FFF Friday: “Formula made it possible to continue breastfeeding…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.


Excuses, excuses. That’s all I’m good for lately. All I can say is that I have the utmost respect for all you full-time working moms out there. Keeping it all together with freelance/part time work was no biggie, but I’m full time temporarily and it is absolutely kicking my ass and taking names. Well, one name. Mine. I’m waving the white flag, and really, really want to return to only answering to bosses who I love and whose crap I don’t mind cleaning up.

Anyway – to get us back on track, here’s an incredible FFF Friday submission from Miriam, who blogs over at mommd.com‘s “Maternity Scrubs”. What makes me smile about this story is that the author found a way of feeding her baby which worked for her family, even though it took some creativity and open-mindedness to do so. Things do not need to be black and white, and it makes me sad to think that so many more women could find a more satisfactory and rewarding feeding experience if the experts didn’t insist on seeing the world like a giant checkerboard.

I mean, come on. If you’re gonna play a giant parlour game, play Giant Connect Four. Geesh.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

The FFF

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My FFF saga, begins, like so many others, with a non-latching baby in the hospital and a milk supply that just never came in. There were many of the vaunted “booby traps” along the way- a pediatric nurse practitioner who told me I should only pump 4 times per day (with a non-latching baby?), woefully inadequate LC support in the hospital, a postpartum nurse who warned me that if I tried too hard to breastfeed, I’d just wind up with post-partum depression. The first week was serious hell. I kept waiting and waiting for my milk to come in, and pumping the tiniest drops of colostrum, which changed to milk with no appreciable increase in volume over a few days. I had the worst hospital pump in the world, the Ameda Lact-E, which looked like a refugee from 1970. The night we came home from the hospital, my mom was pushing the baby on me to latch every 3 hours while I desperately pumped and syringe-fed drops of colostrum. It wasn’t enough (is it ever?) and my son was seriously dehydrated and lethargic by the time we got him to the pediatrician the next morning. We were told to supplement, and my poor little dude could barely stay awake to finish a whole ounce from an Enfamil nursette. We had to keep waking him up during the feed by taking off his clothes and blowing on him. I felt, like so many other moms, like a complete failure, like my attempts to breastfeed were selfish.

Still, I was determined to make it work. My family was in town and everyone except me kept feeding the baby, totally ignoring my “breastfeeding friendly” bottle-feeding techniques I found on the internet and was trying to enforce. One family member even showed me how “if you poke the nipple in again, you can get him to finish the bottle!” Bottle-feeding FAIL!

Somewhere around day 11, with the help of a saintly local IBCLC, I got a nipple shield and a decent latch going on a consistent basis and thought, ok, great! I’m nursing now! No more supplementing, no more pumping, let’s just do this! And I settled in to nurse. I thought things were going great! The little dude seemed happy and satisfied, there were drops of milk in the nipple shield whenever he came off the breast, and he didn’t look dehydrated or lethargic like he was the first few days before we started supplementing. I happily and proudly bundled him up to go to lactation group on Thursday and measure his intake on the scale. I forgot the pre-feed weight that day, so I never knew what he got. Something, however, struck my IBCLC as not quite right, and she told me that she’d like me to come see her on Sunday, after a weekend of nursing on demand.

She weighed the little dude, then sat me down in her office with a feeding pillow and a comfy chair. I got out my shield and began to nurse my son. She came back 30 minutes later to re-weigh him and check his intake- the scale reading hadn’t changed. At all. He’d gotten absolutely nothing in 30 minutes of nursing. So here we were, two weeks postpartum, with no detectable milk transfer from nursing and no pumping at all for the last 6 days, during which I’d felt no engorgement or buildup of milk. I started to cry. I’d been starving my son! My feelings of guilt and remorse and shame at failing to lactate and failing to see my son’s distress overwhelmed me. I’d stopped supplementing (which, come to think of it, was pretty stupid to do without consulting a health professional), and the little dude hadn’t lost weight, but hadn’t gained anything either. My nipple shield turned out to have been too big as well, so he couldn’t pull milk out effectively. I didn’t know that there weren’t just supposed to be drops in the shield, it was supposed to be FULL of milk.

My IBCLC brought out a Symphony pump, which managed to extract 10 ml of milk total. I cried again. I knew I had to keep feeding my little dude by any means necessary, but I was also determined to keep nursing going as long as possibly could. I bought fancy bottles that were supposed to eliminate nipple confusion. I changed my status with WIC to “partially breastfed” and stocked up the kitchen with formula. (The breastfeeding advocates at WIC, for what its worth, were incredibly supportive of my mixed feeding and continued, throughout the year, to supply lavish support and praise and help along with cans of formula and breastfeeding advice.) I rented a Symphony and pumped 8 times per day. That next week was my last week of maternity leave before I had to return to medical school with a 3-week old baby, but I devoted the whole week to getting my milk supply off the ground in any way I could. I ordered domperidone and fenugreek and blessed thistle and goats rue and did breast compressions during pumping and nursing. And it even worked a little! I was up to 15 ml, then 20 ml, then a full ounce, once I increased my pumping sessions from 15 to 20 minutes. My son was getting plenty of formula but still seemed interested in nursing whenever we had time, and I tried to nurse as often as I’d pump.

