Baby Story: Breastfeeding Is Still Awful, but…

As promised, here is a riveting update on our breastfeeding saga…

As mentioned previously, we were on the precipice of giving up on breastfeeding due to the disappointment of investing extraordinary effort with insufficient results. When the pediatrician told us that Talia had been gaining only half an ounce a day despite our carefully calculated supplementation, I’d begun a grieving process of sorts over the possibility of abandoning my breastfeeding plans. I realize that sounds extreme, but I think it accurately describes how I felt. I was surprised at how hard it was to give up an ideal of how I thought I’d raise my baby. Visiting the lactation consultant felt kind of like a formality.

Before going to our appointment, Jonathan and I decided we needed the following information from the consultant:

  1. Is there hope? We didn’t want to continue with breastfeeding interventions if she couldn’t give us concrete hope that things would get better. In other words, we couldn’t continue our current efforts based only on faith that something mystical would happen at some indeterminate time in the future.
  2. Are there coping mechanisms? If there was reason to hope that we might still succeed, we needed ideas for dealing with the following specific issues:
    1. Sleepyhead Talia
    2. Fussypants Talia
    3. Shallowface Talia
  3. Are there alternatives? Before moving forward with any interventions, we wanted to know our options for not breastfeeding.


And, lo and behold, the consultant actually had information about all these things!

  1. Hope:Although it’s true that there’s not a magic age at which all babies suddenly respond to interventions and figure everything out,┬ámany babies apparently catch on when they reach 9 lbs. Talia’s still a couple weeks away from 9 lbs, so that might be too far away for us, but it’s a concrete milestone to watch for. Also, the consultant didn’t want us to continue our entire intervention plan because it’s clearly exhausting us, so given some recent success with using the SNS at the breast as intended, she gave us a weeklong plan for combining supplementation with nursing. Furthermore, she set a week as the maximum amount of time we’ll spend on that intervention.
  2. Coping Mechanisms: Even though the interventions alone seemed super demanding, we were particularly frustrated because Talia’s sleep behavior, fussiness, and poor latch exacerbated the situation significantly. Therefore, having a plan to cope with each of these made me really happy:
    1. Sleepiness – Surprisingly, the consultant agreed that on-demand feeding might be the best course of action for Talia, even if she doesn’t get 8 feedings in a day. We’d explained that, through a 24-hour experiment, we’d discovered how much happier and less-likely-to-fall-asleep-while-eating Talia was when we let her sleep as long as she needed to. The consultant responded with studies that this is kind of a proven phenomenon and that babies eat better when you give them this freedom. That attitude felt distinctly different from the miss-a-feeding, lose-an-ounce warning we’d received earlier in this process, but whatever. It’s interesting to compare last night and this night…both nights, Talia ate at 2 hour intervals. However, last night she was SO mad at us…every feeding was a battle. On the other hand, tonight has been mostly pleasant. She still cries to tell us she’s hungry, but she calms down when we feed her, and she doesn’t fall asleep mid-feeding.
    2. Fussiness – I’d come back around to the theory that a lot of Talia’s fussiness at the breast results from impatience; she’d be eating happily until a particular milk let-down finished, and then she’d start screaming. Wellll, now that we’re planning to use the SNS at every feeding, she should get immediate gratification when she latches on. We expect that to resolve a LOT of the fussiness.
    3. Latch – This one doesn’t really have a solution, but it does have an explanation. Although I’ve read all about how to get a good latch and watched a million videos of babies demonstrating a good latch, I couldn’t for the life of me get Talia to latch like all those babies. I’ve been begging people for advice about how to adjust my technique, but no one really had an answer. Well, the consultant reminded me about the tight jaw issue and explained that, until Talia grows, I shouldn’t expect a better latch than what I’m getting. Therefore, I don’t have to beat myself up about not getting the best latch for ideal milk transfer; as long as I can get something that’s not terribly painful, I’m doing fine for now. So that’s what I’m doing.
  3. Alternatives – The consultant explained a lot of details about exclusive pumping which was pretty enlightening. We had been concerned that, if we move to the pump this early, I’d never have a sufficient milk supply, and what I do have would dwindle pretty soon. Not so! If I continue pumping 8 times a day (for now), my supply will continue to increase, and over time I’d be able to cut back on the pumping sessions. Furthermore, the consultant has had many clients who went to exclusive pumping after their initial interventions failed only to successfully start nursing maybe a month later. So, deciding to pump wouldn’t even be a final decision.

