Nursing old wounds: my story

A friend once lamented to me that there were a ton of things she felt very strongly about whilst pregnant, all of which got tossed in the trash when she actually had a baby.

In my case, breastfeeding tops that list. I was committed to nursing, I truly was. I hadn’t even bothered to buy a pump, so sure was I of my ability to offer my child milk directly from the source. Being stuck in a chair during growth spurts didn’t sound so bad; the breastfeeding books made this sound rather idyllic, a time where I could relax, unwind, read a nice novel or catch up on last season’s Weeds. Pumping so that my husband could give our baby a bottle and let me sleep through a night feeding? Eh, why bother? How hard could it be to roll over and let the little one (who was sure to be cuddling next to me in my bed,, another example of fantasy that reality kicked in the shins – my child was NOT into co-sleeping) partake? All the literature had me convinced that this would be a rewarding, intuitive process. Sure, there might be some cracked nipples; it might take some time for me to feel comfortable nursing in public; but all in all, I assumed this would come naturally to me. Just as the books said, this was the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding! So That’s What They’re For!

I remember this one description in a book a former client and attachment parenting guru gave me around the beginning of my third trimester. It spoke of how, straight out of the womb, a newborn would instinctively claw its way up its mother’s abdomen and root around, latching on to the maternal breast and suckling in an act of instant, symbiotic perfection.

And to be honest, it did go down pretty much like that. My son did find his way up to his expected food source, and he did try and latch on. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

After about 24 hours, my son started making these pitiful, desperate cries whenever he tried to feed. We asked to see the hospital lactation consultant but were told that we had to wait, since there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with how my baby was nursing and the LC’s were there for people with real nursing “problems”. Call it mother’s intuition, but I was pretty convinced that we had a “problem” ourselves. My son couldn’t get my nipple to stay in his little mouth no matter how forcefully the nurses shoved him on there. He would fight and cry and sound so frustrated and hungry that it broke my heart, already heavy from a pretty severe bout of post-partum depression.

Three lactation consultant visits later, we were no better off. The LC’s would swear that my son was just lazy/tired/too weak to suck and given time, his latch would improve; he would keep crying as if he was starving to death, and keep losing precious ounces of weight. I felt terrible. I wasn’t sustaining him in the womb (I had an undiagnosed growth restriction), and now I was failing to nurture him on this level too.

Finally, my pediatrician suggested that we supplement with formula due to his jaundice and the fact that his already tiny body was losing too much weight. He took to the bottle like a champ, sucking formula down as if it was manna from heaven. I had no problem with the doctors giving him a little formula, even though I knew it was a no-no on the breastfeeding front. It just didn’t matter that much to me when I saw my baby starving. I only wanted him healthy and happy. A few ounces of Similac was a small price to pay for the sleepy, content, satiated baby it produced.

In the next week, we saw four more lactation consultants (at a significant cost – this is a big business, this breastfeeding “support”), the third of which finally diagnosed my child with a “tongue tie” that made it impossible for him to latch correctly. We got his frenulum snipped, but even this was to no avail. He simply would not nurse consistently, no matter what I, my husband, or the myriad of LC’s tried.

I wasn’t giving up that easy, though. I decided to “Exclusively Pump” my breastmilk and serve it to him in the bottles he so loved. I had no idea how hard this decision would make my life – there are entire message boards devoted to supporting those committed to EPing; one woman figured out that in order to pump and exclusively feed (meaning no formula supplementation) a newborn breastmilk, it would take 20 hours a week, basically the equivalent of a part-time job. I hated every minute of it. The thing with pumping is that you are getting all the disadvantages of bottlefeeding without any of the advantages. You’re constantly either hooked up to a machine that makes you feel like Elsie the Cow, or feeding your baby, leaving no time for anything else. And despite what some might tell you, there is more to mothering than what or how you feed your child. Babies need love, attention, play… they need a mother who is there and not exhausted and literally drained from being the Dairy Queen.

Did I switch to formula at this point? No way, Jose. I had a husband who had also read the studies, the literature, the – dare I say – propaganda, and he was convinced that depriving our child of my breastmilk was equivalent to letting him stick his tiny head in the oven. So we fought, and I felt guilty, and I kept on pumping. And pumping. And pumping.

Most of the time I managed to convince myself that this was for the best, that this “liquid gold” my pump was squirting into sterile bottles was well worth it. My baby would thrive on this stuff. And he was gaining weight. Now that we weren’t trying to force him to latch, he was eating almost too well. He finally got back up to his meager birth weight, and then some; nice little rolls started appearing on his wrists and thighs.

