Monday, February 7, 2011

I Surrender.

Breastfeeding is always a controversial subject. Please know that the following post is not meant to judge breastfeeding mamas or formula feeding mamas. The expectations that I had of myself are not ones that I have of other mothers. This is simply about my struggle to decide what's best for our family.


This afternoon, I stood at our kitchen counter & cried.

Due to wake up from his nap at any moment, I needed to make a bottle for Liam. I had put the can of Similac on the counter, then walked away. I had come back and taken off the lid, but walked away again. One last trip into the kitchen had me filling a bottle with water, digging out the scoop & bursting into tears.

Liam had his weight check appointment on Friday. In the past two weeks, he had gone from 11 lbs 4 oz up to 11 lbs 11 oz. Even with my plan to increase Liam's feedings, he's really not gaining any faster than he was before. An average baby gains somewhere around 8 oz/week. Liam's gaining around 3.5 oz/week and our doctor thinks that there's room for improvement.

The problem is not really with the fact that Liam's a tiny guy-- He's alert, hitting all of his milestones ahead of schedule and is perfectly healthy-- It's that he's not following his own growth curve (which of course, is measured on a standardized growth curve). The issue is more that he was in the 41st percentile for weight at birth and now he's beneath the 3rd percentile. (His height has gone from the 96th percentile to the 58th percentile.) Even if a baby is small, most pediatricians like to see them hover around the same percentile, although that will fluctuate a bit with growth spurts. If Liam had been born at a weight around or below the 5th percentile, no one would raise an eyebrow at his small size.

We talked for a long time at the appointment on Friday about what's best for Liam... and that really is what this has to be about. Not what's an emotional issue for me, not expectations I put on myself, not what other people might think. LIAM. It's about him.

I was very clear regarding my feelings about exclusively breastfeeding. I asked the our doctor to level with me, and if we're at a point where he truly believes that there is no other option than to supplement, to tell me. He said that he didn't believe we were there yet.

Then he asked me to make another appointment to bring Liam back for another weight check in two weeks.

After I left, I felt like I was starting the whole emotional roller coaster all over again. Do I supplement? Do I try more Fenugreek? Add another pump session to my day? Nurse for an hour and a half instead of merely an hour? I considered going back to the lactation consultant today for another weighing session before and after we nursed. I tearfully looked at those formula cans sitting in the corner of Liam's room.

And then, I thought, "What am I doing?!"

I've spent the last 4 1/2 months doing everything I can to provide breastmilk for Liam and I've done well. I've nursed him, pumped for him, visited lactation consultants for him, taken herbal supplements for him. I would do ANYTHING for him to get him what he needs to be healthy.

...and what he needs at this point to be healthy is formula.

Liam has a fantastic metabolism and needs more food than an average baby. Unfortunately, he does not seem to be an incredibly efficient nurser-- and this, I believe, is really our problem. We nurse for 35-40 minutes and he gets 5 oz. When we nurse for an hour, I doubt he gets much more. After he eats, I'm often able to pump an additional 5-6 oz. He can suck down a 10 oz bottle in less than 10 minutes. The boy can put away some food, he just can't seem to get it himself...and if he can't get it himself, it's my job to provide it for him. He wants to take 8-10 oz bottles 5-6x/day & our doctor wants me to give this to him.

I simply can't keep up. I can't pump 40-60 oz a day. And, I can't keep killing myself trying.

So tonight, I did it. After a conversation with Erin about how supplementing is going with her twin girls, I made Liam a 4 oz bottle of formula. I added in 4 oz of breastmilk, telling myself that he's still getting some of "the best." But, my stomach churned and I taunted myself, "You will never again be able to say that he's an exclusively breastfed baby."

I took a deep breath, I wiped away the tears and I fed him. He didn't bat an eye-- just sucked down the whole thing.

The new plan is to see how pumping goes... I'm going to try to pump as much as I can (the goal is around 20-30 oz/day instead of nursing), then supplement the rest with formula. The plan is for his bottles to be half breastmilk, half formula. This is reassuring to me, that he's still getting breastmilk. Additionally, I think that I will probably nurse once a day-- I just won't use this as our primary feeding method because I know he's not getting as much milk as he needs. I'm pretty certain I can keep up with this and perhaps have some extra to build a freezer stash to ensure that Liam gets some breastmilk in every bottle. But if there's a circumstance where no breastmilk is available? Well, we're no longer formula virgins. He'll be ok & so will I.

I've felt like breastfeeding, no matter what challenges we've faced, has been what I have to do to be a good mother. I would sacrifice so much for him! Anything! But we've reached a point where doing what's best for my son no longer means being an exclusive breastfeeder.

It's not how I planned. It's not what I wanted.
It's what he needs. So, I'll do it.

And just maybe, that's the decision of a good mother.


  1. You're a wonderful mother, Stef, don't ever doubt that. I have so many friends who have struggled with BFing--some even giving it up entirely in frustration and disappointment after a few months. It may be "best," but it's also hard and not always the right choice for a variety of reasons. Like you said, you are doing what is best for your little boy, and that's all that matters. Plus, he *was* exclusively BF for nearly five months, so he got all those great benefits that the doctors tout. And now it's time for him to get a little weight on his bones!

  2. You are AMAZING for what you have done for the last 4 1/2 months. Believe me, I know exactly what you're going through. I made the exact same decision at the exact same time in my son's life for the exact same reason. And you know what? He is THRIVING now, thanks to that decision. In the end I decided to switch to all formula and stop pumping as well, but that was mostly due to returning to work. That said, I think you are making the absolute right choice for your family at this moment in time (even though it may not feel that way, since you planned for something different).

