by Heatheron November 11,2012 in BreastfeedingFamily JourneyNatural Parenting StyleParenthood

  Note: I wrote and published a follow-up post to this one about our success! Feel free to check it out: Our Little Breastfeeding “Miracle” **************** This morning, I awoke to my nearly 16-week-old little girl scooting closer and nuzzling in for her morning wake-up nurse. A couple hours later, we settled into the rocking chair for a nice, long mid-morning feeding cuddle. This afternoon, we nursed and napped. Tonight, we will nurse to sleep. It is beautiful and precious to enjoy my daughter so much, to watch her growing up before my eyes and to see the sweet little parts of her character emerging, especially while we nurse. We have a beautiful nursing relationship. It is, however, marked with sadness. Let me back up a bit and start from the “sort of” beginning. I believe in breastfeeding, deeply. I know in my head and heart that its benefits far surpass any other way of feeding our babies for reasons of nutrition, overall health and emotional well-being.  I have read three books and countless articles on breastfeeding.  I have a bunch of amazing mama friends and online comrades who are passionate about bf-ing and are inspiring examples to me of extended nursing (an example I am set on following if possible). I had an uncomplicated homebirth and my little one went right to my breast, staying skin-to-skin for hours, then days. I have a lactation consultant. I fed on-demand without question. I did everything “right” (well, maybe, but more on that a little later down). However, after three months of a rough road, I am still supplementing with formula. Where before I assumed it was easy to breastfeed, now I see more clearly just how hard it can be for some mothers. I obviously am one of them. I debated waiting to write this post until after we were completely on the other side of our breastfeeding challenges, back to 100% unrestricted breastfeeding and completely off the supplemental formula we began using when she was just two weeks old. However, I realized that this path, the journey, is the point and in my journey as a breastfeeding mother with breastfeeding challenges, I have much to learn and perhaps a little to share. So I write from this place of vulnerability and hope, day-to-day struggles and day-by-day triumphs. Also, the truth is that we may never “get back” to breastmilk-only. The reasons why we are where we are, supplementing about 50% of our feedings with formula, weave through three and a half months of trying, trying, trying (and crying, crying, crying, I may add). Taking a quick glance back, the reasons include slow-to-no weight gain after two weeks, newborn jaundice, small mouth with “lazy” sucking, i.e started good, tired out fast, I had lots of milk at first, then quick decline, and now in a day-to-day effort to keep my supply up via just about all the known galactagogue herbs, homeopathic remedies, lots of water and broths, pumping, insistent latch awareness, frequent feedings, nurse-ins, visualizations, breast massage and following every wive’s tale my partner’s Chilean grandmothers have thrown my way (including drinking lots of milk, thank you Grandmother Manoca!). I spend a lot of time every day working on my supply. If you think you have an idea for me, I’ve probably tried it (but feel free in your suggesting, really). The only thing I haven’t done is take prescription drugs (I still might). Maybe my low supply stemmed directly from my daughter’s poor sucking and us falling into a slippery-slope supplementing strategy. Maybe I would have had a low supply anyway due to stress or hormonal issues (or both). I’ll never know. But here’s what I’ve humbly learned: I happens. It happens a lot more than we’re led to believe, a lot more then I would have guessed perusing my usual online lactivist haunts. In my search to find physical and emotional support online, I’ve started running across many stories of other mothers struggling with not being able to nurse their babies exclusively, though their hearts were set on it and they’ve tried everything. Some of them can’t nurse at all. It seems that among low-to-no supply mothers, I’m one of the lucky ones. Finding a couple of awesome online resources filled with heart-warming (and heart-wrenching) stories from moms wanting so badly to nurse their little ones has been a real heart saver for me. Among the sites I’ve found, the best is by far Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues (MOBI) International. The night I found that site, I read and read and read, and cried my heart out. Finally, stories that were like my own; finally a sense of being a true part of the breastfeeding community. It gave me hope; hope that I may still be able to increase my supply, yes, but also hope that I wouldn’t feel like I was a failure forever, or that I was missing all this precious time with my daughter while I was worrying about whether or not the next feeding at my breast would give her enough. Still, it continues to be hard. Not breastfeeding exclusively has been a real heartbreaker for me. I’ve felt grief and guilt, frustration and shame, … not because I’m worried that all the bf-ing mamas I love and respect will think badly of me, not at all. It’s because I really do know what is best for my baby and I can’t give it to her. I’ve read the stats on formula-related health problems. I mix the powder and feel no life in the food other than the prayers I put into it and its promise of weight gain (I live in Chile where there are no breastmilk banks.). I long to sweep her antsy “neh-neh”-ing sweetness up into my arms and feed her from my breast until she is full-up, whenever she wants or needs it, wherever we are. I wish for just one breastfeeding session where neither she nor I get nervous because the milk isn’t flowing. But that’s not what I have. What I have is a nursing relationship with my baby that looks differently then I expected. It’s a nursing relationship marked with difficulty, yes, but with great joy, too. When I remember that I have my daughter at my breast, that we nurse and make sweet eye contact and talk to each other, that she is getting so much goodness and love here with me in those moments, even if a lot of the milk she is swallowing comes from a little bottle around my neck through a tube to her mouth (we use the Medela SNS), I relax and enjoy. When I remember I am lucky for all that we have, I relax and enjoy. I say little prayers for the mothers and babies less fortunate than us, and relax and enjoy. When I remember that these moments right here are worth my total non-worried, non-regretting attention, that stroking her fingers and feet, her sweet head, her back, and gazing into her eyes give us both so much goodness, I smile and relax and enjoy. I do. But, still for the sake of any mother reading that may be saved the extent of our struggle (and the physical and emotional exhaustion it brings), here are the things I would have done differently:

