What if formula can actually save breastfeeding?
I started breastfeeding my daughter when she was three hours old. She was good at it, I thought. She latched right away and seemed to be satiated quickly. Her lips were never chapped, her mouth was always wet, and she was wetting a sufficient amount of diapers. In other words, all the things you’re supposed to watch for to avoid dehydration were just fine. But then came our first pediatrician’s appointment.
“You’ve facilitated a critical weight loss,” said the pediatrician – who was blunt and a grump and is no longer our pediatrician.
Because I had been exclusively breastfeeding, the news was crushing. I couldn’t help but feel like a failure of a mom, wondering if she had been hungry this whole time.
That said, the doctor was right. In just 72 hours, my girl had lost one whole pound. That’s a lot when you start out at 7 pounds, 12 ounces. It’s a weight loss of 14 percent -- anything more than 10 percent at that first newborn appointment sends up red flags. So when supplementing was brought up, I didn’t think twice. There was no question whether or not to supplement. Whatever she needed, I was happy to do.
Admittedly, I hadn’t done much research about breastfeeding and at this point was completely unaware of the culture. In certain circles, formula feeding is taboo -- shameful, even. But I didn’t know. My husband and I had even stocked up on formula before our baby was born, in case breastfeeding proved difficult. We brought home cans of the gmo-free, organic stuff.
I’m the first of many of my friends to have a baby, and it wasn’t until I joined mom groups that I realized the despair many women feel when they aren’t able to successfully nurse their baby.
I didn’t know there was this guilt-laden philosophy that anything other than breastfeeding was wrong. I didn’t know some moms want so badly to breastfeed that even when their baby refuses, they pump around the clock so to bottle feed their little one that nutrient and anti-body rich supply. I had no idea that other moms endured blisters and cracks on their nipples in order to breastfeed. Or even that some, desperate to nurse, continue trying exclusively, even though they aren’t able to produce.
The tremendous pressure to breastfeed at all costs came to light recently, when Jillian Johnson wrote about the loss of her baby, Landon, at just 19-days-old.
In a post on Fed is Best, Johnson shared how her tiny boy cried nearly nonstop in the hospital. Johnson said he stayed on her breast constantly, nursing for 14-hours in his second day. According to her, medical professionals were not worried. Her lactation consultant told her he had a great latch and was doing fine. A nurse said he was just cluster feeding. By the end of day two, Johnson wrote, Landon’s weight was down nearly 10 percent.
The hospital where Landon was born is a “Baby-Friendly” hospital, which meant that unless there was a medical reason why she couldn’t breastfeed, Landon wouldn’t receive formula without a prescription from his pediatrician.
Twelve hours after getting home from the hospital, Landon went into cardiac arrest from dehydration. He spent the rest of his 19 days on life support.
The Fed is Best Foundation works to prevent infant starvation due to insufficient breastfeeding. The mission of the foundation, as it is named, is to remind parents that being fed is best – however that happens.
How do you know your newborn isn't getting enough milk? Major warning signs include inconsolable, high-pitched crying, unsatisfied nursing -- lasting longer than 30 minutes and more than every two hours -- and reduced wet diapers.
My husband and I supplemented our daughter’s feedings for one day, then I felt the pins and needles so many women describe. My milk came in, and our baby regained her birth weight and then some.
There are a lot of reasons some lactation consultants and medical professionals encourage exclusive breastfeeding, especially in the beginning. There’s the ubiquitous fear of nipple confusion and the need to kickstart your production. But those are teeny, tiny, insignificant things in comparison to what’s most important: feeding your baby. By whatever means necessary. No amount of guilt should get in the way of that.
Photography by kelci alane photography.