Before Baby Y was born, I dutifully educated myself about breastfeeding. I read the books, bought the gear, and talked to friends who had successfully breastfed. My mother had nursed all of us at a time when breastfeeding was only starting to become recommended practice, so it was in the genes.

I accepted some formula from my sister-in-law, also a successful nurser, just in case … but I buried it out of sight. Surely we wouldn’t need it.

Thankfully, my hospital was very pro-breastfeeding. When our little guy was born one Monday night, he was immediately placed on my chest for an hour of skin-to-skin time to promote nursing. Given enough time, some babies even manage to latch on and eat without any guidance from their mothers.

My baby was not one of those babies. Even with my help, he seemed uninterested.

Eventually, the nurses carted him off to be cleaned and tested and poked and prodded. When my freshly swaddled little bundle returned, he made a few poky attempts at latching and promptly fell asleep.

“It’s normal!” the nurses assured me. “He’ll get the hang of it when he gets hungry enough.”

Tuesday was more of the same. A little fussing, an attempt at a latch, and nada after that except snoozing. Still no reason to worry, I was told. A lactation consultant set me up with a hospital-grade pump so that I could try to stimulate my milk to come in faster. It was frustrating, though. I managed to pump the tiniest bit of colostrum, which we fed to him with a dropper.

That night, our last in the hospital, a nurse wheeled him into the room shortly after I had fallen asleep. He was screaming, his face red. He looked like a pissed-off tomato.


“I think he’s hungry!” she said cheerfully.

I groggily placed him at my chest. Surely this would be our breakthrough moment. He mouthed my nipple a bit and screamed some more. Another nurse who was still breastfeeding a baby of her own came in to help us with the latch, literally shoving his tiny face into my breast. No dice.

I started to sob. I can’t even describe how horrible I felt in that moment. Here was a stranger pawing my boobs while I was half-asleep, and here was my tiny, wriggling, hungry baby, and I still couldn’t manage to feed him more than a few drops. Eventually, he fell back asleep, exhausted, but I was wide awake and on edge.

We were discharged Wednesday with no successful feedings under our belt. Baby Y had dropped from 7 pounds, 11 ounces to 7 pounds, 3 ounces, putting him at a 6.5 percent weight loss. Up to 10 percent is normal, and “babies are born with a full tank of gas,” I was told. The lactation nurse gave me her number and told me to keep pumping, but said she wasn’t concerned.

“He’ll get it,” she said. She told me that the drugs I’d received during birth, including my epidural and pitocin, leave some babies groggier than others. “He’s still sleepy. It will wear off soon.”

Of course, I believed her. So did Papa Y. She had seen this many times before, right?

And so we began the long drive home into the unknown.

On the way home from the hospital

On the way home from the hospital, already looking a bit jaundiced.

To be continued…