FFF Friday: “The price of failure is so high…”

The following FFF Friday story might be a difficult one to read. FFF Brenna has struggled with issues that go far beyond the scope of this blog, but much like Lilllily’s experience, it is a vitally important story to include in any discussion of infant feeding. We need to consider all types of possibilities when looking at an issue as personal as formula feeding vs. breastfeeding, and I hope this reminds everyone not to make snap judgments when you see a woman holding a bottle. You never know what went into her decision, and what emotional odds may be at stake.


I want to thank Brenna profusely for sharing her story with us, as I’m sure it is not an easy one to tell. Her honesty and clarity humble me.

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I have been thinking about submitting my story because although it’s not the perfect tale of overcoming odds, I do believe each of us has something unique to contribute that goes a long way to supporting all mothers, regardless of the choices we make. So here it goes!
I’m the mom of 2 sons, and my 1st daughter is on the way. My boys were born in 2001, 2003, and my newest is due to arrive this November.
When my oldest son was born, I had just turned 20 about 2 weeks prior. I don’t want to blame my relative youth for the choices I made, but it is what it is. T was formula fed from the very start. Breastfeeding never even crossed my mind. All my in-laws bottlefed, and to my knowledge no one in my own family breastfed beyond 6 months. Breastfeeding was just one of those things no one talked about. At that time in my life, we were not connected to the internet. I had no idea that there even was a battle amongst mothers over such things! Ah, blissful ignorance.
26 months later, my son E was born. I had enough mommy friends by then to know that there were “right” and “wrong” choices when it came to motherhood. I made the choice to breastfeed him, not knowing what I was in for.
Aside from issues such as zero support and flat nipples, I was equally unprepared for how my status as a childhood sexual abuse survivor would affect my nursing experience. Oh, if I had only known! I had had no formal therapy for my childhood traumas. I told myself I didn’t need it, that there was nothing wrong with me, and if there was indeed something wrong with me, it was not my fault. Somehow to me, that also meant it was not my responsibility to address any issues I had.
Although our VBAC attempt failed, I was still determined to nurse E. I did not see him until he was about 3 hours old. My husband was snuggling with him in the nursery! By the time they did bring me my baby, I was too zonked to really care. 35 hours of labor will do that to a person. The next morning, I made my first attempt to get him to latch on.
I was shocked to find not only was it not easy, but that it creeped me out. Badly. I was not prepared for the first of several flashbacks that would come that day. I felt horror at my perceived perpetuation of the cycle of abuse upon my newborn son. Good Lord, I just shoved my boob in his mouth! He was crying! What had I just done?
Then as the day wore on, it became increasingly difficult to be around E. Each time he was put to breast, I wanted to fling him across the room. I would close my eyes and cry while the hospital LC tried to get him to latch. She probably thought I was having a typical mommy meltdown I’m sure. I had not told anyone of my past. In retrospect I should’ve at least made mention of it to my midwife, but hindsight is 20/20.
By the time we were ready for discharge 3 days later, breastfeeding was still not established, and I could not look my sweet baby in the eye. I felt like the most horrible of people- a child abuser.
The very next morning, my husband and I decided to put E on the bottle. What a relief! I could hold him and not be repulsed. I could kiss him while he drank his bottle, and know I was indeed giving him my best. A mother on the verge of a breakdown is not a mother at all became my mantra.
1 week later, I began intensive therapy to deal with my past. I spent the next 4 years of my life regaining what was mine by right, taken from me far too soon.
My sons are now 9 and 7 years old. While I do not regret for a minute that I bottlefed them, I now find myself in a position to try again with my new daughter when she is born. You would think that’d it be a no-brainer. I only wish it were that easy. The price of failure is so high, and I’m not talking health benefits here.
I keep going back and forth on it. My boys and I are so close that I cannot imagine that feeding method would make my bond to my child any stronger. The boys are also healthier by far than I ever am. They may get that from my hubby though. And I never found bottlefeeding to be difficult or a pain. Then again, this may be my last chance to breastfeed. It’s also the last thing I cannot do because of my history. Somehow, it feels like I need to reclaim this too so that my father has not won. Then I can say I truly have taken back all that was took from me. Those are just the surface issues that come to mind as well! It’s so much deeper than that alone.
I admit I am very undecided about how to feed the new baby. I’ve got time yet to make a choice. I just know that whatever choice I make, she will be fed and I will be doing the best I personally can for her. That’s all I can ask of myself. Love my kids, meet their needs, and be more forgiving of myself. We’ll all be better off for it. 