New plan

  1. Feed Talia on demand, not letting her sleep more than 5 hours at a time.
  2. Use the SNS with every feeding. This will guarantee that Talia gets the extra calories that she needs while encouraging her to nurse at the breast by giving her instant gratification there.
  3. After next week, supplement with bottles as necessary and re-evaluate feasibility of breastfeeding. I won’t continue any extraordinary measures after Jonathan goes back to work.

We feel pretty good about the potential for different kinds of success with this plan. Jonathan will still have to wake up in the middle of the night to help me set up the SNS, but hopefully the entire intervention schedule will be a lot shorter AND more satisfying because Talia won’t be screaming throughout the entire thing.

And then, a surprise

So, after spending 1.5 hours discussing our concerns and hashing out the above plan, the consultant weighed Talia to update her records. Lo and behold, according to her scale, Talia had gained 8 ounces in 8 days…exactly what she was supposed to gain! It turns out that the past 24 hours of agonizing over how to proceed based on our failed interventions was COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY; the interventions had done exactly what they were supposed to. We decided that the pediatrician’s scale had been incorrect last Friday when it told us she’d gained 4 ounces overnight compared to the previous day’s weigh-in at the consultant’s. At the time, we’d attributed that crazy number to a difference between the pediatrician’s scale and the consultant’s scale. However, it now seems that, within the past week, the pediatrician had recalibrated her scale, causing it to return smaller, more accurate weights. Wow. It’s hard to believe that we were about to make some major decisions based on such incorrect information.

Nonetheless, we’re still proceeding with the SNS plan. It will be a good way to ween Talia off supplements. And I’m struggling a little bit to ungrieve; I’d made some progress looking at the bright side of exclusive pumping, so it’s a little jarring to backtrack :) In conclusion, though, both Jonathan and I feel happier now, and we had a nice evening of playing with a more rested Talia and studying her (instead of the alarm clock) for hunger cues.

About Sarah

10 years ago, I was a computer science student. 5 years ago, I taught kindergarten. 2 years ago, I trained teachers. Now, I'm a technical writer. I have thoughts about most of these things, but most likely I'll just write about neuroses and why I love Mr. Gatti's pizza. Which might be a neurosis.
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11 Responses to Baby Story: Breastfeeding Is Still Awful, but…

  1. Laura says:

    Oh I’m so glad!! That sounds so much better than before! I’m glad the LC was helpful.

  2. David & Hazel says:

    Enjoy that sweet baby. Relax and don’t fret about everything. She can feel your tension but your relaxed arms and heart is what she wants. I told our boy’s Doc, “I’m not worried” He told me “Yes, you are, I know you. They are going to grow up inspite of you” It stung my ego but he was right about me. I did fret and worry about just everything. Being a Mom is so wonderful and scary too. You are a great Mom!

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for the encouragement! I know I tend to worry about more than I should, but I do maintain that some things are worth worrying about. In this case, we’re just trying to figure out how long the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the demands. As you suggest, it’s about whether Talia will benefit more from relaxed parents or from gallons of breast milk :)

  3. Lauren says:

    Hang in there Sarah! I feel like I went through some of the same things (and also had a c-section b/c she was breach) – in the hospital I saw three different lactation nurses and they had all sorts of conflicting information (one even proclaimed that she was worried about her “falling through the cracks”!). Avery was also a sleepy newborn with a not-so-great latch so weight gain was an issue. Not sure if this would help, but have you tried a nipple shield? That worked well with me and I was able to wean her from it after a month or two (I can’t remember exactly, it’s all a blur). At any rate, the best advice I got was from a lactation consultant that I saw a week or so after she was born. Basically, she assured me that Avery would eventually just figure it out – and y’know…that’s exactly what happened. It can be so stressful those first few weeks/months though because you feel solely responsible for keeping this tiny thing alive and happy and trying to do it on minimal sleep. Also, although I know there can be issues with nipple confusion by using a bottle and/or pacifier so early…it’s awesome now b/c she is used to all three forms of food/comfort and I know other moms who have EBF and are now returning to work and can’t get their baby to take a bottle.

