FFF Friday: “All of our decisions were made with an eye towards ensuring breastfeeding success.”

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 also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

Of all the misconceptions and untruths running rampant in the parenting community regarding breastfeeding, one bothers me more than any other. It’s the “you just didn’t try hard enough” sentiment, often heard alongside it’s ugly stepsister, “Nearly everyone can breastfeed if they just are willing to put in the work.” 

My analysis of these insulting adages? They usually come from a) people who have never breastfed themselves, b) women who had some minor breastfeeding issues and were able to work through them or c) women who breastfed effortlessly. When I encounter such attitudes, I always feel like screaming the immortal words of MTV’s Diary- you think you know, but you have NO idea.

Amanda’s story gives us yet another example of an intelligent, educated, dedicated breastfeeder who ended up turning to formula. She did everything right, and was still made to feel as if she did something fundamentally wrong. What’s even more ridiculous is that Amanda is still pumping (at least as of her submission date to FFF), trying her damndest to give her baby the “best”, and yet it’s still not considered breastfeeding “success.”

Well, that buck stops here, folks. Let’s take back the word “best”. Best is subjective. Best means your personal best; how best is defined for your family; what is best for your particular child. Your “best” is…well….best. (FFF Desiree Johnson came up with that one a few weeks ago on the Facebook page, and I think it’s pretty spot-on. )

I’ll be back with my own posts next week… focusing on the book promotion crap at the moment, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of the blog…so I promise to kick my butt in gear soon.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

The FFF

***

Amanda’s Story

From the moment my wife and I decided to start trying to conceive, I just knew I would breastfeed.  First, we generally fall on the attachment-parenting-hippie-crunchy end of the parenting spectrum, and breastfeeding seemed like a natural fit with that.  Second, we live in a community where breastfeeding is very common, and breastfeeding support is truly first rate. Third, we are frugal people…throughout my pregnancy, we referred to my breasts as “the best coupons ever”.  I honestly never considered any other options.

I have PCOS (we’ll call that “warning sign #1”) so we guessed that getting pregnant would be a bit of a challenge for me, but 12 days after our very first IUI we got our positive pregnancy test. I was still hesitant to relax – my progesterone was low (warning #2), and miscarriage rates are incredibly high in women with PCOS.  When the first trimester ended, I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief…I’d overcome my big PCOS hurdle, or so I thought!  My pregnancy was mostly uneventful – a bit of nausea once or twice, some body aches, but nothing to write home about.

All of our major decisions were made with an eye toward ensuring BF success.  I chose my OB/midwife practice because they delivered at a birth center inside a Baby-Friendly hospital, and we hired an amazing doula so we could stay home as long as possible, because I was determined to avoid epidurals or a C-section.  The pediatrician we chose is married to an IBCLC and is incredibly pro-BF.  We took our childbirth classes and breastfeeding classes, and I read just about every major pro-breastfeeding, pro-unmedicated-childbirth book that I could lay my hands on.  I told my wife I wanted to donate all of our formula samples before the baby arrived –I wouldn’t need them, after all, and research showed that if I even had them in the house, I’d be jeopardizing my BF chances (she, wisely, said “Well, let’s keep them, just in case”).  I had my breastfeeding pillows, lanolin, breast pads, and a pump all ready to go, along with multiple boxes of milk storage bags for my soon-to-be-overflowing freezer supply. Meanwhile, my breasts had gotten a bit fuller, but not nearly as much as I’d expected(warning sign #3).

After 5 days of prodromal labor, things picked up in earnest.  We had an active labor at home.  I ended up arriving at the hospital at 9.5 cm, and they just managed to get the tub filled when he was ready to be born.  His birth got a little hairy – first the cord was around his neck, then his shoulders were stuck for about a minute and a half and he was born “stunned”, so had to be taken immediately to the warmer (he was just fine, we were both just a bit worn out from the ordeal). Then, probably because of the 5 days of prodroming, I hemorrhaged (warning sign #4).  My 8 lb, 4 oz son was put to my breast and immediately latched on, which was great, because it helped to control the bleeding.