Dealt with the jaundice immediately to reduce fatique. I was so adament about protecting our home nest and her sweet adjustment period, it didn’t seem like an option to consider an in-hospital jaundice treatment. I trusted what I read about newborns processing their jaundice in a week or two and it being normal. If I have the chance again, I’ll get right to a light box (or blanket).

Breathed longer before buying formula. “Feed the baby” – that is the number one rule of lactation advice right? Of course it is, and of course it was my priority. However, in our panic of realizing she wasn’t gaining enough weight, we didn’t even try to pump and supplement with breastmilk first. Knowing that I DID have milk, I’d have at least tried that for a few days with a really good pump.

Taken the plunge with a hospital-grade pump. I would have spent the $100 or more for a month with the best pump I could have found to fortify, extract and deliver my milk. Period. Not realizing how important it was until much later, I opted for the first pump I could find easily (a manual Madela), then later an okay double electric.

Gotten a second opinion on my baby’s feeding. I love our LC, and she is a friend, but I would have found the most notable expert to examine her mouth, watch us feed, and rule out or address every baby-related or positioning issue. I would have demanded she be as nit-picky and heavy-handed as possible with our technique.

Been firmer about my boundaries. The early bf-ing relationship is so important and fragile, and now knowing the roll stress can play in production reduction, I wish I had not let all the well-meaning people into my home and bedroom whom I knew would stress me out with all their advice and off-handed comments (one grandmother said to me plainly and forcefully, “You have no milk, get a bottle.”). Never. Again.

Taken each day at a time and remembered to enjoy each and every feeding. In the whirlwind of worry and stress, and in the shadow of grief and failure, I let my mind spin too much into the what-if’s and how-come’s and whoa-is-me’s too much. I would have reached out for more support sooner so that I could relish it all more. I’m doing that a lot better now, though it’s still hard sometimes.

Of course, I’m continuing to work on my supply and still have hope that we’ll get it up enough to wean from formula. But, I’ll finish by saying that above all, knowing that I’m not alone (my friends back home have been so supportive and loving, my partner here a major ally) has been a huge help. And knowing that no matter what, I do and will continue to give my little girl all the love and nourishing affection I can give her, no matter what milk I can provide, I know she’s getting the very best from me she can get. That’s my job, right? I’m her mother… and I’m the best mother I can be. ~ Heather ********** Here is a list of the sites that helped me the most to address my breastfeeding challenges: You may also enjoy reading another perspective on breastfeeding challenges in the Boba post How One Mother Practices Attachment Parenting While Bottle Feeding.
14 comments
Melissa
Melissa

Thank you so much for writing this.  I'm currently in the midst of this with my fourth baby (four months old).  The first three all began breastfeeding in a little bit of rockiness, but we made it through the first few weeks with no supplementation and had great breastfeeding relationships. I'm still nursing my two year old who has been a huge help with supply (he is only allowed to nurse after the baby is full).  This last baby has been the most difficult by far.  He seems to have a shallow latch, a posterior tongue tie that's just shy of being able to cut so we did occupational therapy (which did help), and intermittent but common breast refusal.  I think at this point he really does prefer the bottle when he's hungry and the breast as comfort when he's sleepy.  I can't nurse him sitting up at all, I have to be lying down or he won't nurse.  Using all the advice in the world, we've gone from 20 ounces of formula a day to under 6. We even had it down to 2 ounces last week and I really thought he was going to be able to be exclusively breastfed and then...no.  I try to wait him out if he seems like he needs the bottle, to see if he'll just nurse again in a short while, but he's back up to about 5 or 6 ounces again.   This is formula after what I can pump and supplement.  It's just so disheartening to be going backwards again.

