“Mothers deserve better”: An interview with Dr. Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi

Dr. Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, MD, is a mother – and a physician- on a mission. Since she began her blog and Facebook page a few months ago, she’s become a hero to over 10,000 parents who have experienced insufficient milk or delayed lactogenesis II (the process of breastmilk “coming in” after birth). She has been tirelessly advocating for better safeguards for breastfeeding mothers, and fighting against the dogma that insists that supplementation is detrimental to a baby’s health. 

I’m honored to bring you this interview with Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi. Her opinions are controversial, and I really admire her bravery, and how she’s turned a negative personal experience into a plea for change. Before we make blanket recommendations that force women to weigh their gut instinct against the fear of recriminations from medical professionals and hospital staff, it’s essential that we look at ALL the research- without bias, without blinders, without fear. 

- The FFF

“Mothers Deserve Better”:

An Interview with Christie Del Castillo-Hegyi, MD.

FFF: Your blog and Facebook page are called “Insufficient Breastfeeding Dangers”. What are the dangers of insufficient feeding in a newborn, exactly?

CDCH: The known potential effects of insufficient feeding are dehydration, low glucose, elevated bilirubin (jaundice) and high sodium.  All in all, those laboratory markers make up the syndrome of starvation.  Dehydration, if extreme enough, can cause decreased circulating blood volume, low blood pressure, and decreased circulation to the brain.  This can cause brain injury and even death.  In animal studies, thirty minutes of loss of circulation to the brain can cause widespread brain cell death.

 

Extreme dehydration results in hypernatremia, or high sodium, because as a baby loses water, the sodium will become concentrated.  Their brains can experience contraction similar to dehydrated fruit, which upon re-expansion through rehydration, can result in brain swelling and irreversible brain injury.  It has been documented in the literature that hypernatremic dehydration can result in brain swelling, brain hemorrhage, seizures and even death.

 

It is not clear how long a child can tolerate exclusive colostrum-feeding before they develop hypoglycemia.  I have had one mother whose child seemed dissatisfied from exclusive colostrum-feeding for only one day and was found hypoglycemic by the second day.  It is difficult to know what the typical time to developing hypoglycemia of an average exclusively breastfeeding child because glucose is not routinely checked in babies without a diabetic mother or other traditional risk factors.  Hypoglycemia eventually happens to all babies if they do not receive enough milk through breastfeeding either due to poor supply or poor latch.  EVERY article in the known medical literature that has studied newborn hypoglycemia shows evidence of harm in the form of abnormal MRI findings and decreased long-term cognitive outcomes.  A low glucose is typically cited as a glucose level of less than 45, even though some newborns may exhibit few signs of distress even at this level.  Signs of a hypoglycemic newborn is agitation, frantic feeding, inconsolable crying or lethargy.

 

Lastly, insufficient feeding can result in a third dangerous condition, called hyperbilirubinemia or jaundice.  A bilirubin of greater than 15 is considered abnormal in the literature and has been associated in multiple studies around the world with a higher risk of autism relative to newborns who don’t experience high bilirubin levels.  One study refuted these findings and it came from the Kaiser system, which is a Baby-Friendly hospital, where exclusive breastfeeding from birth is encouraged.  They produced a study that was well-done but was thousands-fold smaller in size that the largest study, which showed a positive correlation, in Denmark, where they studied the ENTIRE newborn population over 10 years, which included over 700,000 newborns.  The Denmark study found a 67% higher risk of autism in jaundiced newborns.

 

That being said, I don’t want to worry every mom whose child had jaundice.  Not every jaundiced newborn has a level above 15.  Also, not every child who develops a level above 15 will develop autism.  Autism is still a genetic disease.  I believe babies who are born with a lot of autism genetics, as predicted by having lots of scientists, mathematicians and engineers in their families, who experience a physiologic insult, such as lack of oxygen to the brain and jaundice (both demonstrated in the literature to be associated with autism) may go on to have the disabling condition of autistic spectrum disorder.

FFF: What sparked your interest in this issue?

CDCH: My newborn son developed hypernatremic jaundice and dehydration because I was assured by the breastfeeding manuals that there is always enough milk in the breast as long as I keep breastfeeding.  I was told that, “he would be hungry” and that my “latch was perfect” by our lactation consultant the day we left the hospital.  No one ever told me it was possible for a child to become dehydrated and unconscious because there was not enough milk present.  We were told to count the diapers but how wet is a wet diaper?

 

My son lost 15% by the third day, the day after discharge and my pediatrician must not have calculated the percent lost because he gave us the option of continuing to breastfeed and to wait for the 4th or 5th day.  I realized when I was watching my son get an IV that what I did must be common and that other mothers must be experiencing this horror too.  I thought, “What must my son’s brain injury look like and why hadn’t I heard of this before?”  Three-and-a-half years later, I found out what his brain injury looked like.

 

What I saw with my own physician- and mother-eyes was the slow torture of a newborn child.  Babies who are asked to endure hours of frantic feeding without compensation of milk, otherwise known as “cluster feeding,” are experiencing agony.  No textbook, lactation consultant or physician will ever convince me otherwise.  To this day, the description of what I saw is embedded in every breastfeeding manual as normal and vital for the stimulation of milk production.  We are systematically telling new mothers to ignore their child’s hunger cues by telling them there is ALWAYS enough colostrum and by scaring them into withholding formula even when a newborn needs it.  THAT is why newborn dehydration will never go away with simply increasing breastfeeding support and follow-up appointments.  Unless a mother is given the knowledge about the potential harms of insufficient feeding and the right to feed her own baby, newborns will continue to experience these complications and be hospitalized for it every day.

