Back when I was going through my own breastfeeding struggle with Fearless Child, I saw a slew of lactation professionals. Some were great, some not so great. There was one who I particularly liked, who seemed to actually know what she was doing and tried to look beyond the obvious. But lately, I’ve been thinking…. when I ultimately decided to switch to exclusively formula feeding, I called her. The same woman who had immediately called me back for other requests, telling me how to find secret Westside dentists who would fix my son’s mild tongue tie, or offering evidence to counter my pediatrician’s assertion that there weren’t sufficient studies to say that nursing on my medication was “completely safe”, never called me back. I left two messages, asking for her advice. Nothing.
Lactation consultants are charged with a lot of responsibility – getting baby fed, making sure mom’s body is working properly and isn’t in pain – and it makes sense that the same women who spend years of their lives learning about breastfeeding are pretty passionate about it. But would a heart surgeon dump a patient because he had another heart attack, despite that surgeon’s attempt to address his lifestyle factors? Babies need to be fed; if a mother decides that breastfeeding isn’t going to work for her, I believe the same professionals who’ve tried to help her breastfeed have a responsibility to guide her through the transition to formula. At the very least, they should refer her to someone who can. Because leaving her in the lurch sends a clear message: you’ve failed. Or maybe, you’ve failed me.
Amber didn’t fail. As she so eloquently puts it, she “tried hard enough for her”. Done. Enough said. She does not deserve to be ignored, or “dumped”, as she puts it, by a healthcare professional who she trusted to help her through her struggle.
It’s about people, not promotion. People, not policy. People, not politics.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
As many people have said before on these FFF Friday essays, I was expecting to breastfeed. Not only was the data compelling but I liked the idea that it would help me lose weight, my uterus would shrink faster, and most of all it was free (being a very frugal person this was a highlight for me). I didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to breastfeed. My own mother formula fed my brother and I. She stated that my brother refused to breastfeed and honestly I thought she was weak. I thought she didn’t try hard enough and I never bothered to ask her what she meant by that, until I was in the trenches myself. I was incredibly wrong to think these things of her. I feel ashamed that I fell into the hive mentality that most people have when it comes to formula feeding. She was incredibly strong, when she saw her baby was starving she told them to hand her the formula and never looked back.
I was expecting breastfeeding to be challenging, they told me so in the breastfeeding class. I imagined that the hardest part of breastfeeding was getting the baby to latch. When my son immediately latched onto my breast with no fuss, no pain. I was amazed and thought to myself “I lucked out, this is going to be easy for me”.
The next day things were not as easy as that first latch, we were struggling a bit and we had the LCs coming in to help. He’d get latched and they would leave. Then things started going down hill. My baby was jaundiced and they were concerned about his bili levels being too high. So they brought in the formula. I didn’t think anything of it honestly, I knew it could take 3-5 days for my milk to come in, I knew this was temporary. We would be on our way to exclusive breastfeeding in no time. Then they brought in the pump and informed me to pump after every session. They also brought in a tube and syringe to put formula in. This way we could have Callum latch and feed him the formula at the same time. My first few pump sessions I got nothing, absolutely nothing. The nurse said not to worry, that was common in the beginning.
We were discharged the next day with formula, syringes and tubing and informed to give him 20mls at each feeding. We went to the doctors a few days later and had him weighed. He had lost more weight and his bili levels were still high. We were told to keep doing what we were doing and visit an LC. I still was getting very little while pumping, 10mls at most. Due to the jaundice, Callum was difficult to wake and get him to feed. Feedings were taking 45 minutes to an hour, then I would have to pump.
We visited the LC a couple of days later and Callum had lost more weight. We were told that he could go no more than 2 hours between each feeding. The LC decided to do a weighing before and after feeding at the breast. He gained nothing in between one breast and only half an ounce from the other. I broke down, it’d been 5 days PP, why was my milk not in? Turns out my baby was starving as well, 20 mls for each feeding was not enough. The pediatrician had said it was a fine amount, I think the belief was that I was producing milk and so he didn’t need a lot of formula. So we upped the amount of formula and he ended up gaining weight quickly after that.
