Audrey’s Story: “My Breasts Work Just Fine At 40”

Audrey Grimaldi, Long Island, New York.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I looked around the room wondering, “Am I the oldest one in here? Are we the oldest couple here?” I didn’t really feel out of place, and I certainly didn’t feel any older then anyone else. But the date didn’t lie. It was my 40thbirthday. I always imagined I would spend my 40thbirthday out celebrating with family and friends. Yet, there we were, my husband and I, surrounded by about 15 other couples. We were at a hospital taking a childbirth preparation class. I was due in about a month. Although I wasn’t celebrating with a glass of wine at a nice restaurant, I couldn’t have been happier. I was so excited to be pregnant, and we couldn’t wait to meet our little baby boy.

In my 20’s and into my 30’s, I was busy with school. I had a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, a master’s degree in immunology, and a doctorate in health science. I had completed internships and fellowships to work in the field of microbiology/immunology. After years of school and work, I wanted to spend time traveling with my husband. As I approached the age of 35, I started thinking about having a baby. I’d heard all the statistics about fertility and the increased risks associated with “older” pregnancies. My husband and I decided to start trying for a baby. It took a while. It took some years actually. At age 39 I conceived naturally, and my pregnancy was healthy and fairly uncomplicated. I was diagnosed with borderline gestational diabetes, but I monitored my levels and managed very well with diet. I did not require medical treatment.

With a background in immunology and microbiology, I was very aware of the science behind breastfeeding. As I researched breastfeeding I learned about the many benefits it offered, including the emotional and long-term health benefits. I was committed to breastfeeding and adamant I would nurse my baby. Little did I know how hard it could be in the beginning.

The day finally arrived. I was 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I was in labor. I felt a little off that morning. My contractions started slow in the early afternoon. By the evening I was so ready (and I mean REALLY ready). At 9 p.m., I arrived at the hospital 4 centimeters dilated, and my water broke. My nurse asked if I was planning to breastfeed, to which I eagerly answered yes. She asked whether I would allow it if my baby needed formula. I hadn’t planned on using formula.  However, I decided if there was a medical necessity then I would agree to it.

I labored over the next 17 hours. Through the entire time, my blood sugar was monitored and was in a normal range. I finally became fully dilated and eventually delivered a healthy 7 lb baby boy. As I cuddled with him moments after birth, I was so head over heels in love. After I had him a while, the nurses took him to clean him up, etc. While they had him they measured his blood sugar, which was a little low. They informed me they had given him a small amount of formula.

Over the course of the next few hours they monitored his blood sugar, while I tried breastfeeding. Nothing prepared me for how to do this. I could read every book in the world, but there’s no way to know until you try. It was not easy, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was worried he wasn’t getting any colostrum. It’s hard when you can’t see what your baby is getting. But within a few hours after birth, his blood sugar was normal and the pediatrician signed off that my baby no longer needed formula. They kept monitoring him and his levels while I began to exclusively breastfeed. His levels remained good, and he was urinating adequately. I still felt awkward trying to breastfeed. It didn’t come natural to me. To make matters worse, my blood pressure became elevated (probably from pain associated with back labor), and I needed intravenous (IV) medication.  Having an IV in my arm (along with pain in my back) made it harder to hold my baby while trying to nurse. I was exhausted, stressed, and always worried if I was nursing correctly. I put my trust in the nurses and lactation consultants who were guiding me. I trusted that my son’s dirty diapers meant he was getting what he needed. But I still felt unsure of myself.

Prior to discharge, my husband and I chose to have our baby circumcised. This was done at the hospital and without any complications. Part of our discharge instructions included keeping the area clean and covered with petroleum jelly.  We also needed to make sure he urinated within the next 24 hours from the time of the procedure. We went home that afternoon. We were excited, nervous, and tired. Over the next 24 hours, I nursed him often; we changed his diapers often and tried to keep the area very clean and heavily covered with petroleum jelly. However, we did not notice any urine. We called his pediatrician who he was scheduled to meet the next day. They said it might be an emergency if he hadn’t peed in 24 hours and informed us to take him to the emergency room. In a near panic (and without any sleep), we rushed to the ER. We hadn’t even been home a full day, and we were heading back to the hospital. All I could think was something might be wrong with my baby. The thought to bring a diaper bag hadn’t even crossed my mind.