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share my story. And thanks for being a “port in the storm” for FFF everywhere!

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If you have a story you’d like to share for an upcoming FFF Friday, please send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com. Any and all experiences are welcome.

Callate La Boca, FFF

If you haven’t noticed, the blog has been a bit neglected lately. That’s because the FFF has been crazy busy, traveling around the country conducting interviews for my book (which is all about the breastfeeding/formula feeding craziness, sort of a more detailed, cohesive, and polished version of the blog) which has found the most amazing home…I’m not going to discuss the details yet, as our contract is still being hashed out, but the editor involved is legendary and, I believe, the perfect person to bring this project to fruition, so I’m incredibly psyched about all of it.

Anyway, most of the people I’ve been talking to are relatively like-minded; they may not all share my personal beliefs on this debate, but their work has informed my own; I haven’t had to soften my approach or hedge around my true feelings about the pressure to breastfeed. Thus far, I’ve been blown away by the insights these folks have offered, and it’s been an incredibly positive experience. The purpose of the book is not to “prove” anything, just to give voice to an oft-silenced minority of more moderate voices, but it’s also my own journey to discover the whole truth about breastfeeding and formula feeding, and with each person I talk to, I learn something new – and usually pretty reassuring.

But. (Isn’t there always a “but”?)

Good reporting means hearing from all sides of a given story. It’s journalism 101, but unfortunately, these days, I think most journalists have been skipping class. As tempting as it is to stay in the “safe” zone and avoid talking to people whose opinions don’t mesh with mine, that wouldn’t make for a very interesting (or accurate or relevant) book, would it? So I’m jumping into the lion’s den. Roar.

Next week, I’m speaking with someone whose work I admire, but whose stance on the issues I write about really offends me. And I’m struggling with how to approach this interview. It’s a tricky one, because her area of expertise is somewhat separate from the larger concepts covered in my research; I want to focus on the work she has done, and what it can tell us about the historical background of infant feeding, and not be led off track by the formula-fed chip on my shoulder. That’s where I falter – because this isn’t some article I’m writing, it’s a book, and a very personal one at that. Do I stay neutral? Or do I challenge her on some of her beliefs? What if one benefits my research/writing, but harms my policy of being 100% honest about where I stand?

I’ll report back when it’s over, but for now, I’m thinking I should just sit back and listen. It’s a hard lesson to put into practice, as I think is evident from some of the comments that have been left on this blog and numerous others. It’s human nature for us to want to defend our choices and our opinions, to stand up for what we believe… and I think that’s a great thing. But sometimes, we can learn more by just shutting our mouths and truly absorbing what the other party has to say. Worst case, hearing an unadulterated POV from an opposing side allows you to strengthen your own argument; best case, you may actually find your views don’t differ as much as you believed.

Cheesy platitudes aside, I am actually kind of excited for this upcoming interview. It will be a challenge, and I love challenges, as much as my intestines don’t. (I have a nervous stomach. TMI, but there you go.)

Wish me luck, FFFs. Lion, meet mouse….

“What I do know, is that I’m thankful.”

I recently received this FFF Friday submission from Amanda, who shares her unique perspective after having three incredibly different experiences with infant feeding. At least for me, her story suggests two truisms: one, that babies are individuals, as are mothers – and we can’t assume that what works for one person will work for another; and two, that just because you have one bad breastfeeding experience, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful at nursing in the future. 

