Monday, February 10, 2014

Breastfeeding Woes: Trials and Tribulations From a Dad's View

They never really tell you how hard breastfeeding can be for some mothers.  When you are in your birth class or reading any of the numerous books you picked up during the pregnancy, they always say that you should put the newborn on the breast immediately after birth.  This helps cement the bond and introduces the child to his source of food and comfort as soon as possible  But what if that's not possible?  What if the child doesn't take the breast and the hospital doesn't have a lactation consultant to help?  Things could spiral out of control and the result is a couple weeks of breastfeeding hell for both you, your wife, and your little one.

The dreaded nipple shield
When my son was born the midwives immediately put him on my wife's chest as they worked on stitching her up due to a couple tears during labor.  Jack cried and did what any other newborn baby would do but he wouldn't take the breast.  Everyone assured us that this could happen and that a lactation consultant would help us in our room later that night.  We were fine with that and went about enjoying the company of our little one and eventually were taken up to the recovery/mother baby room.  It was here that we were informed the lactation consultant for the hospital had quit the day before and that there wouldn't be one present at all this weekend.  The on duty nurse tried to help Reilly (my wife) latch Jack on her breast but after a few moments claimed that nipple shields would have to be used in order for us to successfully breastfeed our son.  Now, I know nipple shields serve a purpose and that they should be used in some cases but immediately throwing it at a mother just hours after birth isn't the correct thing to do.  We had no idea how to use it (we weren't shown) and in the end Jack wasn't taking it.  With the help of the midwives and through sheer perseverance, Jack was able to get some milk through numerous attempts but the overall process was extremely grueling and very time intensive.  This wasn't how breastfeeding was supposed to go.

When we were discharged from the hospital we immediately made an appointment with an in home lactation consultation who helped my wife use the nipple shield successfully and confirmed for us that Jack was receiving adequate amounts of milk.  This put us at ease for about a day until we had to take Jack to his first pediatrician appointment.  Unfortunately, the doctor we interviewed and finally agreed upon was on vacation the week Jack was born and we had to see another doctor at the office.  When we showed up, we were sleep deprived and at wits end with the breastfeeding (it was still not happening as well as it should and Reilly needed to sleep but had to keep feeding every couple hours.)  The pediatrician told us two things - the first, our son had a tongue tie and it needed to be fixed (wonderful, something else is wrong now...) and that our son was starving.  Oh, ok...wait, what?!?!  Starving?  This scared us so much that we gave in when she offered us formula, something we promised we would never do.  But two sleep deprived first time parents being told their son was starving was just too much for us to take.  Jack had two bottles of formula that day and the only plus side was that mom was able to sleep for four hours uninterrupted thanks to possibility of dad being the feeder for once.  It wasn't until the lactation consultant came back for another visit a few days later when we found out that the pediatrician was throwing around words carelessly and that Jack was both gaining weight just fine and receiving adequate amounts of milk - something our regular pediatrician confirmed a few days later during a follow up visit.  

If you're noticing a pattern so far it's that things can definitely go wrong and if you're unprepared for them or don't know enough it can cause quite the emotional toil.  Being told our child was starving and a follow up call from the doctor to check and see if Jack was "safe over the weekend" was extremely nerve racking when all you and your wife are trying to do is feed your child and do the best for him.  The in home consultations weren't cheap and certainly weren't being covered by insurance and over the three weeks after his birth the consultant had visited our house 3 times at $100 an hour.  From my point of view, I felt helpless.  There really wasn't anything I could do but offer support, take Jack to his appointments, hold him during the tongue tie procedure, and just stay positive.  In the end, it all paid off when my wife was able to successfully nurse without the shield about 2 months into Jack's life.  There were a couple times when Jack demanded the shield but after a week or so he was completely off the shield and we haven't had to use them since.

The nipple shield was probably the biggest hurdle that needed to be overcome in terms of Jack continuing on
Thrush on a baby tongue (not Jack)
breast milk but other issues did come up during this time.  Reilly came down with a fever a couple days home from the hospital which eventually was diagnosed as mastitis.  A midnight trip to a 24 hour Walgreens helped clear that up but the medicine she was prescribed also helped thrush to form on her breast and then subsequently in Jack's mouth.  Just when it seemed it couldn't get worse, Jack would scream bloody murder after breastfeeding and my wife would complain about the sensation of "thousands of tiny knives stabbing her breast" during feeding.  Some additional medication on both mom and sons part helped clear this up and (thankfully) it hasn't come back. 

Jack is now 14 weeks old and he is still being exclusively breastfed.  We don't know how long we will breastfeed but I know 2 years is recommended and we're going to aim for that.  It started out extremely rough in the beginning and while switching exclusively to formula was never really an option in our eyes it did look more and more appealing from my point of view.  I saw my wife go from a happy new mom to a sad and scared new mom who just wanted to feed her child the natural way she should be able to.  I know at times she thought she felt less than a woman because "other women can do it, why can't I?" and as a loving husband, this is heartbreaking to see.  As things got better, so did her mood until eventually she is where she is today, a breastfeeding guru.  Through it all though, us dads just need to put on the supportive husband hat and help them through the emotional roller coaster being a new parent can be.

The moral or overall message of this tale is that a lot that can go wrong in the beginning and you can see how a lot of women end up choosing to use formula instead of breast milk to feed their kids.  This is a perfectly acceptable response for a lot of families but it was never something we wanted to do.  Our goal was to breastfeed from the beginning and we fought tooth and nail to ensure that is what Jack received.  Fast forward a couple months and Jack is a perfect weight and looking more and more beautiful each day.  I know if you ask my wife if all the trouble was worth it, she would wholeheartedly agree a thousand times over, something I am proud to agree with her on.

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