Thursday, October 30, 2008

Biggest Challenge Yet

I just went through the worst three breastfeeding days I've ever experienced...Every time my daughter latched on, I had the creepiest, crawl-out-of-my-skin, hormone-filled anger feeling. It was awful. It felt like she wasn't doing it right anymore. It also felt like there was no milk coming out. I felt a similar thing when I was nursing her brother and was newly pregnant with her, so I'm sure it is all hormone related. My period started yesterday, so I'll blame that for the hormones. Usually, my breasts are sore about a week before my period. That didn't happen this time; I just ended up with this nightmare feeling. It's been extremely upsetting because not only do I not plan to wean her cold-turkey, but I need a milk supply to make breastfeeding the adopted baby feasible. The pressure I was feeling during the past few days was horrible. It was like I couldn't even remember what normal nursing felt like, and I've been doing it for years!

Luckily, today is back to normal. Grace has actually nursed quite a bit; I think she's making up for the past few days. I hope this doesn't happen again next month.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is My Head in the Milky-White Clouds?

As Grace grows older, I become more paranoid about having enough of a milk supply to breastfeed our adopted baby (whenever that blessed event happens). I am second-guessing our timing, but truthfully I didn't want Grace to be younger than this when she becomes a big sister. I was just reading an online post about adoptive moms and building up supply. Am I crazy to think that I can do this without buying supplements from Canada or Asia and pumping round the clock for months before? I think I've bucked the nursing trend already because I do not own a pump and have managed to breastfeed three babies/toddlers long-term without needing bottles. If I can do that, then can I do this? I know that it will take a little while to build from the supply necessary for a two year old to what's needed for a newborn. Since the baby will be formula fed for its first five days, I figured that I would continue to supplement that way until my supply built up. I've begun to wonder if I shouldn't go out and get a pump to have a frozen stash of milk to put in those bottles. The thing is that even though we've been working towards this for years and seriously going through the steps since June, it doesn't feel real yet. I fantasize about picking up a baby at the agency's office, but it still doesn't feel like something that will happen. Pumping from now on kind of feels like a jinx. I certainly don't want to look back to this time when I could have been doing something and regret my choices...I guess I'll be doing some comparison shopping for pumps. The few times I ever used one with my first baby (for like a month before I realized that I had no need for it), I didn't get much milk at all, even though I had an ample supply.

How did wet nurses do it anyway? I've read that they made sure to have the baby drain each breast completely, but I don't fully understand that. If my kids kept nursing after I was "empty" my breasts simply filled up again. Regardless, wet nurses in the past did not have access to hospital-grade double pumps.

Perhaps I'll buy a scale to weigh the baby before and after feedings to make sure he or she is getting enough. I guess I was wrong about not needing to buy any new things for the baby!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Invisible Lobby

This election season, we've heard lots about the importance of healthcare and its impact on the economy. Both candidates have mentioned prevention as a method of bringing down healthcare costs for individuals and as a way of lowering premiums for everyone. I have no expectation of ever hearing breastfeeding mentioned in a presidential election, but low breastfeeding rates do play into the overall health of our children aka future adults. Breastfed babies come down with fewer colds, they are less likely to develop childhood cancers, adult cancers, autism, high blood pressure, obesity, and the list goes on and on. Therefore, I don't think it's a stretch to proclaim that formula contributes to higher rates of those diseases and conditions.

Where are the government pro-breastfeeding campaigns? I've heard of them, but it was mostly in the context of people complaining that they were making formula feeding moms feel bad. Instead, we have campaigns (based on mattress manufacturer's data) to stop co-sleeping, which has been shown to have a positive impact on long term breastfeeding success. Of course no one wants a baby to be accidentally killed by a parent during the night. There should definitely be safety campaigns, but they should focus on ways to co-sleep safely, not on ways to avoid it altogether. Most victims of SIDS die in cribs; should we ban the beds?

