breast milk yesterday. Even though I didn't get to breastfeed Norah, we found other ways to bond. We did some skin-to-skin, lots of cuddles, kisses, and giggles. She knows who her mommy is, and I'd like to think that I'm her favorite person in the world. The end of my lactating days is bittersweet. Though it feels great to no longer be a slave to the breast pump, I'm a bit sad that she won't benefit from my milk anymore. I feel a tad guilty that I perhaps could have held out longer, but everyone tells me not to feel bad. I made it much longer than most would have in my situation... but what can I say - I'm a bit of a chronic overachiever.
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