I LOVED nursing my son. His latch issues were resolved and I even stopped having to use a nipple shield. I’d come home from school and we’d cuddle up and nurse for a good hour or more and I felt like I finally got what all the cozy bonding stuff people talk about nursing was all about.

Formula gave me a very special gift- being able to nurse my son without worrying about being his only source of food. And every day, I got to feed him a bottle of breast milk that I’d made! Still, I think about those early days and I just feel exhausted. I blogged elsewhere about the craziness of taking an eating-every-two-hours infant to a medical school library. I’d nurse him, then pump while I mixed up and fed him a bottle of formula, then change him and put him to sleep, then study for an hour while he slept, then he’d wake up and we’d do it all over again. I couldn’t go anywhere without my Symphony pump, lanolin, breastmilk bags, cleaning wipes, and a cooler. I had a special rabbinical dispensation to turn my pump on on Shabbat. I pumped everywhere and all the time- in class, in lab, while studying at Starbucks, (always under a flowered nursing cover). I was bound and determined to keep it going, because I loved nursing, and whatever benefits there were to breastmilk and to nursing, I wanted my son to have them as long as I could do it, even though I never made more than ⅓ of his caloric needs per day.

Around 6 months, when the little dude started solids, I gradually cut back on pumping. I wanted to be able to go out for an afternoon without strapping a 7-pound pump to my back. I had a new goal now- I wasn’t even trying to produce any significant proportion of my son’s nutrition, I just wanted to keep nursing, at some level. And I knew, because my son was mostly bottle-fed, that I had to keep pumping to do it. I cut back to 3 or 4 pumping sessions per day, so I was making a 6 oz bottle every other day, which still felt significant to me. Meanwhile my son was thriving. He was growing into a curious, active, crawly, reachy, grabby litte guy who only had the patience to nurse in the early morning and at night, when he was sure not to miss anything exciting. We did baby-led solids and he fed himself every variety of yummy healthy food like a champ. At 9 months, when I dropped to two pumpings per day, the pumped milk collected to about two bottles per week. At 11 months, I gradually stopped pumping altogether. We still nurse early morning and at night, but not every day, and I’ll keep it up as long as he’s still interested.

As we transition from bottles of formula to cow’s milk in a sippy cup, I guess I will no longer qualify as an FFF, but my experiences with being a fearless formula feeding mom, exclusive pumping mom, and nursing mom, all at once, have given me insight into the worlds of all three modalities of babyfeeding. Formula made my baby grow healthy and strong and always have enough to eat. Formula also made it possible to continue breastfeeding, with the help of a pump and meds.

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Ready to take the leap and share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. I’ll be your best friend. For realz.

The myth of supplementation

I stumbled upon an interesting dissertation the other day. Written by Elizabeth M. Miller to fulfill her Doctorate in Philosophy (Anthropology), “Breastfeeding and Immunity in Ariaal Mothers and Infants” is a 202-page story of IgA levels in the infants of “a group of about 10,000 semi-settled and settled pastoralists living in the deserts and mountains of Marsabit District, Kenya.”

No, seriously – it’s a good read. Long, but actually quite accessible, with a refreshing absence of bullshit and sanctimony (incidentally, I’ve found that in general, anthropologists have a really levelheaded perspective on the breast/bottle debate. Maybe it’s because they are aware of social evolution?). It gives a tremendous breakdown of why breastmilk is thought to promote immunity in children, so it’s worth perusing the first few chapters for that alone. But Miller also makes some incidental observations that I found quite pertinent to some of our past discussions, and wanted to share these with you here.

At one point in the dissertation, Miller compares the Ariaal tribe to the Turkana tribe. These two cultures are quite similar in terms of location, lifestyle, and breastfeeding norms, but Miller hypothesizes that the Ariaal have had more exposure to Western health prescriptives (by way of missionaries or NGOs). While the breastfeeding Ariaal mothers claimed they did not supplement with foods until their babies were six months old, the breastfeeding Turkana mothers began supplementing around 2 weeks of age with butterfat, followed by cow’s milk at 3-4 months.

So, here’s what I find interesting about this. It has been drilled into our heads that exclusivity is key in breastfeeding; if you even allow a little formula into your babe’s system, she’s doomed. And god forbid you give a child under four months a little cereal or juice. We are simultaneously convinced that breastfeeding exclusively is the natural thing to do; it’s the fault of our bottle-feeding culture and the mistakes of past generations that have led us astray.

