Why We Breastfeed
Before I had Hudsyn, I knew I was going to breastfeed. The information I was getting from the books I read and classes we were taking seemed too powerful to ignore...
- Recent studies have found that children fed mother's milk as babies have higher IQs, on average, than those fed formula because the very composition of breast milk supports optimal brain development.
- Scientists have amply documented that breast milk also benefits every other system in the body - from protection against allergies and obesity to improvement of vision, oral development, the cardiovascular system, intestines and kidneys.
- Horses and cows produce milk that grows bone and muscle quickly for babies that must be able to stand, walk and run from the day of their birth. The milk of primates, including humans, promotes the rapid growth of brain tissue.
- In the early months, a baby's intestines are highly permeable, allowing foreign molecules and proteins to pass through and into baby's blood, causing infection and allergies. IgA molecules, produced in the breast, coats these vulnerable surfaces, forming a protective shield. Babies begin to produce secretory IgA on their own 6-9 months after birth, but until then breast milk is their only source of this extraordinary protection.
- Fresh human milk contains one million living cells per milliliter (about 1/3 of a teaspoon). Colostrum, the first liquid a baby consumes after birth, contains up to seven million living cells per milliliter.
- Breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of breast cancer.
- It burns more than 600 calories a day if being done exclusively.
I could go on and on...but these facts made the powerful case for this to be our number one goal with Hudsyn. However, I didn't realize just how determined I had to be until we hit some bumps in the road early on...
The Beginning I was told breastfeeding might be challenging at first, but I wasn't prepared for the amount of hurdles I'd have to overcome to really provide for Husdyn. The biggest obstacle was my surgery. The blood loss I encountered prevented any kind of good milk production for the first month or so. I had lost a lot of blood during labor, and after the emergency C-Section, my hemoglobin levels were at a 6.3 (normal is 12-15). Even after a 2-unit blood transfusion, I was still well below normal. As a result, I was having to pump every 2-3 hours for 15 minutes or more with only milliliters of colostrum being produced. It was extremely challenging to work so hard for so little result.
The next challenge was a health issue our little girl had as a result of her birth. Her intestines were deemed "angry" because they hadn't received the vital blood flow they needed the first week she was born. Due to her seizures and brain swelling, her body (smartly) had redirected all blood flow to her brain, heart and lungs in order for them to heal. The rest of her body had basically gone into a dormant state. Once they started functioning, though, they were highly sensitive. So colostrum was the only substance her neonatalogist wanted to give her beyond the IV fluids she'd been living on. I was grateful he was so supportive of breastfeeding.
One week later, as I continued the struggle to pump more than 20 milliliters at a time, sacrificing sleep and time with my newborn, a nurse in the NICU made the call during her night shift to give Hudsyn formula after running out of my reserves. Not even 24 hours after she'd received three full feedings of formula, Hudsyn had a violent reaction. Her system started shutting down as she began having full apnea episodes. Every five minutes, she'd stop breathing completely.
Dan and I were beside ourselves with worry. Here was our little girl who had come so far already after such a grim diagnosis after birth, and now fighting for her life all because a nurse made the call to substitute formula without consulting our doctor. The situation was a challenge and a blessing in disguise. It forced me to be absolutely determined to give her breast milk...whether it was mine or a donor's.
Hence, I took on this mission with fervor. It was a large obstacle, and I decided to face it head on. Hudsyn needed breast milk and fast. I made the demand then and there to all the medical staff that she would no longer get formula. If I couldn't provide for my little one myself, surely there were others out there who could help. So I put out the call to my network. I e-mailed every lactation consultant I could find. I called my doula, our Bradley class instructor and several friends.
And help came.
I learned from the lactation consultants at CMH that there was a milk bank in Denver and as long as I could get a prescription from Hudsyn's Nurse Practitioner or doc, we could get frozen milk shipped to our house overnight. But the paperwork and the cost ($4/oz) made it a difficult option.
My network then kicked in...and rapidly. I began receiving e-mails, phone calls, texts, etc. from moms around the Kansas City area who had the opposite problem I did, overproduction. As I read each e-mail, heard each phone message and sorted the many text messages, I had tears in my eyes.
New mothers everywhere began to unite in honor of Hudsyn's need. Women were willing to give medical histories, reassuring me that this milk was just fine to give our sensitive little girl. LaGenna, one of our fellow Bradley classmates, gave a large supply. I consider her one of Hudsyn's many angels during this difficult time. She's pictured here with her daughter, Clara.
I also learned that in years past, this is exactly what happened when women couldn't breastfeed successfully. Other women would step in and become wet nurses for the infant. Formula was never an option.
