To B– or Not to B–…

In December of 2009, Jon and I sat anxiously in the doctor’s office waiting for confirmation of what we were pretty sure we knew… our family of 2 was finally going to be a family of 3!!  The doctor looked over the results, smiled at us, and our lives changed forever.

After a few questions about genetics and family history, he looks at me and asks, “So are you going to breastfeed or use formula?”  I didn’t even hesitate and answered, “Breastfeed.”  In my mind, I’m thinking, “Who wouldn’t breastfeed?”  Its better for mom, its better for baby, and its the most natural, right?  Why wouldn’t I choose to do that?  The doctor’s immediate response was, “I don’t care what you choose, as long as you feed the baby.”  I smiled, looked at Jon, and we finished out the rest of the appointment.  Jon and I even laughed about that comment in the car on the way home… “…As long as you feed the baby”…  Haha 🙂

Madelyn, minutes old

Fast forward to August 4th of 2010 and the magical day finally arrived!  We were now a family of 3!   While in the delivery room, one of the nurses showed me how to get her to latch on and I started my journey as a nursing mother.  It was difficult, much more so than I anticipated.  She wouldn’t latch on properly, and I was getting bruised and was completely sore.  I was starting to dread each feeding, and there hadn’t been that many yet!  In the morning, Madelyn and I worked with a lactation consultant before we were discharged from the hospital and I left armed with new ideas.

Once at home, though,  things didn’t get any better.  Our health insurance provided home visit care within the first 48 hours of being home for mother and baby.  When they visited, they weighed Madelyn and she had lost even more weight.  She was almost 14 ounces less than when she was born.  One of the nurses was a lactation specialist and again, worked with Madelyn and I to try to make it better for the both of us.  They also scheduled an appointment for Madelyn to be reweighed in a few days.

 In the mean time, Jon subtly suggested that we supplement her feedings with formula and I also started pumping milk since it hurt less than nursing.  I was adamantly against her having formula.  It became my mission to get her to nurse.  I was consumed with it.  I would feed Madelyn for almost 30 minutes, then pump for 30 minutes, and then have maybe 30 minutes to do other stuff before starting this process all over again.  I became obsessed with when she ate and how much, as well as tracking her diapers.  Were there enough wet diapers?  How about dirty diapers?  I made this spreadsheet that tracked it all, because if I had it written down, I would know the answers when the nurses asked.  I was being super compulsive about the whole process.   I wanted the nurses when they came back to see her weight improved – to know that I wasn’t ‘doing something wrong’ as I felt I was in my head.  I must be doing something wrong if my daughter isn’t gaining weight.  But, she didn’t gain any.  She stayed the same and I was crushed.  The second visiting nurse scheduled a 3rd visit with a lactation consultant to come to the house in the next day or so.  I also looked up LaLeche League meetings in the area and went to one while I waited. I even had my best friend come over and offer help to see if we could get Madelyn to nurse properly.

Madelyn 2 weeks, lost almost a pound

By the time Madelyn was 2 weeks old, I had had 3 lactation consultants, 2 LaLeche League meetings, 1 best friend, and countless tears.  I was still pumping and getting less and less each time.  I never was able to pump more than 1/2 an ounce per side and even a newborn eats more than an ounce total. At the 2 week checkup,  the pediatrician was very direct and said Madelyn needed formula.  She had not returned to her birth weight, and me trying to nurse her exclusively was not healthy for her anymore.  She said I could obviously still pump if I wanted or even try to nurse her, but she also needed an additional source of milk.  She said she had given her youngest daughter formula and she is perfectly fine.  Formula has come a long way since it was initially created, and that we needed to do what was best for Madelyn.

I left that appointment devastated and Jon left determined to make sure Madelyn was getting the nutrition she needed.  Emotionally, I was a wreck. The one thing I wanted to do as a mother – feed my daughter – I was not able to do, at least in the way I intended.  I had such a strong sense of guilt that the reason my baby was underweight was directly related to the fact I couldn’t give her the one thing she needed – milk.  I had become preoccupied with the ‘idea’ of nursing that I was not able to see that Madelyn would be fine as long as she had enough to eat.