But I wasn’t sure you could consider this thriving. He seemed miserable all the time. I assumed it was colic; but everywhere I looked, colic was defined as only crying a certain number of hours, usually in the evenings. But this was all day long. He would fuss during every bottle and take breaks from drinking to cry inconsolably; after he’d finish the milk, he’d scream bloody murder for a good half hour to hour before calming down. He’d be okay until the next bottle, which would start the cycle over again. He was gassy and defecated blood-laced feces literally every 5 minutes, no exaggeration. We went through diapers like a guy with hay fever goes through Kleenex. He also had a weird rash in several places on his body.

I went online. I read Kellymom.com. I cut out dairy, soy, nuts, green leafy veggies… my diet was basically bread and water, which didn’t help how crappy I was personally feeling. I had no energy between the constant pumping/feeding/crying, my poor diet, and the baby blues. My husband did all the parenting in those early days. As if I didn’t already feel like a failure as a mother.

Long story short, my son ended up being one of those babies (and yes, they do exist) who couldn’t tolerate any milk, including his own mother’s. We got him on a special hypoallergenic formula and withing 48 hours, he was a totally different baby. He was happy, cheerful, engaged in the world, and ridiculously healthy. In fact, he’s now 8 months old and hasn’t been sick a day in his life since getting off my “immunity enhancing”, “liquid gold” milk. No ear infections, no stomach bugs, not even a cold.

I feel no guilt for feeding my child formula. All I feel is resentment and sadness that he spent the first 6 weeks of his life so miserable due to his parents’ stubborn refusal to question the mass breastfeeding hysteria.

What makes for a good parent? Would I have been a good parent if I had ignored my child’s numerous struggles with nursing and drinking breastmilk?

There are many people out there who would love to answer those rhetorical questions. They might throw studies in my face, or statistics, or worse, feel sorry for me for being a victim of a medical system that encouraged me to supplement, etc, etc.

But I refuse to feel guilty. I made the choice to care for my child in the only way I know how. By listening to him, and by listening to that vastly more important organ, lying beneath the breasts that have become so politicized: my heart.

 

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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18 thoughts on “Nursing old wounds: my story

  1. Came across your blog via someone else on Twitter. Just wanted to say thanks…

    My 2.5 week old baby boy is healthy and thriving because of formula. My milk supply is so low he would have ended up hospitalized if we hadn't realized it as early as we had. The pumping hasn't helped my milk production so far and the taunting of the mechanical noises “makemilkmakemilkmakemilk” is getting tiresome.

    Instead of being able to watch his daddy feed him formula and being thrilled that they could bond I was manhandled by the nurse and attached to the electric pump while guilt overwhelmed me at the site of my husband being able to nourish our son in a way I couldn't. The Breastfeeding Mafia did a number on my emotions.

    Thank you for being out here to support the formula feeders….

  2. @Nikita-

    I wanted to cry reading your comment. I lived this in such a visceral way and what you have expressed brought it all back. I wish I could make it so that no mom ever has to go through what you are going through, but I am really glad you found us here, and that you realize the ridiculousness of what you're being made to feel. Having a 2.5 week old is tough in the best of circumstances – feeding issues are adding insult to injury.

    Just like you said – seeing your son and his dad bond in a way that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise is one thing that I ultimately loved about bottle feeding. (But I was also there in the hell of pumping/feeding, pumping/feeding, and sometimes there's some envy that creeps in, when you watch your significant other getting the “fun” part – so it's not always easy to see that as a “perk” in the beginning, I know.) I don't know if you are planning on continuing trying to nurse or not, but regardless, I hope you will do what feels right to you and not let anyone guilt you into anything. Ultimately, it's just food, and there is so much more to being a mom – and you have a right to decide what exactly that name means to you. A bottle or a breast are just delivery systems – what's important is that you and your child are happy and thriving.

    Good luck to you and please feel free to email me if you have any questions or need a e-hug.

  3. e-Hugs are appreciated! In fact this blog is one big e-hug for me!

    The attempt to nurse will continue for a few more days… after all of the effort we've put into this I'm not ready to let go of bfing quite yet but I'm starting to let go of some of the guilt.

    We need to spread the word that formula is not the 4-letter f-bomb people seem to think. New parents have enough stress without this extra burden.