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I just found your blog today and have been reading it all morning while feeding and rocking my 1 month old little boy. I’ve been so touched by the FFF Friday stories and having been on every side of the breast vs. bottle skirmish, I thought I’d share my story as well.

I had my first child when I was 2 weeks away from turning 20 years old. At the beginning of my pregnancy, my husband asked if I planned on breastfeeding and I was totally horrified. Breastfeed?! Seriously?! Why would I do that when there are perfectly good bottles available? My mom didn’t breastfeed, my grandma didn’t breastfeed, it was not normal in my world. But then I met a few women in our new home town who were breastfeeding their infants and, by the time my due date rolled around, I was firmly on the breastfeeding bandwagon!

I had a smooth labor and delivery and a healthy baby boy, but I left the hospital with the beginnings of PPD and with PP anxiety in full swing. Only I didn’t know enough to recognize that. Once at home, my milk came in full force, my little boy had the latch of a champion and all should’ve been well. Unfortunately, the fact that we were physically very successful at breastfeeding didn’t compensate for the fact that I was emotionally in a downward spiral and battling panic attacks round the clock. By the time my son was 3 months old he was fully formula fed and I was beating myself up daily, telling myself what a failure I was. But, after a month or so of formula feeding, the guilt went away and I never really gave it much thought after that. Formula feeding is the norm here and was the norm when I was growing up, and blogs and mommy forums weren’t around at the time, so I wasn’t living under the assumption that I was being judged for my choices.

Fast forward 4 years to the birth of my daughter. I was older, I was wiser, I knew breastfeeding would work this time. I gave birth at home to my 10lbs 4oz little girl and was on a birth high for months. PPD/Anxiety was nowhere in sight and I was breastfeeding like I’d been doing it for years. Life was good!

I happily breastfed my daughter for 3 years, never giving her a single bottle.

I was thrilled.

I was arrogant.

Fast forward another 4 years to the birth of my second son. I had another planned home birth (which actually ended up taking place in a hotel, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!) and I was fully prepared to sail through another few years of breastfeeding. It never once occurred to me that I would ever have breastfeeding troubles. Like I said, I was arrogant.

I noticed when I latched him on, moments after birth, that I couldn’t get much more than the tip of my nipple in his mouth. I didn’t give it much thought. I fed him on demand, as I’d done with my daughter, and assumed that all was well.

In those first few days, it became obvious that he had a very shallow latch and I became acutely aware of the lack of wet diapers he was having. Aside from explosive meconium, he wasn’t doing much of anything in the diaper department and I began to fret. I called my midwife and we came to the conclusion that he had a tethered tongue. She assured me that as soon as it was clipped, all would be fine. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. That’s it! The magic cure! We’ll get the clip done and the anxiety that had begun to creep in would disappear because our feeding issues would be solved!

My mom (who has never breastfed, but has been my biggest breastfeeding cheerleader and an endless fountain of support) loaded the baby and I in her car and drove me over an hour one way to get to my midwife so we could get the tongue clip done. After the procedure was done, his latch was improved but not great. I didn’t fret too much because I just knew that this would be the cure for all of our woes.

My mom had to go back home (4 hours away) after the tongue clip was done and her absence quickly triggered the anxiety that had been lurking so close to the surface. After three days of near constant panic attacks, I ended up in the ER desperately seeking some relief. I dealt with an extremely caring and knowledgeable ER doctor who gave me an anti-anxiety shot and I had my first night of sleep since my son had been born. The next day I saw my doctor and he put me on an anti-depressant and an emergency anti-anxiety med.

Finally! Relief! This, I thought, would finally be the answer to our problems. My milk, which I had yet to feel come in, would be able to come in because I wouldn’t be stressed and anxiety ridden.

Then I started really looking at my sons wet and dirty diapers – something I hadn’t been able to focus on prior to getting my anxiety under control. I quickly realized that his diapers weren’t right. His poop was dark green and foamy and there were no yellow seeds that I knew were the sign of a baby who was getting enough to eat. I started frantically doing research and learned that this was a tale tell sign of a foremilk/hind milk imbalance. Ok, I thought, no big deal…I can fix this! But, after three days, it became obvious that I couldn’t fix it.