When we arrived, he was checked out. The pediatrician thought there was nothing wrong with the circumcision and concluded we might have missed seeing a wet diaper due to the petroleum jelly. However, they checked his blood glucose level and thought it was a little low. They wanted to keep us in the ER a few hours to see if his glucose levels would go back to normal after giving him a little formula. While waiting there, he peed, and of course I didn’t have my diaper bag. I asked the staff if they could help me and get a diaper from the nursery upstairs. I was met with quite a condescending look of disapproval. This was the last thing I needed. I was already worried, tired, and feeling inadequate. I was terrified my baby was in distress and would need to be admitted if his sugar levels weren’t normal. I’d only given birth three days ago.

While waiting in the ER, a lactation consultant came to assist me. She brought a hospital pump and hooked me up to the pump. After being on it a few minutes (maybe 10 minutes all together) all I got was a tiny little drop or two of milk. I’m guessing this was still colostrum. I might have gotten a quarter teaspoon at most. She took what I had and poured it in a bottle of formula to feed my baby.  She proceeded to tell me how I might need to give him formula instead. She asked me my age. I said I was 40, and she replied, “Well, some breasts just don’t work at 40” and left. That was the absolute lowest moment of my life.  Then the ER doctor came in the room. He told me not to feel bad and that not everyone is able to breastfeed. He left the room, and I cried. The pediatrician came in next and told me my baby’s blood sugar was back to normal and I could go home. He told me not to feel bad and that I should give my baby formula.

I went home, devastated and defeated, feeling I had already failed my three-day-old baby. I tried nursing him and cried my eyes out wondering if he had gotten any milk at all. Fearful he would starve, I gave him some formula the hospital pediatrician gave me. I’m sure the level of stress I felt did not help my milk production.

The next day, I went to my baby’s pediatrician. This new doctor told me I could try nursing exclusively and come back in two days. I went home and for the next two days tried breastfeeding. I was filled with doubt and concern, had sore nipples, little sleep, and didn’t know if I was doing anything right. That led to a pretty stressful and emotional state. We went back to the pediatrician two days later. He felt my baby hadn’t gained quite enough weight yet. He instructed me to nurse for about 5 or 10 minutes each breast, and then give a little formula to supplement.

I went home and did as he instructed (nursed then supplemented with a little formula). Desperate not to give up, I wanted to try pumping. With the help and support of my husband, we figured out how to use the new breast pump I had received from my insurance company. I’ll never forget us sitting on the couch at 5 a.m. trying to figure out how to use this new contraption. We figured it out, and I tried pumping while our baby slept. Maybe one of the happiest moments of my life happened as I saw a little milk come through the pump. The excitement, relief and elation was intense as those precious drops came into the bottle.

I started following this routine. I would nurse a few minutes, give a little formula, and then pump. After a few rounds, I let the nursing sessions go longer and longer. After a day or so, I stopped giving formula all together. Every time I nursed I visualized what the milk looked like in the pump. I started writing down every time I nursed and every dirty diaper. This helped build my confidence that our baby was getting what he needed. We went back to the pediatrician and told him we had switched to breast milk only. To our delight, our baby was gaining weight and doing excellent.

Since that day, I have been exclusively breastfeeding. I built up a nice little stash of frozen breast milk. I’m approaching six months. I have no problems breastfeeding. My nipples don’t hurt. My baby latches like a champ. My milk supply is perfect, and my baby is healthy and strong. Every single time I pump, I look at that milk like its more valuable then gold. Every time I nurse him, I think of all the benefits he’s getting, all the immunity and protection he is getting.

Every time I nurse, I think my breasts are working just fine at 40. Some days, I wish I could go back to the ER and show them how wrong they were. If I listened to them, I would have quit long ago. I’m glad I didn’t. My baby is better off because I didn’t give up. To those reading my story, I hope you learn not to give up. I hope you learn to trust yourself. Do what you need to do, and have some faith in yourself along the way. And, if you just happen to be older, I hope you hear this message loud and clear. Breasts work just fine at 40.

Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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