Making breastfeeding an all-or-nothing proposition is daunting for many Western mothers, for obvious reasons. But

Considering this isn

2012 Resolutions

My parents are in town, so we have free babysitting. Which meant movie night for me and Fearless Husband. We chose to see “Young Adult”, thinking that it would be light and funny; 90 minutes later we were about to poke our eyes out with hot coals, since that would have been less painful. Or at least less emotionally draining. Great acting, but one hell of a downer.

The film got me thinking on a myriad of levels, and one particular element of the script provoked me to come home and visit the blog (much to Fearless Husband’s chagrin, but what can you do… date night or not, I haven’t spent quality time with FFF in quite awhile. Sometimes it feels like I am in a polygamous relationship, I tell ya). Charlize Theron’s character, Mavis Gary, is unlikeable in about one thousand different ways, but you end up feeling sorry for her because she is completely delusional. At the same time, Mavis feels just as sorry for everyone else around her, because she thinks they are ignorant, small-minded simpletons. It’s a weird dynamic to experience as the moviegoer, because you aren’t sure who to identify with: if you empathize with Mavis you’re a cold-hearted egomaniac; relating to the rest of the cast makes you feel like kind of a loser. In the end, you realize that it is all a matter of perception. You can be the hero in your own story, but to everyone else you might be the villain, or even worse, just an ancillary character.

So how does this pertain to our little infant feeding blogosphere? I think the flawed communication and general lack of empathy on the part of many involved on both sides of this debate comes from a similar egotistical P.O.V. as Charlize’s unlikeable character. Perceptions are vague and/or downright incorrect, colored by our own experiences, our own realities. I know full well that some see this blog, and all other formula feeding support, as something vicious; others, as something that should be pitied or handled with kid gloves. And on our end, it’s easy to dismiss all breastfeeding advocates as intentionally obtuse; privileged; limited in scope.
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There are many gray areas to this debate, and I think that my New Years Resolution is going to be that I will strive to give that gray some much-needed color. That means more bottle-feeding research rather than simply tearing down breastfeeding studies. (Although this will be hard to do, when studies like this one pop up. Completely aside from breastfeeding, I simply cannot fathom how such a clumsy study has gotten both funding and media attention. I don’t think I need to explain the ridiculousness of what the researchers did here, but if anyone wants to discuss it we can do so on Facebook. Suffice to say – where the hell was the control group of non-exclusively breastfeeding kids who DIDN’T chug sugary drinks? And what’s with the dig about juice? How many leaps did it take to get to the conclusion that this proves anything about the link between breastfeeding and long-term obesity?…Aw, crap. Why do my resolutions never last longer than my neighbor’s Christmas tree?) More attempts to reach out to experts and pick their brains about specific subjects. More support for combo feeders.

Of course, this all can only happen if I get off my ever-growing butt and focus on the blog a little more. Considering I’m only now writing a New Year’s resolution post and it’s a few minutes before January 8th, maybe that should be resolution #1.

FFF Friday: “I feel very let down by the professionals…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.


In today’s FFF Friday post, FFF Susanne wonders if bottle feeding could possibly do more harm to a child than having a miserable mother. I think she came to the right conclusion. But I really think this is what this debate comes down to, more times than not. We can argue biological superiority, statistics, and health outcomes on the population level until we run out of breath, but at the end of the day all that matters is the individual mother and her individual situation. And if that situation is making her miserable, she needs to be given the opportunity to make a decision which could alleviate her stress without being made to feel guilty, or given misleading information.

I’ll be back next week with new posts… thanks for your patience as I adjust to being back at a “normal” job…!

Happy Friday, fearless ones!

The FFF

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I’d gone into hospital to give birth with every intention of breastfeeding my baby. Bottle feeding was just not an option. I was practically militant on the breastfeeding issue. It’s the most natural thing on earth, it’s what breasts are for, it’s a wonderful bonding experience and best for the baby… So how did I end up leaving hospital with a bag full of formula bottles?

Well, combine anaemia from an emergency c-section with a hungry ten pound baby who is so distressed he can’t latch on, add in the pressure of being told he must be fed every two hours because his size could be due to gestational diabetes and it could be dangerous if his blood sugar levels drop, and later that he must be fed regularly because he had jaundice.. But he still can’t latch on properly and still the milk hasn’t come in… Ultimately I didn’t feel like I had a choice. And I’m no quitter either, I tried and tried until I bled, I got every kind of help available to me, I spoke to the breastfeeding support workers and buzzed so often for help from the midwives they got sick of me. I knew the “nipple to nose” advice of how to achieve a good latch inside out, but that unfortunately was the only advice they seemed capable of giving. Other than it being nice having someone to talk to, unfortunately I didn’t find them very helpful at all. And I went through quite a few.