Then, at 9 days old, my son made it clear that he was starving. After several hours of constant ‘nursing’ (sucking, but not swallowing) he began to scream and scream and scream. Through uncontrollable sobs, I told my husband to go to the store and get a 4oz bottle and a can of formula. I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried harder than I did at that moment. In my mind, this was an all or nothing venture. If I was going to give him one bottle, I might as well just give up. And that started a string of thoughts about how this would effect us down the road and I had visions of sitting in a restaurant feeding my son a bottle and being judged by everyone around me.

I made my husband give him the bottle in another room because I couldn’t bear to watch and I spent the next hour sobbing on the phone with my mom. She assured me that this did not have to be the end of our breastfeeding relationship and encouraged me to call my lactation consultant the next day. When my husband brought my son to me that night, he was more soundly asleep and more obviously content than he’d been since his birth…and my heart broke even more.

The next morning, we went to see my lactation consultant and I was confident that we would leave with a positive game plan. It was a new day and I was feeling great!

And then she put my baby on the scale.

My son, who was born at 9lbs 8oz, weighed in at 8lbs 3oz at 10 days old. I felt like someone had punched me in the face. I couldn’t argue with what the scale told me – I had been starving my baby. My lactation consultant was very reassuring, but I could tell that she was worried. She spent the next 2 hours talking to me, watching the baby nurse, and giving me a plan of action. I went home with a hospital grade double electric pump, a supplemental nursing system (sns), and instructions to pump after every feed and use the sns when needed. I felt good. I could do this!

We went back the next day to do another weight check and I was feeling great. We had only used the sns twice and I felt like he’d been pretty satisfied on the breast. Then we put him on the scale and he had lost 2 more ounces. I completely broke down. I have never cried like that in front of virtual strangers. I couldn’t even focus enough to hear what anyone was saying to me. All I could hear, in my head, was “You’re starving your baby. You failed.”

My lactation consultant sent me home with strict instructions to use the sns at every feeding. I was more than happy to do so because, at that point, I was confident that I would never be able to fully breastfeed my son again, so I would hang on to anything that allowed even a minimal amount of nursing.

An interesting thing happened at that point. I began to feel like my son didn’t want me and wasn’t comforted by me because I wasn’t able to breastfeed him. I felt like I wasn’t good enough for him. And not in a guilt ridden sense, but just in a factual sense. It made perfect sense to me that he wouldn’t want a mother who couldn’t feed him.

The next 2 weeks were a blur of learning how to use the sns, pumping, giving up on pumping, and just trying to survive. I couldn’t leave the house because I couldn’t use the sns discreetly in public, so my whole world revolved around sitting in my recliner with tubes taped to my chest and bi-weekly weight checks with my LC. My son began to quickly gain weight and I was happy, yet sad that I couldn’t do it ‘the right way’.

In those 2 weeks I’d begun to take Fenugreek and Domperidone, supplied by my mother who was fighting this battle right along with me. Then, in the 3rd week, I noticed that he was eating less and less out of the sns. Finally, I took the plunge and went an entire day without supplementing and he seemed satisfied and I could actually feel my breasts filling up with milk between feedings! I couldn’t believe it!

Then, after five full days with no supplementing, we went in for a weight check. I held my breath as the numbers on the scale began to move and screamed with joy when they stopped on 10lbs 8oz! 4 days earlier he had weighed in at 10lbs 2oz so he’d gained 6oz in 4 days with NO SUPPLEMENTING! I couldn’t believe it! And I cried. And my LC cried and we hugged and I thanked her for carrying me through and she thanked me for putting in the hard work. Then she sent me on my way and told me to call if I needed anything. And that left me feeling thrilled…and scared. Because I no longer held any confidence in my own body.