FFF: When you began researching the topic, was there anything that surprised or shocked you?quotescover-JPG-66

CDCH: I began researching the topic shortly after receiving our son’s formal diagnosis of autism, which was February, 2014.  I first studied jaundice and autism and was surprised that there were so many studies that linked the two conditions, because I had never heard of the risk factor listed in the patient literature on autism.  I wondered why a modifiable risk factor would not be heavily attacked in the face of an epidemic.  I believe it is because it is linked to breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has enjoyed an untouchable status in the medical community.  So much so that no part of it as outlined by the lactation community has been challenged by the physician community.  We assumed because it is associated with breastfeeding, what ever the guidelines are must be safe, despite evidence that many newborns on a daily basis get admitted for dehydration and jaundice from exclusive breastfeeding.  Unfortunately, any challenge is quickly met with an accusation that the individual is “anti-breastfeeding” or “pro-formula,” when in fact, perhaps it may simply be a challenge like mine, whose purpose is to keep the newborn safe from harm.  I am surprised by the lack of activism by the medical community to reduce or stop the incidence of a horrible, life-threatening and brain-threatening condition that can be prevented with informing mothers of these complications and a few bottles of formula to keep a child out of the hospital.

quotescover-JPG-42I was surprised to find out that we really haven’t exclusively breastfed from birth for millennia before the creation of formula.  If that were so, indigenous cultures that have no access to formula currently would be doing so nearly 100% of the time.  In fact, there is no evidence that we have widely exclusively breastfed from a single mother at all.  According to a review of the history of breastfeeding written by an IBCLC, lactation failure was first described in Egypt in 1550 B.C.  Wet nurses were often employed to feed newborns whose mother could not lactate.  There are modern day cultures where babies are breastfed by a community of mothers, not just one mother.  Also, the breastfeeding literature is rife with articles showing how problematically low exclusive breastfeeding from birth is all around the world because most cultures give what they call, “pre-lacteal feeds.”  These moms probably just call it “feeding.”  Moms all over the world recognize that their children may need more than what is coming out of the breast and they have populated their countries on the tenets of feeding their children what they need every day.  It wasn’t until the breastfeeding resurgence in the 1980’s and the codification of exclusive breastfeeding from birth through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative of the World Health Organization written in 1992, that we started feeding newborns colostrum-only during the first days of life in the hospital.  This was written primarily to counteract the dangerous feeding of formula prepared with contaminated water to babies in the developing world, which was an important public health endeavor.  However, the guidelines to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months largely ignored the common possibility of insufficient milk production experienced by many mothers.  So feeding newborns without supplementation only began in the 1990’s.

Nurses who worked in the newborn nursery in the 1980’s account that newborns were supplemented from the first day of life with 2 ounces of formula.  Most newborns tolerated these feeds and did not vomit it as widely claimed by the lactation community.  I found that the newborn stomach at birth is not 5 cc, as claimed by the lactation community.  It is in fact roughly 20 cc’s or 2/3rds an ounce, as summarized by a review of 6 different articles looking at actual newborns.  This is also the static volume of a newborn stomach and may not account for peristalsis, which may allow a newborn to accommodate more.  I discovered that it is quite implausible that the stomach can grow 10 times its size in 2 days and that a one-day-old newborns can in fact drink 2 ounces in one meal without vomiting at all.

Many moms asked me, “How much weight CAN they lose?” and “What DOES my newborn need?”  I looked again to the literature looking for evidence showing the safety of weight loss in newborns and NOT A SINGLE ARTICLE showing that 10% weight loss over 10 days is safe in every newborn, which is the current standard of care.  This teaching has been accepted for decades now.  To answer the second question, I sought out what a one-day-old’s daily caloric requirement was and what the caloric content of colostrum is.  I found that a one-day-old’s caloric requirement is the same as that of a three-day-old’s, because they have the same organs and same activity all three days.  A one-day-old newborn needs 110 kcal/kg/day and colostrum has 60 kcal/100 mL.  I must have done this calculation by hand 20 times because I found that this resulted in a one-day-old needing 2.8 ounces of colostrum per pound per day .  A 7 lb child would need 19.6 oz of milk in one day.  I confirmed this finding because I gave my 5.5 lb twin girls free access to supplementation and they each took 2 oz every 3 hours on their first day, a total of 16 oz.  They only gained 1 oz! That leaves 15 oz going completely toward their metabolic activity.  For them, they required 2.7 oz/lb/day.

How much actual science and observation of actual babies and safety data was done to come up with the breastfeeding guidelines?  There are many articles that show that unlimited supplementation can reduce breastfeeding duration, which is why formula is withheld from babies, but none that showed this practice was safe for the baby’s brain in the long run.  We have no idea what threshold of weight loss is in fact safe for a baby’s brain, because it has not been studied.  While babies’ bodies can endure days of underfeeding, their brains cannot.  That is what I am asking the scientific community to study.

FFF: Do you think that medical professionals are afraid to say anything that could be construed as “anti-breastfeeding”? How have your peers responded to your work in this area?

CDCH: Yes, medical professionals are afraid to say anything contrary to what the lactation community accepts as true because they do not want to be perceived as “anti-breastfeeding” or “pro-formula.”  Being “pro-formula” or “formula-sponsored” is a common accusation that I receive despite all the “pro-breastfeeding” instruction that I provide.  People have assumed that if you are against any part of the breastfeeding prescription, you MUST be against breastfeeding.

I am absolutely pro-breastfeeding.  I am absolutely AGAINST starving a child to achieve it.  I have received quiet support from several of my peers, but mostly silence for the majority.  I believe colleagues who are silent are incredulous or shocked or afraid.  I can’t truly know.  I can understand it because I am a physician and we are taught to stick close to the pack.  I am literally running away from it.

Until there is data from a credible and impartial source like the CDC or the Joint Commission, I will not have the proof that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is causing long-lasting harm.  There is already plenty of harm that has resulted locked in the hearts of many mothers who experienced this trauma.  I hope moms from both our Facebook sites will be willing to help advocate for increased safety for newborns by submitting written and/or video testimony on how the BFHI harmed them and their child.

FFF: What sort of response have you received from publishing your blog and Facebook page? 

CDCH: Outrage from breastfeeding moms and opposition from most lactation consultants except for a loved few, two of which fully recognize the harms of insufficient feeding to baby’s and their moms.  However, the ones I live for are the responses from moms who say that this happened to them and their babies either were harmed, hospitalized or were luckily saved from harm by an independently minded mom, nurse or other individual that told them their baby was hungry and needed a bottle.  These moms write to thank me for validating what happened to them and for telling them that this was not their fault, that what they saw was real and that this should never happen to any mother and child.  I have received messages from moms experiencing what I describe in my letter in real time and I have helped those moms advocate for their child, even when their professionals were bullying them to keep withholding formula!  It’s crazy.  What are we doing to our newborns?

What I feel most disappointed about is the lack of response I have received from the Executive Committee of American Academy of Pediatrics who I have been trying to contact for at least 6 months.  No response from the organization that is supposed to protect our newborns.  So I decided to inform the public on my own.  At first I was afraid.  Now I am not.

FFF: Have you endured any personal or professional attacks due to asking these tough questions about our current protocol for early breastfeeding?

