I’m not looking for a gold star (okay I’ll totally take one if you got one!) but I do want to help moms who have been through very difficult births breastfeed. And if you are reading this and had a traumatic birth and didn’t breastfeed because of it, this is also for you. Especially for you. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I KNOW how hard it is. I REALLY, really know and I want to reach out of the internets right now and give you a really big hug and have coffee with you so we can talk about our crazy birth stories.
Just about all of us really want to do what’s best for baby. And if you had a traumatic birth, I know you had to do what you felt was right for you at the time. But now we are armed with more knowledge and hindsight to help us in the future. To help other moms who may be in the same situation. So grab a coffee and let’s chat …
What happened to me with the HELLP and the preeclampsia is serious. It was life-threatening and the risk continues after birth. That really screws with your mental health: thinking you might die before you get to see the beautiful life (or lives) you were gestating in your belly. Or dying shortly after they are born. It’s not just HELLP/preeclampsia that creates a massive breastfeeding hurdle — it’s all the other host of issues that can happen. I don’t think I need to list them — I’m hoping you will comment and share them all. But I can talk about my situation because I lived it.
I could not breastfeed the moment after my twins were born — that crucial time and moment I envisioned being pure bliss when I was pregnant. Instead I was alive, but nearly dead inside. You can read my birth story here, but in short, I labored for four hours and in that time my blood pressure skyrocketed, my vision blurred, and my liver and kidneys were shutting down. My body wasn’t ready or able to get to the point where I could have the babies vaginally, so I was prepped for a c-section. The only cure for what was killing me and possibly my babies was their delivery. Penelope arrived at 10:07 pm on December 1, 2009. And Hunter came at 10:09 pm. It was the happiest and most frightening day of my life. I was so out of it from the drugs and magnesium sulfide they pumped me with to prevent me from seizure and stroke. I was convulsing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I couldn’t breastfeed. I couldn’t even lift my arms. But the nurses helped bring each baby to breast — a small thing yes, but so important even though I didn’t realize it at that time. Because of my state, I couldn’t emote what I wanted. I didn’t even have much feeling emotionally or physically because of the drugs. I was helpless.
Lesson 1: Prepare yourself for this situation by telling your partner and your doctor that even if you are out of it after a traumatic birth to please put the baby to breast. Even if it’s just for skin-to-skin contact.
The next day was a haze. I was hooked up to IVs, had a catheter — how the hell was I supposed to breastfeed like that? I could barely move. But each day got a little better. And each day we tried breastfeeding. And each day we all got a little better at it. But if I didn’t have a husband urging me sweetly to try, nurses who were amazingly supportive, and lactation consultants who visited me several times a day, I don’t think I would have succeeded. And that’s not because I didn’t WANT to breastfeed. It was because I was not well and just wanted to close my eyes and drift into my drug-induced oblivion.
Lesson 2: Keep trying to nurse each day even if you aren’t successful each time.
I was in the hospital for a week. My husband couldn’t sleep over and because I couldn’t get out of bed or move much the nights were very hard with twins. It would have been hard with one baby as well. The nurses were amazing. And when I couldn’t nurse much in those first days, they spoon fed the babies formula. They had both breastmilk and formula. And so many moms need to realize that it doesn’t have to be one OR the other. There are times we do need help and any breastmilk you can give your baby is fantastic not just for baby but for your own healing process. I swear it was the oxytocin from breastfeeding that helped me recover. Still, I didn’t feel myself for at least 3 weeks. Oh hell, it was much, much longer than that. I cried a lot. A LOT a lot.
Lesson 3 and 4: The nurses are there to help you. Ask for help. And oxytocin is the most amazing natural drug in the whole widest world.
The BEST way anyone can help a new mama when they are struggling to breastfeed after a traumatic birth is with compassion. Even if that mom hasn’t breastfed at all. Being through a traumatizing birth is so very hard. It was so hard for me. Some moms need to turn to formula because they have to — and then it just becomes the norm. But that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on those moms. Instead, we need to bond together, showing compassion for what that mom went through, and being easy on her and recognizing how a difficult birth can be so serious and how it IS so hard to nurse after something like that. Perhaps it’s early enough after her birth that she still has milk and can try again. Or perhaps it could help her realize that if she has another baby, breastfeeding is the way to go. And she can do that without guilt.
Lesson 5 and 6: Breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing — you can breastfeed and formula feed if you HAVE to. Guilt is a bitch.
Who am I kidding? With as little guilt as possible. I have guilt. I am full of what ifs. But looking back on my birth and early days of trying to breastfeed now, 14 months of breastfeeding my twins, many months of having to also give formula because of supply issues, but still 14 months of breastfeeding my twins and still going, I know I did and continue to do the very best that I can.
Lesson 7: We all should be supportive of all moms, helping them, being an ear, without making them angry. That’s the way to increase the breastfeeding rates.
To any mom who has been through something similar, I understand. I support you. We have so much to teach other women, and so much to learn from each other and our own experiences.
I can’t end this rant without addressing the fact that I truly believe that something must be done about formula companies and how they must be better. This post isn’t about that — let’s not make it about that. But I wanted to recognize the situation — formula is needed for some moms and that formula should be safe because our babies deserve the best when they cannot go to breast.
Did you have a traumatic birth that prevented you from breastfeeding? Or do you lend a supportive ear or words when a mom faces these difficult challenges?