Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The F Word

Today, the 8th of September, marks the 55th day that I've held Chance in my arms and thanked God for giving me someone so precious. But friends, it also marks the 55th day that I have spent stressed, worried and emotional over the frustrations that I've experienced breastfeeding him.

Before I begin, let me note that I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, for all the reasons the experts say and mostly because of the closeness I feel to my child when I'm doing it. It is the most honest and most natural gift I could give him. I have had two very different journeys with my daughters. With Bella it sadly only lasted several months. Mia however, lasted 16 months being solely breast fed. The girl NEVER once took a bottle (believe me, I tried). There was something about the bottle that she didn't like so it meant that her and I were attached to each other like crazy and I loved every minute of it, as documented here.

I expected the same result with Chance and have had the HARDEST time accepting anything other than what I experienced with Mia. Here's my story....

From the moment I first nursed Chance (within hours of his delivery) he had trouble latching on to my left breast (SAME exact thing with Bella). The lactation consultant recommended that I use a nipple shield that helps to ensure a better latch. It worked for him but it was a pain in the ass for me. Seriously. It made nursing him a "production" where someone needs to hold him while I wrangle the shield in place and hope it stays on before I attach him and hope he doesn't move it out of place.....yadda, yadda, yadda. You get the picture. The problem is that using the shield sometimes slows production down.

But keep in mind I was willing to do whatever it took.

Every week I've attended a nursing group where you get your baby weighed so you can track progress. The first week was good---he gained the appropriate amount. The second week was not so good, he barely gained anything. But figured we'd give it another week. But again, he gained very little. At three weeks old he still wasn't at his birthweight! The lactation lady mentioned that I should supplement with formula. I shuddered at the F word. I just wasn't willing to do that. So I mentioned this to my OBYGYN and he wrote me a prescription for a 12 day run with--get this--an acid reflux medicine that just so happens to have a side-effect of increased milk supply. Funny, huh. Apparently this medicine increases the prolactin which creates the milk.

So, of course, I said yes--whatever it took.

The side effects of this medicine? EXTREME FATIGUE. I mean like in the middle of a conversation I would totally doze off. It was awful. (also, if taken longer than 12 days it could lead to depression. Which, um, no thanks....don't wan't that). So imagine being already exhausted from nursing 14 times a day---but add this medicine to the mix and I was a zombie! But, guess what? My milk supply was great and little boy Chance was gaining the weight he needed. After I finished the designated dosage, sadly, my supply went down again. So this time, instead of nursing him, they told me that I should nurse AND PUMP after each feeding. Do you have any idea what it takes to just nurse a child with two other kids running amok but now I have to pump as well?

One particular night, since Chance was sleeping, I decided that I would pump some milk and then give it to him in the bottle. I went to pump and got nothing. Not even an ounce! I waited an hour, drank some water and tried again. Still only an ounce. WTH? How is that possible? Sure I had a stressful weekend and I was barely sleeping----but to have no milk for your kid? I was devasted. And So I had no choice but to give him a bottle of formula. It killed me to do it---but i had to.

Whatever it took.

The next morning I called my gals at the hospital and they recommended an herbal remedy called More Milk, which is a combination of fenugreek and blessed thistle which helps production. I took that for a week while I pumped and supplemented. But still, I could only produce half of what he needed at each feeding. I pretty much stopped nursing and focused on pumping. Seeing only 2 oz. was so heartbreaking! I tried everything: eating more meats, drinking more water, having a daily beer but nothing seemed to be working.

But then I thought about Mia and how I never really knew how much she was getting because I always nursed. Maybe if I wasn't faced with "measurements," then I would feel more at ease. Maybe Chance gets more satisfaction from 30 minutes nursing than a 4 oz. three minute bottle? Or maybe he doesn't get enough from nursing? Maybe its too much of a comfort? Maybe he's tongue tied? I needed to know if it's me or if it's him. I needed to know, for real, if my milk supply was adequate. So I decided (this past week) that I would go back to nursing him for a week so that I could get an accurate reading on his weigh-in day. The good news? I got him off the shield. Yay! That made me so happy. I nursed him almost 12 times a day for 6 days. We became that perfect team. In fact, I was actually excited for the first time going to the weekly meeting. I walked in there with confidence--proud of getting him off the shield, proud of nursing him with no other supplements. Just plain proud!

Knowing that the ideal weekly weight gain is 7 ounces, I stripped him down, changed his diaper and put him on the scale.

He only gained 2 oz.

I just stared at him.

Then the lump in my throat started getting bigger and I felt every emotion that I've tried to hold back these past 55 days come rushing to me. I cried right there. Feeling exhausted, defeated, and broken I scooped him up. I heard the lactation consultant ramble off something about the F word but I wasn't paying attention. I just kept staring at him in my arms--my tears pouring down. Why is this happening? Why is the most natural thing on earth not working this time? What am I doing wrong? All of these thoughts came over me. Trying not to make a scene, I dressed him as fast as I could and left the meeting to cry more in my car.

