Hello Mama’s and Readers!
I am writing this post from a spot of humility and healing, from relief and the realization that sometimes I am just plain wrong. Believe it or not (you probably should believe it) I am wrong way more often than I like to admit. This time my stubbornness and my unwillingness to bend convictions I firmly believed to be “right” cost me more moments of joy and peace than I ever thought possible.
To give you some context for this post I’ll elaborate a little bit on my last six months; because this lesson began before my precious Thomas Arthur was born in February and he is now almost 5 months old. So six months ago I began to worry in earnest about my body’s ability to do something that should be more than natural for it. Producing Breastmilk. Liquid Gold. The perfect food for baby. Antibodies and nutrition and peace and comfort and love all concentrated in these drops of pale creamy liquid that my body should have no problem producing…right?
Except that’s not right. At least not for me. I have Hashimoto’s Disease; (Explained in a prior post) an autoimmune condition which makes it difficult for my body to do normal everyday things like regulate my body temperature – I’m always cold. Unless I’m sweating, then I’m wet and cold- or maintain my metabolism – can anyone say curves for days?- or, you guessed it, produce enough breast milk to feed a growing baby.
The tricky thing is, as most breastfeeding mamas know, it can be very difficult for a mama to know how much milk her little bundle is getting or needs because breasts don’t come with perfect ounce measurements that tell you when they are full and just how much baby eats at any given time. It can be quite the guessing game. Especially when your body is so completely consumed with trying to do other basic functions (on very limited sleep might I add).
So after running out of breastmilk for my Lily around 8 months and having to switch her to formula, I worried that the same thing would happen after I gave birth to baby Thomas. My friends and husband assured me that I would be giving him a great gift by nursing him as long as was possible for my body, and while they made me feel slightly better, I still worried. Until Thomas was born. Before we even got home from the hospital I was able to pump 3 oz of that precious, life giving liquid. When I got home I was able to pump even more. Four to six ounces in one sitting even after my big guy had had his fill.
I stopped being afraid that he wasn’t getting enough then. It seemed silly to worry about it when it was so clear that my body was doing what it needed to naturally. So we nursed and nursed and nursed some more, and even though his feedings never spaced themselves out from two hours and he never slept more than two hours at a time through the night and he cried sometimes when he was done feeding, I assumed he was getting more than enough to eat. He was growing. He was filling diapers. And I could pump a decent amount every few days.
But there were problems cropping up consistently that I didn’t want to acknowledge; he cried a little more than usual, he was consistently fussy and melancholy, I was always exhausted (like fall asleep sitting up while eating tired) and he never ever went more than two hours between nursing sessions. Maybe it was sleep deprived mommy brain or stubbornness or a combination of the two, but I refused to entertain the idea that he wasn’t getting enough to eat.
Until I sank further and further into depression and anxiety because my poor little guy just seemed to cry all the time, he never wanted to be put down or play, he still wouldn’t sleep, and I was so delirious from exhaustion I started to mess up simple tasks and my concentration reached an all time low. So with my husband urging me, I sat down and pumped one day before feeding little man and to my dismay and shock, I was only able to produce 2 ounces from each breast. That’s right 2 ounces.
The realization sank in slowly. Reality was staring me right in the face and it wasn’t pretty. He was hungry. So hungry. I pumped consistently over the next week. Took fenugreek, drank mother’s milk tea, ate lactation cookies, and prayed like crazy. And I was still only able to pump a max of four ounces at a time. I was pretty devastated.
My husband was a bit more clear headed than I was so he took me to our nearest Whole Foods to buy formula. Yep. Formula. We bought goats milk formula modeled after breastmilk and gave it to him as soon as we got home. I continued pumping ( I still pump about 3 times a day) and we bottle fed him for every feeding that day. He smashed every bottle we gave him and consistently drank six ounces a sitting. It was so humbling and heartbreaking. Reality was staring me in the face and it wasn’t pretty.
Fast forward two weeks. My little guy is a different baby. He doesn’t cry. Like, at all. He has cried twice in the last week, once when he wanted out of the car seat and another time when his sister hit him on the head with his paci. He sleeps. He naps consistently for 1.5 to 2 hours at a time. And at night he sleeps almost six hours at a time! He’s been happily guzzling 6-8 ounces at each sitting and he no longer cries after feedings. He’s a different baby. A happy baby. A full baby!
And I am a different mama. I haven’t cried either. I am slowly getting more sleep and getting more done. And the crippling fatigue and brain fog has started to lift little by little. I still pump 3 times a day and I manage to make about 12 ounces each day, just under half of what Thomas is eating. And while it stings knowing I can’t do what should be natural, it feels so good knowing my baby boy is receiving the nutrients and antibodies my milk can give him all while consistently getting enough to eat.
I felt so foolish for a few days. So defeated. How could I be so stubborn and stupid? The sad reality of the matter is; feeding your baby is more of a struggle for moms now days than it should be. If you nurse you have to hide it in another room or behind a stifling cover and face constant criticism from family and friends and parents who fed their littles formula, or rice cereal in their bottles, or even cows milk at an early age. At one point I even had a previous boss boast that he and his wife were so happy that they bottle fed because it meant they got sleep and his wife could happily return to work after only 2 weeks of maternity leave. But the coin has another side as well. Those that formula feed face criticism from those who insist “breast is best” and there simply is no excuse for depriving your child of this all important substance. If you choose formula you may as well be sentencing your baby to a lifetime of cognitive delays, health issues, and obesity.
It’s a horrible state of affairs when a mama can’t feed her baby the best and healthiest food for BOTH OF THEM without worrying about the naysayers who will make her doubt herself and her choices for her children. It is a shame that we cannot be more supportive and loving and understanding. It is a shame because we are supposed to mirror Christ in all things, and what better way to do this than to come alongside a new mom and support her through this challenging journey no matter what is in her baby’s bottle. I for one am so grateful for the people in my life who have supported me as I fed my kiddos both breastmilk and formula and who encouraged me to consider my own health in the equation. Because there is so much truth to the saying, “if mama is stressed then baby is stressed” and if your choice to nurse your baby or feed them formula is making you miserable and unhappy then you need to readjust your perspective and pick a different hill to die on.