American society also doesn’t help much.  It has such a paradox regarding breastfeeding and formula feeding.  Breastfeeding is touted as the best for mother and baby, but God forbid you ever try to do it in public or openly discuss it.  It is just what you are ‘supposed to do’ according to everything you read, see, and hear about raising a baby.  And when you can’t, it feels like you are less of a mother than those who can.  The guilt and self-worthlessness I felt during those first few weeks were very intense.  When paired with all the hormonal and life changes, it was not a good time for me, personally, or for Jon and I as a fledgling new family.

 I vividly remember when I finally came to terms with the fact that Madelyn was going to be a ‘formula only’ baby and not a breastfed baby or the ‘hybrid’ I tried to convince myself she was – part formula, part breast milk.  Madelyn was about 5 weeks old.  I was sitting on the couch, trying to pump milk, tears streaming down my face.  I realized at that point that it was no longer healthy for ME to ‘try’ to breastfeed her or to pump milk.  The response from the obstetrician all those months ago came flooding back, “I don’t care what you choose, as long as you feed the baby.”  I had finally come to terms with the choice that I, unfortunately, didn’t get to make.  No matter how I felt, I needed to feed Madelyn and she needed a mother who could be there emotionally as well physically.  She needed a whole me, not one that was hyper-focused on one thing.

Madelyn at 3 weeks – mostly formula

I realized later, when I could think rationally, that my milk never came in.  When I stopped pumping, nothing happened.  No embarrassing moments, no uncomfortable days.  Nothing.  On the flip side, if I didn’t have enough milk to feed Madelyn, I didn’t have enough milk to shame myself in public!  That was a plus!  It also meant that Jon could help with the feeding her, including middle of the night feedings 🙂

Once I was able to see the brighter side of formula feedings, I realized that I actually enjoyed the freedom that using a bottle gave me.  Jon could feed her and bond with her, and family that came to visit could have that special time with her as well.  It turned out to be a positive thing for our family.

Now that Olivia is here, we had to make the same decision again.  This time I went in more open minded and willing to look at my options.  I tried nursing Olivia while in the hospital.  It actually went better.   She latched well and I didn’t have the soreness I immediately had with Madelyn.   I nursed her 4 times between the time she was born and her 24 hour check by the doctors.  During the 4th feeding, she stopped nursing and looked around.  I felt she was still hungry, and tried to latch her again, but she wouldn’t.  I made some milk for her, just to see.  She gulped down 2 ounces immediately and fell asleep.  I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to have enough milk for her either.

Olivia – 36 hours old

 At the 24 hour check, they noticed she was shaking her hands a little next to her face.  I thought it was the Moro reflex (the startle one that makes the kiddo look like the Hulk), but they said that sometimes babies do that when their sugar is low.  They pricked her really quick and she had a blood sugar level of 45.  It should be closer to 90.  They said at 40, they would have given her an IV to get her regulated.  I decided right there that I was done.  There was no need to ‘try’ again with Olivia.  Had I not given her formula in the middle of the night, she would have been much lower and we would have had a slightly different situation – a newborn on an IV.  They checked her blood several more times over the next 24 hours, and she kept steadily rising, now that she was being properly fed.    I’m actually kind of glad she is not nursing in some ways.  She has a voracious appetite, even as a newborn.  One of the nurses in the hospital even said ‘Your baby needs more milk than other babies.’  She is already eating 3 ounces about every 2-3 hours.  Sometimes she eats even more!  She is still scrawny, but at least I know she is getting enough to eat now!


This whole experience has reminded me that you have to do what is right for YOU as well as your baby.   I would have enjoyed the first 6 weeks Madelyn was home more had I been willing to see other options.  As a parent, there are enough things to feel guilty about.  We don’t need to add more pressure onto ourselves because of some preconceived notion of how things are ‘supposed to go’ or what ‘society’ views as being right or the best.  We are fortunate to live in a time where we have choices on how our newborns get their nutrition and are not left with only one option.  But in all honestly, it really all comes back to what the first doctor said – “I don’t care what you choose, as long as you feed the baby.”