All of the nurses at the hospital had lactation training, and they all commented on what naturals we were.  My doula said that I had “perfect” nipples for breastfeeding, and the IBCLC told me that our latch was great.  I kept waiting for painful fullness (that’s #5), but eventually we ate the cabbage that I’d bought anticipating engorgement…it just never materialized.  Our son fed CONSTANTLY, but didn’t appear to be dirtying diapers nearly as much as was expected (#6). The advice nurse told us that as long as he was wetting diapers, we were still fine. At our first post-discharge appointment, the baby had lost 7 ounces, but the doctor said he wouldn’t worry unless he was still losing at the two week appointment.  Nevertheless, he continued to poop less than expected, nurse for hours on end, and be hard to rouse for and during feedings (#7) – we resorted to rubbing him with cold washcloths, to try to keep him sucking for more than a minute or two at a time.

At his two-week appointment, he had lost 5 more ounces, and the pediatrician was officially concerned.  He suggested that I buy a Supplemental Nursing System to give him a little formula until we got my supply up, and asked us to come in for a re-weigh in 3 days.  I cried my eyes out all the way to the specialty mom and baby store, cried in the car while I made my wife go in to buy a short-term SNS and an expensive herbal tincture to increase production, cried on the ride home, cried while I mixed up the formula, and cried while I struggled to tape on the SNS.  My son ate like he was starving (which, you know, he was) and then fell fast asleep while I called the pediatrian’s  IBCLC wife.  She gave us a ton of suggestions on increasing supply, all of which I followed – water, hours of skin-to-skin, using the SNS, pumping every two hours or after every feed, whichever was more frequent, enough Fenugreek that I smelled constantly of maple curry, Goat’s Rue, and a prescription of domperidone at a dose that cost us roughly $5 a day.  With that, he was still drinking about 20 ounces a day of formula, so we think I was producing maybe 5 ounces total per day.

With the formula supplements, he started gaining right away, and became a totally different, much more alert, much happier baby.  I, however, was becoming exhausted and depressed.  We were completely tied to the house – even if I could somehow bring the pump, SNS, tape, and formula out with me, I was so mortified to be “failing” at breastfeeding that I refused to feed him in public, or even in my living room if anyone was there other than my wife. I began to dread the sound of him waking up, knowing that each time he cried from hunger, it would start an hour plus session of feeding, pumping, and washing all of the bottles and pump parts. He was super-alert and playful right after his feedings, but of course I missed all that, having handed him off to my wife to hold and play with while I pumped.  9 times of 10, he was asleep again before I was done.  I found myself yelling at him and getting angry and frustrated when he’d spit out the tube in the middle of the night, knowing it was going to be a battle to get him re-latched onto the finicky, leaky SNS.

And then there were the judgments. I posted on a few message boards about my troubles, and got a whole lot of “well, you gave into the pressure to give him formula, so his gut bacteria are already ruined, and it’s no wonder your supply tanked after you supplemented” and “before formula existed, people found a way, so there’s no reason you can’t make it work if you want to”.  Once, a woman who spotted my can of formula in my shopping cart told me that she “just feels so bad for children whose parents are too lazy to feed them properly.”

We slowly accepted that this was not going to be quickly resolved and bought a new, permanent SNS. I resigned myself to rashes on my breasts from taping on the tubes, cracked nipples from the pump, and allowing my wife all of the bonding time with my son, still convinced that my supply would increase and we’d eventually be able to have a “normal” nursing relationship.  Several times, I put him to my breast, only to have him scream and cry when almost nothing came out…which of course made me cry more.  I kept trying, convinced that if I just did everything right, things would all work out. At my 4 week follow-up with my midwife, I cried when I saw the “It’s Easy to Make Plenty of Milk” poster hanging in her office, and felt the need to explain to her all of the things I had tried, afraid she was going to judge me for my failings (she didn’t, and was awesome, as were the lactation consultants.  All of the medical professionals in my life were much kinder to me than I was).

With all of this, after 4 more weeks, my production was up to maybe 12 ounces a day.  One night, in a haze of exhaustion, I accidentally put part of the SNS down the garbage disposal.  My wife exploded about how much my breastfeeding failure was costing us in supplements, Canadian drugs, formula, and expensive nursing systems, I cried for 2 hours, and we eventually decided that paying another $70 to replace it just didn’t make sense.  I resigned myself to pumping and giving my son whatever I could make.

