Women sometimes tell me they want to write something for FFF Friday, but feel bad doing so because they are still breastfeeding in some capacity, like Ashley is. I completely understand why they would think that; after all, the site is called Fearless Formula Feeder, not Fearless Combo Feeder or Fearless Breastfeeder Who Had to Supplement for the First Few Weeks. But anyone who has had to use formula is an FFF, in my book. We’ve gotten to the point where any supplementation – hell, any bottle use – is considered sub-optimal by certain folks, and moms are paying the price.
While on a research level I appreciate Ashley’s mention of body image issues, on a personal level it makes my heart hurt. Because she’s so unfortunately spot-on – breastfeeding “success” is yet another way that women’s bodies are monitored, assessed, and judged. If your body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, or you opt not to conform to specific parameters of what society decides “good bodies (women) do”, you’re going to be punished.
But we’re changing that – one fearless feeder at a time. And just in case it isn’t clear, the formula is only one part of it.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I was seventeen and standing on the band practice field when I yelled at my band director, “You have no idea what you’re doing!” And, “Oh yeah, no one likes you, either!” That was just the beginning of the breastfeeding/formula saga and debacle.
By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, I knew something was terribly wrong with my body and period. It was sporadic to say the least—coming and going whenever it felt inclined, leaving me with lots of surprises. The headaches, lack of a period, and blurry vision I experienced I believed to be induced by stress, depression, eating disordered behaviors, and whatever angsty hormones were flowing through my veins at the time. I eventually ended up seeing an OBGYN who did lots of blood work and an ultrasound on my uterus and ovaries. Through the series of tests, it was discovered that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (think bubble wrapped ovaries, just clearly not as fun) and a suspected pituitary tumor. Talk about a double whammy of a diagnosis and a basic guarantee that I would be stuck with a malfunctioning body for all of time. I headed to the endocrinologist who confirmed that “Yes, something is wrong. You need an MRI and we need to get it done as soon as we can.” A pituitary tumor was found which explained my blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, and most likely a good deal of my depression and horrible body image.
Enter me, once again, screaming on the band field, all due to a pituitary shrinking, dopamine inhibiting medication, better known as Dostinex. The medication caused some pretty intense mood swings, hence the yelling. I mean, I had never raised my voice at anyone in my entire life and there I was screaming at this poor woman who probably disliked us just as much as we disliked her. Someone please go give that woman a cocktail and cookies on my behalf. Anyways, I digress. The Dostinex worked (yay!), but I was still left with PCOS and the promise that the pituitary tumor would come back eventually. I felt great for the remainder of my senior year and then I entered college where things went well for quite some time, until my sophomore year. Blame it on the alcohol abuse or yo-yo dieting (though, through an academic research project and proposal that I completed at my university, I did find a correlation between hormone disorders and both eating disorders AND alcohol/drug abuse), I felt terrible again. I mean, who wouldn’t? It turned out that my tumor was back based on preliminary blood work, and I decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it. So, however silly that decision was, I left it to get worse until I graduated from college.
I got married the day after graduation. We discussed having children, but didn’t give ourselves a firm timeline. Without getting too deep into detail, we were only able to conceive once I haphazardly took birth control that I suddenly stopped because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was supposed to regulate my cycle. Oops!
Enter our little bundle of joy. I found out that I was pregnant on a frigid December morning and had him on a steaming hot Mississippi afternoon nine months (and two weeks!) later. I did everything I could to be the perfect pregnant mother. I took my prenatal vitamins, ate healthier, cut out caffeine (for the majority of my pregnancy anyways…), read up on attachment parenting, invested in baby carriers, and most important of all, decided to breastfeed. I was all set! So, when my nearly perfect pregnancy went two weeks late and I had to be induced, I tried not to sweat it. After all, I still had the Ergo and my boobs! Don’t forget the co sleeper! We were going to rock this parenting thing.
Though I had anticipated a natural birth, once I was induced, I only lasted a few hours until I was begging for the epidural. I had a fairly short labor, but had a few scares with Job (the baby) showing signs of distress from the intensity of the contractions. Luckily I didn’t have to have a c-section, something that I was deathly afraid of recovering from. Once he was born and his lungs were cleared of meconium, he was laid on me to breastfeed. The nurse, who I found out wasn’t a lactation consultant after asking, sloppily threw his cute little face onto my breast, and it immediately hurt. Badly. But, I didn’t say anything because I figured the new sensation was something I needed to get used to, and the cuteness of his face was just too distracting. Ha! I felt pretty good about the nursing that was accomplished before he was swept away for a four hour – YES, four hour!) transition in the nursery. I got settled into the room and we nursed without much pain or confusion on and off throughout the night. The next day, however, things got frustrating for the both of us. He wasn’t staying awake at all and I could barely get him interested in my breasts which made me start to panic. That night is when we all (including my poor husband) just mentally and emotionally fell apart. I had never felt such excruciating pain in my life as I did when he was latching on to nurse. All of the nurses seemed baffled because his latch “looked perfect” and I “just needed to keep taking him off and putting him back on.” After hours of doing that, I started to realize that maybe we weren’t so prepared for breastfeeding after all.
