*This post is intended for soon-to-be moms who plan on nursing. Food readers may find it a tad boring and long-winded.
This little chicken is my whole life right now. I eat, sleep and breathe her. (Not that she lets me eat or sleep longer than a couple of hours.) Most days I stare at her and think, Oh my God, you grew in my tummy. I felt you for all those months, and now here you are, more alive and spunky than I ever imagined!
Other days I cry and wonder, Oh my God, this babycare stuff is so damn exhausting – how am I going to do this for the next umpteen years? I can barely make it through another day. (I did this a lot in the first couple of weeks).
But then a small victory comes my way: Jassy Rae gives me a good, thunderous burp and falls into a deep, breathy, happy sleep, and I think, OK, I can do this. I may be able to raise this human after all.
Alas, this is the beautiful chaos of parenthood.
So here’s a recap of the last 5 ½ weeks: I’ve been spending every minute of the last month-plus getting to know Jas. This tiny person, our daughter, has grown a lot. Jassy Rae was once so petite, I was frightened she’d slip out of my grip and spill to the floor. Now, a thousand feedings later, she’s robust with a Buddha belly and the cutest fat rolls at every bend of her body.
She may have a soft, serious gaze that, no doubt, she gets from her dad, but she’s feisty and demanding; something we learned during our stay in the neonatal ICU. Yes, we had a traumatic health scare after we took her home…
Everything was dreamy during labor and delivery. Our day-and-a-half in the postpartum recovery room was also fab. The hospital pediatrician said Jassy and I were in great health, and that like all babies, she’d lose a little weight in the first days post-birth. Once my milk came in a few days later, Jassy would feast, gain weight and everything would be fine.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
The first night home was rough. We were away from the nurturing, all-knowing, hallowed walls of the maternity ward – where there are nurses, docs and specialists at your beck and call to offer assista nce. Jassy screamed all night. I kept taking her to my boob so she could suckle colostrum, but she would just become more frustrated and holler like an angry baboon every time she got near my chest. It was a long, loud, heart-wrenching night.
We then motored to our first pedi apt, where we thought we would hear this was normal newborn behavior and our baby was in good health. Instead, we were informed our daughter was dangerously dehydrated. Turns out the colostrum wasn’t enough for her. She lost too much weight and would have to check into the NICU. (She went from 6 lbs. 9 oz. to 5 lbs. 11 oz.)
I bawled the whole way to the hospital as I looked down at our tiny, apparently starved daughter, and didn’t stop crying for 24 hours, when she was released. (It was a short stay in NICU, thankfully.)
When we arrived at the hospital, the nurturing NICU team hooked Jas up to an IV and gave her fluids until her sodium levels dropped to a healthy level. During our stay, the lactation consultant showed Sammy and I how to use these painful, newly engorged breasts of mine (my milk had just come in the morning we checked into the hospital and I had no idea how to get Jas to feed, since she would scream when she got near them, probably thinking my boobs were just an empty fountain… poor girl) . My boobs were inflamed and milk clumps were starting to form, and it really hurt. We pumped my boobs with the terrifying-looking hospital breast pump as we sat next to Jassy’s tiny baby bed in our corner of the NICU.
Then, with the help of the husky, knowledge-rich lactation consultant, I was able to nurse my baby for the first time with breastmilk. We did this in our ICU bay, among the tangle of cords that supplied Jassy’s body vital nutrients and tracked her heartbeat, surrounded by humming machines and cooing preemies who were fiercely, innocently fighting for better health.
I cried as I nursed her, apologizing to her that my colostrum hadn’t been enough, promising her that her daddy and I would become better parents, feed her ample food in the future, and be able to recognize when she was sick.
Our stay in NICU was life-changing. Sammy and I picked up a lot of babycare tips (like how to effectively burp a baby), and we also learned a lot about our daughter.
We watched our tired, dehydrated baby reach over and rip the freshly attached IV from her small hand, to the great amusement of the nurses.
After watching our daughter squeal in terror as I tried to nurse her, which brought me to hysterics and tears, the lactation consultant chuckled and exclaimed, “Baby, you’re just a feisty, impatient little chicken butt!”
The lactation expert told us that Jassy doesn’t like to “work” at the breast, which may be why she lost so much weight in the first few days. She’s “demanding and lazy,” the milk consultant affirmed. Then, in one swift, expert motion, she took Jas’s head in her hand, shoved it on my boob, pulled the baby’s mouth wider, and told her to stay there and eat. Perhaps knowing that there was a tough, veteran baby-handler commanding the show instead of a bumbling, frightened, baby-fearing mother, Jassy listened. The girl finally ate!
In NICU, we began supplementing the breast milk with formula to ensure she’s getting all the nourishment she needs – something we’re still doing today.
A tip for soon-to-be-moms who plan on nursing: Save yourself a visit to the NICU and have formula on hand to feed your baby if you suspect she’s not getting enough from your boob, just until your milk comes in. Especially if your baby isn’t bigger at birth and can’t afford to lose up to 10% or more of her body weight.
Had I known there was a chance our baby would become dehydrated in the first few days, I would’ve had formula ready to feed her as soon as she popped out! Everyone always says, “Colustrum is enough in the first few days.” Well, that’s not true all the time. It certainly wasn’t for our baby.
Overall, our brush with dehydration was rattling. It shook my confidence that we’d able to assess the needs of a newborn and made me mad that I had ever entertained this whole breastfeeding thing. If we had just given her formula from the start, this would never have happened.
I know, breastmilk is healthier for a baby. Yada, yada, yada. That’s why we’re sticking with breastfeeding… in addition to formula, of course. (Our pedi says we can exclusively breastfeed but I’m not sure that I want to.)
After checking out of the hospital, I was nervous we’d be those idiot parents who have to go back yet again for another health problem that had slipped past us. But as it happens, everything’s been fantastic since!
These past weeks have been emotionally draining, but we’ve come a long way from those early days. I’m less of a physical and psychological mess and, more importantly, Jassy is healthy and growing. She smiles (though not at us yet), farts, sleeps, burps and does everything a newbie human should do.
Her groans, grunts, squeaks and bowel movements are now the soundtrack of our home. It’s funny that Jas’s small and not-so-small noises still make us crumble and gaze in amazement.
Yeah… we think we’ll keep this baby. No need to return her after all!