Whatever it took.

The bottom line is this, I cannot produce enough for him. I've tried everything I can. But I can't seem to throw in the towel. I think I need to accept that getting some breast milk is better than not getting any at all. And if I need to pump and add formula, than so be it. The whole situation just leaves me so defeated.

So mom friends, and non-mom friends for that matter, am I being ridiculous? Should I continue to try? Should I willingly accept giving formula? Should I continue trying this hybrid of formula and breast milk? Should I wave the white flag and surrender to formula?

Got any magic potions to send my way?

Any advice would be appreciated......thanks!


  1. I am so sorry you are having trouble. I don't have any advice, but this post made me think of when I had supply issues with my younger one (later on). We were both so frustrated I started giving him formula and tried not to think about it too much. Kudos to you for trying so many different things!

  2. Oh Gina, I have a huge lump in my throat right now, I understand how frustrating this situation is. I could breastfeed for 6 months, and when we then started with some veggie and potatoe stuff I got into trouble, after 2 more months I was an empty bottle, and exactly felt this way. Useless, it worked so long and well... Don't be too hard on you. Three kids and all the other daily stuff to do is a lot, your body probably forces you to take a step back. I'd go on breastfeeding, as long as it makes you and Chance feel good and comfortable about it and give him the extra formula he needs to gain weight. As soon as you feel that bf is only a huge stress, you'll find other ways to be close to him, we like babymassages or taking baths together. I think in the end one's belly feeling is always best to follow :)

  3. Ug. Been there. I had a very hard time getting my 1st to nurse. They wouldn't let us leave the hospital until I consented to give her formula to supplement. I tried and tried to nurse her, and Craig would give her bottles of formula. I tried to pump and the same thing happened, no milk. As much as I thought she would never get off formula, once my milk built up around two months, we were able to wean her off formula and I ended up nursing her for one year. It was wonderful in the end, but the beginning was terrible. I was sore, tired, frustrated and sad. It is so flippin hard and the only way I got through it was Zoe giving me daily pep talks that it would indeed get better, but that if it didn't - it was okay to stop. I think we all need someone who can tell us that. Gina, it is okay to stop. If you keep going, my advice would be to give that boy something to eat - formula will be good for him. It doesn't mean that you can't keep nursing him. With Eden, she would get so hungry and would get to crying and then to get her to latch on was near impossible. Craig would give her a few ounces in a bottle and then when she was calm and I was calm, I would try to nurse some. I think the bottle even helped her to learn to suck. My heart goes out to you - I've been there. We are all too hard on ourselves though. That little boy is going to love you with his whole heart, whether or not you nurse him. Good luck mama!

  4. Thank you ladies. I am beginning to feel better already. Who knows--maybe if I stop stressing out over it, the milk will be there. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Gina, I am huge breastfeeding advocate and BF'ed both my kids, although like Becca, my #2 also drank formula starting around 7 months-ish.

    That said, formula is GOOD FOR BABIES. Millions of babies eat it everyday and grow up big and strong and healthy and perfect.

    I don't think you should be feel a teeny bit bad at ALL about giving Chance formula. You are a wonderful mother, and you are giving your kids every possible opportunity-- it really does not matter in the grand scheme of his life what he eats for this tiny, short window.

    Even statistics about the supposed superiority of breast milk are aggregate numbers that never, ever play out at the level of the individual. Please don't feel bad-- you are doing a great job, and Chance is a lucky, lucky little boy.

  6. sweet gina, i love you! first, have you tried just taking fenugreek in pill form? i remember smelling like mrs. butterworth because i reeked of maple.

    i nursed max for one solid year. never had an ounce of formula. then i had leo, who had reflux. at 2 months when i had to give him bottles to go to work, i pumped. sweet leo was over me and ONLY would take the bottle. so for 8 months, i took fenugreek and hung upside down squeezing my tits trying to get anything to give him. it worked, for awhile, until my supply was done at 8 months. but i was damned sure anything i did for max, i would do for leo.

    quickly i was putting together that each child was different.

    what i can tell you, is my sweet and amazing max struggles with school. wait, i thought breast milk was the golden ticket to raising smart kids? leo is ridiculously smart and everything comes easy to him. was it the enfamil? hellz no! it's the kiddo!

    here's the thing, on the other side of it, IT DOESN'T MATTER! your mental health means more to the kids then anything. i could have run my own la leche league with the pep talks i gave my girlfriends that they COULD do it. and here is the thing, i'm pregnant with twins. how the hell am i going to breastfeed TWO humans and care for my 5 amazing kids, with a husband who travels 80% of the time? well i am going to try. but if i have to supplement, or gasp, give up, it doesn't mean anything other than it didn't work out. and it doesn't mean that i love someone more or less, or that someone will be a better human because of it. it means i can have a glass of champagne with no guilt and say cheers to me for trying.

    stop stressing. breathe. listen to your body. love your baby and know 20 years from now (um, 5 years from now) NO ONE IS GOING TO KNOW THE FREAKING DIFFERENCE!

