Formula May Have Won Round 1, But I Won The War

  • Posted by Dee Negron

In April of 1998 my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child. There were, of course, the usual feelings of excitement and trepidation. We thought about clothes, strollers, car seats, and diapers, but we never thought much about what we would feed our precious baby. That is, until we started natural childbirth classes.

There we were, learning breathing techniques and that breastfeeding was best. Curiously enough though, our Lamaze teacher never told us why breastfeeding was best. We were also told that not every Mom or baby could handle breastfeeding, and that we shouldn’t feel guilty if we had to use formula. I remember seeing a phone number for La Leche League on a pamphlet, but no one ever told me what La Leche League was or how it could help me.

On November 25, 1998, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was quite amazed to find that after all those hours of labor I wasn’t ready to sleep. In fact, I felt strangely energized and ready to hold my little girl and get off to a good start breastfeeding. I took her and laid her tiny little head in the crook of my arm and offered her my breast. I expected to feel a little strange at first, but all I felt was strangely complete.

Then came a long night of constant nursing. I felt like she was permanently attached to my breast, and what’s worse, it was really starting to hurt. The next day the pain was so bad I called the nurse for help. The nurse asked me how often I had been feeding her. I told her I’d been nursing every time she seemed hungry, which was at times every 45 minutes. The nurse said, “Oh my, no wonder you’re sore!  Didn’t anyone tell you that you should only be nursing every 3 hours?”

I cried, I felt like I was already messing things up. The nurse left with the promise of sending in a lactation consultant to make sure Lily was latching on correctly. A few hours later, the lactation consultant came to check things out. It seemed her timing was perfect, I had just put her to the breast. The lactation consultant stood in the doorway, watched a minute and then left saying that everything looked fine. I remember thinking I’d just have to deal with the pain until my nipples toughened up.

The nipple pain, though, soon became only one of a whole host of problems. I was discharged from the hospital 12 hours after giving birth with orders to take my daughter to her pediatrician in two days for a 48 hour checkup. So, I went to the pediatrician thinking I would be in and out in no time. We went back, she was weighed and we were put in a room. A little while later the doctor came in with a grim look on his face. She had gone from her birth weight of 7 lb. 7 oz. to 7 lb. 1 oz.

The pediatrician said she had lost too much weight and that I needed to supplement. All I could do was sit and cry. I had failed again. I was trying so hard to be a good Mommy and do the right thing, but I was failing miserably. At least that’s how I felt at the time. I walked out of the pediatrician’s office with a box of formula samples and a very heavy heart.

I started supplementing. I gave her an ounce of formula after each nursing, still making sure I was only nursing her every three hours. She seemed content on the formula and happy with the bottle, but nursing her got more and more difficult as the days went by. My nipples were not just sore anymore, they were cracked and bleeding. Still, I continued to nurse before every bottle, crying in pain the whole time.

At her two week appointment she was up to 8 lb. 1oz. The pediatrician was quite happy. I asked him if I still had to supplement and was told that I might be able to drop one or two bottles, but that formula was what was making my daughter gain weight. So, I left with more formula samples.

A month later things got even worse. My nipples hadn’t gotten any better and she was refusing to take the breast at all. I went out and bought a breast pump in the hopes of continuing to give her at least some breastmilk. I didn’t have very much luck with the pump and it was murder on my still cracked and bleeding nipples. I hung in there though, until she started getting extremely sick every time she got a bottle of expressed milk.

At her three month well baby visit I finally broke down and could barely tell the pediatrician what had been going on because I was crying so hard. He told me that my daughter was allergic to breastmilk and I’d have to switch over to formula completely. That’s when I felt like the biggest failure of all time. I also felt like such a bad mother for giving my daughter something she was allergic to for what I perceived as my own ego. I wanted to breastfeed, but Lily had been showing a preference for the bottles of formula for a while. Why had I been so blind to Lily’s needs?

So, we switched to formula. Then two months later I found out I was pregnant again. A few months into the pregnancy we moved. I had to find a new OB and a new pediatrician. When I took her in to the new doctor he asked me why I wasn’t still nursing. I explained everything to him. He then proceeded to tell me how sorry he was that I had gotten so much bad advice from the start. I, of course, got defensive. Who was he to say that all those other people had been wrong? But, I left his office with an explanation of what La Leche League was and how to contact them.

My mother taught me at a very young age that a person should always be willing to learn. Being pregnant, I decided to contact LLL and see what kind of information they could give me. Maybe this new pediatrician was the one that was right after all. I owed it to the new baby to find out.

It turns out he was right. I learned so much that I got angry. Why had I been given such horrible advice? Why didn’t the nurses at the hospital where my daughter was born know that newborns should never be put on a schedule? Why didn’t they know that sore nipples weren’t caused by nursing too much, but rather by a bad latch on? Why didn’t the lactation consultant tell me about the different nursing holds and that the cradle hold is one of the most difficult when you’re learning? Why didn’t her first pediatrician know that it’s normal for breastfed babies to lose up to 15% of their birth weight and not really start to gain it back until a mother’s milk comes in? Why didn’t he know that babies aren’t allergic to breastmilk, but can be allergic to things Mom eats that are passed on in breastmilk? Why didn’t he know about nipple confusion? Why on Earth would he tell me formula was just as good as breastmilk? Why didn’t anyone tell me what to do about my cracked and bleeding nipples? There were so many why’s and only one answer. Most medical professionals are grossly uninformed about breastfeeding.

I decided I was going to learn all I could possibly learn. I read everything I could get my hands on. I went to La Leche League meetings regularly. I met and talked with other nursing moms. There was still only one thing to overcome, my guilt at putting my precious daughter on formula when I really didn’t have to. Guilt is a very powerful thing. It took a while before I could look at her without feeling like I had let her down horribly. But life moves on and what kind of person would I be if I didn’t learn from my mistakes and do as much as I could to turn a negative experience into something positive.

On January 18, 2000, I gave birth to a handsome baby boy. This time I knew better. When I got bad advice from the hospital nurses, I took the time to educate them in the hopes that they’d listen and learn. I can only hope they didn’t turn a deaf ear; the fate of many nursing relationships start in their hands.

My son is 14 months old and still happily nursing. And, when my milk came in with him, I started giving my daughter cups of expressed breastmilk. Better late than never, right? I hit a few bumps in the road with him, but I knew where to go to get help. My husband and I are expecting our third in May. I have to say I look forward to tandem nursing and all the challenges it will bring.