Funnily enough, once we dropped the SNS and I let myself accept that I wasn’t going to ever breastfeed him as I’d imagined, my supply jumped (I think the stress of the whole SNS/pump/wash cycle, combined with the worry over whether my supply was increasing or decreasing, playing a big role).  We got a car adapter for the pump so we could leave the house, I started timing my pumping so that I could spend time with the baby while he was awake and alert, and I started to really enjoy feeding times, where all I had to do was focus on him, instead of on whether the SNS was leaking, whether the tube was in his mouth right, or how long it would be before I could be done feeding and pumping, because I only had 2 hours before I had to be up for work.    And I slowly started “coming out” as a partial formula feeder, talking about my experience with a few other new moms, always starting with a long diatribe of all of the things I’d tried to make feeding work.

I still combination-feed my son, who is now 3 months old, with about half of his diet coming from formula, and the other half coming from what I pump.  I work from home, so I am able to pump whenever necessary, and for another, my wife is staying home with our son, so I have extra hands to help me with feedings that take longer than normal…otherwise, I have no illusions about whether we’d be able to continue this way.  For us, this is what works best.  But I am still working through my phobia of giving him bottles in public.  Today, I gave him a bottle in the middle of our Farmer’s Market…baby steps!  I am so incredibly grateful to FFF and other websites providing support for women who are feeding formula, wholly or partially – I truly believe that this site was a big part of me regaining my sanity around feeding my son.

***

Tell the world why your best was best. Send me your story for an upcoming FFF Friday – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

About the Author:

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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16 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “All of our decisions were made with an eye towards ensuring breastfeeding success.”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! I have PCOS and had little change in my breasts during my pregnancies, and I too ignored those warning signs. That’s why I get so aggravated when I hear women say, “I succeeded because failure wasn’t an option”. I think most of us who intend to breastfeed don’t view failure as a possibility, but that attitude only works if you actually CAN breastfeed! If not, you’re just horribly let-down and guilt ridden. I also used an SNS, so I can totally relate to the work that takes! It’s like all the work of both breastfeeding and bottle feeding wrapped into one! :) I used it until my last baby was 2 months old, and I had to go back to work. It had not increased my supply enough to be able to pump an adequate amount, so he is now strictly formula fed. With my older sons, I also felt like I was always passing my son off to my husband so I could pump and deal with the feeding issues, and I was missing all of the fun stuff! I am still sad about how that affected my early relationship with my first two, especially my oldest. I got so depressed trying to force my body to do something it was never going to do, that I forgot to take the time to bond with my baby. With my last one, I was a little sad to stop using the SNS. I knew that this was the end of our nursing relationship, and because of the SNS, I was able to nurse him longer than the other two combined. But since I did not engage in all of my previous time-consuming behaviors (no pumping after each feeding, taking herbs, making teas, researching, etc) I was able to bond with my youngest and enjoy my time at home with him, especially since my wonderful husband cleaned the SNS everytime I used it! As far as feeding bottles in public, it does get better. I occasionally get looks, but I just remember that only I (and perhaps my husband) know what I’ve been through, so I just straighten up, look at my baby, and continue doing what I do naturally. Try not to let a very small (but unfortunately loud!) group of women make you doubt yourself. You obviously did your “personal best” (as stated above). Hold your head up and be proud! And, most importantly, enjoy this time with your little one! :)