    My struggle with breastfeeding has informed the way I mother in general, and I daresay it has made me a BETTER mother. I have a new attitude now; one that is more tuned in with what Owen wants and needs, and cuts myself a little more slack when things don't go perfectly. Although it's a lesson I will constantly learn throughout my life, I find that I am more easygoing and allowing Owen to just "be" the way he is (perfect!) and not trying to change him.

    CONGRATULATIONS on taking this big leap. I think you will know for sure soon that it was the right decision. Let me know if you ever want to talk about it!

  3. You are doing a great job! Don't doubt that.
    I'm not sure I would be able to keep up the pumping schedule like you are. You are going above and beyond for your baby. You are doing what's best for him. I'm sure once you start seeing his weight increase you'll feel better about your decision.

  4. You are AMAZING!! Don't get too emotional because in a few years, this won't really matter much. What will matter is that you will have a strong, happy, healthy boy who loves you for loving him. Don't put so much pressure on yourself! Motherhood should be about smiles and laughter and not tears.

  5. We've really been sold a crummy bill of goods in the all the breastfeeding literature. I'm still fairly new at BFing at just over 7 weeks in, and so much about it is haaaard. If only sheer will and determination and heartfelt desire were all it took... That whole notion of "best" really is so very relative, Stef. You ARE doing what's best for Liam. You are a great mama, and you shouldn't doubt that for a single second. Big hugs!

  6. I can't imagine how difficult this process and the decision has been for you. You have done an amazing thing for your son by breastfeeding as long as you have and still continuing to pump and mix bottles.
    I'll be navigating through this battlefield of breastfeeding myself in a few shorts weeks. There aren't really any easy answers, but as long as you are keeping the best interest of your child in mind, I don't think you can go wrong.

  7. Hey Stef, I've had the same struggles. Walter has unfortunately had to supplement with formula since the day he was born. I had a hard time getting the milk to come in, then to get it to come out and now I struggle with producing enough for him. He eats A LOT! I worked with lactation consultants for weeks trying to eliminate the need for formula and I eventually had to come to the conclusion that it wasn't going to happen. There are some days when he hardly has any formula, others when he'll drink a whole 255 ml can.

    I have felt many emotions, most notably feeling like I can't provide what my baby needs. I give him all the milk I have, but it's still not enough, but like you, after speaking with my pediatrician I realized what's most important is that he is getting what he needs and he never goes hungry.

    You are doing the right thing. He is getting the nutrients he needs from your breast milk and he will grow big and strong.

  8. You are an amazing mother! You are a selfless mother. You have given, and given and will continue to give for the good of your son. You should be so proud of yourself hon. You have done an amazing job with him and that will continue. Liam is incredibly blessed to have both you and Rob as his parents. I'm sure in time you will find total peace with this but for now, I wish I could I could hug you and supply you with a tissue for your tears. Hugs!

  9. Awww you know the real problem is that it is mostly mental, you tell yourself formula is "bad" to psych yourself up for breastfeeding and to motivate you through the tough times. Then a time comes where you have to introduce it and you beat yourself up for it. But it really isn't poison and it really is a great way to give him nutrients and get his belly full (if it really isn't full from your super fat-free breast milk- haha). At least he likes it!! Elijah maybe drinks 2 oz from a bottle or sippy and it doesn't matter if it's breast milk, formula, whole milk or a mix...that boy just wants to breastfeed!! I don't know how I'll ever wean him and get him to go back up on his weight chart. Maybe the problem is the weight chart ;) maybe our boys don't want to follow the crowd!
    You're so close to giving him solids too right? That might help as well and then you could go back to only breastfeeding (if you want). I'm here for you, call me if you want to vent or cry :)

  10. Don't feel bad at all. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed for a year since I was a stay at home mom, but I had to supplement almost from day one also. My baby just couldn't latch well at first so he was getting nothing at first and they gave him some formula in the hospital. Also, he had terrible jaundice (and even had to go back to the hospital for that) so they made me give him supplements to flush it out of his system. I did mostly nurse him but always supplemented at bedtime because my supply would get so low throughout the day. Then, he ended up self weaning anyway at 9 months. Our best laid plans don't always work but my kiddo is healthy and happy (wasn't ever sick until 10+ months)and I have no regrets about anything I did looking back. Do what you have to and for sure, you will look back and realize it was the best you could do!

  11. No maybes about it Stef, you're a great Momma!
    You're putting Liam's needs ahead of your own... and that's what good parents do. Be proud!

  12. First-time commenter here, but you are right: what is best for Liam, and what helps him be healthy, is the right decision.

    I've totally been there. My daughter is almost the same age (4.5 months). She had jaundice and was too weak to nurse well at the start, so after working with LCs we had to switch over to pumping exclusively for 3 weeks to measure ounces and track her weight. Once we finally got back into nursing, I got sick and my supply dropped and we used every last drop of frozen milk. I tried everything--multiple supplements, pumping extra, more water, LC visits-and nothing worked so I had to supplement at 8 weeks. I cried and cried.

    Then, we found out she had a cow's milk allergy, she got bronchiolitis and is still on nebs every few hours, and her reflux got worse, which made feeding harder. Now I am dairy-free, she is on Rx formula for supplemental feeding, and I only make about 17oz a day. I hate that she gets so much formula but I am doing my best. She is such a happy little thing and strong despite health issues, and is doing the best she ever has, weight-wise.

    It is not ideal, it is not how I pictured it, and it has been really stressful, but the way I see it is any milk she can get from me is still better than no milk. The most important thing is that she gets what she needs to grow healthy and strong.

    You are doing great!