When I had to start supplementing with my daughter I was devastated. I had been very adamant about not using formula because I wanted so badly to succeed at breastfeeding. It was never that I thought formula was poison or anything, but I didn’t want to be a failure. So, needless to say, when our pediatrician said we had reached the point where Bailey’s weight had bottomed out of the WHO breastfed infant weight chart, I cried. I had failed. I had failed myself, and I’d failed my newborn baby. I had two pediatricians and two residents in the room with me when this was decided, and all it felt to me was I was the freak in a freak show. I hated myself, and I hated them.
Bailey was born weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces. Smaller than the average infant nowadays, but she was full term and healthy. In the hospital she lost 7 ounces, but had already started gaining it back by the time we were released two and a half days after delivery. At our first pediatrician appointment, the pediatrician said she hadn’t gained as much as he would like to have seen, but it wasn’t bad. He asked us to come back later that week for a weight check. For the next 10 weeks, we went back every week for yet another weight check.
At the week 9 weight check a pediatrician came in and said she wanted me to stop breastfeeding and exclusively pump. She told me they needed to find out how much my daughter was actually getting. Having done research online and learning from experienced nursing moms online I knew pumping was less effective than my baby, and more time consuming. I didn’t want to lose my supply, and I surely didn’t have the time to pump for 15 minutes upwards of ten times a day, plus bottle feeding and cleaning. We compromised and I would pump enough to give Bailey at least one bottle a day with 2 ounces of breast milk.
Between the weight checks for weeks 9 and 10, Bailey, over all, gained 6 ounces, but between the weight loss and gain, she’d still lost 2 ounces. We’d taken her to the emergency room Easter night because she hadn’t eaten much all weekend and with all the weight gain problems she was having, I wasn’t taking any chances. She had indeed lost weight, but between the emergency room visit and the weight check, she’d gained back most of it. Except she was 2 ounces less than the week previous. It was at this appointment that I was practically cornered by the doctors and told breastfeeding wasn’t enough. I had to think of the health of my daughter. And that meant formula.
I looked forward to each weight check with increasing dread. Every day I felt stress about her weight gain. To top it off, I have large breasts, and Bailey was so small, and she had such a tiny mouth. Her latch was very shallow, so I felt pain during every nursing session. I would tough out each session in tears. The culmination of these emotions led me to have Post-Partum Depression. But I was in denial; I was a Super Mom, and Super Moms don’t get PPD. The Pediatrics interns evaluated me for PPD on a couple occasions, and said I should speak with my OB or primary physician about it, but did nothing more than that. I was suffocating from so much emotional turmoil from being a new mom, being sleep deprived, being stressed and not having a support system. I cried daily, usually multiple times. I would over-react to any criticism from my fiancé, I screamed at my helpless baby. My subconscious was screaming at me “this isn’t normal! This isn’t okay!” and each time I found myself raising my voice to my daughter I felt guilt wrench at my guts. My fiancé became increasingly worried about the safety of our daughter and would intervene when I became too emotional, and I resented him for thinking I was incompetent or incapable of caring for my daughter.
In the pediatrician’s office, when I was being told to start supplementing, I felt like a failure. I had done everything I could to exclusively breastfeed, and it hadn’t been enough. I had the IBCLC on speed dial and had called or visited her every week. I had gotten a pump and had pumped before and after nursing so I could bottle feed my milk to Bailey. I had driven myself crazy trying everything I could to combat an over-supply with my daughter’s failure to thrive. My world closed in as I stared at Bailey in my arms, who was fussing at the time. Tears streamed down my face as I felt my emotions crashing like tidal waves against each other. I was a horrible mother. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t enough. The pediatrician was talking, but I didn’t comprehend anything she said. I stared at the beautiful baby I created and heard nothing she said. When the pediatrician began talking about how much to supplement and when, I felt nothing but resentment toward her, toward the other pediatrician, and the two interns who stood quietly in front of the door. I resented them, and I hated them.
That evening I gave Bailey her first bottle of formula. Two ounces. She drank it up so fast and seemed to enjoy it. I cried, and my fiancé very kindly told me that this wasn’t the end of me breastfeeding. He comforted me as best he could, but I didn’t feel comforted. I was a failure, and I had lost. Over the next few days Bailey and I experienced a few minor latching problems, and she was impatient at the breast sometimes, but she still rooted for the breast, and I kept offering it. At the first weigh in after starting supplementing, Bailey had gained ten ounces, at the second, she’d gained four. The pediatrician that week subtly accused me of not giving Bailey enough formula, but my fiancé was there and didn’t give me a chance to lash out. That same day I had an OB appointment to have the Mirena placed, and it was then that I admitted I had Post-Partum Depression, and was given a prescription for Zoloft. The third week Bailey gained six ounces, and the intern announced we didn’t have to be back for four whole glorious weeks.
After two weeks of taking Zoloft, I felt almost normal. I still lashed out at times, but they were mild. Overall I felt in control of myself and was able to come to terms with supplementing. We switched Bailey to a small practice, and now she sees a pediatrician who is very good with her, and treats me kindly. Even my fiancé likes her. I never leave her office confused or in distress. At 7 months she said we could stop supplementing daily, and we went back two weeks later for a weight check. Everything looked great! I pumped off and on for awhile, but eventually stopped. Bailey received formula on days I was in class, but it wasn’t daily, and at that point I had come to enjoy the occasional break from breastfeeding.
I thought about my experience at the old pediatrician’s office often for a long time. I realized a few things about myself, and about how my PPD affected me. First, I blamed, and still blame, those pediatricians for the onset of my PPD. I felt attacked for breastfeeding. Sure, they said they supported my decision, but every week I felt like I had to stand up for myself and my decision to breastfeed. I dreaded the weekly weight checks because I had to defend myself, and hear again and again that breastfeeding was the problem, but never how or why it was the problem. It just was. Hearing time again that I wasn’t doing enough, that I needed to try doing more things, broke me down. I began seeing these appointments as a fight for control, an “us vs. them” mentality, so to speak. That first time I gave Bailey formula, I said I felt like I’d lost, it was because the pediatricians had won the fight to have me use formula. It was because my friends who were unsupportive of my decision to breastfeed had won. Here I was giving my child formula. I had lost the fight against formula.
I experienced normal new parent problems: sleep deprivation, confusion, frustration, insecurity, loneliness. Many of my friends from college stopped talking to me while I was pregnant. They were younger and living the college life. They didn’t have kids and couldn’t connect with me. All my close friends live out of state, and most of them either were openly unsupportive of me breastfeeding, or stopped responding to my texts when I mentioned it. Anyone else I kept in contact with in town still steered clear. They let me have the time I needed to get acquainted with my baby, but it was lonely. I only had solid support from an online community of mothers who also breastfed. They were encouraging and full of advice. It was from this online community that I began the emotional process of healing. I began to realize I wasn’t alone. I knew it, but I was finally able to realize it. I realize now that my fight against using formula wasn’t really about the pediatricians or the formula. I never found out why breastfeeding wasn’t working. I was never given a reason why Bailey wasn’t gaining weight. The pediatricians wouldn’t test my milk, and I had to pressure them for weeks before they tested her to see if she was allergic to human milk. I eliminated foods, but never saw any improvement until we started with formula. Here I am months later and I have no answer to why Bailey wasn’t gaining weight.
Bailey has been gaining weight well since we stopped having to supplement back in August. It’s been nearly a month since she’s had any formula. She eats solids like they’re going out of style. She loves food, but she still loves breastfeeding, and isn’t ready to give it up. My daughter is healthy and happy, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.