If it weren’t for baby formula Tiny-Small might not be here today. I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but I did almost starve my baby girl to death while I was trying to breastfeed her. Three weeks after she was born she continued to lose weight and her pediatrician gave me the weekend to get her weight moving in the opposite direction, or he was going to have to hospitalize her. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
I am very pro breastfeeding. Before Tiny-Small was born I had a small breast feeding book collection on my bookshelf. I was well versed on how how to do it, where to do it, and when to do it. I knew all of the benefits of breastfeeding. I was focused and committed. I was already practicing the football hold and a few other positions. I was ready!
Then, towards the end of my pregnancy, I developed preeclampsia. I ended up having to be induced, strapped to machines, and given an epidural to help lower my blood pressure. I don’t know for sure if that contributed to my inability to produce milk or not, but something sure inhibited my milk production. While I was in the hospital the nurses lectured me on producing more milk (as if I had any control over it). One nurse even came into my room at 3 am and woke me up so she could tell me, “If your baby doesn’t start gaining weight soon you are not going to be able to take her home with you when you get released.” Those threats didn’t make me produce milk any faster, but they sure scared the hell out of me.
After two days the lactation specialist practically moved into my hospital room. She stripped Tiny-Small and I naked so we would have skin to skin contact. She did massage, hot cloths, technique training, and, of course, worked on Tiny-Smalls latching skills. After a while she strapped some contraption to my breast. I fed my daughter formula through a tiny hose that emptied into a plastic nipple that was placed over my actual nipple. I was like the plastic bionic woman of breastfeeding. I pumped every 2 hours and finally on the third day I was starting to get some milk.
The hospital sent me home and we rented a hospital grade breast pumping machine. I pumped every two hours and I nursed my daughter whenever possible. I didn’t get any sleep between the nursing, the pumping, and the bottle sterilizing, but I was committed! I thought Tiny-Small was getting enough to eat between the bottle feedings and the nursing, but it turns out she wasn’t. After three weeks her pediatrician told me that some women just don’t produce enough milk and that I was going to have to consider supplementing my daughter’s caloric consumption with baby formula. She was hungry and she wasn’t thriving.
When the pediatrician gave me permission to give up on exclusive breast milk feeding and start formula feeding I did so with enthusiasm and relief. Of course, I cried at first. I felt like, at three weeks, I was a bad mother. I felt guilty and mourned our lost opportunities and all of the advantages Tiny-Small would likely never have because she would be forced to drink artificial breast milk. At the same time I wasn’t about to let my baby starve to death. When faced with the consequences the decision became pretty easy to make. I gave her baby formula and I don’t regret it. She immediately began gaining weight and she was happier. She was healthier. She was thriving.
In the past I agreed with the whole “breast is best” movement, but now I am more apt to say “feeding the baby is best.” I will never make another mom feel bad about using baby formula or for breastfeeding. Whatever works…works and besides, it’s really none of my business anyway.
When Tiny-Small was born I was so wrapped up in doing what I thought was “right” or “best” that I missed the bigger picture. My daughter was getting breast milk, sure, but she was hungry all the time and losing weight. She was starving. I can’t help but think those few hungry weeks probably had more of a negative impact on her development than formula feeding ever will. At the time I felt guilty about not continuing to breast feed her, but now I feel more guilty about not switching to formula sooner. My new mantra? Feed the baby!
Sometimes, as parents, we have to make very difficult decisions. Sometimes our choices are limited and our options are not particularly popular at the moment. Sometimes our beliefs are challenged and we find ourselves doing exactly what we were arguing against the week before. There is no script to follow. We just get through and do what we have to sometimes.
Breast might be best for some families, but I make sure to know all of the facts and the whole story before casting judgement on another mother who gives her infant baby formula. I know some moms may have had to make a life or death decision. I know some moms may have had no other choice. I know some moms just don’t want to breastfeed and I understand that too. Breastfeeding can be very stressful when things aren’t going well. I also know most moms are just doing the best they can to make it. As far as promoting breastfeeding goes, I’ve decided that it is more important to be kind than to be right.