That last weigh in was 2 days ago and I still definitely feel very unsure of my body. I no longer believe that I can feed my son without intervention, even though the scale and the diapers and the fat rolls say otherwise. I don’t know that I’ll ever regain that confidence. But, what I do know, is that I’m thankful. Thankful that I’ve been on so many sides of this feeding journey. Thankful for the people and the resources that have gotten me to this point. And very, very thankful for the invention of formula that sustained my oldest child for the first year of his life and prevented my youngest from starvation.

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If you have a story about formula feeding or breastfeeding that you’d like to share, please email me at formulafeeder@gmail.com. Join the club. No membership dues!

Nipple Confused? Here’s some “supplementary” info

When FC was a wee little sprout, he looked a bit like my grandma did when she had hepatitis. (An image that haunts me to this day – her eyes turned yellow. Yellow. Can you imagine what that did to my 5-year-old brain?) Yep, little FC was jaundiced, and since he wouldn’t latch after the first day in the hospital, we were given “permission” to supplement with a bit of formula.

Needless to say, this caused a lot of consternation for pro-breastfeeding Fearless Husband and me, but the prospect of not being released from the hospital was an incredibly persuasive argument in favor of formula. My PPD had already kicked in, and the cold, stale smell, white walls, and constant buzzing of machinery seemed unbearably eerie to me; I honestly believed that if I stayed there a moment longer, I would start screaming and never stop. (I’m thinking I may sign out against medical orders this time after 24 hours, as long as FC#2 gets the okay from our fabulous pediatrician. The idea of spending 48 hours in that hospital again is far scarier to me than the birth itself. I’d almost barter a med-free birth for the ability to be knocked out for the “recovery” period. And I’m a big fan of the epidural.)

So, we ended up letting the nurse feed FC a tiny bottle of formula. As I watched him guzzle the liquid down as if it were manna from heaven, my heart started thumping around my chest. The latching had been hard enough; what if he got nipple confusion now? I vowed that this would be the last bottle he’d take, at least until we had breastfeeding down, my supply leveled off, and he conquered the whole latch thing.

Cut to a week later, when one of our many lactation consultants encouraged me to exclusively pump as a solution to our problem (i.e., a child who couldn’t latch well, and who was incredibly hungry at this point). This was a life-saving suggestion, for both mother and baby – I finally felt that my breasts could do something productive, and my son started gaining weight like a champ. On MY MILK, no less!

But as the days went on, I started having trouble keeping up with FC. He was a voracious eater (I still think it’s because he was growth-restricted, and making up for lost calories on the outside, even though I have no medical evidence to back me up), and barely slept – my pumping schedule was every 2 hours, and took 40 minutes (20 minutes per breast) to get enough milk, which meant the most I could sleep was 90 minutes at any given time (and that was if my husband got up to give FC a bottle while I pumped – and I say if, because my husband, while lovely and amazing in so many ways, is a horse’s ass about waking up in the wee hours of the night -  otherwise, I had to factor in a 30 minute feeding/burping in that time slot, as well). Between my postpartum issues and sleep deprivation, I was drowning. I convinced myself that one small bottle of formula a night wouldn’t hurt my baby, and we started supplementing. I could barely admit it to myself – when asked, I’d say we “occasionally” supplemented with formula, but very rarely, when in reality it was a nightly ritual. A ritual that ended up allowing me to give him breastmilk for the rest of the day, however, and even get “ahead” of him every now and then – that was the best feeling ever, seeing a nice, full bottle of expressed breastmilk in the fridge, knowing that it could hold my child over until I pumped again….I started fearing the formula a bit less every day, especially as nipple confusion was no longer an issue. FC was clearly confused from day one. Somehow, the instinctual knowledge all babies are supposed to have about suckling human breasts never made it to my son’s developing brain. Maybe he was out of the house when the intra-utero UPS tried to deliver that essential piece. Or perhaps our bottle-feeding culture has seeped into the collective consciousness?