CDCH: Tons.  People on the internet can act with cruelty because they don’t have to suffer any consequences.  I try not to let it get to me because I know it comes from a place that is likely sincere like mine, a mother trying to protect her newborn from harm.  Some mothers perceive my ideas as harmful, likely because the thought of starving your child is so horrible, I get the most harsh messages from breastfeeding moms, often moms whose children developed pathological weight loss.  I haven’t received too many challenges from physicians though, interestingly enough.  At least among my colleagues on Facebook, I have received supportive messages.

FFF: In an ideal world, how do you think hospitals could alter their procedures to better protect babies and mothers from the dangers of insufficient breastfeeding?

CDCH: These are my core recommendations:

1) Instructional videos on manual expression to check for the presence of colostrum.  Mom should also be instructed on listening for swallows to detect transfer of milk.

 

2) Pre- and post-breastfeeding weights to ensure transfer of milk and identify newborns at risk for underfeeding.

 

3) Calculation of the 7% weight loss threshold at delivery so that a mother knows when supplementation may be needed, which can be posted in her room.  The most critical clinical data an exclusively breastfeeding mom needs to know is the percent weight loss of her child.

 

4) Universal informed consent and thorough counseling on the possibility of underfeeding and jaundice due to delayed or failed lactogenesis and giving mothers permission to supplement their child if they go under the weight limit at home using a baby scale. Mothers must know the signs of a newborn in distress including hours of feeding continuously, crying after unlatching, and not sleeping. Most of all, a mother should be advised to check her supply by hand-expression or pumping to ensure that her child is in fact getting fed.  If little milk is present, she should be given permission ahead of time to supplement by syringe with next-day follow-up with a pediatrician and lactation consultant to assess the effectiveness of technique and transfer of milk if such an event arises.

5) Uniform daily bilirubin (abnormal total bilirubin > 14) and glucose checks (abnormal glucose < 45) for exclusively breastfed infants who are losing weight or who have any degree of jaundice.  Both these values are critical to detect physiology that can cause brain injury.

6) Twice daily weight checks in the hospital and at home until lactogenesis and consistent milk transfer has been established with a mother-baby dyad.  These can be plotted before discharge to predict the expected weight loss the day after discharge if mother’s milk does not come in.  A mother can check the weight at home and supplement if the child reaches the weight loss threshold.

7) Detailed instructions on supplementation only after nursing to continue the stimulation needed for milk production.  Supplementation should be a choice and be accepted and supported by the medical community as a patient right.  A mother has the right to feed her child above all goals the medical community has for her.

8) A breastfeeding safety checklist to reduce medical error in the care of a mother and exclusively breastfed newborn.

 

Lastly, my advice for new mothers at home is to have an experienced parent around for the first week to help.  Parents need sleep and they don’t get much in the postpartum period.  Additionally, experienced parents know the look and sound of a child who is hungry or in distress.  The child’s wishes should be honored.  I believe in the human rights of a newborn to be fed what they need because following the alternative can lead to what my son experienced.

FFF: Your page grows in popularity every day. Have you been surprised at how many mothers have been affected by this issue?

CDCH: I am not surprised by how many mothers have experienced this issue.  Mothers have been experiencing this for 2 decades now since exclusive breastfeeding from birth has been the mandate.  This is the first that the experience is being made public because mothers have been uniformly shamed for having their child go through this.

Even now, people still post comments that blame me for not knowing, for not producing enough milk, for not seeking out enough help when the entire teaching by the lactation community prevents a mother from knowing this is possible and the standard of care does not detect what is coming out of a mother’s breast.  We have been taught to abandon responding to a baby’s cry in order to achieve exclusive breastfeeding and rely instead on weight checks and bilirubin levels to determine “medical necessity” for supplementation.

What are we doing with our newborns?  What are we doing to our mothers?  It breaks my heart every day the things mothers have told me about inadvertently starving their newborns.  They all sought help and all followed the instruction of their providers while seeing that there was something wrong with their child.  But they were told breastfeeding is always enough as long as your child is producing diapers.  What we are doing is NOT enough. These are the most well-intentioned and motivated mothers who do this. They read parenting books, attend classes and follow their doctor’s orders like I did.  I was in the hospital for a whole 48 hours while my son was receiving nothing for me!  Then I was at my pediatrician’s office the next day, at a lactation consultant’s office the day after and in the hospital by that evening.

Mothers are being led astray by the current breastfeeding dogma and being led to hospitalize their precious babies.  These mothers deserve better.

Vist Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi’s Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/insufficientbreastfeedingdangers?fref=ts

 

 

FFF Friday: “I imagine getting to know my newborn without the stress of trying to force my body to make milk…”

“I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula.  It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely.” This is how Mandy’s story begins, and I wish I could fit these sentences on a t-shirt. It pretty much sums up why I keep FFF going – even as I blog less and less, and focus more on advocacy, practical and policy work, I think it’s vital that this space exists to publish your stories. Because every one, no matter how similar it is to the last, matters. It’s yours. Yours alone. But in telling it, maybe you- and those reading it – will feel a little less lonely. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Mandy’s Story

I’m a mom who tried to breastfeed but had to switch to formula.  It isn’t an unusual story but when it is your own story, it feels anything but ordinary. It’s painful and heartbreaking and exhausting and lonely.  Your friends and family have so many words and tips to offer but so little helps. Your modern female mind betrays you and tells you that you are less of a woman—less of a mother—because you cannot breastfeed, though you know that thought is irrational and untrue. For me, it is a thought I struggled with long after the last drop of breast milk fought its way out.

I had my first baby in 2011 and when the stick turned blue I immediately enrolled in the University of Google and learned everything I could about pregnancy, labor, delivery and, of course, breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was the obvious choice and I had no question about whether or not I would. I even got annoyed with people who asked which I would do, (aside from being annoyed simply because that is a rude question). Why would I even consider formula when “breast is best,” right? And how much easier could it be? You have a baby, they latch on, the milk comes in and that’s that.  I even remember the lactation consultant reassuring an expectant mom in my breastfeeding class who asked, “What do I do if I don’t make enough milk?” that you WILL make enough milk. Your body will ABSOLUTELY make enough milk for your baby. Supply and demand. Very simple.

I’d like to smack that lady.

My daughter was born and she latched on but I waited and waited and no milk ever came. Well, no more than an ounce every three hours. I was an overwhelmed first time mom and nursed less and less until eventually I stopped trying altogether and I switched to formula exclusively after three weeks Boom…formula baby.