The next day we were sent home and reassured by the lactation consultants that establishing a breastfeeding relationship just takes time and that pain is normal in the beginning. Everything I had read correlated with what they were saying, so I didn’t question it and prepared myself for the few days (ha) that it would take getting used to the pain. Things did not get better and the day before his check up I had been up for 23 hours straight. I couldn’t fathom how this beautiful baby that stayed attached to my breast an hour and a half at a time, was still hungry and inconsolable. Weren’t babies supposed to eat, sleep, and wet/dirty diapers? He did none of those things! I should add that when we called the nursery, they told us to not be too concerned about his lack of diapers and that some babies just took a while to get started. What did I sign us up for?
We went to his check up the next day (he was five days old at this point) and realized that he had lost an entire pound. That was definitely more than what is usual for a baby to lose. The lactation consultant tried expressing breast milk from my breasts and looked concerned. Nothing was coming out. She told me to nurse Job so that she could inspect his latch. She again said that his latch was great but that he obviously wasn’t getting anything out, which explained his major weight loss, lack of
diapers (thanks, nursery) and inconsolable crying spells. I asked her to inspect his tongue and lip frenula, and she said his tongue was tight, but that it shouldn’t be the cause of any issues. She asked how I felt about formula and on the inside I was horrified, but I let out “That’s fine!” through my sobs. I have never seen a baby guzzle down a bottle so quickly before. It took him about a minute flat to drink an ounce. He quickly went to sleep after she burped him and I was mesmerized by this beautiful, sleeping, peaceful child placed in my arms. We left with a plan to do a weight check in two days. Our hope was that he would gain weight after supplementing him with formula, me pumping and nursing until my milk came in.
I felt an enormous sense of relief, but left extremely concerned that we would remain dependent on formula. If there was one thing that La Leche taught me, it was that you do not want to supplement with formula. The next day (day 6) my milk finally decided to make an appearance. I pumped an entire drop in fifteen minutes! When we went checkup we discovered that he had gained 14 ounces! That is a LOT of weight to gain for a little baby in just a short two days. I was thrilled. “He must have gained so much because my milk is fully in and he is getting formula. Let’s wean off formula!” We decided to wean off of formula and two weeks later, at his pediatric appointment, we discovered that he had lost weight again after weaning from formula. I immediately sat down and cried while Matthew (my husband) tried to reassure me, while also expressing his concern for Job’s weight and well-being. The pediatrician came up with another plan for supplementation, but it wasn’t nearly as “invasive” as our last plan, the one that actually made him gain weight. Eventually we discovered that my milk was still in a pitiful state because the two ounces a day that we were supposed to be feeding him was turning into two ounces per feeding.
The story should fade out peacefully at that point, but somehow, it continues. Through my obsessive research online and a post made out of desperation to a tongue and lip tie support group at 4:30 one morning, I discovered that Job did indeed have a lip and tongue tie. When I looked at the symptoms (painful latch, poor milk transfer, weight loss, reflux, gas, sleeplessness, no dirty diapers) I cried tears of joy. We had a solution! We just had to get his ties revised and we would then enjoy the breastfeeding relationship that I always read about and was witnessing secondhand through friends who had also had babies that same month. I scheduled an appointment for two days later and didn’t look back. The doctor did a fabulous job and completely revised the ties, but my low supply persisted. She suggested that we bring him to the chiropractor because that often helps babies with ties to nurse better. We went twice and I definitely witnessed an improvement in his attitude and ability to turn his neck, but alas, no more milk.
I decided I would go to a lactation consultant one last time. I had already used up all of my visits at my other lactation consultant and she basically told me that there was nothing else she could for me and that I should be at peace with the fact that combo feeding would just be our new normal. The new lactation consultant took a strong interest in my case and said that she had no doubt that my PCOS and tumor were at the root of my low supply. I think that all along I just wanted someone to validate my feelings by telling me what the other lactation consultant never really would. “You have multiple issues, but there is one last thing we can try. Have you heard of domperidone?” Had I heard of it? Of course! But I had no idea that people actually got prescriptions for it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter movie or a land of unicorns. Something so magical that it would cause you to lactate? I wanted it. And I got it. Nine pills a day later, I am happy to say that this depressing saga has somewhat of a happy ending for all of you who have stuck it out this long. I am now breastfeeding my baby and supplement half of what we were at. I neither feel very much a part of the breastfeeding or formula feeding community, but like many other mothers who discovered that for whatever reasons, breastfeeding was just not possible for them, I identify more with formula feeders. Why? Because formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not. Formula, it turns out, was not the enemy in this story.
Throughout all of this I felt completely worthless. The only reason I mention my feelings of self-worth throughout high school and college because since meeting my husband, breastfeeding was the first time I had felt hopeless in a very long time. When I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was again, judging my perfectly acceptable and even small 120body. Only this time I was judging my breasts nstead of obsessing over calories, I obsessed over ounces of milk. Through the fenugreek, oatmeal, lactation cookies, gallons of water, Gatorade, and special teas, I barely enjoyed the first four weeks of my child’s life because I was so overly concerned and hyper sensitive about what people would think if they found out what I was “doing” to my child by feeding him formula. I used to be vegan, for goodness sake! I had people tell me that I just needed to try “this” or “that” and that low supply really didn’t exist unless somehow I wasn’t nursing enough and didn’t I know that “breast was best?” I barely slept and sobbed throughout many of the days while my husband was away at work. My poor baby was wet more with my tears than he ever was with breast milk, but that’s okay. It’s all ok now. And you’re okay, too. Don’t let anyone guilt you into thinking that you’re “doing” anything to your baby except for loving them the way I know that each of you do.