This post is for all those mommas who intended on breastfeeding but may have to supplement with formula. Or for those parents who haven’t yet decided if they want to formula or breastfeed. Or for those crazy intense ‘Breast is best’ advocates who could use a reality check. (hint: I used to be one of them!)
The past several months have been pretty rough for me when it comes to feeding my child. He has been irritable and distracted when I try to nurse, often latching on for only 30 seconds or so and then pulling away with an angry cry. I have had a feeling for a while now that my supply was down, but I had no idea how bad it was until a couple weeks ago I went to pump right before feeding him. I didn’t even get an ounce. For both sides. Obviously, for a 6 month old that is not nearly enough milk!
I first noticed an issue right after his 4 month well check, at which his doctor said we could start him on solids. He took to solid foods like he had been eating from a spoon all along! At first I thought the decrease in supply was due to the that, but we really didn’t decrease the number of feedings, we just added a small solid food meal into his routine. After a while, I thought maybe it was because I had started working out again, and perhaps my sports bras were too tight. This could have been part of the issue, but in reality it probably had nothing to do with it. I also read this article on KellyMom.com which made me think “Maybe my supply really isn’t low, and it’s all just in my head.” Can we talk about confusion? Cue the headaches and sleepless nights. (Which also can cause a decrease in milk supply – ARGH!)
When we went for his 5 month well check, I mentioned my less-than-one-ounce of pumping to the doctor. She immediately said, “oh don’t worry – pumping never yields the same amount that your baby would be able to extract.” She also said if I was worried I could supplement with formula. I didn’t want to do this. It was hands down the absolute last thing I wanted to try. I dug my heels in for WEEKS about this, thinking I could fix my boob problem.
Finally, after our move back to Wisconsin, we took Little S to see a new pediatrician. After I voiced my concerns about feeding and supply, she referred us to a local lactation consultant. Almost immediately the consultant could tell that my supply was down, but more importantly she had a explanation as to why.
It turns out that all along, Little S has had an undiagnosed tongue tie (something less than 5% of babies get), but to make matters worse he also has a pretty severe upper lip tie! (For a great comprehensive explanation of both of these, see this article on the Breastfeeding USA website) I have not gotten an official confirmation yet, but based on the research I have done, I believe he has the Anterior tie which really is not noticeable unless you really look for it. His lip tie however is very obvious, and I don’t know how we didn’t notice it before. I am so glad I followed my mother’s instincts and brought it up at the visit. For weeks now I have been telling his pediatrician, family and friends that I thought something was wrong, and everyone kept telling me I was worrying for no reason, and after the dozenth time hearing “Look, he seems so happy, there’s nothing to be worried about!” I started to believe them.
In the beginning, I didn’t have any supply issues. In fact, I overproduced like crazy! I remember asking my mom on the day he was born how I’d be able to tell when my milk came in. Well, I laughed when it actually happened because it was really obvious. I’d have to change breast pads numerous times a day, and pump between feedings in order to avoid engorgement. Fast forward 4 months and suddenly I didn’t need to wear a breast pad at all, and my breasts didn’t even feel full like they used to! I asked my mom about it, and she told me this was normal and that my body was just regulating to produce the correct amount of milk.
During his first few months, no one noticed Little S had any mouth troubles because the milk practically leaked right into his mouth and he hardly had to do any of the work. Right around that 3 or 4 month mark, my milk supply started to regulate and suddenly he had to work so much harder to get the same amount of milk – and eventually he’d suck and get even less. Since milk supply is based on supply and demand, and he has not able to properly suck with his tongue and upper lip tethered down, my body has responded by not producing as much milk. This would frustrate him further, which in turn would frustrate me. I can’t even tell you how many times over the past several months I have encouraged him with “It’s okay buddy, just keep eating”, only to have him scream in my face with frustration. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I felt like doing the same thing back at him!
One day, I was in the midst of one of these struggles with my dear little one. Suddenly, in swooped my husband with one of the pre-mixed formula samples we got in the mail, and the best of intentions and said, “Hey, why don’t we give this a try?”. I told him (probably a little more forcefully than I should have) “No, I don’t want to use formula!” and I asked him to just thaw a bit of breastmilk from the freezer. Shortly thereafter, our freezer stock diminished to nothing, and when that happened, he insisted.
That first formula bottle he gave our child made me so angry, defeated, and upset. I felt like I had failed my son, and let down our whole family. As he hungrily sucked down not one but two of those little bottles, I went to take a shower and silently cried for about 10 minutes. Something that was supposed to be so natural had become so unbelievably stressful, and not only that, but it was causing tension between my husband and I.
He kept telling me, “Why does it matter how he gets fed, as long as he is growing properly?” and our family members would tell me, “Millions of babies every year grow up on formula, there is absolutely nothing wrong with switching over.” The worst was when people would say “Oh, I didn’t have any issues like that, but you tried so that’s what counts.” and in my head I would think, “No, it’s not what counts, I JUST WANT TO BE ABLE TO FEED MY SON!”
All those well-intentioned comments were like a slap in the face, even though they shouldn’t have been!
I am still struggling with the fact that he is drinking formula instead of the natural (and free!) milk that I have been trying so hard to produce. When I imagined having kids, I always envisioned breastfeeding each of them for at least a full year, and it never EVER occurred to me that we would have to supplement.
I think the feelings I have of failure and defeat stem from my own insecurities, but also from today’s society. A couple generations ago, it was considered ‘low class’ to breastfeed. If you couldn’t afford to buy formula, you were considered poor. But society shifted its’ point of view once they learned the health benefits for both mom and baby. These days, women are looked down upon if they use formula, which is just horrifying to me. I remember seeing a friend on Facebook posting about how she got dirty looks from people as she mixed up formula, or people who would try to lecture her on why ‘breast is best’. Yes, breast is best and I know that is an indisputable fact. But formula is a wonderful second option for those who have breastfeeding troubles. And remember this, every woman is different, and every baby is different. Their situation is not something for others to judge from the outside, and ‘formula shaming’ is just plain WRONG!
All that said, this doesn’t mean I am giving up on breastfeeding altogether. I am way too stubborn to just give up like that. I am currently pumping about 5 times a day, drinking so much water and Mothers Milk tea I fear I might drown, and I even increased my caloric intake to see if that would help too. We also are going to get a second opinion (I guess third if you count his first pediatrician who did nothing) on having the procedure to snip the tongue tie, and I also made an appointment with a Speech and Language Pathologist who often works with little ones on proper sucking technique. And who knows, maybe this is all only temporary and he will soon be back to exclusively breastfeeding. But for now, if my baby is full and happy, then his momma is happy. No matter if it was my milk or not.