  4. I just came across your blog today! I am only 6 weeks pregnant – and have already made the decision to formula feed! I am sure you can imagine the judgement I have already been through and what is to come! I have 3 brothers – all four of us were strictly formula fed. I am 6' and weigh 140. My brothers are 6'2 and twins that are 6'6. One is a professional athlete and the other are scholarship athletes. We are all intelligent, went to college, honor roll, athletes, etc. You can't tell me that “breast is best”! I am so happy to see something that supports women who simply want to formula feed – and it is ok! I am already preparing myself for the hospital and the judgement I will face there! This is my decision and it is what is right for my family and I am proud of it! I don't judge breastfeeding mothers even though I don't like it – it is their decision! Why can't I have the same respect!

    Thank you so much for “taking one for the team” and getting this started!

  5. It took me almost five months before I broke down and bought a box of formula, and rather than feeling guilty, I was surprised to feel like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I never looked back. We mixed feed, which doesn't get much attention either, but I always feel more comfortable in the formula-feeding groups, which tend to be a lot less judgmental.

    My LC didn't think I had a “problem” either. She's latching on fine, milk is coming out, everything's fine. I just need to nurse MORE. I broke down into tears when she said that. MORE than all the time?! I did NOTHING but nurse and sleep, but I guess she thought I was exaggerating. So no one ever told me I had supply issues, but that's what I suspect. I hating nursing, and I was constantly miserable. When I finally bought formula, I was going to wean completely, but I discovered that I didn't hate it anymore when I wasn't doing it 24/7. So we ended up doing mostly bottles, with nursing at night and first thing in the morning. Now she's on cow's milk and I nurse her when we feel like it.

    I'm pregnant with #2 and I'm kinda hoping we can do the mixed route again, but if not, I'd much rather 100% bottle than 100% breast. It just makes me crazy to do it literally all day long.

  6. I really support your decision to formula feed. But something doesn't sit right with me after reading some of your posts…

    Propaganda? Breastfeeding hysteria?

    Forgive me, but it seems as though you are using the same tactics that you claim the breastfeeding awareness supporters use. It is difficult for me to reconcile that while you are happy with your choice to ff, you also support bf-ing.

    Why attack, denegrate, or trivialize any decision a mother makes, so long as she is nurturing her baby?

    I do understand that the current trend to advocate breastfeeding stems from a backlash of the 50's when formula feeding was considered superior to breast milk. And mothers then were shamed into formula feeding, much like mothers now are shamed into breastfeeding.

    I understand where you are coming from. By why feed into the shaming? I am breastfeeding my 18 month old daughter still. But when I read your derogitory comments, I can't help but feel that I wouldn't be welcomed into your group. And perhaps I would be. I don't know.

    I make no distinction between other mothers who choose different methods to nourish their babies. And when we get together, we find ourselves united by the same frustrations, same joys that inherently come along with simply being a mother.

    Again, I fully support your decision, but please help me understand this.

  7. @The Mommy,

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean by “disparaging comments”. If you want to give me some examples, I'd be happy to explain where I was coming from.

    I wrote this first post (and started the blog) at a time where the pain of all of this was still quite raw. I think if you take the time to read more recent posts, you'll see that I've grown to understand the “other side” in a much more comprehensive manner. I admit that I saw all lactivism as negative at the time I wrote this; I've since gotten to know many amazing breastfeeding advocates that I am proud to consider friends now, and they have truly changed my mind about the cause.

    However… I still don't think that anything I've said in this post, or in any subsequent post, is AT ALL demeaning or disrespectful to breastfeeders, as you seem to be implying. We have many combo feeders and even one 100% breastfeeding mom (who just weaned around 18 mths) who frequent this blog and I don't think they've ever felt alienated or unwelcome. I've dedicated several posts to nursing in public and why we should support extended breastfeeding. I go out of my way to read and reread posts to make sure they aren't offending any breastfeeding moms.

    Now, I WILL admit to being a bit nasty at certain times to those I see as disparaging formula feeders or who mislead or purposely keep information from women. But this is entirely separate from supporting breastfeeding. I guess you could say that I am not supportive of a certain brand of lactivism, but I am supportive of all moms who are feeding their kids without telling others how they should be feeding theirs.

    I'm sorry you found the blog unsupportive of your choices and I'd be glad to discuss this with you further, anytime. Feel free to email me. I'm always happy to consider other points of view, and I assure you, you would be more than welcome here as long as you don't try and force your beliefs on anyone else, which it doesn't seem like you would be the type to do!

  8. Oh no – it was not my intention to impart that I did not feel welcomed! I think I simply said that I wasn't sure.

    There were a couple of strong words you had used that sort of shocked me. “Propaganda” & “breastfeeding hysteria.” I breastfeed & I certainly don't feel hysterical about it, lol! It was – and still is – the perfectly right choice for my daughter and I.

