A dear friend of mine gave birth last week, after a long struggle to conceive. This woman has already been through so much, and I hoped she’d have the easiest birth and early motherhood experience possible to make up for the hell she’d been through up until this point.
Although the birth itself went pretty smoothly, I was disheartened to hear that breastfeeding was not going well. Apparently, while her daughter seemed to latch perfectly, her milk was still not in almost a week postpartum. She was doing everything right – she’d done the rooming in, nursing on demand drill; seen the LC in the hospital and had a private consultation as well; she was determined and excited to nurse. Her daughter was healthy and full-term, and the only health issue my friend had herself was a thyroid problem which all the “experts” has assured her wouldn’t affect breastfeeding.
But my friend’s little girl, who we’ll call Jane, had dropped 12% of her body weight, and had endured several days where she only had one wet diaper in a 12-24 hour period. She seemed to be getting sleepier and less interested in nursing, so my friend started pumping and cup-feeding her to avoid nipple confusion. When she asked her pediatrician if she should be concerned, the doctor told her she shouldn’t worry, that her milk would come in any day now, and as long as she was having any wet diapers, she’d be fine. This was contrary advice to everything my friend had read online – and while yes, Dr. Google is not the most reliable source of information, I had to agree that every physician I’d interviewed would assert that what her daughter was experiencing were warning signs of dehydration. And as my friend said, it was easy for the doctor and LC to say “wait and see” – it wasn’t their newborn dropping weight and growing weaker.
She was on her way to see another LC when I spoke with her, and I was really torn. I think she wanted me to tell her that she should just switch to formula, but I couldn’t. I asked her if she wanted to breastfeed, and she said yes, she did, but she wasn’t sure if it was just because of pride or guilt…”Everyone keeps saying it’s the best thing I can do for my child,” she told me. On the other hand, she didn’t want to keep stressing over this one issue; she wanted to enjoy the child she’d gone to such great lengths to conceive and carry to term.
The problem was, I didn’t think this was a lost cause. If she wanted to breastfeed, then my concern was to get her to a place where this dream would be possible. And I felt so frustrated at her pediatrician and LC who had told her not to introduce formula, because her daughter had a “virgin gut”; who scared her off bottles because of nipple confusion but didn’t even mention the possibility of a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) which has been shown to work really well in situations like these. As we discussed in the post on dehydration in newborns, these things tend to be a viscous cycle. The baby isn’t getting enough to drink; she’s growing too weak to nurse efficiently; this affects the supply/demand system so important to establishing a new mom’s supply… and so it goes.
The refusal of dogmatic breastfeeding “supporters” to consider using formula in the short term to fix the immediate situation and allow nature to sort itself out, just kills me. There’s an argument that in tribal cultures these problems “don’t exist”. That may indeed be true, but we live in the society we live in, and there are problems inherent in our system that DO complicate nursing. Most lactivists would be the first to admit this. Inductions and c-sections, hell, hospital births in general, can stymie the breastfeeding relationship. Our “bottle feeding culture” gives us a much steeper learning curve than those in cultures where breastfeeding is the norm.
It’s high time we acknowledged the reality of what we are facing as new moms trying to breastfeed. Stop blaming the freaking formula companies and work on educating our medical professionals (and I mean doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants) about the myriad of problems that women may face in the initial weeks of breastfeeding, so that these problems can be addressed and fixed. Instead, we ignore them, deny they can happen, and let women who wanted to nurse feel they have no alternative but to switch to formula, creating a cycle of guilt and regret… these are the women who end up here, needing to work through their conflicted feelings.
This afternoon, my friend updated me that they had started supplementing, but now Jane is refusing to latch altogether. And I worry. I worry that this won’t be salvageable. I worry that if things continue to deteriorate, she will be made to feel that it was the one or two bottles of formula which destroyed her nursing relationship. That the voices which said “virgin gut” and “just wait” and “nipple confusion” will haunt her. I worry that she will end up like I did, hating myself, hating those that I felt lied to me, that made me feel like a bad mom….
I worry. And I don’t want to worry about my friends. Or myself. Or any of you.
Something has got to change, people. Seriously.