But me and my hungry little fella fought back on our own. Yes he left hospital a bottle fed baby, but once back at home we practiced and practiced until we got it right. It was far from easy, I was always told babies loved breastfeeding but he would scream at me, claw at me, grunt and practically fight me. I often felt horribly rejected and as though he hated me. But I was utterly determined. Eventually the formula decreased, the breastfeeding increased… and increased, and increased… He would feed for hours and hours on end, with my husband back at work I barely ate, barely drank, obviously I barely slept (all of these things I now know exacerbated the problem, though not one health visitor or breastfeeding support worker mentioned these factors) I didn’t leave the house, I was too embarrassed to feed in public in case he started the screaming, grunting, fighting me thing. And he just fed for so long I literally couldn’t go anywhere. The breastfeeding support workers came around again with their “nose to nipple” advice (yeh, we’ve got that down now thank you!), the health visitor said it was a growth spurt and would last maybe 48 hours (ignoring the fact it had already lasted weeks and I’d told them that). No one seemed to have heard of a baby who liked to spend practically all of his waking hours feeding, I was just urged to keep going and told I should be proud of myself.

By 3 months we’d done away totally with the formula and settled into a routine of one hour on, one hour off, then back on for the entire evening. I didn’t deliberately set out to do the attachment parenting thing, but he was pretty much permanently attached anyway. Last Christmas I opened our presents with him attached, ate my Christmas dinner with him attached… you get the picture. And actually I was ok with this. I worked on my supply by ensuring I ate properly, drank loads of water, did relaxation exercises (things I’d researched on the internet). The fighting and screaming had stopped. We were winning!

Then a block duct led to thrush, which due to misdiagnosis and then the wrong prescription led to mastitis. After a month of crying in agony through each feed (which is a lot of feeding for my boy) it almost destroyed the breastfeeding, decimated my supply and put him back on the bottle.

Once eventually cured I set about trying to build the feeding up again, but he would scream at me in hunger and frustration, claw at my chest and grunt as he had done before (you should have seen the state of my chest, I looked like one of my cats had attacked me! I thought breastfeeding was meant to be a beautiful experience??) Anyway I just couldn’t put him through all that again, just so I could pat myself on the back and say my child was breastfed, when even at best he needed to spend most of the day feeding just to get his fill. Barely anyone saw his face until he was four months old! And I was utterly miserable, my sanity was seriously fraying around the edges. Was breastfeeding really the best for him? I was a bottle fed baby and my mum suffered depression for years, I know which did me the most harm and it certainly wasn’t formula. I was losing my marbles and I didn’t want my own child to grow up with a mentally ill mother as I did.

So I decided to stop. But my god I was heartbroken, utterly devastated. I felt like I’d failed. I’d failed to give birth naturally and now I’d failed to fully breastfeed. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to become a mother? I didn’t feel like a proper woman, a feeling I’m still struggling with.

Actually we didn’t fully stop breastfeeding until he was around 7 months old. I kept on feeding him at night until he started sleeping through and then we stopped altogether. And with a combination of breast and bottle my little fella was contented at last. In fact he came on leaps and bounds. He wasn’t so angry and unhappy anymore, he smiled all the time and is an utter joy to be around. I feel sad we didn’t fully breastfeed, but it was the right thing to do and no one can tell me otherwise. And I’ve also learned some valuable lessons in humility and not judging others along the way. It brought me down a peg or two.

I do still believe breast is best, but formula is a close second and if breastfeeding is causing you and your baby so much distress, then perhaps that outweighs the benefits? Looking back I feel very let down by the professionals, the antenatal classes were so busy bigging up the benefits of breastfeeding they never once mentioned how difficult it could be – but if I’d had more honest, realistic information perhaps I could have avoided the pitfalls.


When it came to feeding him formula I felt abandoned – I was sent home from hospital with mountains of literature about why you should breastfeed, and one miserly leaflet printed in the 80s (it looked that way at least!) about formula feeding. I felt embarrassed to bottle feed in public. Even Boots refuse to give you points on your loyalty card when buying formula because they want to encourage breastfeeding. They will reward you for buying absolutely anything else in the shop but not formula. I was livid. How dare they judge me? Are they saying I’m a bad mother for giving my child formula? Would I be a better mother if I let him go hungry? Would they prefer that?

I could go on and on (I already have!). I truly wish the most extreme of breastfeeding fanatics, as well as doctors, midwives, breastfeeding advisors, health visitors etc. would spend some time reading through all these accounts. It isn’t that we’re too vain to do it, aren’t prepared to make sacrifices for our babies, don’t want the best for them… perhaps if they understood the real reasons they’d be able to help or support rather than judge? And if governments are serious about improving breastfeeding rates then this would be a perfect place for them to start researching better ways to achieve that rather than shaming mothers who are already struggling.

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Start your new year off right by becoming a FFF Friday participant. Send your story to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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