The business of feeding babies is mysterious, brutish, and inexorably unforgiving. It is life and self-worth all tied up together. It’s the worst when it’s hard (as it so often is) and deeply satisfying when it works (as it sometimes does). Breastfeeding is hell.
Formula exists both because feeding a baby from your own body is hard and because sometimes it just doesn’t work. We are lucky to have the option of formula, whatever you think about the so-called breast vs formula debate. Many mothers want to breastfeed, and ultimately give up, frustrated and scared for their infant’s health, and formula is there for them. Other mothers never want to breastfeed and are able to make that perfectly cromulent choice, because formula is there for them. With the twins, breastfeeding never worked – neither one was able to latch properly and I ended up pumping for four months and supplementing with formula (then transitioning to just formula). Fortunately, formula was there for us.
With Grant, breastfeeding is going well. When he latches poorly, it is unbelievably painful (mothers do not get a break), but we are learning together, and every feed is better and better.
One of the emotionally painful parts of breastfeeding is that when you give birth, if everything goes well, your body starts producing colostrum – premilk that is super nutritionally dense. It is a tiny amount, but a baby’s belly is the size of a marble, and it is sufficient. But your baby starts to lose weight. Suddenly the pressure is on. You are told that your baby “shouldn’t” lose more than 10% of his or her weight in the first week. Also, your milk won’t fully come in until day 2 (or 3, or 4, or 5 – there is no way to know). Further, if your baby fusses a lot, you may feel pressured to stick a pacifier in his or her mouth, which causes nipple confusion – he’ll learn to prefer the pacifier to the breast. Finally, the entire seedy underbelly of the online mothering community will make you feel like the worst human in the history of humaning if you don’t breastfeed. This is not a system where the faint of heart are destined for success. Especially if you have postpartum depression. Even if you don’t have PPD, ordinary “baby blues” can last the first two weeks after delivery and are a result of hormones surging around birth and then leaving the body. So! On top of all that, be solely responsible for nourishing your new, helpless infant with your body, which may not cooperate. Perfect!
I have theories on why breastfeeding didn’t work on the twins – including:
- Taking benadryl for months prior to delivery literally dried me out for too long post delivery
- The stress of feeding too infants was too much (stress impacts supply)
- They were born juuuuuust early enough (38 weeks) that they weren’t prepared to learn to latch right away
- I didn’t know enough about getting the support I needed.
This time, things are going much better. And it’s still hard! Grant is 6 days old, and had his second visit to the pediatrician today. At his first visit, on Monday, he was very close to the 10% weight loss threshold. A fraction of an ounce from it. He’s also jaundiced. So the pediatrician recommended doing one of a few things – pump breast milk after feeding him and giving him an extra ounce of milk a couple times over the next few days; giving him an ounce of formula after a couple meals; doing both of those if I can only pump a little milk.
I have a manual pump from the hospital (I haven’t yet gotten an electric one, as is my right via insurance), and manually pumping is not only hard, it’s not as good as an electric pump (neither is as good as an infant). But I was twice able to pump an extra ounce for him to down (all the while worried about nipple confusion). And today at his appointment, he had gained 4 ounces over Monday, which is a terrific improvement.
We aren’t yet quite settled into an eating/feeding routine, and I very much feel like a beginner at breastfeeding, but I’m also immensely relieved that it’s working this time. It feels like luck.