August 11, 2011

Breastfeeding. Oh yeah. I'm going there.

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After I gave birth to my son in February I broke down crying and yelled at a nurse in the middle of the night. I refused to let her take my baby again after that, choosing instead to keep him in my room and lose any rest I may have gotten otherwise.

What happened?

When my daughter was born I refused a blood transfusion and I attributed the fact that I couldn't breastfeed successfully to the severe anemia I experienced. I was living in a remote area at the time with no real access to breastfeeding support, so I eventually gave up trying since my daughter was obviously starving (this was after multiple phone calls, research, and talking to the pediatrician).

This time I was prepared. I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, bought a copy of Medications and Mothers' Milk, spoke with several friends and lactation consultants ahead of time, and even got myself a hooter hider. I looked up the La Leche League meetings in my area and wrote down their contact information.

We had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days because I'm Group B Strep positive and they wanted to monitor the baby to make sure he hadn't been exposed. I was still a patient because I hemorrhaged badly (again) after the delivery. I requested a transfusion as soon as the hemorrhaging began. The nurse was chuckling and said "Let's just hope it doesn't come to that." I know my body, though, and I wanted my feelings clear in case I became less lucid.

I had been fortunate enough to get my son started on my breast for an hour or so before they discovered the hemorrhage. The bleeding was internal and didn't manifest until I stood, so I cuddled and fed and delighted in the baby until I started feeling very ill and asked my husband to take him away.

Hemorrhage, blood transfusion... back to the baby. I breastfed that little SOB all night long while they were transfusing me. Folks, let me tell you: I CARED. I was GOING to breastfeed my son. I knew all the benefits of breast milk (to both mother and child) and I was absolutely determined to make it work this time.

Over the next couple of days, while I was recovering, I continued to breastfeed him. I noticed that every nurse coming on shift had a different opinion about what I should be doing. One nurse gave me a nipple shield, then the next nurse rolled her eyes and said "I can't believe so-and-so tried to get you to use a nipple shield" and proceeded to convince me to stop using it. Several of the nurses commented on my son's weight loss and brought me formula, then got bent out of shape when I refused it (because this can be detrimental to the breastfeeding process).

Sure, they had a "lactation consultant." She spent 10 minutes cracking jokes, making sure he was latching properly (yes, I know what a good latch is, thanks), and left. Oh yeah, she also had negative things to say about the advice I'd been given from various nurses.

So. The very last night in the hospital. I was utterly exhausted because my son (with whom I had not bonded at all) would not stop screaming. The shift nurse came in around 1:00 am and said she had weighed the baby and that I needed to start feeding him formula because he'd lost too much weight.

I snapped.

Here is what I said (through tears): "I do not want to talk to you about breastfeeding or formula feeding. I do not want to talk to you about anything except whether my son has been exposed to Group B Strep. When I get discharged I will take him to his own pediatrician and will follow her advice. Every nurse coming in here has had a different opinion about how I should be feeding my child, and nobody will just sit down and HELP me! I'm done with you guys."

Nurse (angry): "I'm going to check his bili level and if it's too low the doctor is going to insist that you give him formula."

Me: "That pediatrician is not Kellen's pediatrician. I don't care what he insists upon, I'm not doing it. I'm being discharged tomorrow and I will deal with my son's health myself." (Keep in mind I'd been given tons of fluids during labor. I suspected that his weight loss was from that but nobody would talk to me about it. The lactation consultant acknowledged it could be a possibility but the pediatrician shot her down.)

Nurse: "The doctor will not discharge him if he's not satisfied with his condition."

Me: "Will I be arrested if I just leave with the baby?"

Nurse (stunned): "I don't know."

Me: "If the bili test is non-invasive you can go ahead and do it, but you're not fucking sticking him with any more needles. He came back from his PKU bleeding like a goddamn pig."

Nurse: "It's non-invasive."

Me: "Go for it. Then please leave us alone."

Quick flashback - I nearly died when I gave birth to my daughter, and I was treated horribly by the doctors (the nurses were awesome). My newborn had a painful IV in her arm for five days. I never said ANYTHING negative to ANYONE during that process. I was a model of kindness. I just want to be clear exactly how backed into a corner I was feeling.

