Makin’ dinner

Hi, I’m Emily, and I am a successful breastfeeder.

It feels like something I need to hide, to qualify, to be a bit abashed about, because nowadays people are so worried about offending those who don’t breastfeed that they bend over backwards to avoid seeming to celebrate those who do.  But, despite all the complicated Mommy politics around breastfeeding, the fact remains that we all know it is best for the baby and we should do it if at all possible.

What we don’t acknowledge is that, even in the most conducive of situations, nursing is hard.  I mean HARD.  It is tiring and hurts and requires a woman to be with her baby pretty much all the time, unless she is pumping, which is a whole other mess of caterpillars.  It is not easy, but there are a lot of things in parenting that are not easy, from cutting a newborn’s nails to convincing a two-year-old that watermelon alone does not constitute a complete breakfast to negotiating the terms of a cease-fire between siblings.  Come to think about it, just about everything involved with parenting is difficult, although I suspect I bring an unnecessary degree of complication to packing school lunches.

But, like so many other aspects of parenting, nursing is also incredibly rewarding, and given how much I suck at things like remaining-patient-with-a-whining-child and not-allowing-them-to-watch-TV-till-they-are-forty, I am pleased that at least I am able to do this one thing well.

I’ve breastfed a couple of babies by this point, and I am a pretty confident nurser.  I know what works and what doesn’t.  It the beginning, however, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

When Zachary was born and the doctors suggested supplementing with formula to help with the jaundice, I was too green and bewildered to do anything but comply.  I suspect it did affect my later milk supply, but we muddled on through just the same, perhaps because he has never had particularly high caloric needs and because I had all the time in the world to nurse him.

This time, however, when the doctors suggested formula, I pushed back.  The only reason to give formula to a jaundiced baby is to make her poop more.  Since Lilah was pooping just fine and I had plenty of colostrum, I saw no need for formula.  And I said so.

And then, resident after resident, maternity nurse after maternity nurse, they all kept pushing formula.  When I resisted, they sighed as though I was some moron who was sacrificing her child’s health to an abstract ideal.  “It would just be for the short-term,” one resident told me, patiently trying to explain why formula wouldn’t hurt.  Really?  You think that supplementing breast milk with formula just as the milk is starting to come in has no long-term consequences?  Anyone who knows anything about breastfeeding will tell you that exclusive nursing while establishing a milk supply is essential.

I am one who usually follows a doctor’s advice.  I trust these folks with the M.Ds.  But, in this case, there was no earthly reason to give formula except that the textbook said that in some cases of jaundice, supplementing with formula helps.  Not in cases due to blood type discrepancy, of course, especially when the mother is producing plenty of milk.  The advice they were giving was formulaic, and it made no sense in our case.

But, as Lilah’s bilirubins kept climbing, I began to wonder if maybe I was being too obstinate.  When the attending pediatrician came in, I brought it up.  “Everyone keeps pushing formula,” I said.  “But I don’t want to affect my milk supply later on.”

“Formula wouldn’t help in this situation,” she informed me matter-of-factly. 

“Wow.  I am glad to hear you say that.  Every single resident or nurse has pushed formula really hard.”

“Well, that makes no sense.  I am actually surprised to hear that,” she replied.  “We have a lot of young people just learning, I guess.”

Fortunately, I had not been one of them.  I am experienced, and I am a very successful breastfeeder.  I knew enough to know that starting in with formula could affect my long-term milk supply, and I asserted my authority.

But, there are plenty of first-time moms who do not know.  They are stumbling along in the confusion of new parenthood, and they will take the advice given them.  In the case of breastfeeding, the facile answer can have long-term ramifications, but inexperienced parents may not know that.  Advice like the advice I got can make successful nursing even more elusive.

And that’s a shame, because breastfeeding is not easy, even in the most conducive of circumstances.


Thank you all for your support over the last few days.  Lilah’s bili count has plateaued and she needs no more blood tests.

21 responses to “Makin’ dinner

  1. breastfeeding IS hard. I did it with all three kids, but the last time I got severe mastitis w/ 103 temps and chills and the works. Nothing about parenthood is easy, but mis information and contradictory information really makes the who thing harder.

  2. I’m glad to hear they will stop poking your poor baby.

    I find breastfeeding to be a lovely thing. I applaud people who do it and I always am pissed when I hear someone talk about it any negative way. But it’s just not for me. I find it interesting that the nurses pushed you to use formula, when mine pushed me to breastfeed. One even going so far as to tell me that my son wouldn’t be smart or successful in life. Which she tried to take back once I told her this was my third kid and both my girls were intelligent little people…as is my mother who was formula fed in the fifties.

    I think harassing people for their choices either way, just isn’t okay. I know no one is going to harass me for my choice to put my kids in private instead of public school, or for buying designer clothes, or for buying organic milk and meat, but not organic fruit. Why people see the need to get all up in other peoples business with babies has never made sense to me.

  3. I agree. Breast feeding is very hard. But also one of the most rewarding experiences. I remember so vividly those late night feedings, when I would sit with Bitchy, or Sassy or Golden Boy, and the whole word was asleep. I would cuddle them close, and watch them in wonder as they fed. I still think of those nights. sigh.

  4. Good for you! I hate that all the conflicting advice makes us second guess ourselelves. I love that you had the confidence to make yourself heard.

    I had the same problem with my youngest. For a whole host of other reasons, formula would have been disastrous for him, but that didn’t keep anybody from suggesting it.

    Disheartening that it’s still going on.