When my daughter was 3 months old I became pregnant with my second baby and I was hell bent on breastfeeding!  I had been recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was certain that had to be the reason for my previous struggle and now that I was controlling it with medication, I’d have no problems with milk supply. I even had dreams about freely flowing breast milk and hoped it was a sign that buckets of liquid gold were in my future. I knew that I sort of fit the profile of someone with insufficient glandular tissue but tried to put that possibility out of my mind since there is really nothing you can do to overcome that. I was going to remain determined and hopeful.

When baby girl number two arrived, she was nine pounds of cuteness and latched on to the breast with the expertise of a baby twice her age. I was more than proud; I was teeming with hope! This time I was careful to nurse on demand and pump right after nursing to increase my supply to no avail. I still only produced a maximum of one ounce every three hours. As my big girl got bigger she just began to get frustrated at my out-of-order breast but I just couldn’t give up on it. To complicate things further, her stomach and palette seemed to not tolerate any of the five different formulas we gave her. She seemed to only tolerate breast milk and I couldn’t make any. For about five months I received pumped breast milk from dear friends and trusted donors while I continued to pump around the clock to get my measly ten ounces per day and, of course I supplemented with formula.

Through thousands of tears over six months I told my husband I would stop when she and I were both ready because the round the clock pumping was killing me. Eventually my supply of frozen donations began to wane and she was getting more and more formula. She was doing better with her soy formula and starting to try solids and doing well with that too. And I was emotionally ready. I clearly remember sitting in my “pumping chair,” one day and just deciding that I was spending more time than it was worth for eight to ten ounces a day, pumping. I cut back slowly on my pumping sessions until I was not pumping at all and she was on formula exclusively. Boom…formula baby number two.

But this time I felt a freedom in the change. For one, I knew I’d done and tried everything possible: power pumping, fenugreek, Reglan, Domperidone, lactation cookies, oatmeal, water, visits to the lactation consultant, (side note: you know it’s pretty hopeless when the lactation consultant says, “you know, formula isn’t that bad”). I did everything and I felt good switching to formula. I didn’t have the shame I had before. I still have moments of regret or sadness that it didn’t work but I do not feel like a failure as a mother. When I see my friends nursing their babies or pumping an abundance of milk I am a little sad and jealous but overwhelmingly, I feel happy for them because I know the struggle.  And when I see a friend choose formula with less internal struggle than I had I am happy for them as well.

I go back and forth on whether or not our family is complete with only our two children, but when I contemplate a third or fourth child, I cannot help but think of what my feeding choice would be. I say with absolute freedom and confidence that I would start out of the gate with formula. My body does not make a full supply and the struggle to get what I can is too gut-wrenching to go through it one more time. I actually fantasize about being in the hospital room and requesting the formula for my imaginary baby with pride and confidence.  I imagine getting to know my newborn without the stress of trying to force my body to make milk that it just cannot make. I am not sure if that little daydream is enough to have another child but it makes my heart happy. I wish everyone could feel that confidence in their feeding choice from the get-go whether they are a fearless formula feeder or a courageous nursing mommy.

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Have a story you’d like to share? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “No one told me about the possibility of this not working…”

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. 

There’s a lot that bothers me about the way breastfeeding is presented to women (which I suppose is, erm, rather obvious), but the whole “only 1-5% of mothers can’t breastfeed” is definitely near the top. Not only is this statistic based on limited, shaky research, it is also completely misleading. Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) affects .002% of the population, and there are telethons for it (as there should be, of course). Women with lactation failure are ignored, ridiculed, and told it’s all in their heads. I’m certainly not comparing ALS with lactation failure (please) but merely making the same point Lisa Watson of Bottle Babies did in her brilliant post about this issue: 1-5% of women is nothing to scoff at. 

As Karly writes in her beautiful, raw post below, “This was my baby and my body, and I knew them both best.”. It’s odd to me that this same sort of rhetoric is used to justify so much of the natural birth movement, but it is turned on it’s head when the subject is breastfeeding. Maybe some of us need to take a long hard look at our own hypocrisy, as feminists and maternal health advocates. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Karly’s Story

Now that my breastfeeding journey is coming to a close, I feel I finally have the emotional stability to tell my story. I never thought I would be writing something like this when Olivia was only 7 weeks old, but you know the saying, “the best laid plans are laid to waste.” And for me, this was no exception.

I’ll start out by saying that I truly believed that because I so deeply wanted to breastfeed, that I could just do it. I embraced the La Leche League belief system that all woman could breastfeed and that very few woman had actual supply issues that kept them from doing so. I threw out all the free formula I got in the mail, didn’t register for any non-Medela bottles on my baby registry, and did my share of breastfeeding classes, book reading, and research. I told everyone I knew that I wanted to breastfeed for accountability. I was so excited to partake in something so “natural.” I didn’t realize that there was much more to it than a willing heart and a pair of boobs.

My breast feeding journey didn’t start out the way I had planned, and since becoming a parent, I realize that not much does follow the way of our intentions! When Olivia was born, she had accelerated  breathing and was immediately whisked to the far side of my delivery room for monitoring. After she settled down, I was able to spend 10 minutes with her before she was taken to the transitional nursery for 5 hours. I desperately had wanted to nurse her right away, because that’s what everyone says you’re supposed to do to establish a good breastfeeding relationship. I was a little worried I wasn’t able to, but my maternal instinct was already rearing its head and all I was truly concerned about was her being healthy. When I was finally able to spend time with her, it was 10pm and there were no nurses around to help me. I buzzed my less than helpful and attentive nurse and she showed me the football hold and told me that Olivia wasn’t really nursing and couldn’t I tell? “See,” she said, “her cheek muscles aren’t really moving and you can’t hear any swallowing.” I was already starting to feel awful about my abilities to properly nurse. She told me a lactation consultant would come around the next day.

Around 11am the next day, a LC arrived and spent a reasonable amount of time with me. She ascertained that Olivia didn’t have tongue tie (good news) but that she had a high palette, which made it difficult for her to latch because her mouth was so small, and I have slightly retracting nipples.  She gave me a nipple shield and it seemed that Olivia was able to finally grab on to something. I tried nursing all day and it “seemed” to be going well, but I couldn’t really tell.

