In past posts when I wrote that I would only breastfeed if it were easy and recognized that there are many instances where breast is not best, I really had no idea how difficult it would be for me. Despite my hypothetical understanding of breastfeeding difficulty, the truth is I never thought it would happen to me. I bought a breast pump when I took prenatal lactation classes “just in case” but was really only expecting to use it for when I went back to work and to store extra breast milk. Oh how naïve I was…
Ellie was born unable to latch. She was born via c-section with apgar scores of 10 and had no tongue-tie. She just would not latch. When she was first born, I immediately tried to breastfeed. But being a first-time mother and dazed from surgery, I had no idea what I was doing and no one was there to help me. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized she wasn’t actually latching.
With that discovery began postpartum hell. The nurses treated me and Ellie terribly by trying to force her to latch. One nurse even pinched her to get her to cry so she could cram my nipple into her mouth. The few times she actually got her mouth around my nipple she sucked a few times before unlatching and continuing screaming.
We ended up having to feed her with syringes so as to avoid nipple confusion. So every feed started with repeatedly trying to get her to latch and finishing off with syringes of formula. The nurses didn’t want me to use my pump. So I didn’t begin that until I was home. Then I was at least able to give a mixture of colostrum and formula syringes.
Once we got home, there was still no improvement, so we hired our prenatal preparation midwife come lactation consultant to help us out. She wasn’t able to offer any solutions. I had the idea to try nipple shields, which she approved. The nipple shields allowed my baby to latch. They didn’t, however, allow her to suck successfully. She would suck for a while, but she would be so tired from the effort that she would fall asleep only to awake screaming for food. Also, my frequent pumping would leave her without a sufficient supply. It was a vicious circle that was just not working. By this time, Ellie would cry every time I tried to put her on the breast, and I would dissolve into a sobbing mess. At that point everyone was concerned with my mental health. My midwife/lactation consultant suggested that I stopped trying to get Ellie to latch at all. But because my production was lacking, she suggested that I pump every two hours during the day and every three hours at night. I wasn’t able to keep up that schedule. I pumped every three hours during the day and after every feeding at night.
Through pumping alone, I was able to give Ellie breast milk for all but one feeding a day. This has gone on from since Ellie was three weeks old. She’s exactly 10 weeks today. I don’t mind pumping, but I’ve had mastitis twice already. To express what I need, I am attached to the pump for about three hours a day (more if I do a power pump session that can last from 1 to 2 hours). I’ve been prepared to continue on this way until it became clear that my anxiety levels are very elevated and that I need to get back on Lexapro (a medication I have taken intermittently for the last 10 years).
In that vein, I told my GP that I wanted a prescription for Lexapro about a month ago. She refused to give it to me by saying that my high levels of anxiety were normal given all the difficulties I’ve had breast feeding. This was also around the time of my first bout of mastitis. She said that before I stopped breastfeeding, I should talk to the pediatrician (for permission) and the local midwife (for support). When I talked to the pediatrician, I was given a huge guilt trip. She essentially said that since I only had one child I should really make the effort to give Ellie breast milk. It wasn’t until I was sobbing in her office that she conceded that I had made a great effort and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for stopping. However, I felt a bit more empowered after visiting the midwife. She told me that some people have these problems and that I shouldn’t feel guilty. But she also said that even though I couldn’t produce all of what my baby needs, that even 20% was better than nothing. And so I continued pumping.
But I got mastitis again about two weeks later. And my mental health has only improved a bit after I joined the gym and have been able to get out of the house nearly every day. Thank goodness I have a wonderful husband that works from home and is able to care for the baby while I get some “me time.” I went back to my GP and said that I wanted to quit pumping. She once again requested that I see the pediatrician again for permission. Also, she decided to refer me to a psychiatrist because my mental health had improved. My GP, pediatrician and I met up about a week later. It was agreed that I would try to continue to pump until Ellie reaches three months, depending on what the psychiatrist said and ultimately prescribed. I was relieved that I was finally getting an appointment with someone who could help me get my medication, but I was disappointed that I was pressured into continuing to pump. I know it is ultimately my decision, but the pressure and guilt really prevented me from being my own advocate.
The psychiatric appointment was weird, nothing like what I was used to in the US. Her office wasn’t the cozy room with a sofa that I was used to. I sat across from the psychiatrist at a desk while she asked questions and typed on the computer. Anyway, she didn’t want to give me Lexapro because I was still pumping. She didn’t ask me if I wanted to stop pumping. She didn’t suggest that I stop pumping. Instead, she referred me to a psychologist and stated that if the psychologist decided I needed more of a push, I could get another psych appointment for medication. So once again I left feeling dejected. How could it be that these medical professionals, including a psychiatrist felt that giving my child breast milk was more important than my mental health? It was like I was in an alternate reality. And again, I knew I wanted to stop pumping, but the pressure and guilt continued to consume me.
Today, I had the appointment with the psychologist. For the first time, someone asked me what I wanted. She is the first medical professional to understand that my mental health is paramount. When I said that I felt stupid that I let the other doctors pressure me, she was empathetic and said that it was totally understandable because they are the professionals. I finally feel like I can do what I need to do, which is to STOP PUMPING. She said before I could deal with the rest of my issues (of which there are many), I’d need to resolve the lactation issue. So I’m going back to the psychiatrist next week to get my prescription and then having an appointment with the psychologist to see how things are going.
I wish I could say this is a guilt-free decision. It is not. I still feel a lot of internally and externally imposed guilt. But I know that this is the best decision for not only myself, but also my baby and my husband. I need to reduce my stress levels, so that I can get well. Yes, I am aware that Lexapro is supposedly safe to take while lactating. Unfortunately, my doctors do not accept that so taking Lexapro and pumping is not an option.
For the moment, some of the pressure has been relieved. I am going to taper off pumping. I no longer have to constantly worry about supply. I no longer have to schedule my life around pumping. On one hand, I feel liberated, but on the other, I feel a bit like I’m giving up. Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that this is the right decision.