FFF Friday: “I never dreamed it would be a life and death issue.”

Today’s FFF Friday, from FFF Elizabeth, is scary. I sometimes worry that publishing stories like this will “scare” women away from breastfeeding, and I know that is one of the concerns about this blog from the lactivist circles. But I always think of my son at times like these… he has a lot of strange fears, for a two-year-old, probably due to a very overactive imagination. But the cool thing is, he is adamant about facing these fears head on. He’ll make me rewind a scary part of the Sesame video where Elmo nearly gets run over by a meatball (thankfully, Snuffy saves him from this carnivorous fate) until he figures out how to make it less daunting in his mind. I think we need to do the same thing with bad breastfeeding experiences, on a larger scale. We NEED to listen to stories like Elizabeth’s, to make sure they don’t keep happening. They are avoidable, and in taking the steps to preventing them, we’ll also make breastfeeding an easier and less confusing act for millions of women. Let’s not ignore the giant meatball barreling down the street, you know?

A giant thank you to Elizabeth for being willing to share this with us. I am sure it wasn’t pleasant to rehash such a frightening experience.

My son Grayson was born September 22. The last few weeks of my pregnancy were concerning to my OB because I was measuring small- I didn’t get any bigger from 34 weeks on. Grayson came 2 weeks early- 37 weeks, 5 days. He weighed 5 pounds 7 ounces. I never even considered formula feeding- my best friends all breastfeed, my mom breastfed, and economically I thought it was the way to go. I took a class, read the books. I wasn’t so naive that I thought it would be easy, but I would never have dreamed that it would be a life and death issue.

In the hospital, breastfeeding went ok- or so I thought. For being so “educated” I realize now I had no clue what I was doing. I saw the LC for about 2 minutes- Grayson just happened to be latched on when she visited- latched on but asleep. The LC said the latch looked good; I just needed G to wake up to eat. And then she was gone. We went home from the hospital on Friday. That weekend, I breastfed every 2 hours, but Grayson never woke up or cried to eat. I would wake him up the best I could, put him on and he would suck some and would fall back asleep. Clueless me- I thought newborns just slept a lot. I had NO IDEA anything was wrong.

Monday- we had an appointment with the pediatrician. I will forever thank God that my pediatrician does newborn appointments at 5 days and not 2 weeks. I know that we would not have Grayson with us had we not had that appointment. His weight was down to 4 pounds, 9 ounces. The doctor immediately gave me a bottle of formula and said they would probably re-admit us to the hospital for a few days to monitor his weight. Her obvious concern made me give G the formula without questioning her. Then the nurse took his temperature- twice, because she thought the first time had to be a mistake. G’s temperature was 94.9 degrees- dangerously low. Change of plans- we needed to get to the local ER at the hospital where I delivered- immediately. The scariest thing was when the pediatrician said she wanted us in the hospital in the Texas Medical Center (we are in a suburb of Houston, TX) but she didn’t think we had time to get there.

In the ER, Grayson had a team of nurses and doctors saving his little 5 day old life. Warmers, IV fluids, antibiotics. They tried to get urine from a catheter but weren’t able to because he was SO dehydrated. Then they said they needed to do a spinal tap to rule out any infections. After several hours in the ER at our hospital, Grayson was taken by ambulance to the Med Center, where he spent 5 days in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

The first night in the PICU, I asked for a breastpump, and they brought me a manual one- so much for being breastfeeding friendly. I cried and cried as I pumped about half an ounce as my arm cramped up from the repetitive, torturous motion. My sister in law brought me my electric pump later that night, which I used for 2 days before I saw another LC. I never got more than an ounce at a time. Finally, the LC came with a hospital pump and SNS- we tried the SNS but G was not latching on at all at this point. The LC gave me instructions to pump every 2 hours that I was awake and try to sleep as much as I could to get my supply up.

When we were released from the hospital, Grayson was back up to 5 pounds, 5 ounces and I was feeling very optimistic. I wasn’t breastfeeding, but was able to pump enough to give him about 75% breastmilk- of course, he was only eating 1-2 ounces per feeding at this point. The next few weeks were an emotional rollercoaster. Even with taking fenugreek, drinking special tea, pumping around the clock, I just wasn’t producing much. I got 2 clogged ducts which dwindled my production on my left side to about half an ounce/pump. As Grayson got bigger and stronger, he was eating more, and I was only able to give him a few bottles of breastmilk a day. I tried actually breastfeeding him numerous times, but it was so painful I cried and winced through the whole thing while he screamed in frustration. It was awful. I “quit” too many times to count, but would always change my mind and try, try again, but always the same results.

The day I gave up breastfeeding and pumping for good was a combination of relief and overwhelming disappointment. I didn’t realize that breastfeeding was something that would have so much emotion tied to it, but it was. I cringed every time someone asked me if I was breastfeeding and felt the need to justify my answer with a version of my story. However, every day got easier and now, 9 weeks into this parenting thing, I am finally getting to the point where I have peace about the whole thing. Grayson is thriving (still a tiny peanut at 9 pounds but gaining every day), I am so much more rested, and I am enjoying being a mom. When we have another child, I will absolutely give breastfeeding another shot, because it’s still something I really want to do. But if it doesn’t work again, it’s ok- I realize now that formula is a wonderful thing and thank God we have that option for our children.

Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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19 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I never dreamed it would be a life and death issue.”

  1. This is a very unique story and situation, that I don't think would happen in an everyday BFing situation. Even for those of us who struggled and failed, this type of thing probably wouldn't have kept us from trying, but perhaps in a way forewarned is forearmed… and knowing what to look out for can keep other babies from going through what this one did… Scary but thank goodness he is doing well now 🙂 Thank goodness that we have the technology we do and the feeding options available to save that boys life!

  2. I'm so glad they caught everything before it got more serious! If you don't mind me asking (I can understand if you don't want to rehash it!) what caused his temperature to drop? I don't think I've ever heard anything about low temps in infants. (Or period; the focus is always on fevers.)

    I think you're very brave to share your story, and I'm glad that you're able to make peace with the decision.<3

  3. Knowledge is power! Sharing stories like this are so important, thank you! I am so glad everything is ok with your little one, you both went through a lot!

  4. Thank you everyone for your kind words. It was a terrifying experience, but thankfully we are past it and Grayson has had no other problems due to the dehydration. We have definitely moved on to other issues and I'm so thankful that I know longer struggle with how I feed my baby!

    Ashley- I know the temperature dropping was because of the dehydration. In the hospital, the diagnosis was hypothermia due to dehydration. One of the nurses told me the same thing- we always think about people having fevers when they are sick, but the opposite can happen as well. I'm not sure why though.

  5. Oh my goodness, that is so scary. I'm glad everything turned out fine and that your son is happy and healthy!

    Now, clearly your LC didn't talk to you about what to look for, re:dehydration. She didn't do her job correctly I think.

    (and this is directed to everyone now)–Have most of you been warned about dehydration? We certainly were–in fact, even though I had told the hospital I wanted to BF, and they supported that, there was no question that my tiny boys needed formula supplementation, at least at first (because they were so small). I hope that doctors/nurses/LCs tell new mothers about how newborns should look and act–especially mothers of low-birthweight/premature infants.

    Oh and a tip for anyone who finds herself with a baby too sleepy to eat: strip him naked. That can help wake him up enough to take in nourishment.

  6. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/116/3/e343

    Yes, this is scary, and as this paper illustrates, not uncommon. Ashley, sometimes a newborn will have hypothermia instead of fever when their body is challenged in some way (like by infection or dehydration)because of the immaturity of their brain's temperature-regulating mechanism. Maybe if the so-called “Baby-friendly hospitals” could look past the hysterics shrilly avowing “BUT AAALL WOMEN CAN BREASTFEED!!” babies could have their electrolytes checked FIRST to rule out dehydration-induced hypernatremia rather than having to undergo such an invasive and painful test as a spinal tap. And anonymous, in light of the author's post, I think your LLL link is, at best, unproductive. At worst, it's insulting in its implied suggestion that all a new mom needs to do is check the LLL website to see if her baby's getting enough milk.

  7. @Jess Nye-

    I interviewed Dr. Moritz (the author of that paper) for my book, and it probably won't surprise you that he had to tone down the paper significantly to get it published – people were worried it would undermine breastfeeding advocacy efforts.

    Le sigh.

  8. Why is that insulting?

    It is embarrassing that no one told her that her baby needs to produce frequent wet diapers.

    It is upsetting that she was never shown what it looks like when a baby is actually swallowing breast milk. Putting a baby to your breast is not called breastfeeding unless the baby is able to get the milk out. It is inaccurate to say that a breastfeeding baby became dehydrated because it was never feeding at all.

    The best way to get a babies temperature regulated is with skin-to-skin contact. Better than an incubator. We don't need more tests.



    How can that be unproductive? With this story we have many mothers concerned that their breastfed baby could be suffering.

    Many times mothers have to figure things out on their own and LLLI is a great resource.

  9. I misread the last post and thought it said hypothermia… I am at home with two under two so please forgive me.
    I honestly do not know why anyone is upset with my original link. It was short, but again, I don't always have time.

    Anyways the links on skin-to-skin is really nice to read and can be done no matter how you feed your kids.

    So in response to babies becoming dehydrated and needing tests for that. Still no; mothers need to be given reliable, accurate and consistent information so they can go home prepared.

  10. We ended up back in the hospital because of weight loss too. Our daughter went from 7lbs 11oz at birth to 6lbs 9oz at her first checkup.

    She seemed like she was feeding well, but she was so sleepy at the breast that it was a fight to keep her awake and feeding. We thought her wet diaper output was okay (though when we saw how wet her diapers were when changing to formula we realized that her wet diapers before weren't nearly wet enough) It was devastating to know that I had essentially been starving my newborn without even realizing it.

    Your situation was definitely more severe than ours, and I am so glad that everything worked out okay for you.

  11. Our baby also dropped a lot of weight in that first week because he wasn't getting enough: 8lbs 1oz to 6lbs 9 oz. It was scary as it was, and I can't even imagine starting with a little one only 5 lbs and having that kind of weight loss and temperature drop. I'm so glad Grayson was okay and there were no lingering issues. I feel that weight loss in newborns is SO minimized and there was definitely no discussion about dehydration. Like Shelly, we were getting wet diapers, and if it is your first you have no idea if the wet diaper in front of you is really 'wet' in the way LLL and other information guides define it (although I do acknowledge and appreciate that there is some guidance out there). Thanks for sharing your story!

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