Monday, October 09, 2006

Evidently breastfeeding has a learning curve.

Holy fez, have we been having a rough few days. My milk did indeed come in, but not enough of it, because Clara hasn't been nursing enough to get it going well yet. A typical feeding: I pump my breasts for 15 minutes and get less than an ounce of milk. We tape a tube to my nipple and put a bright-eyed little Clara to the breast. She finds the tube and gets a bad latch on my breast as she drinks greedily from the easy supply. We pull her away to try to get a good latch. She gets angry and starts to scream, then refuses to go back on the nipple. We end up finger-feeding her what's left for the tube. She finishes it in less than a minute, then screams and screams because she's still hungry.

Alternatively, we try to wake her up for a middle-of-the-night feeding (which she needs; she's lost more than a pound since she was born) and nothing will rouse her. Not tickling her feet, not swabbing her with a cold wet cloth, not speaking to her loudly, not changing her diaper, nothing. Except maybe another finger feeding, which means another missed opportunity to get her established on the breast.

Or: I let her suck my finger for a while, then try to move her mouth to my breast. She starts to scream. She seems to want to suck anything (finger, wet washcloth, her own hand) except what makes the food.

This morning she was busily refusing my nipple while Mr. K was downstairs getting me some breakfast, and the dam finally broke and I started to sob. When he came back up to report that the breastfeeding clinic at the Toronto East General Hospital was closed today (Canadian Thanksgiving), he started to sob too.

You know what? Sometimes the occasional sob really helps.

So we called Cynthia. She has been so great through this: she came over at quarter to ten on Saturday night to see what she could do to help, and she came again today with some herbs (fenugreek and blessed thistle) to get my milk supply going. She stayed for the better part of three hours and saw a whole attempted feeding, from the pumping, to the WAKEY WAKEY bit, to the tightly pursed little lips at the nipple, to the screaming, and eventually to the finger and tube put in frustration into Clara's tiny mouth just to get something into her.

Cynthia, in consultation with Melida, finally recommended that we do this:
  1. Boost my milk supply with pumping and herbs.
  2. Put Clara to the breast as much as possible, supplementing what she can get out of there with whatever breast milk I can produce plus whatever formula (sigh) is needed to bring the supplement to two ounces.
  3. Go to the TEGH clinic tomorrow.
So that's the current plan.

Just sitting and talking to Cynthia for more than an hour, about babies, career choices, life histories, travel, etc., made me feel so much better. When she finally left, able to report that even with Clara's grumpiness she'd still gained two ounces since Saturday, I felt calm again. Mr. K and I have been trying so hard to stay calm and positive to keep a good vibe going in the house, but there's only so much we can do by sheer force of will. I know this will all work out and that I'll be able to breastfeed this baby, but oy, I can sure see how tempting it would be to throw up one's hands and just quit trying. And there are all those formula companies lurking and waiting to prey on exhausted parents who just want to make sure their babies are getting enough to eat, waiting to profit from people's misery. I feel very lucky to have so much support available to get us through this fiercely difficult stretch.

I find myself thinking a lot about whether these first few days reflect Clara's character: will she always be so impatient? What can we do to teach her patience, now and later?

I look at this tiny person on my chest and think: I cannot believe how much I love you.


Marn said...

I had a slow letdown reflex at first. Jess' sucking strength at the beginning wasn't enough to get my milk to flow.

For two days they put a rubber teat that was on a cup-shaped, aureola-sized glass base over my nipple. It was easier for Jess to suck through that rubber nipple and it got my milk flow/letdown reflex established.

Once my body got used to her sucking, my milk let down very easily and it was simpler for us both. That was almost 30 years ago, so I'm not sure they make those nipple covers anymore, but if they do, maybe you could try it for a day or two with Clara.

Dry, cracked nipples from nursing aren't unusual. You can buy pure lanolin at some drugstores--it's a natural way to help with the cracking (which makes nursing hella painful) and the lanolin doesn't bother the baby.

Don't be discouraged. You'll find your way through this.

Adam said...

Hang in there, Em. We are all thankful for you, Mr. K and Clara!

Viktor Haag said...

Don't worry, you guys! Things will work out soon: Ted was very fussy for almost three weeks along with lots of high stress for us -- but eventually he suddenly decided, "Hey! That's what they are for!", and after that it was smooth sailing. You two will get in synch, and then it will go much more easily.