My breastfeeding story Part 2: Our hospital stay
Yesterday I started recounting my breastfeeding story in “The First Hour.” Today, I’m going to write about getting started with breastfeeding over the course of the four days that we spent in hospital.
As I explained yesterday, Little Man was very sleepy after his birth much to my surprise. I hadn’t expected that to happen if I had a drug-free birth. He was still very sleepy when we were moved to the ward. Someone (a nurse, a midwife, and paediatrician – I have no idea – I’d never been in hospital before and had no idea how to tell who was who and what their roles were!) checked Little Man and found that his body temperature was low. I’m not sure if it was low in the delivery room too, because he was put under a warming lamp there while I was in the shower, and for a while afterwards.
Skin-to-skin was suggested to bring his body temperature up. So we lay there, Little Man and me, and I watched him sleep for two hours. I didn’t try to feed him during this time. I was afraid to wake him or disturb him. Normally, I’m a pretty confident person, but in this situation, I think I really just wanted someone to tell me what to do. The nurse/doctor/midwife person had told me to do skin-to-skin, so that was what I was going to do! When they checked him again, his temperature was coming back to normal. At this point, one of the nurses asked if he had fed yet, and when I said that he hadn’t, she asked if I wanted to try now. I was excited and nervous when I agreed. It felt so bizarre to try to latch my little baby on. I was half giggling as I tried it. And then…nothing. Little Man didn’t even open his mouth.
The nurse suggested expressing some colostrum to try to entice him. She squeezed around my nipple to try it – but nothing came out. So she asked me to try myself, but when I did the same as her, I got nothing either. It was two days later before I finally saw a lactation consultant who told me that of course I wasn’t managing to express anything that way because this approach is totally wrong! You actually have to squeeze behind the nipple in order to express anything. That was my first lesson that not every nurse, midwife, or doctor has a clue when it comes to breastfeeding.
After about ten minutes of trying, the nurse suggested trying a bit more skin-to-skin and then trying again in an hour. I agreed, and then an hour later rang the bell to call for help as I tried again to feed Little Man. This time, the nurse who came to help seemed more determined to help me get started. She got some wet cotton wool to wake Little Man up, and as soon as he looked semi-awake, she grabbed my breast and shoved his head onto it! And it worked for a second – he gave a quick suck, and then just as I was thinking “He’s feeding, he’s feeding!”, he stopped and went straight back to sleep. So we started again, more cotton wool and water, more grabbing and shoving, quick suck, and back to sleep. And then the nurse got called away and left me to it. I spent the next hour trying to get Little Man latched on. It didn’t work, and the poor little thing was clearly exhausted at the end of it. So I decided to do what had been suggested earlier and try a bit more skin to skin for the two of us.
After a while, a doctor came around to check on Little Man. When I explained that I was starting to worry because it had been six hours since his birth and he still hadn’t fed, the doctor did a heel prick test to check his blood sugars. His sugars were a little low, but nothing to worry about yet. The doctor told me that I could give Little Man some formula to bring his sugars up. Or keep trying and then they’d check his sugars again in a while.
I had read some advice about avoiding formula because it changes the pH in the baby’s gut, and giving the baby a bottle can cause nipple confusion and other problems. So at this stage I was still relatively determined not to give formula.
Two hours later, when he still wouldn’t latch on for me, and he was shaking because his blood sugars were gone so low, my determination was gone, and I just wanted to do something so that my baby would stop shaking. A friend of mine, who was a doctor in the maternity hospital, came to visit me, and she reassured me that giving my baby formula would bring his sugars back up and might make him better able to feed when I tried again later. I think she could see how upset I was starting to get, and I just needed someone to tell me what to do. A nurse went to fetch some formula for me, and over the course of the next 30 minutes, Little Man had his first feed. Not Mammy’s Milk like I had hoped, but a few mils of formula by bottle instead.
Through that first night, every time he was due a feed, I’d try to latch him on, he’d refuse, and then I’d give him some formula from a bottle. By the second day, hubbie and I were wondering why on earth I was trying to breastfeed Little Man. The formula feeding seemed so much more straight-forward and easier. But in the midst of it, Little Man actually latched on once or twice, so I said I’d keep trying until my milk came in, and then we’d decide.
He was still extremely sleepy, so the doctor and the nurses told me I had to wake him for feeds every three hours, through the night as well. During the night, I could hear other babies crying in the ward, but not Little Man. He seemed content to just lie there and sleep.
By Saturday, (Little Man was born at 8am on Thursday), I still wasn’t having much success getting him to latch on. I think he had latched on for a minute here or there, but nothing like the the baby beside us, whose mother was complaining that he had just wanted to feed for hours and hours. Where was this horrendous second day of feeding I had read about? I was mentally preparing myself for feeding a little savage on day two – not for this cotton wool and water torture to wake a sleepy baby and entice him to feed.
Finally at 5.30pm on the Saturday, one of the nurses brought the lactation consultant to see me. She spent less than ten minutes with me. In that time, she showed me how to express properly, and as soon as I expressed some colostrum and tried to latch Little Man on, it worked. He fed! From me! Then she said to me, “Are you serious about breastfeeding? If you are, what are you doing with these bottles of formula here?” I tried to explain about the low blood sugars and topping Little Man up, but she just seemed annoyed. I’m probably misquoting her because at this stage I was sleep-deprived and hormonal, but I think she said something like, “Look if you’re serious, then I’m taking these bottles away. And if you’re not, I’ll leave them here.” I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to breastfeed my baby, but I didn’t want it to result in him shaking again from low blood sugars. I asked her about topping him up so that he wouldn’t get the shakes again until he was feeding properly. She said that if I wanted to top him up, I should really use a syringe or a cup to feed him, but she didn’t have time to show me how to feed him from a cup. And then she was gone. I didn’t see her again after that.
I was afraid to use the bottle again, so I would try to entice Little Man with a few drops of formula, and then latch him on. He fed a few times that night, for five or six minutes in total each time (latching on and off every 30 seconds or so). I was just glad he was feeding. The following day, I got to check out and take him home. I was reasonably confident that we were getting the feeding established as I left the hospital. My milk had come in that morning, and Little Man definitely seemed to be feeding better. So that was it. We left the hospital behind, and we were on our own!
Tomorrow, in Part 3, I’ll write about our first few weeks at home, establishing the feeding.