The next morning the pediatrician made his appearance and when we told him that Olivia wasn’t really producing that many diapers, he was concerned. He suggested supplementing with a 1/2 ounce of formula to prevent her from being dehydrated. I had to suck back my tears until he left. I was devastated. All the books and websites and avid breast feeders had “warned” me this might happen, and to not give in. When my newly on-shift nurse arrived, I cried with her. She was super understanding and reminded me that I needed to make sure Olivia was taken care of.

This was the first time I realized that a commitment to breast feeding can sometimes jeopardize your child’s health. If I hadn’t decided right then to make sure my child’s health came before my desire to only breastfeed, Olivia could have ended up hospitalized for dehydration (and I know this happens because I’ve heard first-hand about it). This is by no means a judgment on people who decide to take a different route than I did when listening to their doctor. However, I personally, could not justify it.

To abate my fears, my nurse showed me how to supplement the formula with a syringe and straw, so that Olivia would still practice her breast feeding skills and not be at risk for nipple confusion. She wouldn’t even notice what was happening. But I did- and no matter what I told myself, I felt awful. I hadn’t wanted to even touch formula, and here I was, supplementing in the first 30 hours of Olivia’s life. I felt inadequate and crippled. Everyone had told me that babies stomachs were the size of marbles and that the small amount of colostrum I had would surely be enough. But it wasn’t, so what was wrong with me? I had pumped what little colostrum I could relinquish, and it was about a 1/4 ounce (less than 8ML). It almost made me feel worse to actually see how little I had.

Everyone assured me that my milk would come in over the weekend, days 3-4, and not to worry.  I kept up hope, but still worried. As soon as it came in, I could stop supplementing. When I got home, the syringe and straw didn’t feel so easy anymore. It was near impossible to get it into Olivia’s mouth where she would do all the work and suck the formula out. After a few attempts, we started just squirting it directly into her mouth. I cried every time I had to attempt the syringe because she would unlatch when I accidentally poked her in the mouth. When she got frustrated she would bob her head and grab at my breasts, ripping off the nipple shield. I don’t think I’ve cried so much as I did those 4 days at home. The worst part was, I would nurse for an hour+ each time, and she would cry and root after each session because she was still hungry.

As the weekend ended, I knew something was amiss. There had been no change in my breasts at all- no engorgement, no let down sensations, no happy baby at the end of a marathon nursing session: only a hormonal wreck of a first-time mom who realized that her breasts were letting her down.

I signed up for a breast feeding workshop and was elated at the thought of some help and encouragement. The LC weighed Olivia before and after a 40 minute feeding and I was horrified to learn she had only taken in a 1/2 ounce in all that time. Add to it the fact that she had lost 9 ounces of her birth weight and had not gained any back in a week, meant I left the workshop in tears. My husband was so encouraging, but let me know that breast feeding was something I may have to just let go of. I wasn’t ready to hear it and sobbed the entire way to the health food store, where I purchased Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle supplements in hopes of increasing my supply. We committed that day to supplementing after every feeding to get Olivia’s weight up to par. Prior to that I fought every supplement because I had wanted to be enough for her alone.

When Olivia was 9 days old, we weighed her again at the Mother Baby Assessment Center in our hospital. She had only gained 1/2 an ounce in 2.5 days since we were last there. I was beginning to feel worse than a failure. I had been taking the supplements but wasn’t noticing much of a difference in Olivia’s satiation at the breast, or when I pumped.

The stress of even the idea that breastfeeding wouldn’t work was beginning to consume me. I spent hours on the internet trying to read other people’s stories of how they overcame supply issues, or how I could produce more. I couldn’t sleep well enough to feel rested, which I’m sure only made milk production worse. I knew that if I didn’t overcome this, I would be entering into postpartum depression. That day, I made a private appointment with a LC for the following Tuesday. But when I made it home, I didn’t even think I could make it that long. I wanted to quit, and quit right then. My husband wouldn’t let me, telling me he would be disappointed in me if I didn’t make it to my appointment, which was right around Olivia’s 2 week birthday. It hurt to hear him say that, because all I wanted was a way out. But I realize now that he didn’t want me to look back and regret quitting, but to do it when I was emotionally stable (as if that’s even possible in postpartum days!).

I reached out to a La Leche League leader in my area, who pretty much verbally vomited the same things I had read in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: very few woman have supply issues, just keep putting the baby to the breast, don’t supplement, feed on demand. She made me feel worse than I already did, because if “most woman don’t have issues,” then either something was wrong with me or I wasn’t trying hard enough. She couldn’t really say much when I told her that Olivia wasn’t even producing enough diapers- the tell tale sign that babies are getting enough breast milk.

I’m proud to say I made it to my appointment! I have to admit, I went with the intention of quitting as soon as it was over. The LC could tell I was on the verge of losing it. We nursed and weighed Olivia again and this time she took in 1 ounce, instead of 1/2 like the week before. Obviously, Olivia was growing and was only going to need more, and even this clearly wasn’t enough. The LC looked at me and told me that any milk Olivia got was good. It didn’t matter if I could exclusively breastfeed or not. She told me if all I could handle was nursing 1x per day then pumping, that was ok. She said it was my baby, not hers, and she wasn’t going to tell me to do something I couldn’t. She diagnosed me with a lactogenesis disorder, or a milk production problem.  She gave me a way out and made me feel like I could finally let go.

After that appointment, I felt a weight lifted. This WAS my baby and my body, and I knew them both best. I knew there was something wrong with my milk production, no matter what any La Leche League leader told me (which, coincidentally was to nurse EVERY HOUR. That’s not even humanly possibly as a new mother, and especially not emotionally possible for the wreck that I was at the time). Because the stress of exclusively breastfeeding was gone since I knew it wasn’t possible, I moved to only pumping.

Even then, I would pump 5-6x per day and still only get 5-6 ounces for the entire day, less than a quarter of what Olivia still needed. I started to walk down the road of depression again when my milk supply wouldn’t increase, no matter how frequently I pumped or how much fenugreek I took. Pumping made me feel almost embarrassed in a way, watching my ugly, not quite working nipples be tortured into giving up droplets of breast milk. When I found blood in my preciously stored milk (which is completely normal and not harmful for baby), I decided my days of breastfeeding/pumping were done. It was like the blood signified everything I was willing to put aside to just make it work- and it made me feel horrible. So I packed up my pump, bottles, and flanges. I put them out of sight and don’t plan on looking at any of it for a long while. It’s all over.