    So anyway, know you’re not the only one! Breastfeeding is crazy b/c on the one hand it seems like it should be so natural yet it’s very much a learned process for *both* mom and baby!

    • Sarah says:

      Hey Lauren! Thanks for sharing your experience. You’re totally right about how it feels to be a new mother trying to bear the weight of the world…or at least of the baby’s world. It’s helpful to hear you describe those sentiments because I was starting to feel like my stress and sleeplessness might be ruining Talia’s introduction to the world…teaching her that her mother is high-strung and sad. However, the more I hear other people describe the same thing, the more I believe that we’re not ruining an entire generation. This is just the way it feels to be a new parent, and babies surely can tolerate some level of it :)

      I just got a nipple shield, though I’ve found it kind of frustrating to use. I’m keeping it around as a last resort just because I don’t really want to have to wean Talia off of one more thing if I don’t have to, but it might be worth giving it a fair shot. I’m pretty sure we’ll reintroduce bottles in a week or so when Jonathan goes back to work, and I’m considering getting some pacifiers as well. I was super-concerned about nipple confusion early on, but now that I’m feeling a little desperate, I think “what could it hurt?” After all, if I’m considering moving to the pump anyway, nipple confusion would just expedite that process :)

      • Lauren says:

        Oh yeah, the shield is super annoying but at the time it was getting the job done. I do remember thinking that I would have to use it forever but with some patience she figured it out. And for what it’s worth, Avery is a lovely and happy and seems to have no recollection of those trying first few weeks. :)

        (PS – if you do end up pumping frequently, I just heard this tip – between pumping there’s no need to wash/sterilize all the parts – just pop them in the fridge and only clean once a day. I know this is a huge time saver for moms that pump a lot.)

        (PPS – you probably already know this but the new healthcare laws cover many lactation services, including the purchase of a standard electric pump. Fun!)

        • Sarah M says:

          I’m just now getting around to catching up on all these comments, but thanks again for the reassurance! Avery certainly looks calm and content in her facebook pictures :) And that tip about cleaning the pump pieces revolutionized my world…I think three different people told me that the same day. I’m only pumping three times a day now (since, like you said in your earlier comment, Talia finally did seem to “just get it” :)), but cleaning once a day still saves me 10-20 minutes!

  4. Kirstin says:

    Yay! So glad you got some more concrete answers, and a couple deadlines in place. I’m sure that makes it easier to persevere, when you know there is very possibly an end in sight. I hadn’t heard the 9 pound thing before – that’s interesting. And super-GRRRRR about the scale at the doctor’s office. Why on earth would the ped not share that information when she took her weight last time????? Ugh. But yay about the weight gain!

    I’m so glad you’re able to go to an on-demand feeding routine and not wake her up mid-sleep cycle anymore. I’m sure that will make a difference. Can you imagine being woken up before you’re ready for days on end? (Ah, yes, you can – it stinks!!) :) I hope things just keep getting better for you all in the feeding baby realm of life!

    • Sarah M says:

      This is a belated response, but still pertinent because Talia just passed the 9 lb mark earlier this week! And, indeed, she’s doing a lot better. She still doesn’t latch quite as well as consistently as I’d like, but she’s getting enough milk, so I’m going to patiently await things to continue to improve :) That being said, 6 weeks has been a long time to wait for things to get tolerable (and I know some people have to wait a lot longer!)…I guess they don’t tell you that upfront for fear you’d never try.

  5. Liz Gregory says:

    Hwy, I just found this. So, first, CONGRATS! Second, let me know if you want to vent or cry or complain or worry or grump about breastfeeding or baby troubles. I’m available, and can sometimes help if you want and can always just shut up and listen if you need it. *hugs*

    • Sarah M says:

      Hey Liz! Thanks for your support! I’ll definitely add you to my list of mommy resources for whatever trying times still lie ahead. Even though I think we’ve survived the initial breastfeeding hurdles, I’ve learned not to count on anything staying stable for long :)

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