  5. Not just 1st time Moms, I fell victim to the subtle pressure with my 2nd. Took me months to realise why nursing wasn’t every really successful with him although I suspected it at the time, I was so at sea I could barely function never mind have the reserves to fight my corner.

    You’ve spelled it out here as it happened to me, I wasn’t as confident, I wish I had been. This is where support comes in I suppose and getting the word out.

    I mourn the loss of a longer breastfeeding relationship with him. He has been much sicker than my 1st was, nothing horribly serious although he was hospitalised with RSV, but still he’s just not as hardy as his brother was and it makes me wonder if not bfding him for longer is the cause?

  6. I supplemented early on with formula because I really needed a break sometimes–it just HURT me so much until the baby latched on that I would break into a sweat and sometimes cry. But I knew nursing was best for them. My milk supply easily and naturally dried up at about 6 to 8 weeks–at which time I felt both sadness…and relief. Don’t worry–I don’t think everybody feels pain like this. I guess I just got wimpy boobs.

  7. I applaud you for standing up for what you felt was the best for you and your child. Breast is best! Some people forget that you are the one who will be dealing with the consequences of supplementation long after they have moved on to the next patient.

  8. I’m glad her levels are finally plateauing.

    When my son was jaundiced (lightly), my doctor was still in the “given him sugar water” stage. The nurses were saying formula. I was, like you, wanting to nurse him through it.

    I’m glad that you knew enough to stick to your guns.

    (BTW, I had NEVER heard of that particular blood incompatibility before. Is it similar to an RH negative factor?)

  9. I am almost positive that is exactly what happened to me. I was a first time mom with a jaundice baby and they forced me to give her formula. I had no clue that “doctors” could be wrong. So I did what I was told. I never got a good supply of milk and sadly with much frustration gave up nursing at 6 weeks. i regreted it more than anything. I still think back on m y daughter’s infancy and feel like a failure. Next time I will fight for my right!!! Thanks for this post and enlightening me and so many others!

  10. Good on you for sticking to your guns. I am quite convinced that there is such a bond between mother and child that mothers often know instinctively what they need – and other people just muddle the airwaves. I remember breast feeding as hard and painful to begin with, but as I got better at it, it became the one chance I had to read, so I really liked it after that.

    SO glad to hear that the jaundice threat has passed over, by the way.

  11. Congrats on Lilah! And I’m happy to hear she is recovering nicely, and I’m happy to hear nursing goes well. I’ll keep you all in my thoughts as you adjust to this change!

  12. Breastfeeding was really hard at first for me and after a few weeks became so rewarding! I’m glad you listened to yourself about what was best for Lilah. Early on I set a rule for myself to always do what I thought was best for my little daughter no matter who I might offend or disagree with. Mothers know what is best for their children.

  13. I just stumbled on your blog while tag surfing and I wanted to say that I agree with you! I’m glad that your little one’s levels are up and good for you on resisting formula! It’s a hard thing to do and when doctor after doctor tells you it’s ok, I can see why many moms succumb. Terrible.

  14. I probably compromised my milk supply with formula at the beginning, being one of those novice new mothers with difficulty, surrounded by nurses who insisted that the baby was hungry. Damn them.

    Glad the counts are good.

  15. This was a post that needed to be written, that is for sure. You are right on every point here and it is such a shame that good solid information isn’t readily available to new parents, and that well-intending MDs give the wrong advice. I’m really glad for you that breastfeeding is going well, and that Lilah’s jaundice is getting better. Way to go, sticking to your guns and doing what you knew was best for your baby.

  16. It is hard to be strong in your own convictions, especially when dealing with medical professionals. The good news, I suppose, is that babies are pretty hardy creatures, in the end, and can survive, even thrive, regardless of how we choose to feed them.

    Glad to hear Lilah is getting healthier.

  17. i am glad she’s better. i am glad you listened to yourself most of all.

  18. Wow, I’ve missed out on a lot in a short time. Congratulations, first of all! And on the breastfeeding too. It’s good for me to read, coming from a hospital where any formula was dispensed, reluctantly, from the lactation consultants.

  19. I commend you. I breastfed until about 6 months with both. It was damn hard. I hated it. I did not find it rewarding, but more of a toyal pain in the ass. But I did it because I felt it was best. Not a day went by that I didn’t consider just popping some formula in a bottle and being done with it all.

    With my second, I was asleep during the c-section. Againt my wishes (and trust me they heard) my daughter was given formula within her first hour. She also spent her first 4 days in the “special care nursery” because she would not/could not poop for some unknown reason. they x-rayed her and poked her and prodded her. I was not allowed to breastfeed her because they needed to measure her intake and output in order to see if she “NEEDED SURGERY” because of whatever was causing her to not poop. So I pumped and my husband fed her with the bottle. Finally, on day 5, she pooped and all was fine. My theory is of course that the formula shocked her little system. I have no proof, but I know that formula is not the best thing for a child who is 30 minutes old. And they did it while I was asleep, against my written wishes which REALLY made me angry.

  20. I think breastfeeding might just be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Thank goodness you knew the “right” thing to do and stuck to your guns. *applauds*

  21. I definitely compromised by milk supply in the beginning by supplementing with formula. That, added to Monkey’s refusal to latch 90% of the time I brought her to breast, led me to having bloody nipples from pumping every hour which still did nothing to increase my milk supply. And so I ended up with a formula-fed baby which is something I never would have anticipated. This time around? I know better. And I won’t be bullied and led to go against my instincts. Good for you for going with your gut, dude. And glad Lilah is doing better 🙂