The next day everyone seemed angry with me. The new nurses were skittish, the lactation consultant confronted me about my claim that nobody had helped me and the pediatrician had his hackles up when he walked into the room.

What did I do? I smiled and told them all exactly what they wanted to hear. Why? Because I genuinely felt like they were holding my son hostage. I acted completely sane and baffled that the night nurse would make such claims, she must have misunderstood what I said.

They discharged me, and I took my son to his own pediatrician immediately. When the doctor walked into the room she found me sitting on the floor with a screaming infant, near tears myself, desperately trying to get into a position where he could latch.

How did she handle it? Mercy. Compassion. She held the baby, sat down, and told me a story about a friend of hers. This friend had six children. She breastfed the first five. She was a die-hard advocate of breastfeeding, and poo-pooed other mothers' reasons for not breastfeeding. Then she had her sixth child, and was unable to breastfeed him. It was a life-changing, humbling experience for her.

The pediatrician told me she wanted to do everything she could to help me breastfeed my son successfully, but if I couldn't do it she would never judge me. She gave me the number for a lactation consultant at a different hospital and called ahead to get me an appointment. I rushed right over there.

What does a real lactation consultant do when a mother is having trouble feeding her infant? I found out. She sat with me for a long time, talking about the childbirth experience, watching him latch, and weighing him before and after feedings to see how much he was getting. It wasn't enough by a long shot. The trauma to my body, transfusion aside, had been enough to severely impact my milk supply.

She then worked with me on a plan to try and breastfeed long-term. She advised a process of breastfeed, formula feed, pump, then feed the pumped milk with each and every feeding.

Having been treated like an adult and having been shown kindness instead of coldness, I was able to make informed decisions about my son's health. I talked it over with my husband and we decided to formula feed. I just didn't feel that I had the time to go through that lengthy process for an indeterminate amount of time (I was anemic for a looong time after my daughter was born). If I only had one child, yeah, but with two it didn't seem feasible.

Once the decision had been made I went ahead and moved on with my life. I refuse to second guess or wallow in regrets, it is what it is. I have two amazing children and I'm not dead. Fantastic!     -Kim

PS - I hope it's clear that I am all about breastfeeding. Do it. Preferably in public with one of these hats on your baby's head. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding your child that they discover like 20 more each day. I only wrote this post to speak for those of us who are educated about breastfeeding but, for one reason or another, are unable to make it happen. We're not all ignoramuses, formula feeding so that our boobs don't sag or because it's "icky."


  1. Kim,

    I had no idea you went through such a bad experience with Kellen at the hospital (again!!) Good for you to sticking to your guns!! I wish you could have had a different experience with better nurses and doctors. I'm glad you are a breastfeeding advocate, and I understand that sometimes it just doesn't work and you have to do what works!

    Where was your doctor when all this was going on? I have a family doctor, who was in charge of me, of the delivery, and of Chayton while we were at the hospital. When the hospital nurses wanted to put Chayton on antibiotics and take him to the NICU because I was Strep B positive and had not received the full dose of antibiotics, my doctor intervened. The hospital did a test which showed Chayton might be reacting to the Strep B, but only a little bit, it might be normal. So I asked if there was a different test we could do, or if we could retest in a few hours, and my doctor said we could do both, and that would be fine, and went against the hospital policy because he didnt want chayton to have to take the antibiotics if he didnt really need to. The other tests came back negative and chayton was fine. My doctor was also the one who discharged us. I wish you could have been at the hospital with someone like that who you trusted, who you could count on and who could take charge when the hospital was trying to call the shots. I know you're not having any more kids, but for anyone else who is reading this and is, it is possible, the hospital can't control what is going on if you have your own doctor there to intervene.

  2. I've emailed this post to a couple of people in hopes of bringing about change at this particular hospital. I'd like to go on record as saying that my childbirth experience was AMAZING. The nurses who assisted me throughout the labor and subsequent hemorrhage were two of the sweetest women I've met. If only I had been able to go home after eight hours none of this would have happened.

    One of those original nurses actually came in the next night - off duty with her kids in tow - to check on me.

    Unfortunately neither of them were on shift again for the next few days.



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