When my nephew was born, his mom was in college, and his dad worked at a low wage job. They rented a house and mostly supported themselves. The baby was on Medicaid for his health care and my sister was on WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) to help pay for basic foods. She had to bring her baby in to the WIC office periodically to check on his weight and general health. One day, while my sister was in class, and I was babysitting,I took my nephew in for his appointment. He was six months old. The WIC woman asked me if he could hold his own sippy cup! I pointed out that he'd never had a sippy cup. I said that he was still breastfeeding and took bottles from his grandparents and myself. She would not let it go. According to her, he was behind if he couldn't hold his own cup. I didn't know much about breastfeeding at the time, but I knew that she was way off. I've since figured out how off. Every medical agency recommends nothing but breastmilk for the first six months, followed by the gradual introduction of solid food. Pushing cup use and acting surprised at the fact that a six month old was still nursing are not things that a public official who truly cared about the current and future health of an infant should do. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least twelve months. If that's the case, then in my opinion, a bottlefed baby should be allowed to use a bottle for at least that long. The need to suck does not go away just because a mom uses rubber instead of her breast. Furthermore, the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least the first two years. Their goals are to improve the lives and health of infants and children all over the world. An American baby on Medicaid and WIC is exactly the sort of child they want to help. I agree that WIC should help pay for formula but only after a real effort to encourage breastfeeding.

The answer, I believe, lies in the giant industry that is Infant Formula. I've already written about how they "wine and dine" doctors and other hospital employees. Who knows how far they would go to keep breastfeeding off of the official list of ways to improve the health of Americans?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Impending Challenge

We are moving along (slowly) with our adoption plans, and that has lead me to obsess over a possible complication. I mentioned before that the social worker was caught totally off guard by my questions about the timing of placement and its impact on my breastfeeding our adopted newborn. That was back when I first contacted her via email to get info about her agency. I have not brought it up again because of her initial reaction. Since the agency has a firm policy of not placing babies until the biological mother has signed away her rights, which cannot be done before the fifth day, I researched my chances of breastfeeding a newborn who had only had bottles for his/her first five days. Everything I read and everyone I contacted (including La Leche League) agreed that it would not be a problem to switch a baby at that age from bottle to breast. That put my mind at ease that although it could take more work than initially nursing my biological babies, I could do this.

When we last saw the social worker, she mentioned (in relation to some other topic), "If the placement is delayed for a couple of days for some reason." Those reasons would be either the biological mother or father not signing to terminate their rights on the fifth day. That gives me a big challenge to think about. What if some mom chooses us to be the parents of her child, we accept, and then she or the father hold things up for another week or more? Being able to successfully breastfeed this baby is more than just a passing fancy for me. On the other hand, what would the biological mother, and more importantly, the social worker handling all of this, think if we backed out on the grounds that the baby might not be able to latch on after two weeks on bottles? She may wash her hands of us and refuse to show our book to any other moms. The poor woman who had made the difficult decision that we were the ones to raise her child would be left without a family for her baby and think that we were evil, selfish people. There are plenty of agencies and independent adoption scenarios that would allow us to bring our newborn home directly from the hospital "at legal risk" which means that the mom could change her mind until she signs the paperwork. We chose this agency for several reasons, and at the time, they totally outweighed the concerns of nursing a five day old for the first time. Hopefully, this is just me stressing about "what if's" and things will go like they should once we are matched...

Another thing that has come out of me thinking about nursing and timing is, am I doing breastfeeding a disservice by keeping quiet? Shouldn't I, as an experienced breastfeeding mother and advocate of nursing, be trying to educate our social worker about the benefits of breastfeeding (both biologically and for the adopted child)? She deals with adoptive parents and pregnant women all day long; she's in a position where she should know about this topic. I could flood her with websites, doctor's opinions, and real adoptive mothers' experiences to educate her. Instead, I have kept my mouth shut since her initial surprised reaction. I don't want her to think of me as that mom while she's writing her home study report and choosing which women to show our profile to. I think that makes me selfish, but this has been a long road, and I want to reach the baby at the end of it. Maybe I could give her all of that information after we've been placed with a baby. She could see how well it's going for us (fingers crossed) and read the information and come away from our adoption with new knowledge and acceptance.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nursing vs Nurses

Priests are supposed to listen to all of the bad things you've done and keep it a secret. Defense attorneys are supposed to help you get off, even when they know that you've committed a crime. Doctors are supposed to "do no harm" when they treat you. What are nurses supposed to do? I have had so many experiences with nurses who interject their own personal beliefs into their treatment of patients that it makes my head spin. Do they honestly not understand the position of power they hold in a patient's eyes, or are they intentionally bullying sick people?

In 2003, I woke up from a surgery to discover (by overhearing two nurses talking to one another) that my doctor had removed my entire ovary and a growth that could be cancer (it wasn't). When my family walked in, I began crying and asking my mom and husband what I was going to do about the baby. My son was nine months old, breastfeeding, and cosleeping. The surgery was supposed to have me out that same day, but now I was going to have to spend the night. The nurse turned to me, obviously ignored the tears in my eyes (or didn't care), and began berating me for still breastfeeding a nine month old! She only nursed each of her children for four months, which apparently makes her an authority on the subject. It wasn't until my mom said something back that the woman stopped and told me that the baby could spend the night with me. What right did she have to tell me what to do? It had nothing to do with what she needed to do to care for me. She was unprofessional enough to believe that her personal opinions had any place in that room.

Fast forward to a week ago. My youngest was hospitalized overnight with an apparent asthma attack. After an hour in the ER, my husband took the other kids to the cafeteria. My two year old was feeling better after a breathing treatment and asked to nurse. Just after we started, two nurses came in to start her IV. One of them took Grace's arm and was searching for a vein when she realized that the baby was breastfeeding. She began giggling nervously and telling the other nurse that she hadn't realized what Grace was doing. From that moment on, she thought I was from another country. An hour or so later, Grace was nursing again (they did not bring her food until I asked three times) when the nurse came in. She said, "How often does she eat?" which I took to mean food, since I'd already asked about it several times. I guess I took too long to formulate an answer because the nurse started touching her own breasts and saying, "Breastfeeding," in a voice that indicated that I either didn't speak English well, or I was mentally slow. "Does she do it every two hours?" she asked next. She seemed surprised when I said that it was more like two to three times a day normally. I pointed out that she hadn't had any food to eat yet that day, and she was sick.

I was confident that the nurses on the pediatric until would be more aware and supportive of breastfeeding (I can be an optimistic idiot). Nope. The first respiratory therapist yanked the curtain around Grace's bed and snapped something about privacy the first time I nursed her there. You have to know that when I nurse in public, you cannot see one inch of breast. Obviously it wasn't what I was showing, it was what I was doing that bothered her. A different nurse was surprised that Grace both breastfed and ate a regular diet. Don't other toddlers drink bottles or sippy cups of cow's milk? Isn't it supposed to be an important part of their diet? Do nurses not know that it is milk that comes out of a woman's breasts? The entire night, I could feel waves of judgement and disdain coming off of the staff. It made my skin crawl, and I had to stop myself from turning Grace down when she asked to breastfeed when someone was in the room. What kind of a mother would I have been if I'd let pressure keep my sick baby from the comfort she needed?

Mothers need to know that when they are under the care of nurses (at least in the two hospitals I've dealt with), do not be bullied into fitting into their worldview. Just because you nurse thinks that breasts are scary it does not mean that you shouldn't be breastfeeding. Don't let them force you to deny your child the very thing that comforts him/her the most. Understand that what they say is more often colored by their personal opinions than their professional knowledge.

I have to end by saying that I have met wonderful nurses who were supportive or at the very least, non-judgemental. The last labor and delivery nurse I had told me that she was still breastfeeding her two year old :)