Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Did my birth experience set me up to fail at breastfeeding?

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This month's theme is the birth-breastfeeding continuum. 

I knew exactly what I wanted the birth of my baby to be like. Before I even became pregnant, before I even had any business worrying about babies and childbirth, I had a picture in my head of how it would go. Of course I would have an all-natural delivery, I would labor in a tub and give birth in whatever position felt the best, most likely on all fours or squatting. I read every book on natural childbirth that you can imagine and as the months went by, I became more and more worried about getting what I wanted at a hospital with a birth attended by an obstetrician. But I liked my OB and we seemed to be on the same page throughout my pregnancy and I regularly reminded him of how this birth was going to go. I thought about switching to a midwife and even took a childbirth and breastfeeding class at the Miami Maternity Center, which was featured in a show on Discovery Health called House of Babies.

I loved the birth center and the way the midwives there described how empowering birth could be. I wanted that experience, to know that everyone in the room was supporting me and that any interventions would only occur if absolutely medically necessary. But inexplicably, I kept going back to my OB's office for check-ups. When I hit the 42 week mark, I finally agreed to come in the next day to be induced, but thankfully I went into labor on my own. And for the most part, I got the birth I wanted. I didn't get an epidural, but I did have to push while lying on my back. My son was whisked away to be cleaned and measured and weighed, but he was returned to me quickly and I was able to breastfeed him for about 30 minutes in the delivery room. I felt pretty good about the way that things had turned out, figuring that for a hospital birth, I'd gotten pretty lucky.

But a recent podcast with Linda Smith on the Motherwear Blog nearly brought me to tears, as Linda discussed all of the ways in which typical hospital practices can cause breastfeeding problems. My son and I had such a rough start to breastfeeding but I blamed that on me being a first-time mom and never having seen anyone breastfeed. But was it my birth that impacted the nursing relationship between me and my son?

I had read how important it was for a mom to nurse her baby within the first hour of birth and I was able to do that. But my son was washed clean first and we were never skin-to-skin. If the importance if skin-to-skin was stressed in the pregnancy and breastfeeding books that I read, I don't remember it. And no one in the hospital ever suggested it. In fact, they yelled at me for unraveling him from his swaddle and holding him in bed with me, saying his temp would drop and if it did, he'd have to go under a warmer in the nursery and I wouldn't be able to keep him in the room with me. After that threat, I was sure to keep him swaddled tight at all times.

And what about my IV? I was only in labor at the hospital for about 3 hours, but I had IV fluids the entire time. Could that have inflated my son's birth weight, making it seem like he lost more weight than he really did? My son also had a lot of trouble latching and my milk came in two days later than is normal. Was edema caused by the IV to blame?

They also did a heelstick on my son, said his blood sugar was low and gave him formula in a bottle. I tried to argue with the nurse, saying I had asked for no bottles or formula, but she said they HAD to give it to him because it was medically necessary so I said OK. When I looked at our discharge papers, I saw he had been given formula every time he left the room for some other test! I was so mad, but at that point, what could I do? And to be honest, I probably would have consented then, too, because I didn't want to harm my baby.

And what of the stuff that seemed totally innocuous at the time, like bulb suctioning, or the nurses taking the baby to the nursery, just once for an hour, so I could sleep? I know there's nothing I can do about it at this point, but thinking about it has been bothering me a lot lately. I thought I'd had just about the best experience you could have in a hospital, but now I'm not so sure. If my son had been born at the birth center, would he have taken to breastfeeding quicker? Could I have avoided the sore nipples and weeks of nervewracking weight checks for a baby who wasn't gaining quick enough?

Did my birth set me up to fail at breastfeeding? And if it did, did I make it by luck or sheer determination? How many other women are throwing in the towel before they meet their nursing goals because of routine hospital practices?

Please be sure to check out the other Carnival participants' posts!

Crib Keeper @ Tales from the Crib: On Not Being Discouraged
Suchada @ Mama Eve: Birth and Breastfeeding
Christina @ Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: Early Intervention Lactation Help
Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing mom: Birth Experiences and Its Effect on Breastfeeding
Michelle @ Mama Bear: Long, wide shadow of bad births
Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Fighting for Breastfeeding
Tanya @ Motherwear Blog: The Birth/Breastfeeding Continuum
Kate @ Tumbling Boobs: Nursing After Surrogacy or Adoption

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