Formula feeding was never the issue for me. I don’t think its poison or that it contributes to obesity. If it was truly unsafe, it wouldn’t be on our shelves. It really wasn’t even about Olivia. I was mostly thinking about myself and what breast feeding was for ME. My sweet baby doesn’t care how I got the liquid in her bottle, only that I love her enough to give it to her when she needs it. And let’s be honest- when she’s in kindergarten I’m not going to be looking back and constantly thinking about how I couldn’t really breast feed. I needed a little more perspective.

The real issue is that I was truly uninformed about breast feeding. True, most women can breast feed in some form- but it’s not true that most women can exclusively breast feed. Many women have supply issues. Once I started having issues, all my girlfriends started coming out with the problems they had as well. Where were they all when I was standing on my soapbox, proclaiming my imminent success as a breast feeder, while secretly judging people who gave up? And on top of it, I had major guilt about all the breast feeding supplies we’d spent money on that would be useless to me. We had JUST bought a $250 breast pump! No one told me about the possibility of this not working! As my husband puts it, the books I read on breast feeding were selling something: an idea that sounds perfect, but that is rarely ever obtained. I dealt with feeling duped and stupid because I bought into it.

I ran the gauntlet of feelings the last 7 weeks. Emotionally, I had times of resenting my new baby, my body, and my husband. Physically, I was exhausted and bitter at my anatomy. I went through the stages of grief: denial, in that I never thought it could be happening to me; anger and bargaining with God; shameful depression; and finally today, acceptance.

I wanted to finish this post as I let my milk dry up. The physical pain is what I wanted from the beginning- to signal an imminent, successful breast feeding journey. Instead it’s a bittersweet end to something that I need to move on from. I started writing this in the throes of my post partum hormones. Now, 5 weeks later, I’m finishing it. When I went back to read what I started, tears started streaming down my face as I remembered the anguish I was feeling. I never want to feel that way again, and am so glad I am on my way to accepting God’s plan for motherhood, even though I’m still a little sad about it now and then.  I can finally put down the breast pump and spend time with my Olivia.

***

Have a story you’d like to share? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

Can breastfeeding concerns be overcome with support? Depends on what “support” means

Guess what? Women are having trouble meeting their breastfeeding goals.

Contain your excitement.

Apparently, this is news to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and every major news outlet in North America. The study causing such shock and awe came out this Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers used self-reported data (i.e., interviews) from 532 first-time moms giving birth at a particular medical center (can’t find where, and due to geographical differences in levels of breastfeeding support and acceptance, I think this is vital information that at least one of the articles could have shared with us). The women were asked prenatally about their breastfeeding intentions and concerns, and then re-interviewed at 3, 7, 14, 30 and 60 days postpartum. According to Reuters:

During those interviews, women raised 49 unique breastfeeding concerns, a total of 4,179 times. The most common ones included general difficulty with infant feeding at the breast – such as an infant being fussy or refusing to breastfeed – nipple or breast pain and not producing enough milk.

 

Between 20 and 50 percent of mothers stopped breastfeeding altogether or added formula to the mix sooner than they had planned to do when they were pregnant.

 

Of the 354 women who were planning to exclusively breastfeed for at least two months, for example, 166 started giving their babies formula between one and two months.

 

And of 406 women who had planned to at least partially breastfeed for two months, 86 stopped before then.

Given these results, the study authors come to the conclusion:

Breastfeeding concerns are highly prevalent and associated with stopping breastfeeding. Priority should be given to developing strategies for lowering the overall occurrence of breastfeeding concerns and resolving, in particular, infant feeding and milk quantity concerns occurring within the first 14 days postpartum. (Source: Pediatrics)

 

The headlines, as usual, were both amusing and infuriating. “Nursing Troubles May Prompt New Moms to Give Up Sooner”. “Early breastfeeding challenges make women quit.” “Some moms discontinue breastfeeding within two months die to nursing difficulties”. And my personal favorite, “95% of breastfeeding problems are reversible.”

One might easily blame the media for their usual skewering of the science to make for a juicier headline, but one can hardly blame them when the experts giving interviews about this study say things like, “It’s a shame that those early problems can be the difference between a baby only getting breast milk for a few days and going on to have a positive breastfeeding relationship for a year or longer… If we are able to provide mothers with adequate support, 95 percent of all breastfeeding problems are reversible.”

So, what’s my issue? I think the study is fine. Sort of a no-brainer, considering they could’ve came to the same conclusion years ago had they just listened to moms instead of insisting we just needed more convincing of the benefits of breastfeeding, and we’d all magically lactate to the satisfaction of the World Health Organization. But the quote above (from Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, one of the study authors) makes me wonder if the results of the study are being taken in the wrong context.

The focus is on moms not getting enough support –  something that I 100% agree needs to be focused on. Like, yesterday. But where the experts quoted in these articles and I part ways is on what type of support is needed. This passage from NPR illustrates my point:

The researchers didn’t do physical exams of the moms and babies, so they don’t know what was happening for sure. But they speculate that some of the first-time mothers may have misread the babies’ cues, mistaking fussiness for hunger, for instance, or thinking the babies weren’t getting enough milk when they’re doing just fine…

 

Once again, the assumption is that women are wrong about their bodies, and about their babies. The study authors surmise that access to lactation consultants in the first week postpartum, after hospital discharge, will be the solution to many of these problems. Again, I absolutely agree that this is a great start. And yet – reading through the scores of FFF Friday stories, I have to wonder… is this really going to make a difference, given the current state of our breastfeeding culture? How many LCs have we all seen, cumulatively? How many were bullied or shamed by medical professionals? How many of us have been told our babies were fine, only to end up in the ER with a dehydrated infant? How many of us were told – by professional lactation consultants and pediatricians – that every woman can breastfeed, and that we should just keep on nursing and it will all work out?

Looking at this study, this is what I see: a ton of women are claiming to have pain, trouble latching, and concerns that their babies aren’t getting enough milk. NPR also reports that the group with the least amount of reported problems was comprised mostly of women under 30, and women of Hispanic origin. That begs for further research, doesn’t it? Could age and legitimate lactation failure be associated? What about race/ethnicity? Are there conditions more prevalent in older, non-Hispanic populations that are also associated with breastfeeding problems?