So then the insanity started. I needed to get my milk in. I was told this could take 4-6 weeks. What!? No one told me that. It was 3-5 days, that’s what the breast feeding class said! We would feed Callum with the tube and syringe at the breast for 45 minutes to an hour, then I would pump for 20 minutes, then wash everything. Leaving me with approximately a half an hour to sleep, eat or do whatever else need to be done. I was going insane. I would start to cry every time I would feed my baby. I would look down at him that that tube in his mouth and just lose it. I hated feeding him. It was a black mark against me. Why couldn’t my body do this? Once I was done feeding I would go and pump. My nipples were starting to hurt, I was still only getting 10-20 mls per pump. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating enough because I didn’t have much of an appetite. I wanted to hide from my child, I didn’t want to look at him. Looking at him made me cry. I knew this wasn’t normal. But I was too proud to admit that I was sliding down a very slippery slope. I wanted to run away.
At the same time I refused to let my husband bottle feed him. I was going to do this. I had to stimulate my breast. The milk needed to come in. The LC told me to try fenugreek, nothing happened. Other than I smelled like maple syrup, which was nice since I wasn’t bathing. She was pushing me to try acupuncture but it would take an hour. How would I schedule something that would take an hour when I needed to feed and pump!? She kept telling me not to focus on the numbers to just keep pumping. I started to up my time on the pump, I would sit there for a half an hour, 45 minutes. Trying so desperately to make it happen and yet I was still only getting 10-20 mls. By the end of the day I had just enough for one feeding.
I was trying to put on a brave face but I was falling apart. I hated being a mother, I hated everything. Then I talked to another LC, she told me to only pump or only breastfeed. I needed sleep. It had been about a week and a half postpartum. It had been almost 2 weeks since I had gotten any sleep at all. At some point that weekend my husband decided to just bottle feed Callum without waking me up. I woke up when he finished and I was furious that he didn’t wake me so I could pump. Didn’t he understand!? I needed my milk to come in! What he understood was his wife was losing it and needed rest. He was completely right. I kept telling myself that once 6 weeks PP came, I would call it quits. But that was stressing me out, that number was stressing me out. How could I keep up with this? So I thought I would just keep going as long as I could. When I did talk to the LCs, they always told me that I needed to be healthy and happy and bond with my child. They told me I could formula feed exclusively but I didn’t want to hear it.
Then LCs had a social worker call me. She really slapped me awake. She asked me how long I was going to keep this up. I told her as long as I could. She told me that I couldn’t do that, I needed to set a deadline. I couldn’t leave it open like that. So I set a deadline, that deadline was that day. I decided to exclusively pump. It made me feel a bit better. I started to sleep more. I was still getting 10-20mls. So I thought maybe my breast just didn’t like the pump. After a few days I tried to put Callum on the breast. He screamed at me, he was having none of it. My breasts were not giving him enough.
I talked to the LC a few days later. I told her I was exclusively pumping and Callum hated the breast. She told me to keep trying him at the breast after feeding him. My little breast milk was liquid gold! She told me she would would check up on me by the beginning of the next week. But I think she knew I was a lost cause. She never called. I had depended on those calls and I was dumped just like that. Who needs help with formula feeding, right?
I exclusively pumped for 2 weeks. It was depressing seeing nothing. The most I ever got was 30 mls and that was when I had gone 12 hours between pumping sessions. It was getting difficult to pump with my husband back at work. My breasts never got engorged. The only thing they were, was sore. Every time I turned on that pump my toes would curl in pain. The day I packed away the pump, I felt sad and happy at the same time. I know that I made the right decision but I still get a little teary eyed or angry when I see “breast is best” stamps on the formula bottle or on the internet. I sometimes wonder if I did enough, if I tried hard enough. And then I remember those feelings of despair and I know that I did try enough for me. I also remind myself that I was formula fed and I’m rarely sick, I have a Master of Science. I have not suffered because I was formula fed and neither has my baby. He is healthy and happy and I can’t be more grateful.
Have a story you’d like to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.