JuliaMiller
JuliaMiller

Your commitment to your child is commendable. It's great that you chose to share such a personal journey, as well! It's great that you've worked so hard to be able to nurse at all, too.

MrsWeinershiner
MrsWeinershiner

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Heather, for sharing your story - and adding those links at the end.  I wanted to nurse my first little guy SO BAD. Everything seemed to be okay, he was a natural at latching on and going to town when he was hungry.  Thing is, he was hungry all the time. He lost so much weight the first two weeks, and we had to deal with his jaundice (the glo-worm blankets are pretty cool). I met with two different LCs outside of the hospital on a regular basis for about six weeks, pumped immediately after a nursing session, and hour after a nursing session (with a hospital grade pump), tried the teas, yeast, cookies - you name it, I tried it. I had an extremely supportive pediatrician who did everything within her power to help me out, too.  But when we had gone four weeks with little to no weight gain (I was happy if he held steady from appointment to appointment, I thought I was turning the corner!), it was time to look into supplementing. I didn't want to try drugs for other health reasons, and my poor little baby was so hungry all the time. I was devastated, to say the least. I wanted that nursing bond with my child, and I didn't know if I was going to ever have it. :(

We supplemented for three months, still doing everything I could to get my supply up, to no avail.  For the past two months, baby has been on just formula. While I still feel guilty sometimes, my five month old is happy, fed, and full which leaves us more happy time to play and sing and read.  He's perfectly healthy so far, which is saying a lot since my husband and I both teach at an elementary school with over 1,000 little germ factories. :)

I knew BFing would be hard, but I didn't anticipate it being nearly that difficult.  It's so nice to hear other mamas who have problems too. I'm forwarding this blog on to my sister who still feels guilty about giving up on BFing with her daughter almost two years ago.

Thank you again, Heather!

tarentsen
tarentsen

I just wanted to add that, though I hope to breast-feed when our first baby is born in March, I was not breast-fed at all, since I was adopted at birth.  And despite that, I have some of the best health of my family (three other siblings are all the biological children of my adoptive parents; all easily breast-fed).  I have no allergies whatsoever and rarely get sick.  And as far as other development, I did extremely well in school and participated in many athletics and only have one cavity to date! ;)  So just to encourage any that have trouble with breast-feeding not to worry.  There are many, many factors (apparently) that go into raising healthy children.  Breast milk or formula is just one of them. :)

darktownstrutter
darktownstrutter

This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. It is obvious that one day your child will read this and realize that you are an amazing mom and you love her very much.

ZoraP
ZoraP

Your story is familiar to me in several aspects and I just want to offer some encouragement. First of all, even if you end up continuing to supplement, it's okay. Before you know it that baby will be asking for solids and then you'll be able to gradually replace formula with nutritious foods while continuing to nurse on demand. I have a friend who had similar difficulties with her first baby (undetected UTIs apparently caused some of his trouble with weight gain) and ended up continuing the supplements but also the nursing. They had a beautiful nursing relationship until he weaned around age 3. With her second baby things went better and she didn't need to supplement at all. It's true that every baby is different. I do think having a hospital-grade pump on hand is a good idea -- I had to pump and supplement the first couple of weeks with my first but we did great after that. (I did use the pump at work later on, too.) Please allow yourself to feel good about the fact that you have a healthy, growing baby who is getting tremendous benefit from your nursing relationship with her. You've made good choices given a difficult set of circumstances.

gabrielleD
gabrielleD

I love your story.  Thank you for sharing.  I remember working so hard to make breastfeeding work with my first child.  It was so heartwrenching because my entire life, I'd planned on nursing my babies, just like my mom nursed all of us (I'm one of 7 and a twin).  I too, had done all of the proper homework and prep work to make it a success.  But I could not get my baby to latch or sustain it for very long.  It was a rough couple of weeks and we were so close to being where you are.  I still have my Medela SNS boxed up with all of my other breastfeeding gear!  It arrived in the mail the same day we had a good weight check for my daughter, so we didn't need it after all.  At 2 weeks, my baby was 14 ounces less than her birthweight.  The doctor said he would give us 4 days to make it work.  Fortunately, I got help from yet another lactation consultant.  One LC corrected one problem and the second one corrected another.  And finally, we were nursing well.  Here is part of my story, though our problems were different than yours: http://mamagab.blogspot.com/2010/08/struggles-of-nursing-wbw-post-3.htmlAlso, I've known several women who were passionate about bfing and knew all the correct things to do who could not make it work.  I also know 2 women who had successfully bfed several babies but suddenly had supply issues with later babies.  So you can do everything "right" and still, things can go wrongly.  You've got a great perspective.  And the rest of the story, for me, is that my first child nursed exclusively until 17 months, and I just had my 3rd baby.  All were exclusively bfed.  So there may be hope for future little ones for you too! 