And this is what I also see: We have an opportunity – no, a responsibility- to look at the type of support these women are getting. Is it truly evidence-based? Or is it based on dogma; on the belief that “95% of breastfeeding problems are reversible”? (By the way, I am super curious about the research backing up that claim.) Are the individuals giving the support truly listening to the mothers, examining them, considering the delicate balance of hormones necessary for lactation, or the effect of emotional or physical trauma around birth on a woman’s ability to withstand latching pain or her infant’s cries? Is there nuance? Are these mothers being seen, or are they being treated as uniform breasts, needing to be “handled” so that they can fulfill their duty of providing exclusive breastmilk for 6 months?

I’m not knocking a study that advocates for more support for moms. I simply want us to open up the discussion, rather than going in circles, with the same researchers and the same experts telling us the same things – if mothers only knew better. If they could only be taught to recognize their babies’ cues. If they would only listen to us. 

I think it’s time they listened to us, instead. Which brings me to what I’d really like to see from this study: a follow-up where they ask the women who “failed” to meet breastfeeding recommendations what they think would have helped them reach their goals. Because without that piece, I really don’t think we can get very far.

 

FFF Friday: “I never expected people to be so quick to blame me for not trying hard enough.”

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. 

One of the changes I’d like to see from the I Support You movement is better access to truly supportive support groups for all new parents- whether they are breastfeeding, combo feeding, or formula feeding. It’s a tough thing to discuss, because what constitutes “helpful” and “supportive” for some does not mean the same to another – I’ve talked to some people who are adamant that if anyone had given them “permission to quit” by not emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding/danger of supplementation, they wouldn’t have met their breastfeeding goals. And yet so many women in the FFF community (and beyond) talk about their breastfeeding support groups and Mommy & Me classes with a distinct but subtle bitterness; a strange hybrid of nostalgia and anger. For every woman who “permission to quit” would’ve been detrimental, there’s another woman who desperately needed that permission.
I hope to see more neutral groups sprouting up – get-togethers that are truly about supporting each person’s unique journey, needs, and desires rather than pushing ideologies. It sounds like in Julia’s (who blogs at Pugs Not Drugs, one of the best names for a blog ever) case, a group like that would’ve allowed her to make decisions which were right for her family without so much heartache. I think that’s something worth fighting for.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF
***
Julia’s Story
I had always planned to breastfeed, but in the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t be easy, as so many friends have so openly shared their struggles with me.  I read books, took the breastfeeding class offered at our hospital, and had the name and number of a highly recommended lactation consultant programmed into my phone just in case.  I didn’t register for or buy any bottles, and I threw away any formula samples that I received in the mail or at the doctor’s office.  I’d read that having it in the house was a black mark against one’s chances for successfully breastfeeding, and I wanted to do everything I could to make breastfeeding successful.

My daughter came into this world just shy of 36 weeks at 5lbs 13 oz and we did immediate skin to skin contact just like all the books recommend.  She latched right away the first time and I felt so much relief. I gave birth in the middle of the night on a Sunday and all the nurses were extremely helpful in getting her positioned and latched as it became more difficult to do after that first time.  Since she was born so early they were watching her blood sugar and temperature very closely.  Both were low and I was encouraged to feed her every 3 hours.  Because she was so sleepy and not sucking very well the nurse brought me a pump to see if I could express some colostrum to give her through a cup or a syringe.  I got nothing from the pump so we started supplementing with ready to feed formula via cup feeding, thinking we’d only need to do it for a day or so until my milk came in and the baby was over her sleepiness and then we’d be set.

The next day a lactation consultant came by my room to observe a feeding. She said we had a good latch, handed me a folder of info, and said we’d be well on our way once my milk was in.  No mention of renting a pump or any information about the breastfeeding support group they had weekly.  There was a flier for the support group in the folder but it did not state where or when it met, simply that it existed.  My daughter’s temperature and blood sugar were improving by the middle of the day and even though she was always asleep, we knew that was a normal and figured she’d wake up and get more interested in eating soon.

When her blood sugar and temperature regulated and we were discharged from the hospital with instructions to keep breastfeeding every 3 hours and supplement with formula via cup feeding after she nursed until my milk came in.  We took all the formula samples we could fit in our bag home in hopes we wouldn’t have to buy any formula ourselves.  I was still running pretty high on adrenaline at this point but the lack of sleep was catching up with me.  We knew we were fortunate that she had spent zero time in the NICU despite being a late term preemie, but we were so nervous about taking home such a small baby and having to care for her ourselves.  She was just so tiny and fragile.

The day after discharge we saw the doctor in the office and learned that my baby was quickly losing weight (down from 5 lbs 13oz to 5lbs 6 oz) and becoming jaundiced, so we had to come in daily that week for blood draws and were told to breastfeed/supplement every 2-2.5 hours around the clock.  My daughter had plenty of wet diapers but hadn’t pooped since birth.  I scheduled an appointment with the LC I’d heard good things about for the end of the week.  The doctor encouraged us to go to the breastfeeding support group for a weighed feeding and told us where and when it took place.  At one point I thought my milk had come in, but it was wishful thinking. My breasts felt fuller but I wasn’t getting anything when I tried to hand express and my baby was growing increasingly frustrated at the breast.
Again the next day we were back in the doctor’s office for more blood work to check her billi levels.  She was turning a nice shade of orange by this point and we were in full freak out mode.  I had consulted with many of my friends online about our breastfeeding issues at this point and they were so incredibly helpful and encouraging, however, over and over I was hearing  from them and reading online that I should be pumping if I was supplementing.  Moms that had been in a similar situation as myself had been sent home with a pump and instructed to pump every time they supplemented with formula so that their supply would not suffer.  The LC at the hospital never mentioned that.  They’d sent me home with the pump flanges and tubing from my one failed attempt at pumping in the hospital but I was given no info on pump rentals.  When I called the information desk at the hospital to inquire I found out I could rent a pump at the BF support group where we were headed that afternoon.

My daughter would.not.wake.up. during the group so I didn’t get to do a weighed feeding.  I did weigh her and was so upset to learn that she had dropped another 2 oz, down to 5lbs 4oz.   I did get my pump from the LC but no instructions on how to use it.  Thankfully youtube filled in the gaps for me!  I started pumping right away (after every feeding, day and night) but just got a few drops of colostrum as my milk still wasn’t in yet. Fortunately I got a call at the end of the day that her billi levels were leveling off and we breathed a sigh of relief.  Goodbye jaundice!