    But you are right – reading more of your blog puts things into perspective. I was just very confused by the anger. I've never known that formula feeding mothers experienced this. In fact, I've experienced the exact opposite as a breastfeeding mom. I received a free formula goodie bag from my doctor the day I found out I was pregnant…and then horrible discrimination at work, struggling to get the opportunity to pump. My coworkers resented my “pump time,” thinking it was some sort of extra recreational break, my boss was forever reminding me that I could only pump if everything else on my desk was done (tell that to my swollen boobs!)

    Heck, I could go on & on – but even typing it out now makes me angry still. So in that respect, I completely understand the frustration on your part. I just truly didn't know what kind of impact these choice can sometimes have on us. All of us. And all we are trying to do is nourish and love our babies the best we can.

    Full supporter of mommies everywhere – how they feed their babies matters not to me!

  9. @the mommy-

    Thank you for clarifying… I really appreciate your comments. I am so sorry that you've had to endure so much discrimination… it REALLY angers me that your coworkers “resented your pump time” (I pumped exclusively for a month and in my opinion, if they knew what pumping entailed, they would understand that it was NOT a “break”!!) I think it's awesome that you've been nursing for 18 months. What's so crazy is that depending on where you live/your social circle, both breastfeeding moms and formula feeding moms have to deal with judgment and stupid comments/attitudes.

    Not sure if you've already found some good online support, but I'd highly recommend http://www.Strocel.com and http://www.accustomedchaos.blogspot.com. Both these women are funny, gutsy, and sensitive breastfeeding advocates…

  10. Thank you! I will definitely check those sites out. I have since been laid off from my previous employer & am now a stay-at-home single mommy. It was truly the best thing ever, as now I spend time with baby girl & never have to look at another pump again!

    Also moved back to my home town (Austin, TX) which is a haven of liberal, baby-wearing mama's who could care less about seeing a breastfeeding boob in public – or a bottle for that matter. Absolutely having a social atmosphere that supports personal choices like this can make all the difference in a mother's ability to move forward in confidence.

    Your blog has helped me see that in many ways, mothers are just not supported for their choices. Such a shame, when you really consider that raising the next generation is truly a social responsibility that impacts us all. In my opinion, one of the most important jobs on the planet.

    Thank you again for the site recommendations!

  11. Interesting that the link you post about tongue tie suggests that around 0.2% – 2.0% of babies born have it. Would you stand by that link and that estimate as what you believe is a true reflection of the statistics?

    Obviously I'm in possession of different numbers at this stage.

    Also, I was unable to find the exact page on Kellymom.com that lists the suggested foods to eat and to cut out when trying to avoid intolerance in a breastfed baby. Would you be able to guide me to it? I'm very concerned that it would suggest the continued consumption of wheat and suggest avoiding some of the foods you listed, especially as I recently gave the link to a family member to aid them in their breastfeeding.

    Many thanks.

  12. Considering the post is 2 years old, perhaps better information about tongue tie has come out. What are your numbers, Jennifer?

    I found this on kellymom: http://www.kellymom.com/babyconcerns/food-sensitivity.html . It points to a lot of other good resources for figuring out what's up with your baby's allergies. (Although, given that breastfeeding is held to be one of the main ways to avoid allergies in babies, I find it interesting that apparently so many breastfed babies–and apparently YOUNG breastfed babies, as you would probably figure this stuff out prior to 6 mo–have allergies that kellymom has to devote such a great resource to it.) Speaking as someone with food allergies, an elimination diet is going to be tailored to that specific person. I was allergic to dairy as a baby, but not wheat. Soy wasn't a problem but nuts were. Spinach, a leafy green, is a fairly allergenic food. Many fruits and berries are allergenic as well. So it is entirely possible that a BFing mom would have to eliminate all but “bread and water” or, as FFF did, switch to a hypoallergenic formula.

  13. I'm about a month away from quitting pumping (I don't hate it, though) and someone directed me to your blog. I love it! Thank you for sharing your story and research.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story- I really wish I had found your blog 4 years (and 2 kids) ago. The decision to stop breastfeeding and pumping caused many sleepless nights and the guilt that I felt when I finally stopped was overwhelming. It's nice to know that there are other mothers out there who felt the same as I did!

  15. formula can be a lifesaver. Its good that we have a healthy alternative when breastfeeding doesn’t work out. The best advice I got was to take a breastfeeding class from a lactation consultant while pregnant. I had her on standby for my labor. she showed up the next day to support me and if it hadn’t been for her help well who knows. best advice I got.

  16. Pingback: Donor Milk and Food Allergies | Life with my Sapling

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