I digress. The point is, while FC was still getting breastmilk, I supplemented with one bottle of formula a night. And I strongly believe that supplementing can be a girl’s best friend, especially if she has supply issues, needs to pump exclusively, or has to work full time where pumping is simply not convenient (like, say, in service industries like restaurants or Starbucks, where facilities other than a restroom are not physically available, and taking an additional 40 minutes of break time per shift can result in lost tips). Supplementing, or “combo feeding”, can allow you to keep breastfeeding while taking some of the pressure off. There’s a ton of conflicting advice out there on supplementation, though, so for those who are considering going in this direction, confusion probably abounds.

I’ve scoured the internet for the past few days, and everything I read seems to contradict the thing I read before it. Parenting Magazine’s August issue had a big feature on combo-feeding; it was pretty solid advice, so if you can get your hot little hands on a copy, I’d highly suggest it. It quotes Dr. Marianne Neifert, who is a great example of a strong breastfeeding advocate who still acknowledges that supply issues and breastfeeding setbacks are real, and not something mythical, like unicorns or the Tooth Fairy.

One of the more interesting things Dr. Neifert says in her book, Great Expectations: The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding, is that while many lactation professionals prefer alternate suppplemental feeding methods, like feeding baby with a cup, spoon, finger or supplemental nursing system (SNS), rather than a bottle), especially if breastfeeding hasn’t been successfully established, “cup feeding is the only alternative method that has been studied, and research shows no significant benefit of cup feeding over bottle-feeding in maintaing breastfeeding beyond hospital discharge”. She also explains that the babies who most often get nipple confusion are the ones who are not latching correctly or have mothers with compromised milk supplies. The logic here is clear – these babies aren’t getting what they need easily, and then a bottle comes along, and gives it to them with far less work involved on their parts. This information can be taken two ways: first, it kind of sucks, as the kids who could benefit the most from supplementing are the same ones with whom doing so could complicate the breastfeeding relationship in the future. On the other hand, it’s encouraging for moms who want to supplement just for their own sanity, or because work makes exclusive breastfeeding difficult.

Let’s clarify this a bit. If you are having breastfeeding problems like I was, then yes – nipple confusion is more of a concern. I don’t regret my decision to allow supplementation in the hospital, though, because ultimately, I believe the end results would have been the same. Dr. Neifert suggests that even babies who do develop nipple confusion can bounce back with a little effort of the mother’s part; I just heard from a chat room friend that her baby, who hadn’t latched for nearly 6 weeks, suddenly just started breastfeeding like a champ. We tried and tried, but it just never happened for us; I don’t think FC would have latched better if he hadn’t had that one measly bottle in the hospital. And according to this 1985 study from the official journal of the AAP, I’m probably right – the researchers found that “It thus appears that formula supplementation in the hospital is a marker, rather than a cause, of breast-feeding difficulty.”  Kids are resilient, you know? But I am not a lactation consultant, so if you are truly concerned about causing further problems for yourself, I would call a reputable LC, pronto – don’t wait, because the earlier you get help, the better – and hold off on the supplementing until you feel secure about it. You don’t want to be blaming formula for your breastfeeding failure somewhere down the line. Trust me.

Lecture over… let’s move on to those without problems. Say your kiddo is latching like a champ – when can you start introducing formula? The issue here is establishing your supply. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body (ideally) will produce, so if she is sucking on a bottle instead of your breasts, your supply might not meet her growing needs.

It comes down to your reasons for supplementing – is it because you need to go back to work? If this is the case, you might want to wait a month (see reference to BabyCenter’s advice below) before introducing formula; when you do start, just do one small – and I mean SMALL, like 2oz – bottle a day. This will get him used to the bottle and the taste of the formula. Now, I know some people might disagree with me on this one, and say to wait until the last possible moment to start supplementing, but I see a few inherent problems in this. Some babies get nipple confusion in the other direction – breastfed babies won’t take a bottle (I think FFF Megan has some firsthand experience with this, no?) If you’re going back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave, things are gonna be relatively stressful as is; the last thing you want to be worrying about is if your baby will starve at daycare because he won’t take a bottle. If you’re concerned about supply, you could pump during that one formula-feeding session and store the milk you express; not only will you be giving your body the message that it needs to maintain its supply, but you’ll be getting a headstart on your milk stash for when you go back to work.