Five days after her birth my milk still hadn’t come in and my baby was screaming and crying when I brought her to the breast (and by that point I was crying too!)  When she wasn’t screaming and crying she was fast asleep and difficult to arouse for feedings, typical of late term preemies.   I got so tense and filled with dread before every feeding.  I was letting her breastfeed for 10-15 minutes per side (although I had to pull her off and wake her up every 2-3 minutes since she kept falling asleep) and then we’d supplement with the cup.  15-20 ccs after every feeding.  She gulped it right down.

The LC was amazing.  We met with her for 90 minutes and she helped me improve our latch, gave us tricks for keeping our sleepy baby awake and sucking, and taught us about doing compressions to bring the fatty hind milk forward.  I felt so encouraged during that one feeding in her office.  It was a weighed feeding but at the end when we weighed her she had gained nothing.  Nothing at all. She hit her lowest weight yet: 5lbs 2 oz.  I was armed with information and new techniques to try but no milk, the key ingredient to breastfeeding!

During our consultation the LC asked lots of questions about my medical history including a question about whether or not we’d had difficulty getting pregnant.  As a matter of fact, we had.  After going off birth control in early 2011 I never ovulated on my own and I needed Clomid to get pregnant.  The doctor suspected PCOS but while I had some of the classic signs, I didn’t have any cysts on my ovaries or irregular lab work, so it was never an official diagnosis.  The LC informed me that many women with PCOS have problems with low milk supply.   Other issues she noted were that my breasts never changed in size while I was pregnant  and I’d had zero leaking of colostrum during my third trimester.   Both of these things can be normal and not indicative of one’s ability to breastfeed, but sometimes they are a clue that difficulties are ahead.   She gave me some mother’s milk special blend supplements and detailed instructions on how much to take and how often.  She also fitted me with a hands free pumping bra and told us it was okay to use bottles instead of cup feeding.  Less messy and unlikely to cause nipple confusion if we used the right kind of bottles. I can honestly say if we hadn’t met with this LC we would have given up breastfeeding before the end of that first week.  She armed us with enough strategies and confidence to persevere, at least until my baby reached her due date, the first goal we set for ourselves.

My milk finally came in a week after my daughter was born, but I was never engorged and never leaked.  I was only pumping about an ounce a day.  I went to the BF support group weekly for weighed feedings and they were depressing.  One week she got 2/3rds of an ounce.  Another week she got about 1/3rd of an ounce.  The milk just was not there.  I was taking the supplements, pumping, drinking a shitload of water, but to no avail.  My milk supply was not increasing despite my best efforts.

I cried a lot during those first weeks and wanted to quit breastfeeding so badly but held on to the advice friends gave me, especially “never quit on a bad day.”  My husband hugged me and gave me pep talks and finally my daughter’s due date arrived.  She did wake up some, but it wasn’t a drastic change as I’d hoped for.  My pump rental was expiring and I returned it to the hospital.  I was so done with that thing, it had done nothing to increase my supply and all the time and effort I was putting in for approximately 1 oz a day was not worth it.  We needed much more than that to supplement so we had to rely on formula.

Bonding with my baby was extremely difficult that first month.  I was growing to resent her and resent the pump.  My husband got to snuggle her and play with her and was clearly bonding with her and I was stressed out and in tears worried about how much she was eating.  The grueling feeding schedule was taking its toll on my mental health.  I remember crying while she cried during a feeding one night thinking “I just want to be able to enjoy my baby.”  Breastfeeding was not the warm, lovey dovey, bonding experience the books had promised it would be.  It was anything but.  When I turned the pump in and accepted that supplementing with formula was just what we were going to have to do, things really started to turn around for me mentally and emotionally.

Around 6 weeks I stopped going to the breastfeeding support group.  The weighed feedings were depressing and stressed me out.  The LCs leading the group offered me no advice that I hadn’t already read online. One mom in the weekly group was regularly pissing me off and making it a very hostile environment for several of us (many of us attending had premature babies with latch/supply issues).  She openly criticized those of us in the group that were supplementing with formula.  I dreaded the group and wasn’t getting anything from it but more frustration.

I was slowly reaching the acceptance stage by this point and was just breastfeeding on demand and following up every feeding with a bottle.  She was gaining weight thanks to the formula and I was grateful.  Around 12 weeks my daughter started refusing the breast.  She was hitting a growth spurt and going on nursing strikes for 12-24 hours, leaving me with clogged ducts and rock hard breasts.  She was screaming at my breasts and happily sucking down her bottles of formula.  I knew it was time to wean and over the course of a few days we did.  Sudafed dried me up and just like that we were exclusively formula feeding.

During those first three months of my daughter’s life I got some really great advice and encouragement from friends and family.  I also got some horrible advice, was judged by other moms, and felt so much guilt and disappointment over how things were playing out.  I soaked in encouraging words like “every drop of breast milk you give her is a gift” and “it gets easier” (and it did get easier after about 6 weeks just like everyone said.)  ”Don’t quit on a bad day” was probably the best advice I received.

some of the hurtful advice I was given when people learned I was struggling with my supply:

  • I needed to spend more time with my baby (24/7 wasn’t enough??)
  • I needed to just stop formula feeding altogether and trust my body to produce milk (so starve my child in the meantime??)
  • I needed to pray harder for God to increase my supply (what the…I still have no words, this is SO insulting and I heard it from multiple people.)

I didn’t respond to those comments.  I honestly could not think of a response that wasn’t “go !#@$ yourself” in many cases, so saying nothing was the better road.  I never expected people to be so critical and quick to blame me for not trying hard enough.

I am so happy I was able to breastfeed for 3 months when at one point I didn’t think I’d get past the first week, but I also wish our breastfeeding relationship hadn’t ended so soon.  I was disappointed that I didn’t have the “easy” and “natural” breastfeeding experience that so many books and friends touted nursing could be.

I knew going into it that breastfeeding could be difficult, but I was expecting difficulties such as cluster feeding, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, and oversupply/engorgement (lol, as if).  I really had no idea how exhausting it could be and I certainly had no idea what kind of emotional toll it would take.

My daughter is now 9 months old and happy and healthy.  She is thriving on formula and I am so grateful to live in a time and place where we have easy access to ways to feed our babies when breast milk is insufficient.  I really have a heart for new moms dealing with breastfeeding difficulties and guilt over using formula.  Being open with others about my own experience has led to so many great friendships and connections with other moms.  I hope sharing my story can provide encouragement to others to share their story and be a voice for formula feeders.

***

If you’d like to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, feel free to shoot me an email at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

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