By Mia F | May 22nd, 2012
During my first pregnancy, as I was educating myself to prepare for my hospital birth with a midwife and a doula, there was actually quite a bit of support from the hospital around breastfeeding. A breastfeeding class was encouraged for both mother and partner; lactation consultants were staffed at the hospital 24×7 and were always reachable for questions or concerns; posters reading “breast is best” hung on every bulletin board in sight. After giving birth to my amazing little son, a lactation consultant was by my side within minutes helping me to feed him for the first time. It was beautiful and I felt supported. So I was quite shocked and unprepared when, an hour or so later, a nurse informed me that my son’s blood sugar was low and he would need to be fed formula from a bottle immediately. Even in my bleary-eyed, utterly exhausted state I knew enough to question. But the nurse was so sure it was the right thing to do, and the midwife was gone, and we had sent our doula home. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I didn’t see a choice.
My son’s progress with latching didn’t seem to be affected, so I moved on. Until, in the dead middle of our second night, a nurse interrupted one of our very few hours of sleep to inform me that my son had jaundice and needed formula from a bottle right away to increase his fluids and flush out the bilirubin. I immediately felt panic. “What about nipple confusion?” I asked. The nurse said “Don’t worry about it hon, my kids all did both bottle and breast, it will be fine.” I really wasn’t so sure. “How will my body know to start producing milk?” I called the midwife on-call in tears and had a full-on freak out. Sadly, she seemed pretty annoyed that I had reached out to her at 2:00am. My husband was simply willing to do whatever it took to get back to sleep. I had to take a stand myself to get the nurse to track down the on-call lactation consultant (goddess), who introduced us to the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). We proceeded to use this device to deliver formula to my son while he was latched and breastfeeding.
Now, one year later, I see so many things in this story that didn’t have to happen the way they did. I am left wishing I could have recognized all of my options as they were happening. I read so many books, attended natural childbirth and the hospital childbirth prep and breastfeeding classes. I was armed with team of amazing people, including my partner, who were set on watching for the opportunities to ask questions and advocate for what was natural for all of us. That is what allowed me to take a stand when I did. However, with all of that, and at a fairly supportive hospital, exclusive breastfeeding was still treated as something that could happen only if all the little tests turned out just right. Today, when I talk to an expectant mother, I tell her this story in the hope that it will arm her a little better than I was. There is just not enough that can be done to educate and to shift the cultural expectations, particularly in medicine, that exist today.
Mia F. is mom to a 1 year old, creative visionary, and process manager at a High Tech firm. She lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts.