Monday, November 23, 2009

Defining Breastfeeding

Thanks to my friend Marketing Mama, I've been thinking a lot about breastfeeding today.  Her jumping off point was signage about nursing that used bottles.  (See her post here).  She expresses her point admirably and I'm not here to repeat the posts of others, but it did get me thinking about how we define breastfeeding in our society.

My question:  Is breastfeeding defined by the location from which a baby drinks the food (ie breast or bottle) or by the type of food (breastmilk or formula)?

I think breastfeeding is typically associated with whipping out a boob and feeding a child whenever needed.  And yet, the answer seems far more complicated than that.  Many nursing mothers pump on a regular basis, particularly if they work, so that their child can eat without being fully dependent on the mother alone.

But I would argue that even though my son never figured out how to drink from the breast that he has been breastfed because he's had only breastmilk since he was born.

I've shared a little about the difficulties we've had breastfeeding here a little but not in depth.  Since baby goat was born 7 weeks early he didn't have a suck reflex.  For quite along time he was fed almost exclusively through a nose tube that pumped my breastmilk directly into stomach.  I was pumping every 2-3 hours while recovering from the preeclampsia and the c-section and trying to care for him in the NICU too.

Eventually he started taking a bit by the bottle and we started breastfeeding attempts.  We'd try when I was there to breastfeed and each time they would strip him down to his diaper, weigh him down to the gram, and place him on my chest for our attempts.  We'd work at it for 15, 20, 30, 45 minutes getting increasingly hungry and frustrated.  From time to time they would bring him back to the scale and see how many grams he'd gained.  This was how many ml of breastmilk he'd drunk. 

The majority of the time it was 8 ml or less.  More times than I can even count, it was zero.  45 minutes of trying for zero food for my son.  It wasn't for a lack of milk.  The problem was his suck.  He figured out something that worked for him when he had the bottle, but he didn't have the ability to draw it in, rather he chewed.

We tried Lactation consultants who were rude driving to tears about my inability to feed my child.  I was told that if I just kept at it he would get the hang of it.  We tried for a long time.  The most he ever got was 20 ml, which was approx. a third of his feedings at that stage.  And even that seemed to be a fluke as it was never duplicated.

As we went on, he started having his heart rate drop due to reflux during eating, particularly when he was in a horizontal position.  This made breastfeeding even more complicated and frustrating for him and me (not to mention scary).  We saw a physical therapist who tried some techniques to get him to draw milk in more fully.  While we tried these techniques it didn't seem to help in the long run.

As all of these attempts were going on, baby goat was getting bottles whenever I wasn't there.  Our insurance would only let us stay for up to 4 days round the clock once I was discharged, and we saved that for the end when he was about to come home.  After 4 weeks I was out of vacation and he was still in the NICU so I was forced to go back to work which prevented me from getting to even more feedings.

It got to the point that breastfeeding attempts led to crying for him and for me.  Him from hunger and me from my inablity to feed my child.  But, I was feeding him.  I kept pumping every 3 hours and I was renowned in the NICU for my milk supply.  I think I was the only one who had a child who'd never needed to be supplemented with formula, ever, even after all that my body went through it still produced the milk to care for baby goat.

After he came home we tried for a while, but he'd figured out how to eat with a bottle and the damage (as it were) was done and he has been a bottlefed breastfed baby ever since.

But I still consider that baby goat is breastfed.  I ache at the knowledge that I've missed out on a beautiful bonding experience.  I am so sick of the breast pump too but I keep going.  My goal is to make it a year.

But is baby goat breastfed?  I hope so.  I have felt guilty about not breastfeeding before, but I'm going to say that I do breastfeed baby goat, in a manner of speaking.

*Disclaimer:  No offense was meant to anyone on any side of the breastfeeding spectrum.  I'm just thinking through some of my own thoughts from my experience.*


Kim said...

Liz, I admire your commitment to feeding baby goat breastmilk exclusively, even if it isn't straight outta the source.

I had horrible troubles with our first son and gave up after 5 days. I was cracked, blistered, and bleeding, and every time he started to cry to eat, I started to cry because I knew the attempt was going to have me in agony. By the time I had healed enough to try again, and we finally figured out that he couldn't latch well because of an abnormally high palate, it was too late. In retrospect, maybe we could have gotten my milk to come back, but maybe not. I'll never know.

What frustrates me, especially coming from anyone who hasn't had trouble breastfeeding is the implication that I missed out on a bonding opportunity. My son was still nestled in my arms and still staring into my eyes taking everyone of those bottles and while the bonding I had may have been different than the experience someone else had, it is MY child and no one else has the ability to comment on our relationship.

Monkeymama said...

Wow Liz, I knew you were still pumping, but I didn't realize that Baby Goat had never been supplemented. That is amazing! I'm so impressed with women who can pump long term, especially if they work and can still stick with it. But, with Baby Goat's NICU stay, I'm super impressed! It sounds like breastfeeding to me - Go Mama!

Melodie said...

You are the kind of breastfeeding mom I put up on a pedestal. For the lactivist I am I have no idea if I could exclusively pump. But I never had to pump at all, for any reason because in Canada I got a year's paid mat leave. So you American breastpumping moms amaze and humble me.

The Marketing Mama said...

Liz, I have been so impressed with your dedication to pumping all these months. The fact that you haven't supplemented at all, let alone switch to formula completely, is truly amazing!

Thank you for sharing your breastfeeding story with all of us. You are an awesome mom to a lucky boy. :)

esperanza said...

My experience is almost exactly the same as yours: NICU, ng tube, reflux, the whole deal. I was just working part-time, but you still have to lug that thing around, ya know? I remember the day I decided to heck with it, I'm just pumping, and I remember the peace that finally came. We were both happier. I do feel like I missed something, but I did what was best for us. And I pumped exclusively for 15 months, so it can be done! You rock, and thanks for posting.

Becky B said...

I just have to give you props for using the phrase "whipping out a boob."

shadeflower said...

Having had my daughter as Baby Goat's roomie, I know how much work you went through to get him to breastfeed and how much you pumped. I also pumped relentlessly - the only time my daughter had formula was in the very beginning before my supply came in. After that, it was all breast milk. I am fortunate that she was able to feed from the breast on the occasion, but it took several months before she could succeed a full feeding. And Lord, did I hate the pump! While I still pump about once a day (more if we're going somewhere and need a sitter), she is fully "on the boob" now and does not care much for the bottle. That can often have its challenges because she is easily distracted and only likes to "lay down" to eat (I feed while we are both lying on our sides, facing each other). It's very difficult to feed her in public (not from my being shy - trust me, after being in the NICU for 3 weeks, I'm far from shy to whip out a boob now - ha!).

I think you have done a great job, Liz. You have shown unending dedication. You are giving him the right stuff and that's very admirable. I think many women would have given up by now and just gone to formula. I'm proud of you.

JM said...

Congrats to you on continuing to use the pump, that is not an easy road to take. My second kiddo didn't take to the breast until his second month and I was already on the brink of giving up the pump - so I truly applaud your perseverence. And I agree, baby Goat is a breastfed baby. Good luck on keeping up the good work!

Rebecca said...

D*&# straight your boy is breastfed!!! He gets all the benefits, and boy have you paid the price for that! You are AWESOME!

So, the inevitable question: have you pumped while driving?

Crying Baby Help said...

Reflux may trigger the baby to cry but in order to prevent it, there are ways to follow such as keeping the baby upright after feeding, using wedge pillows and trying not to lie the baby after feeding. In a way this can help to stop the baby crying.