  7. Oh Gina. They never really talk about this in the breastfeeding manuals, do they? Or the feeling you have that you aren't providing enough. My advice is-find what works for you, and to hell with "what you should do."
    I struggled with breastfeeding Sutton for the first five days of his life; he was tongue-tied. All the nurses told me that I needed to have it surgically snipped. We had some many problems; we finally had to give him formula for his first meal. I had nothing for him.
    Then at two months, I had to start supplementing. His appetite surpassed my supply. My doctor suggested doing a 50-50 combo of breast milk and formula. Or you can nurse him and give him a top off of formula.
    And yes, having to pump so much SUCKS. I remember feeding Sutton on one side and pumping on the other.

    My sister really struggled with breast feeding her son. So much that she got mastitis, and it turned into an abscess. She ended up in the hospital with a raging infection for almost two weeks! She will never go back to breastfeeding, and her son is adorable, and happy.
    That's what matters most. Is he happy? Are you happy?
    You'll find your path. It'll happen.

  8. All I want to say is, you deserve to treat yourself better than this. I get pretty ornery at the breast feeding advocates, when they turn into breast feeding enforcers.

    I seriously almost went and punched a lactating consultant in the face one time. This cussword of a woman had shamed a member of my family into tears -- made her feel awful. Like a failure, a bad mother, blah blah blah. Never mind my family member was literally unable to nurse because of a medical situation.

    Look, I'm a formula baby and proud of it. I had a bad milk allergy, so it was soy or starve. Back in the 70's, nobody gave my mom a bunch of crap about it. Nowadays -- geez -- I've heard cussword people click their tongues and act all superior when they *see* a baby with a bottle. I want to be like, "you don't know her life. Shut the hell up."

    Anyway I'm sharing my rage with you because I want you to get a little ornery too. If you were your lactating consultant I would come punch *you* in the face. LOL.

    Embrace the bottle. Or embrace the balance. Just please, for your sanity, reject the stupid stigma. Breast is best? Maybe. But a miserable mom isn't good for anybody.

    *end rant

    Love you girl.

  9. Oh Gina I had no idea you were going through this. I'm just catching up on your blog. I understand what you're feeling though. The whole breastfeeding thing didn't go at all how I planned either. I probably should have expected that with twins but I didn't. I mean, I even bought one of those special boppies to nurse both babies at once on. ( what the hell was I thinking? It sits in my closet mocking me.)

    I ended up pumping exclusively for 4 months, and after Mono wiped me out in May, I started supplementing with formula. Then finally after dealing with an entire summer of extreme fatigue, and joint pain, then some funky blood work in July that suggested a few problems, none of which I could treat while breast feeding, I finally gave in and went to formula full-time this week.

    You'd think I'd be happy getting both girls so far at least partially breastfed. But I can't tell you how disappointed and heartbroken I am over it. I have all these jumbled emotions right now. Like how sad I feel that even though they got breast milk, I never got to really breastfeed my babies. Why do I feel guilty and so affected by this, especially after all those times I complained about pumping. I mean nothing says, Hey Sandy! Welcome to the beautiful world of Motherhood, like pumping in a car while driving. (Not recommended btw.) I have a built-in medical excuse and I still feel like crap. Why? I dunno. I dunno, it sucks and believe me as irrational as these feelings may seem, they're there, I get it.

    But I try to remind myself and you should too, that you have to do what's best for you and them. Everything will work out and you'll find your own way and none of this will matter later on.

    xo Sandy

  10. Betsy Irvine HoldrenSeptember 26, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    I am late to the party, I know (it seems I am always late to the party). But, I had the same trouble with Iris. The. Same. I tried and I tried and there were nipple shields for BOTH breasts and there was pumping and pumping and pumping and not getting much. It was the worst feeling in the world to breastfeed Iris and have her come away still hungry. We had to supplement with formula from the beginning. And, after a lot of tears and beating myself up, I finally gave up when she was three months old. I gave up when I realized it was taking me three days of pumping to get enough for one bottle. One bottle! It was horrible. Worse because all my friends were breastfeeding or had breastfed and none of THEM had trouble like I did.

    It would have been nice to hear from any one of them that it was okay to quit. I heard it from my husband. I heard it from my therapist. I heard it from my mother. It would have been nice, though, to hear it from another breastfeeding mom. I didn't.

    You, on the other hand, have and will again. I will say it out loud and most emphatically: It is okay to quit. You don't love Chance less. You are not less of a woman. You are not less of a mom. You are wonderful. It is so clear how much you love your kids. You do not have to beat yourself black and blue in an effort to breastfeed Chance in order to prove it. It is okay to quit. A sane mommy is more important than breastmilk. It is okay to quit.

    Despite my breastfeeding woes, Iris is wonderful and healthy and I am still sane and I couldn't love her more.

    It is okay to quit.



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