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Learning to Breastfeed

Meghan Agresto
Chapel Hill NC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 10-11

My son, Benicio, just finally learned how to breastfeed. He is two months old. I breastfed him, or so I thought, for the week after he was born, but when he had lost more than a pound of his original six pounds 11 ounces, I knew something was wrong. On his seventh day of life, I woke up to breasts that were unusually light. I went immediately to my midwife who said that, given his weight loss and what seemed to be the loss of my milk supply, I had to start him immediately on formula. She said that I might just be one of those rare cases where breastfeeding was really not an option, even though when my milk came in it had been in abundance. That day I rented a pump and was able to pump only 1/16th of an ounce. I immediately contacted a lactation consultant, who told me that I really had no choice except to bottle-feed him formula because I had to be able to measure how much nutrition he was getting. I was not producing enough milk to feed him. When he was unable to take more than seven ounces of formula in a day, I was told that he lacked a "nutritive suck," which is why my milk had dried up.

I was determined to feed my son human milk so I began pumping eight times a day. I took a prescription drug to help my milk supply, and I was eventually able to pump about 2/3 of his daily intake. When I visited another lactation consultant, she told me that he had a thrush infection and that even though he was not breastfeeding, I should treat my nipples, too, since I often tried to get him to latch on (a proposition he always balked at by screaming and arching his back). She also told me that his time using the bottle had not improved his suck and that I should hold his chin down so that his mouth would be more wide open. She thought this would help him to accept my breast.

I boiled bottles, I held down his chin, I mixed formula, and threw out the unused portions, much to my wallet's chagrin. I tried using a supplemental nurser, but Benicio always found a way to stay awake only when he could suck the tubing by itself. Otherwise, he would fall asleep immediately and another feeding would pass with him not having taken in enough sustenance. I tried silicone nipple shields after I had built my milk supply up, but he did not seem to be able to suck hard enough to get them to work, either.

Needless to say, none of this was great for my mental health, particularly when my nipples cracked after the thrush treatment. When the pump I was using broke, even some of the most dedicated breastfeeders I know suggested that I switch to formula completely.

Perhaps it's because I hated paying for formula, because I was convinced the formula was constipating him, or because I'm stubborn and compulsive, but I kept trying. I was sure that when my nipples healed and my milk supply increased, he would take the breast.

Then, when he was almost two months old, he found his hands. Being able to get his fingers in his mouth made him amenable to having something other than a bottle in his mouth. At a feeding in the middle of the night, I offered him my breast and he took it. He spent most of his time sleeping at it, and when he realized that it was a breast he pulled away, but nevertheless, he had taken it! I offered him the breast at night feedings and first thing in the morning (he flat out refused it in the late morning and afternoons) and finally, after a short preference for only the left breast and only in the early mornings, he is now exclusively breastfed from both breasts.

Now that the formula cans are lying untouched on the top of my refrigerator and my breasts are once again leaking (hooray!), I wanted to write to let other mothers know they should not give up. If they are patient and if they keep up their milk supply, they may be able to overcome their problems and nurse exclusively.

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