  2. This hits so close to home. I have PCOS, labored for 3 days, and, when is heart rate started plummeting, had a csecrtion. I also have fibrocystic breasts, and my son’s latch was awful. I suffered through constant feedings that lasted hours, saw 2 different IBCLCs, and ended up nursing, finishing him off with formula or pumped milk, pumping, and then storing thr milk and cleaning up the parts. I am also a SAHM, but between 12 hour workdays and needing to sleep, my husband is only around and available to help 2-3 hours a day. So at times I was pumping while my son screamed. Then I switched to pumping and supplementing, then at 11 weeks, my son was diagnosed as milk protein allergic. For 3 weeks, I tried to avoid all dairy and kept pumping, while supplementing with formula he flat out refused because it tasted so awful. Then we had a bad week where our dog was sick, our plumbing was broken, our front door broke, and despite my best efforts (along with everything else I was doing), I couldn’t get anything fixed. So I quit. My supply dropped the second I stopped taking massive amounts of fenugreek, blessed thistle, and goats rue, eating lactation cookies, drinking so much water my family thought I was diabetic, doing skin to skin care, and pumping all the time. I never got painfully engorged and only once, 4 days after pumping last, did my breasts become tender. Then, getting formula full time was hard on my sensitive son’s tummy, and after calling our pediatrician to get advice, her on staff IBCLC was the one to return the call. Not knowing all I had been through, she told me to pump every 2 hours, take 16 fenugreek pills a day, and take a few days to “relactate” because our son needed my breastmilk and I was giving him things his body couldn’t handle, and if I only tried harder, I could make this work, and that of course i made enough milk, my pump just didn’t remove enough from my breasts, and on and on and on. I got off the phone and cried for 6 hours straight pumped droplets of salty something out of my nipples, went to a LLL meeting to get help, went to my family doctor for help, and then, finally, called my Mom in tears. I decided to quit, grow a backbone, and drew my line. I am still dreading the next appointment and afraid i will see the IBCLC who made me cry. I’m thinking I will have to have my husband take a (precious few) day off work to go with me so i don’t have some kind of psychotic break at my pediatrician’s office.

    Enough is enough.

  3. I’m sorry this story hits close to home, since those few post-birth months were pretty awful for me, but I’m constantly amazed at just how many women have a similar experience.

    In reading about this site’s Family Friendly Hospital initiative, I started thinking about how the medical community could have supported us a little better. It seems like, in situations like ours, someone might look at those warning signs (seriously, the deck was stacked against me, between the PCOS and the hemorrhage and the low progesterone and the hypoplastic breasts) and said, “Hey, FYI, milk supply could be a problem for you, here are some things you could try” instead of “Making enough milk is easy! No problems here!” Who knows…it might even have resulted in my son getting more breastmilk, had someone intervened earlier instead of acting like the problem was impossible until it couldn’t be ignored any longer.

    I have said from the beginning that there is no way we’d be able to continue pumping (at 5 months, we’re still going, although my son started eating more overall, so it’s no longer 50-50 breastmilk to formula) if our circumstances were different. We were both home for 6 weeks total after he was born, and even after I went back to work, I was still working from home, so able to work pumping into my day. I had to go into the office for a week at one point, and it was nearly impossible to pump even once during the workday, nevermind the 3 or 4 times I try to hit when I’m working at home. My hat is off to anyone who can maintain that schedule for ANY amount of time without an extra set of hands at home.

    • Yeah I thought the “It’s easy to make plenty of milk,” poster was really thoughtless/ insensitive, too. Kind of like it would be a really bad idea to put up an “It’s easy to conceive,” or a “Walking is a breeze,” poster in a medical office where people with fertility or mobility issues were bound to see them sooner or later.

      Anyway, sorry you ladies have been through so much. You are great moms. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. *Hugs*

  4. I pumped for months and months. Pumping is hard work! I think it’s double the work of just breast or bottle feeding. Hats off to you!

  5. You have done amazing things to feed your baby. I really hope soon you can look back on this time, give yourself a massive high five and move onwards. I had a hard time too (not as hard as this, I don’t think but still…) and 16 months on can finally look back and see things more clearly. The world of motherhood that opens up once you get past the boob/bottle phase is wonderful and you have so much guilt-free stuff to look forward to.

    Pumping with low supply is crushing, I know, and reconciling your image of yourself as a mother with the reality when things go ‘wrong’ feels so endless and appalling. Public bottle feeding can be hard at first but I soon realised that so much of the judgement I was imagining was just that, ‘imagining’ and not as real as I thought. One day soon you will bottle feed with your head held high, I know it. I hope you come out of this stronger and prouder. Well done for making it this far!

  6. I totally feel your pain! Personally my biggest parenting regret, is spending so much time trying to get breastfeeding to work that I completely forgot about being a mother.

    • At one point, I turned to my wife and said, “Babe, I am not enjoying him. I don’t like him.” and then, shockingly, burst into tears. It’s my biggest regret, too. I was bonding with the pump while my wife bonded with the baby.