jegeagan
jegeagan

The only thing that ever worked to increase my supply was to increase my number of feedings per day. I've tried herbs and brewers yeast, but nothing worked other than adding more feedings. I have heard of other mothers using cranial sacral work and chiro work to help. I would also check to see if your little one has a tongue tie or lip tie (lazy shallow latch and clicking noise while nursing), they are easy to overlook and can make nursing very tiresome and difficult for babies.

jennybean44
jennybean44

thank you for sharing your story.  I'm a new mom and have had lots of obstacles breastfeeding.  I tried everything -- doubled my water intake, goat's rue, fenugreek, etc.  In the end, Domperidone was my saving grace.  I lost my supply at a month (a few weeks after starting birth control pills). It took us a couple days to figure out why our baby was screaming -- she was so hungry. The Dom brought my supply back again (I stopped the BC pills too). I'm now at 5 months and supplementing only 4 oz in the evening. I can't say enough good things about the med, but I don't think it's recommended for women with heart problems.

Ambria
Ambria

Thank you for writing this! We too are struggling with the same thing. I supplemented 5 mLs in the hospital because after I fed her, she still cried and cried and I felt awful. I thought "5 mLs won't hurt anything". But then it just kept increasing and increasing. At 2 months old, she was drinking 4 oz after BFing. I have been trying to up my supply since going home and nothing is helping : / I've tried fenugreek, pumping, feeding as much as possible, water, cookies, etc. Nothing is helping and it seems like my supply just keeps dropping. If you have advice on what else to do, please email me! (I've also tried the tea but I almost threw up lol)  I wish someone would have told me all the hard ships feeding her formula would have caused before I supplemented : / 

SaraAlfordLevine
SaraAlfordLevine

Your perseverance is inspiring. Know that as her mother you know what it best for her. Whether you end up being able to wean her off the formula or not, you are doing what is best for her. You're a great mama!

gemasita
gemasita

My first response when you said that you responded so quickly to "feed the baby" and started supplementing with formula rather than pumping was, "maybe I should have done that."  My son lost a pound of weight in the first week and took a week after his initial meconium poop to poop again.  It was scary.  Everyone told me he was fine....and then all of a sudden he wasn't fine.  I couldn't see the signs very well...it's hard to think straight when you are newly postpartum.  I wish someone had alerted us sooner that we needed to start thinking about supplementing.  We were lucky to be able to supplement with donor breastmilk the entire first year of his life (I have no idea why I had the low supply but we had lots of latch issues, like you).  I am just completely traumatized by what I feel like I put my son through his first week.  I get that it wasn't on purpose.  But I can't get over it and never will.  I regret so deeply that he had to spend his first week of life starving and struggling and crying (oh, the crying).

DiaNicholson
DiaNicholson

What a wonderful story Heather. You write with so much heart that I am instantly transmitted to my own memories of breast feeding. I remember BF being my whole world when my three were tiny, the maker of my schedule, my body, my emotional well being. Now my children are 7, 12 and 14(!) and they still rule my world in many ways. :-) Something in your story strikes a chord with me. It is the bigger perspective that you have gained... the desire to parent your daughter with strength and sanity even though things haven't looked the way you would have liked. You are giving her your best and you realize that that is all, and yet everything, you have to do as her mother. I want to tell you that it never changes. You may not be able to control this particular situation, but your attitude will save you and her. And, rest assured that there will be many many opportunities to nurture your daughter at your chest when she is hungry... Like when she cries into your arms at age 12 because of a friends hurtful words. Or when she crawls into your bed at age 14 (her body the same size as yours) to get some stress relief from an upcoming history exam... When I hold my children in these ways, I may as well be offering my breast, the love and nurturing energy is precisely the same. Your connection to your daughter can not be compromised by your failures to nurse because you have the right mind. I admire your wisdom at this early stage of motherhood. Keep up the good work. Oh! And by the way, my now 12 year old daughter, Elsie had a terrible time latching on with jaundice and worisome weight. I had terribly sore nipples and a screwy milk supply. We finally solved the problem by getting her cranial sacral work that opened her jaw up such that she could latch properly. Be well mama!

fenyoungextras
fenyoungextras

Good luck Heather, BF at the beginning was very hard for me at the beginning as well, but I too am glad that I persevered.