Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Triumphant Tuesday: Resisting Sabotage from Health Professionals

Whilst most health professionals believe that ‘breast is best’, very few are trained in breastfeeding or lactation; fewer still have successful breastfeeding experience of their own. So it’s hardly surprising that a lot of health professionals sometimes inadvertently, sometimes even intentionally, sabotage mothers, preventing them from actualizing their breastfeeding goals. I discussed the reasons behind this phenomenon here. Suffice to say the impact on breastfeeding rates has been destructive. It seems, where health professionals are concerned, mothers in their droves are imprudently deferring to their alleged expertise. The casualties of this approach are, of course, their babies.

However what follows is the story of one woman who would now bow to the ‘professionals’. She was subjected to a group of health professionals that orchestrated not one, not two, but FIVE attempts to sabotage her breastfeeding success:

The plan was to breastfeed. Period. I didn't know much about it - didn't read a book or really do any research, I just knew that it was what was best for baby, and selfishly speaking, it would help me shed the baby weight that much faster (in my informal and unscientific study I noticed that the women I knew that had babies and breastfeed were not only skinnier post baby, but they managed to keep the weight off 2 and 3 years down the road - I was in!) Breastfeeding was so much the plan that we didn't buy/register for bottles or any of the paraphernalia that comes along with formula feeding.

Sabotage attempt #1

My son was born on June 18th, weighing in at 6lbs13oz. He was a natural, unmedicated, vaginal birth. As soon as he was born he was in my arms and we had some wonderful skin to skin time. I tried to breastfeed immediately but did have to fight off the midwives as they wanted him to be cleaned, weighed and measured before feeding. He settled the argument by peeing on me. When I did try and nurse him, it took a moment but he was able to latch and had a seemingly decent feed.

Almost as soon as we got to the post-partum ward things shifted and the joy and elation we had experienced by having that initial feed were soon displaced. For such a little guy he was a great sleeper - in fact he would sleep longer than the three hours he was 'supposed to' and thus did not get the feedings he needed. If I tried to wake him for feedings, he would grizzle and resist.

When he was awake and hungry it felt like him and I were on two different pages. I had a good supply, and he had a good suck (trust me, we were checked by multiple nurses) but we could not make feedings work.

Sabotage attempt #2

I really had to fight to get some help. When I first asked to see the Lactation Consultant I was told that feeding was going too well to get help - despite the fact it really wasn't!

Sabotage attempt #3

Eventually I went to a breastfeeding clinic to meet with the LC. This mini seminar really surprised me as this LC told the group that after the first 24 hours, formula is the same as breastmilk and even offered tips for getting baby to take a bottle! Ugh.

Finally she came over to see me but my little boy wouldn't latch. He wasn't interested. He wasn't hungry. She told us to page her when he was hungry so she could see what we were doing and figure out why we couldn't get the latch sorted out.

Sabotage attempt #4

What was super frustrating was when he did get hungry (after going *much* longer than the nurses were comfortable with him not eating) I am struggled to get him latched - just as we have something close to success the pediatrition on call comes in for rounds and we have to un-latch him so he can be examined by the doctor - who as it happens was far too busy to wait for the feed to finish. Apparently there were too many babies born and he was running behind trying to see them all.

Before we left the hospital the LC gave us a feeding plan and instructions on what to do if we weren't able to get my little boy latched I was to express some milk into a syringe and feed him that way to help calm him. That was it. Nothing beyond that, no support for what if things still didn't work. Nothing.

At home feeding really was a struggle - things did not get better. There were times where it would take over an hour to get the baby latched - and it was a horrible hour. He would arch his back and scream because he was so hungry and I would end up crying because I didn't understand why this supposidly natural process wasn't coming naturally. It was so hard!

Finally after a feed where it took 2 hours to get the baby latched I gave up and hand expressed some milk into a bottle and we fed him that way. I felt like such a failure. The next day my husband went out to buy a pump. Although he always supported my desire to breastfeed, he struggled when we couldn't get the latch. His mantra was 'feed the baby' which is right of course, but he couldn't understand why the thought of expressing and using bottles was so hard. In his mind it was still breast milk and that was the important part, so did it matter if it was from me or a bottle? It mattered to me.

That day I hardly left my bed. I felt like such a horrible mother, like I had failed my son and that I wasn't good enough. I felt so horrible I didn't even want to see my baby. When I was staying in bed and feeling horrible my husband brought the baby over to get cuddles from me, reminding me that he still needed me. I honestly think if we hadn't been able to sort out breast feeding I would have sunk into a very deep depression.

Sabotage attempt #5

My husband called around to find some support for us. He called every number we had. The earliest appointment we could get was in two weeks! I was devastated. A few days later a public health nurse called us back, I was the one to take the call. I told the nurse what was going on, how for the last few days things had been rough, and that it was getting to the point where he would scream for 2 hours. She replied “and it took you this long to call us?” Uh no, but it did take them this long to call us back. Either way, her comments made me feel even worse than I already did - I was at the lowest I had ever been.

My friends and family really didn't understand the emotional response I was having.  I had a healthy baby and breastmilk or formula made no difference to them. One was not viewed as better than the other.

Thankfully we were able to get into see the public health nurse post partum support clinic the next day. Of course, as is Murphy's Law, my son got hungry and latched no problem. The appointment was 90mins so we were able to really talk about what was going on and how I was feeling. He did get hungry again during this appointment and finally the nurse was able to see how he would scream and we just couldn't make things work. Again, she checked my supply, his suck and told us that we just had “bad communication.” There was no reason I shouldn't be able to breastfeed him. Although meant to be positive, comments like this really hurt because it was a struggle. It wasn't easy or natural! Just because we *should* be able to make it work doesn't mean it was going well - clearly it wasn't. Thankfully - through all of this, she did give us some positioning tips and that seemed to make a world of difference.

After that appointment things improved. I felt better mentally with regard to giving bottles - my husband had the fantastic idea that if latching wasn't going well we would give him 1oz in a bottle, just to take the edge off. Once he was calmer we would try and relatch to finish the feed. It worked wonders!

After using this method for a few days we really figured out the proper positioning. It got to a point where the expressed milk wasn't required as my little boy was latching almost immediately and able to get in a full feed. Just as we were getting things sorted out with the latch I got engorged and experienced horrible pain for days as we tried to unclog the duct and deal with this new obstacle.

We win!

My son is now in the 90th percentile for weight, and feeding is going great! It wasn't easy. We needed help to make things work, and more so we needed the strength to stick to what we knew was best.

I don't understand mothers who don’t try to breastfeed. It is clearly the best both for mom and baby. Unless there is a legit medical reason not to, why wouldn't you? Having fought through the bad latch and difficult times I know that it isn't easy. It takes work and being unwilling seems selfish and lazy.

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