  7. Reading what you said about the SNS accidentally going down the disposal would make a good part of a short story. It really hit home what you said about your milk supply increasing after you decided to let the SNS and all the stress of it go. It was our daughter’s pediatrician who saved our nursing relationship. I was ready to throw in the towel after a grueling labor, milk not really coming in and a baby that kept losing weight. She told me to REST. Imagine. She was very clear. Baby needs food, you need to not be offering breast around the clock. Literally 24 hours after I let go of feeling the need to breastfeed for hours and hours my milk came in. I wonder sometimes how much “letting” moms rest could make the breastfeeding relationship easier. I was cheap during my pregnancy and ended up reading some books from the 90s. In the 90s they still prescribed “relief bottles”, what a balanced approach. As soon as I read about them I knew that was what I wanted. I wasn’t planning to start as early as we did, but I was actually happy in a way that we had to supplement with formula because then I actually did get a relief bottle from the start.

    • I often wonder how helpful the SNS is, it sounds like so much work – and I think we need better info (perhaps a FFF post?) on nipple confusion and how long one should wait to introduce a bottle (if at all) to avoid it, if it’s even a real problem. I don’t know that it is, given the prevalence of slow-flow nipples these day – it didn’t seem to make a difference for my baby, the only episode of bottle preference he had was at about 3-4 months when he was distractible and wanted to see everything while he ate. But when I read about women going through all sorts of hoops to avoid the Evil Nipple (unless it is, of course, a Medela bottle full of pumped milk which is apparently just fine – anyone notice the flow on those is REALLY fast?) I wonder whether this is based on old-wives’ tales or whether people who genuinely want to make BFing work have found it helpful to use an SNS vs a bottle.

      • The way my IBCLC explained it, it’s less to prevent nipple confusion, and more to increase stimulation on the breast, because more stimulation should, in theory, equal more supply. I didn’t have enough in there for him to stay on the boob very long without getting frustrated, and babies stimulate better than pumps (or so the lactation folk say), so it’s better to tape on the tubes, because it allows for more and longer stimulation. My supply did go up while using it, but I was also taking handfuls of herbs and fine Canadian domperidone, plus pumping, and as I said, my supply actually went up when I stopped, so I don’t know how much the SNS was a factor in the initial supply increase.

        • I agree. I used the SNS in the hopes of increasing my supply by increasing stimulation. It was pretty much my last ditch effort. My supply did not increase, but I maintained my very tiny amount longer. I know it works for others, and maybe it requires more of a time commitment, but I only have a two month maternity leave, so that was all the time I could give it.

      • My son would take ANY bottle nipple, literally – if it was latex, rubber, silcone, pointy, rounded, long, skinny, bulbous, or generic…but not MY nipple. I never even really heard about nipple confusion until he was about 6 months old (he was a micro preemie, born at 24 weeks). I didn’t understand it, because my baby would take any artificial nipple, so I never understood why he wouldn’t take mine. Turns out, I just never made enough milk (most likely thanks to PCOS) so he wasn’t interested in me. With the bottles, he knew all he had to do was suck and he would get something to eat. With me, he would suck suck suck, and get nothing or next to nothing, so he gave up.

  8. Many women who are comp feeding for conditions like IGT are supported on breastfeeding support sites also. A combination of SNS, slow flow teat, division of the daily donor milk and or formula comp into small volume bottles( so that the baby is hungrier earlier and thus the mothers breasts are stimulated more regularly,),lots of skin to skin, breast compression, galactogogue use and pumping as able, have been helpful strategies. But probably the most important is the practical and emotional support of others, whether the mum wishes to continue with the regime or wean.
    )

    • Kay – I was pretty much universally criticized for supplementing on the message boards I found. People did a lot of second guessing of my doctor (“He hasn’t lost too much weight!” and “You should wait longer before supplementing”), and a lot of fatalistic assessments of our breastfeeding future (“Now that you’re supplementing, your supply is never going to increase” and the bit about ruined gut bacteria) but didn’t have a lot of advice for me on maximizing supply while supplementing.

      It’s entirely possible that I didn’t stumble onto the right groups, though.

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