A few people have asked me if I’m still nursing Alex. The answer is no. We stopped that a long time ago.
The whole conversation of breast vs. bottle is interesting. Aside from the health aspects of it, what I find often comes of it is a mentality of superiority. Not for everyone, but for some. And I don’t think it’s even intentional. And, it’s normal, right? I mean, when you feel strongly about something you have opinions and it’s sometimes hard to see outside of that. To realize that sometimes the “ideal” isn’t reality. That sometimes people may share your views, but encounter their own challenges that add another side to the story for them.
That’s how I feel about this conversation. I am, and always will be, a believer and advocate for breast feeding. If you can, do it. It’s free, and it’s God’s way of looking after your little one.
Before Olivia came into our lives I did a lot of reading about adoptive breast feeding, and in fact gave it a shot. I got a bit of a milk supply in and nursed her along with her bottles for the first few weeks that she was home. It was mostly for bonding, and I think it helped.
Because of that experience it seemed obvious that I would nurse Alex when he was born. I was all ready. I had everything I would need, and we had our plans in place.
Then Alex was born.
He latched well right from the start, and he was a fan of eating. Except, that was the problem. He was always eating.
I wish I was exaggerating when I say that he was literally always on me. Chris will back me up on this. I would nurse him for an hour and a half at a time, and then he would fall asleep for a little bit. I would think he was good to go for a couple of hours, but half an hour later, if that, he was wanting to nurse again. At night if I got two hours of sleep at a time it was a miracle. I was exhausted.
Alex was 9lbs 13 oz when he was born. A few days later he had dropped to 8lbs 15 oz. At our one week check up he had only gained back an ounce. We shared with my doctor how things were going with the nursing. We knew it wasn’t a latch issue, as she was watching me nurse and didn’t see any problems there. The lactation consultants in the hospital were confident that things were okay with us, as was the health care worker that did our home visit a few days after we got out of the hospital. That wasn’t the problem.
When you read breast feeding materials the impression one is given is that a couple days after you give birth your milk supply comes in and unless you have latching problems, things should progress just fine. Obviously there are small issues that may need to be addressed, but overall the impression is that your body knows what it’s doing and it will co-operate.
I am here to tell you that isn’t always the case.
That first week my doctor talked to me about my milk supply not yet having come in. I want to take a moment to tell you how wonderful my doctor was. She’s a fan of natural childbirth, and in fact, on her vacation time her and her eye specialist husband travel to other countries where she teaches mid-wifery. She is a fan of breast feeding. She was very supportive of my efforts, but she also saw other things going on and was okay with addressing them.
As I sat in her office that day and Chris and I recounted the past week she looked at me and said, “When your milk supply doesn’t come in right away it can be exhausting.” At that point I started to bawl and she just looked at me and said, “You know, don’t you?” We decided I would go on Domperidone to get my supply up.
Normally Domperidone takes a few days and then your supply is most definitely there. It didn’t work for me.
At our two week check up, Alex had only gained two more ounces. It was heartbreaking for me. I was so sure he was doing better, but he wasn’t. And the hardest part? As his mother, my body is supposed to be able to give him everything he needed to thrive. And yet he was starving. He was always hungry. He was dozing off to sleep because he didn’t have any energy.
I know you might be thinking, “There are other resources out there too!” Yes, I know. My MIL was a La Leche League leader who nursed all of her kids exclusively, including her twins. We had lots of conversations, and I tried a lot of her suggestions.
At that point, along with the doctor, we decided to start supplementing 2-3 oz day with formula. You know what? We saw an instant improvement in both Alex and me. He was realizing he could get full. I was finally getting some rest. It took Alex another week or so after that to finally get back to his birth weight. We were also moving around quite a bit, and slowly we started supplementing a bit more. By the time we hit the 6 week mark we had headed down to the US for a week before leaving for Haiti, and with all the traveling and visiting, I was struggling to nurse, and we only ended up nursing a few times a day. I decided that when we got back to Haiti I would go hard at pumping and nursing and getting my supply back up.
Then we got back, and every night that I tried to latch Alex on for a pre-bedtime feeding was a fight. He had gotten used to the bottle and liked it. He didn’t want to nurse.
Chris and I spent several long conversations, some of them with me in tears, about whether or not I should keep trying. In my head I knew it was the right thing, but when I checked my motivation, I realized I was carrying a lot of guilt and I worried about being judged if we bottle fed exclusively. I mean, I should be able to nurse exclusively, right?
