Friday, June 15, 2012

Milk Matters

Today's topic: breastfeeding.
If you're a guy and this topic makes you uncomfortable, read no further!

I'm sharing the following for three reasons:

1. In hopes that mothers with similar experiences will be encouraged that they're not alone.
Don't let anyone make you feel guilty for the way you need to feed your child
We're all doing our best here.

2. For new or soon-to-be moms who are staunch breastfeeding advocates like I was:
sometimes things don't work out in the way that you planned, and you need to give yourself the grace to accept that and move forward.

3. To generate further understanding that unless you've experienced the challenges of breastfeeding and worked through them (or if someone outwardly asks your thoughts on the matter) you have no place to be encouraging others to avoid using formula. Period. 

I've always been an advocate for exclusive breastfeeding. It just makes sense to me that what a woman's body was made to produce for her child's nourishment is best and that formula should only be used if absolutely necessary (i.e. not simply for convenience sake).  What I don't support is what feels like a growing intolerance for mother's who choose to use formula. If you're a mom who formula feeds, you know what I mean. It seems this intolerance operates under the assumption that the main reason mothers choose formula is simply for the convenience of it, when the truth is (I believe) only a very small portion of mothers fall into that category. Most commonly, after at least attempting to breastfeed, mothers choose formula for one of the following reasons:

1. Their bodies cannot, despite their best efforts, produce enough milk to meet their baby's demand.

2. It's physically painful, too challenging, or too stressful.

3. Their child can't latch properly or suffers from acid reflux or gas pains (hence challenging/stressful).

I'd suggest that there are certainly ways to try and work through any of these scenarios - and I think it's important to give it your best shot and not give up at the first sign of difficulty - but those efforts often come with a fair amount of mental stress and exhaustion. I know because I've dealt with all three challenges, most recently with Moses. 

Here's my experience:

With Jack, it was always a huge challenge. First, it was because his latch was wrong, which made breastfeeding excrutiatingly painful. Two weeks in, I just could not endure it anymore - by that point, breastfeeding would bring me to tears and cause me to bleed. In a moment of weakness, I made Tim go and get some formula. Here's where the voices of all those well-intentioned breastfeeding advocates started creeping into my head, telling me I was a bad mother. So I saw a lactation consultant who helped correct his latch and things got better for a while and I stopped using the formula. About a month in, Jack started suffering from acid reflux and gas pains. This equated to lots of screaming during and after he'd eat, which also equated to high stress for me. We started giving him baby Zantac, which helped a bit, but being the "granola" mom that I am, I wanted a more natural remedy. We tried gripe water and gas drops and I started an elimination diet which meant only eating plain ground turkey and rice for two weeks. I was determined to breastfeed. Eventually, he just grew out of the gassiness. But by that time, I was working full-time again and was pumping more than I was actually feeding him directly. And let me tell you, when you're working full-time and trying to get things done, but have to stop every two hours to pump for half an's not easy. Not surprisingly my supply went way down and I had to start supplementing with formula. By the time he was weaned, he was mostly drinking formula. And I felt like I failed him.

With Moses, it started off just fine. He had a great latch and breastfeeding was a dream. For about two weeks. And then on came the acid reflux and the gas pains, just like Jack. And once more, I turned to Zantac (for immediate relief) but switched to the gripe water/gas drops solution again. I didn't have the mental energy to try the elimination diet, now that I was caring for two children instead of one. I knew I just had to wait for him to grow out of it and around 4 months he did. He's 5 months now, and for the last 4 weeks his latch has slowly been getting lazier and lazier and his feeding time has been getting shorter and shorter. I didn't see it as a problem until I brought him to the doctor for his wellness check and learned that he'd fallen from the 20th percentile for weight into the less than third percentile. In just under two months. With the words "possible failure to thrive" and "you've got to supplement" ringing in my ears, I went home with two cans of soy formula (now that we're no longer eating dairy). As soon as I got home, I nursed and then made him a bottle. And then another bottle. And then a third. In one sitting he drank about 9 oz. That's a lot, considering he only eats 3-4 oz at a time on average. It was as if he hadn't eaten in a month (and I guess you could say he hadn't!) In my head, I told myself that the supplementing would just be temporary. That as soon as I could get my supply back up and his latch corrected, we'd be back to exclusive breastfeeding. Over the course of the last two weeks I have taken the following steps to try to make this happen:

  • Started taking high doses of Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, and something called More Milk Special Blend as well as drinking a Lactation Tea blend - all of which are meant to stimulate milk production. So far, not much change.
  • When supplementing, I only used feeding tubes (I won't go into how this works) to avoid nipple confusion. It was really frustrating and made breastfeeding really awkard.
  • I learned he was tongue-tied, which is why his latch was all wrong, and had a midwife friend of mine clip his tongue. Twice (the first time wasn't deep enough). Please be reassured that this is a totally normal procedure that is done to many babies (including my nephew), is realtively painless and is in their best interest not only for breastfeeding purposes but also later in life to avoid speech impedements. 
  • I started upping my calories to try and promote more milk production.
  • Brought Moses to the chiropracter to adjust his spine to help with positioning during feeding.

Can you tell that I'm once again determined to breastfeed? But I am also exhausted. Mentally, I am just so exhausted. Breastfeeding has become so stressful because Moses struggles the whole time and gets frustrated when he has to work to get the milk. He pushes against me and whines and squirms. And I have to set him down and go out of the room and try not to punch a wall.  I have yet to see a lactation consultant and I could definitely be better about drinking fluids. But I've done everything else I can and still haven't seen results, so I've somewhat resigned myself to the fact that I'm just going to have to supplement for the rest of the year. I've agonized over this for weeks and it pains me and I feel guilty, but my baby needs to eat so praise the Lord that formula exists.


1 comment:

  1. great post Laur.

    You know from my many posts on the issue that I am no fan of the breast-is-best nazi moms who seem determined to make all moms parent EXACTLY like they do (or let them know how they're failing their children if they don't), or the undue pressure moms feel about the topic.

    I hope you're able to continue breastfeeding Mos, because I know YOU value it. And ideally moms should be able to parent how they hope to :)

    I also hope little guy gets up in weight, since his health is the main concern. watching him chug that soy formula must have been so satisfying! I remember the 1st time Lily drank formula I'd never seen her drink as much or as fast. BECAUSE SHE WAS STARVING. I finally felt like a mom who was meeting the needs of my baby. Even if it wasn't the conventional way :)

    you're an AMAZING mom and your boys are lucky to have you.


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