This is a piece I wrote for a close friend’s website linked here: SheLiving
A look into a new mother’s challenges with breastfeeding.
* Globally, only 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.
For eight weeks my son’s pediatrician and I were at odds about his weight and how I should feed him. Bottle-feed him, I was told. Pump and feed him, but the pump never gave me enough. It seemed like I never had enough time and I’m tired. I would sit for hours a day attached to a pump meant to transfer my milk into a bottle that I wanted with my whole being to fill to the three-ounce line. It rarely did and rarely did I feel adequate enough to meet his tiny little tummies needs. Finally after five nights in a children’s hospital where I watched my little fragile baby have a feeding tube pushed down his nose and into his stomach… I gave in.
I pumped every one to two hours while I was in the hospital with him. It was clockwork; I pumped as the doctors and nurses filed in and out, from getting his vitals monitored, sponge baths and weigh-ins. They weighed and counted each diaper. I pumped as he cried on my shoulder because he was in unfamiliar surroundings. Sometimes back at home when he was upset all you had to do was walk with him into our bedroom and he calmed down immediately. Our room is his safe space. In that hospital room the lights were always too bright, the TV remote didn’t have volume controls and was too loud. He began to get used to it all, but I never did. What I did do was continue to pump.
By the time we left the hospital I was pumping three ounces in the morning and two ounces each time after, occasionally less but almost never more. At home no one delivers well balanced meals to my bed side. There aren’t nurses to hold him for a few more minutes so I can just get that last bit out before it’s time for him to eat. I fight the lack of time for those two ounces I was getting at the hospital. I cook while he sleeps, clean with him strapped into a carrier on my chest. I finish my homework while pumping, pump while I change him and pump while he talks to me in little baby coos, with a full belly that almost never is full of only my milk alone.
If you do the research you learn that breast milk is full of all these amazing things that your baby needs. When your baby is sick it changes and can even send white blood cells out to help repair their little systems. You read about moms who have freezers full of breast milk. Moms who overcame inadequate milk supply with teas, vitamins, and cookies. So here I am reading article after article about how to give my baby what he needs. I order the teas and mix it into smoothies because it doesn’t taste very good.
I see the articles that say it’s okay to use formula. Fed is best. Don’t let them shame you when you can’t exclusively breast feed. It happens all the time. But what am I to do when the person shaming me is myself?
Sometimes I get to pump the whole 30 minutes I hope for, and sometimes I get two even three ounces. But sometimes he’s too fussy, his older brother has homework, dinner needs to be made, or the milk doesn’t flow so easily. Sometimes even with enough time it never fills up. I need to eat more. I need to sleep more. I need to give my child more milk.
I asked his doctor when I could try breastfeeding him again. His weight was up and he wasn’t falling asleep every time he ate. It was almost as if his doctor thought I was ridiculous to ask. We have to know he’s getting enough. So I have to pump. The doctor thinks I should be fine with it because as long as he is getting my milk I shouldn’t complain. I miss it though. I miss the closeness. I miss watching his tiny face root around half asleep until he latched on and was comforted. I don’t want him to forget how much he enjoyed being so close to my heart beat. He was a victim of his own comfort. Preferring to sleep more than eat.
I promise myself that I’ll keep him awake from now on. I’ll make sure he gets enough. I trust myself more than his doctor’s seem to trust me. The lactation consultant told me that you never pump as much as the baby gets on his own. Does that mean I would make enough? How am I supposed to know? When we bathe together I put him to my breast. He swallows and closes his eyes in the warm water. Here he proves he has not forgotten the peace he feels when latched. Here we both become one being again like when he grew inside my womb.
One day I tell him, you’re going to be able to do this anytime you cry for it. He falls asleep and I let him. I cried as I wrote this and by the time I finished he cried as well. Waking from a nap to be bottle-fed, two ounces of breast milk and one of formula. If I could just put him to my breast I think he would get enough. I really want to believe it.
(*) C. Victora, R. Bahl, A Barros, G.V.A Franca, S. Horton, J. Krasevec, S. Murch, M. J. Sankar, N. Walker, and N. C. Rollins. 2016. “Breastfeeding in the 21st Century: Epidemiology, Mechanisms and Lifelong Effect.” The Lancet 387 (10017):475-490