What if you just want to give one bottle of formula a night, so you can get a little sleep? Well, if you’re doing this because you think formula fed babies sleep better, think again. I wish that old wives’ tale was true, but, sadly, no. Also, if you’re pumping, be aware that some studies show that morning milk may keep babies up at night – so if you’re EPing, use freshly expressed evening milk before bed; or the evening bottle would be a good one to supplement with formula, if you’re heading in that direction. However, if you’re not co-sleeping (which usually makes for a situation where breastfeeding is easier than formula feeding, since all you have to do is roll over and let your baby latch on), and your husband can get up, go down the hall, and feed your little one once a night with a bottle of formula, then I do think it can allot you a little more sleep. If you’re going this route, according to BabyCenter’s medical advisory board, the best time to start is when your baby is around a month old.

(One small tip here – if you do want to use a bottle of formula at night, keep your supplies in your master or closest upstairs bathroom. We used to keep a jug of distilled water (recommended for the early months by our pediatrician), a can of formula, and a bottle, on our master bathroom vanity. That way, all we had to do is mix the stuff up and give it to FC, who was asleep in his cocoon sleeper next to our bed. As we got better at everything, we would pre-measure the water in the bottles, so all we had to do was add the appropriate scoops of formula. Done and done.)

I know many of you have asked for specific information on supplementing, but I can’t really give much, as most of the information I’ve found is incredibly biased (it all starts with the caveats about breastfeeding being best, and how you should avoid formula at all costs, etc, etc). Plus, I am not a physician, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be doling out information that could potentially affect someone’s health. I will post some links at the end of this which offer advice without being too judgmental (those are hard to find, unfortunately), and hopefully these can answer more specific questions.

I think the important thing to remember is this: some breastmilk is better than none. If you are committed to exclusive breastfeeding, well, then you may not want to supplement – that’s kind of a no brainer, if you ask me. But if you are struggling, or just feel like combo-feeding might be a better option for you, I have to wonder if it’s really necessary to wait the requisite month before starting formula. Because if you only need your supply to be sufficient enough to feed your child for a few meals a day, what’s the problem with establishing that kind of supply right off the bat? I’d imagine that if you establish the supply of an exclusive breastfeeder, but are planning to supplement heavily with formula for whatever reason, you’d be setting yourself up for some pretty intense engorgement. (I suppose the argument could be that perhaps you wouldn’t have made up your mind about these things in the early days; maybe you’ll find that breastfeeding is easier than you expected, and decide to punt the supplementation altogether. I’m talking about the women who KNOW they are going to supplement, for their own personal reasons – why not help them do so? Otherwise, they might be less likely to breastfeed at all, which I assume is counterproductive to breastfeeding advocacy efforts.) I’m genuinely curious about this – if there are any lactation consultants, scientists or pediatricians out there who have an answer for me, please post it – I’d love to know the answer. I feel like there has to be a rational explanation, otherwise, why are we freaking women out about supplementing if supplementing is going to allow them to breastfeed, with the alternative being no breastfeeding at all?

Any answers? First one to give me one gets a big gold star.

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Some good resources for supplementing info:

Supplementing With Formula (BabyCenter.com)

Formula Feeding FAQs: Supplementing (KidsHealth.org)

Yes, You Can Supplement: Breastfeeding with Bottles (Parenting.com)

FFF Friday: “Formula saved my baby’s life.”

This week’s FFF Friday comes from Rhonda, who struggled with supply issues, and later on, a health emergency that complicated her feeding choices. I sincerely hope that after such a rough start, it will be smooth sailing for Rhonda and her son from here on out.

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I know that all the latest studies say that breastfeeding saves infant lives and that breastfeeding is the only way to go, but in my personal experience, formula saved my baby’s life.