It wasn't long before I had enough milk to make sure she never needed formula again. Unfortunately, because the hospital frowns upon private donors due to the risk of infection and liability, I had to take extra steps to get her the valuable milk. Each frozen donation was thawed overnight and put it into special CMH containers, using labels (they provided) with Hudsyn's name on them. Since the hospital was aware of my low production, this new "milk mission" had to be handled delicately. I couldn't give them too much to store, but I had to give enough to get her through each feeding for fear they'd give her formula again. There were many nights that Dan had to make midnight runs to the hospital to make it look as if I had just pumped enough for her 12:00am and 3:00am feedings.
I even had a few close friends offer to do the same when I was forced to stay home a few days to protect my recovery. They lovingly called themselves the Milk Spies...cleverly smuggling each donation into the proper nurses' hands so Hudsyn had 100% human milk feedings each day.
At the same time I was giving the donor milk to the hospital, I was working hard with several lactation consultants to improve my production. It was important that I drink tons of water, eat three square meals a day and get enough rest. Not sure if you've ever been a worrying mom, but this last requirement was particularly difficult when all I wanted to do was spend every waking moment at Hudsyn's hospital bedside. They also had me taking supplements of Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, which are natural herbs proven to improve production. I was also drinking Mother's Milk tea every chance I had. And the time at the pump was increased. To this day, I haven't gone longer than five hours without pumping in order to protect volume.
I pumped exclusively for a month, because she wasn't able to feed by mouth until she got her gag reflex. I remember those days vividly. I would pump at her bedside every chance I got because they told me being near her while doing so might help. I would write in a journal how much I created at each sitting to help keep myself motivated. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Some days I got nothing in return for all the work. Others, just a few drops. I wrote affirmations like:
"This is my role in helping her heal." "My milk is her medicine." "Hudsyn grows big and strong with every drop I produce...it's all valuable." "Today is better than yesterday and I'm producing more and more at each sitting."
Slowly, and day by day, it improved. I allowed myself no shortcuts or breaks. It may sound harsh, but it was required if I was going to eventually be her sole provider. There were days when I thought to myself, "I understand why some moms choose formula so quickly. This sucks."
But I didn't have that choice. Every time I thought about it, I remember seeing her with the C-pap machine shoved deep down her nose...so far that it made her nasal cavity bleed. She would look at that machine each time she woke up and she'd whimper at the sight of it. She had been through so much worse than I was experiencing...and I refused to give in. This is what my body was meant to do, so it WOULD do it. I held the faith.
Hudsyn's First Latch After several "test" bottle feeds, Hudsyn was finally ready to try breastfeeding with me. I had waited over two weeks for this moment and I was so ready. I knew that if she could do this, eventually I wouldn't have to worry about my production volume. For a baby is far more efficient at extracting milk than any pump.
So as we sat in that little NICU room, one of my biggest supporters, Janet, held my shoulder in prayer and the CMH lactation consultant, Vicky, who had been there with me through it all, watched as I brought her to my chest for the first time. Vicky began spouting all kinds of tips and steps to follow. I tried to listen, but I was more interested in just letting Hudsyn do her thing. If we needed help, then I'd pay more attention. Thankfully, she latched on as if it was the most natural thing in the world for her. She fed for only a few minutes because, at the time, this was about all she had energy for before she fell asleep. It didn't matter. These were the most precious three minutes of my life.
WE DID IT! It was possible.
That's all I needed to affirm that I was absolutely going to be a successful breastfeeding mom from then on.
Coming Home From the Hospital Even after my production started to come up, it still wasn't enough for me to be her only source by the time we came home. I was glad the donors continued to come forward as we struggled to settle into a normal routine at home. After the second month of her being home, I wondered if I'd ever be enough for her. But I pressed on.
I felt our bond increase with each feeding and I loved having her so close to me whenever she needed me.
Success! By the third month, I relied less and less on the donor supply. Eventually, as we got down to our last few frozen packets, my production became enough. It felt so good to be able to give her everything she needed. Finally!
Breastfeeding doesn't come without a lot of support. I leaned heavily on those around me that helped us get to where we are...My Bradley class instructor and La Leche League leader, Summer Hill, our doula, Nadah Cartmill, and the many breastfeeding moms and donors I talked to and relied upon for help and advice. It took every single one of them to help us get where we are now.
And my husband was invaluable. I relied on him to get me everything while Hudsyn and I focused on our goal. He made meals, cleaned house, did the laundry and ran errands. Much like the coach of an athlete, he stood by loyally, giving us everything we needed to get to our goal.
Now that I'm back at work and we've established a healthy routine, I wouldn't trade our time together for anything. I feel sorry for moms who don't press on to have this experience. Even though my difficulties were way out of the norm, I believe many mothers still give up too quickly. And with so many hospitals and medical professionals pushing formula over the natural way, it makes it difficult to "choose" the food best for babies. It's like anything, though. It takes a strong decision no matter what challenges a mom faces.
My dream now is to see a world where we're all this supported. Where formula no longer has a place and if any mom is in need, no matter her location, she is given as much donor milk for as long as she and her infant need. This would be true success for our future population.