The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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From the Milk Mines
I'm writing this in the semi-dark while rocking the bassinet with one foot. Leo, longer and plumper than ever, lies swaddled, mostly asleep, his brown faux-hawk giving him the slightly shocked look of an offended cockatoo.
We brought Leo home the day after he was born, and mostly just marveled at his grouchy old mannish expressions, his tiny features, sweet little stretches and snuggles. We were all exhausted. Breastfeeding seemed like a major exertion for Leo, and since I'd read that it takes a few days for the milk to come, I figured it wasn't very rewarding yet, but it would be. I thought I'd read that babies don't need much to eat for a few days anyway. But maybe that's something I read about caring for hermit crabs, or tree frogs (I was allergic to furry animals as a child, so my pets tended to be the kind only a mother could love). It was a blurry time.
The first night, I was up checking to be sure Leo was breathing just like they said I'd be. I was sore and achy, moving gingerly, and tears came easily, like something physical more than anything else, just as likely to be because I was happy as sad. Aaron and I were in a state of shock and disbelief.
The next day we took Leo in to the pediatrician for the first time. That was a turning point. We learned Leo had lost 11% of his birth weight (somewhere between 5 and 10% is considered okay). Somehow, by day 3, Leo had gotten too far behind in the feeding department. We were alarmed. Nothing in my past had ever felt important the way that this felt important.
The pediatrician referred us to a lactation consultant named Stacey, who was instantly reassuring, proactive, and very specific in her directions. Even in our haze of exhaustion and confusion we could follow her advice. Leo, it turns out, became a finger sucker in the womb (we've got sonograms to prove it). Once on the outside, Leo was daunted by the larger shape of the breast and he just didn't seem to have the energy to suck the right way. Since sucking stimulates milk production, we were in a bind. And since nursing even a little totally exhausted him, Leo slept too much, leaving too little time to work on eating.
Stacey had us rent a breast pump, and use something called a supplementer (SNS) to make nursing more rewarding for Leo. It's a bottle I wear around my neck, filled with my pumped breast milk, which flows down to the nipple in a tiny plastic tube, so that Leo simultaneously nurses from me and gets supplemented with extra milk, feeding him enough while he learns at the breast. It's also a huge pain in the neck. I spend 40 minutes feeding him, then I have to pump for 15 minutes, and then there's a sink full of bottles and tubes to wash--add in that I need to figure out what to do with the baby before I pump (Aaron went back to work after 2 weeks, and while I've had a LOT of help from friends and family, there are feedings where I'm on my own). Two and a half to three hours later, the cycle begins again.
Leo's getting little round cheeks (he has dimples!), a big belly, and those baby folds in his arms and legs, so I know he's being nourished. Plus he's now able to do two feedings a day without the supplementer, so he is getting the hang of nursing and getting stronger. But progress is halting, and after a night when I've had 3 hours of sleep, it can be very hard to see it. Actually, writing about it helps (thanks for listening)--makes me remember the drowsy, tiny newborn we were so worried about just a week or two ago, compared with the lively, alert, (loud!) fellow he is now.
I have to point out to myself (frequently) that the supplementer is working, and we won't have to use it for too much longer. I can tell that when I can breastfeed my baby without any additional paraphernalia, it will be beautiful. And hopefully soon, once feeding Leo is a little less all-consuming, I'll get back to making real dinners, and sharing recipes. For now, I'll just focus on making the most important food there is.