In theory, yes. But, as it turns out, some of us have a really hard time with it. My doctor shared with me that one mom she worked with worked for FOUR months to get her full milk supply in. I had never heard such a thing. As it turns out, the more of my mom friends that I talked to, the more I learned that others had difficulty with the same problem.
After all those conversations Chris just came to me one day and said, “You know, Olivia was totally formula fed and she’s perfectly healthy and hardly ever gets sick. . I’ll support whatever decision you make about nursing. I just want you and Alex to be happy because right now neither of you is.”
It was so true. He would fight when I would try to latch him on, and I would feel guilty about not wanting to fight with him, telling myself that if I was a good mom I would get through this and get my milk supply up. Chris’ comment was the key that unlocked the door for me. It released me to make the decision I needed to make for both Alex and I. I could finally see through the fog, and realized that when Alex was thirty and healthy, I probably wouldn’t still be beating myself up if I knew I had bottle fed him. I would still carry guilt if I knew that I forced the breast and we ended up battling it out every day.
They say one of the best things you can do as a mother is to let your child lead you and let you know what they need. I decided in that moment to let Alex lead and to release myself from the breast vs. bottle guilt. And you know what? We were both so much happier. He was happy because we didn’t have daily battle, and I was happier because I could look forward to feeding times rather than cringing about what I knew was coming. Chris could help when things got hairy around the house and mission and I was being pulled in too many different directions. This peace settled into our home and we found a new rhythm.
Now here we are, 5 months later. And you know what? I don’t for a single minute regret my decision. I don’t regret it because Alex is fine. You hear so much negative press about formula and how it’s almost like it’s from the devil. Your baby won’t have the same immunities. Your baby will grow up to be obese. All sorts of stuff like that.
Olivia, after being formula fed, was one of the healthiest kids we’ve ever seen. And she’s a little whippet who burns more energy than she consumes. She is not fat. She is not sick.
Alex is also very healthy. He’s 7 months old and only now fighting his first cold even though lots of other bugs have moved through our home at different times. He’s a big boy, but he’s not fat. Yes, his thighs are pinchable, but the kid is over 30 inches long, and weights about 24 lbs. He’s already outgrown his infant car seat because he’s just going to be a giant of a kid. You can ask anyone, he’s not fat.
And the bonding thing… aren’t breast fed babies more bonded to their mama’s?
Olivia is one of the most secure children we’ve ever met, and not only was she bottle fed, but she was also adopted. We’ve just been really intentional with both of our kids about building up relationships that matter. Our kids get lots of touch time, lots of cuddles and kisses and hugs.
What about the bonding that happens when nursing vs. the bonding that supposedly doesn’t happen while bottle feeding. I’m sorry, but my son still reaches up and holds my fingers or tries to touch my face when he’s eating. When he’s done, he pulls off of his bottle and nuzzles in for a snuggle. I’ve lost count of how many people have commented on what a cuddly baby he is for his age. At 7 months he’ll often cuddle in and nuzzle me or just rest against me and watch the world go by. So, does bottle feeding mean less bonding? I don’t think so. I think personality does. Alex is a baby that thrives on contact and needs that, and isn’t afraid to let us know he needs it. Olivia is the same way. She will ask to be snuggled or cuddled. She’ll ask to have her feet tickled – one of her favorite things. Our kids find reassurance in our arms, and it has nothing to do with how they were fed.
Do I feel more bonded to Alex now than when we were nursing. Yes. Why? Because there is no stress and we’re not fighting each other. I can enjoy him. I can enjoy looking in his eyes and snuggling him as he eats. I can enjoy having him grab my fact or giggle when I make funny faces. I fall more in love with him now than I did when I was nursing because when I was nursing I was actually starting to resent him. I was tired. I was worn out. I wasn’ t sleeping. He constantly needed me. Now I can enjoy him, and it’s wonderful. I love being his Mommy.
I think the debate is one of those parenting things that makes us feel better about our decisions. For some reason we like to find things to judge others about. But, sometimes a family’s decision has been made for more reasons than just convenience. Like I said, I had an attitude adjustment because I thought I knew it all. Turns out I needed to be humbled, and I learned a few things because of it. I hope I never judge another young mom just because of her feeding preferences. Mothering is hard enough as it is. Why should we be hacking at each other?