My little boy was born in May 2010, and I had entered into the birth with the intention of giving breastfeeding a good try at the very least. I had felt the usual pressure from the lactavists to breastfeed, and I discussed my feelings about it with my doctor around 34 weeks; we came to the agreement that I would give it a try for a few weeks even and if it just wasn’t working out, then I’d switch to formula. I felt good about the agreement, I felt good about my doctor being behind my decision, and my fears about my lack of colostrum production prior to my son’s birth were calmed by my friends and prenatal instructor insisting that my lack of leakage meant nothing in the grand scheme of things and that after delivery production would increase.

He was born in the wee hours of the morning via c-section, as his shoulders were way too wide for my pelvis; I knew this would delay the milk production a little bit but I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t going to be producing nearly enough to even begin to satisfy his hungry little tummy. Born at 9lbs 1oz he is a big boy and eats like a horse.

Less than 48 hours later he had lost over a pound, and developed what would be later diagnosed as dehydration, even though every time he started mouthing or rooting I would put him to nurse, and we were on our way to the nearest Intensive Care Nursery 2 hours away because our little town doesn’t have a pediatrician or an ICN unit. The first thing the ICN nurse asked me was if it was alright to give him formula. Through my tears from the sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t producing enough for him, I said of course it was alright. The little guy ate 48oz of formula in the space of four hours! My poor little baby was starving and it took me a lot of tears and a lot of days to stop blaming myself for that.

Over the course of the next week, through a combo of IV fluids, breastfeeding what little I was producing, pumping, and topping up with formula, we were able to get him back to health; he’s approaching two weeks old at the time of writing this, although I’m still not producing enough milk to only feed him myself and am going to give Domperidone a try for a month. If it doesn’t do the trick then I’m just going to switch to formula. If that happens I will miss nursing him, but I refuse to let myself feel guilty anymore for something that my body is just not up to doing. My mother and sister both had supply issues with breastfeeding; I don’t know if these things run in the family but in my case it seems to have done so.

During the week we spent at the hospital, his great latch went downhill and I finally brought it up with the lactation consultant I had been working with and she suggested that all the interventions and suggestions that I had been trying affected his latch. I didn’t see hide nor hair of her or any of the nurses who were trying to help us out with the latch over the last few days of our stay, and his latch went back to being great. After being home it’s now better than ever, I’m just not producing enough. Hopefully the Domperidone will help my production.

With the next baby I intend to give breastfeeding another try. Hopefully it’ll be a smaller baby with a less ravenous tummy, but regardless I will try it again. We will continue to supplement until I feel comfortable with my production, and I will feel no shame in making sure that my baby is getting the nutrition that he needs, be it from me, formula, or a combination of both.

Rhonda recently sent me an update to her story:

I ended up developing a massive DVT (deep vein thrombosis) blood clot in my leg that went from my groin down past my knee. I’m on a massive amount of Warfarin to thin my blood; most people need under 10 mg to get things normalized… I’m on 14mg. Needless to say I’ve stopped breastfeeding, and am exclusively formula feeding; and I have a happy baby. At his 6 week appointment, he had climbed back up from his lowest weight of 7.5lbs to 11lbs, 2oz. That was two weeks ago; he’s two months old in a few days and he’s already wearing size 6 month sleepers because he’s so long. Sometimes as I’m holding him and feeding him I still miss breastfeeding him, but at his size and the amount he eats, there is no way I would have been able to produce enough for him, even being on meds to get production up. After I stopped nursing him I had one day where my breasts were tender and I needed to pump to relive the pressure. One day. That’s it; and then I dried up. I cried a little bit, even though I knew I wasn’t going to be able to nurse him while being on my medication, but as my husband, and mom, and doctor have told me over and over again, maybe the next baby won’t be so big and won’t have such a huge appetite, and I can try it again. If it doesn’t work better for the next baby, if he or she still is hungry after nursing for 40 minutes, then I will know to give a formula supplement. The next time though, I will do it without any guilt at all.

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Have a story about breastfeeding, formula feeding, or some combination of both that you want to get off your chest? (Get it? Off your chest? Ha.) Send it my way – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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