Monday, January 14, 2013

Hungry, Hungry Baby

I'm writing this to honor a wonderful time of my baby's life, to celebrate how far we have come, and to help other moms who may have been where we were. I write this knowing that there are people out there who will think less of me as a mother for what I'm about to say, but I write it anyways because it's our story and I am not ashamed of it.

Getting his suppliment at four weeks. His little face was so skinny.

I have not pumped or breastfed Alex since Friday and I am not going to again. He's happy and healthy and it's been a journey to get him there.

When Alex was born I was dead set on him being exclusively breastfed. I was going to be one of these awesome moms who just whips out a boob and feeds him no matter where we are until he decided otherwise. I was going to pump at work so much that I could feed him and donate extra milk. At least, that's what I thought.

Alex learned to latch pretty quickly in the hospital though we did have to use the nipple shield to give him enough to hold onto. When he was hungry and wanting to eat, he'd go at it like a champ, but he wasn't often interested and didn't really want to nurse for very long. The nurses assured me that this was ok. Newborns are like that sometimes.

The day he was circumsized was a very busy day at the hospital. We had family and friends visit and Alex was alert and looking at everyone who held him. But he didn't ever seem hungry. He didn't eat, or attempt to eat, for over six hours. Then he was hungry, tired, and over stimulated, and he wouldn't latch for the life of me. The nurse at the hospital was great and worked with us for an hour and half, but he just wouldn't nurse. Finally, she said that he needed to eat and we should probably give him a little formula. He down those two ounces!

The next day the nurse said that we needed to get him to latch without the nipple shield. For some reason using the nipple shield was bad. (I still don't know why it was so terrible.) Well, we worked at it and he got to where he'd latch about half the time, but still didn't nurse for very long.

We went home without the nipple shield, after all, the nurse said it was bad. My milk came in the night we got home. I felt like this was the best thing ever. Finally I knew that Alex was going to be eating! Not only did I feel engorgment but I could see good white milk coming out. Alex however wasn't so thrilled.

Alex fought against the breast. I mean he FOUGHT! This little boy was so strong that I was worried I would hurt him trying to get him to latch. Several times I would give up and sit there and sob while he screamed. He was hungry and I had milk for him, but he just wouldn't even come close to try. We had to start making him some formula every now and then as he simply wasn't eating.

We finally went out and got a nipple shield at Target after the lactation specialist convinced me that the one time he got a bottle in the hospital had given him nipple confusion and supplementing was just making him more confused about how to eat.

Well, he started nursing with the nipple shield and we were down to just one formula bottle a day at his two week visit. At two weeks babies are supposed to be back up to their birth weight. Alex was still three ounces short. It wasn't too much, but we had to go back for a weight check in a week just to be sure he had caught up.

That week he was exclusively breastfed. And he nursed a lot. I spent a few hours each day just nursing him. He went from never wanting to nurse to wanting to  be at the breast so much we were being told to try to hold him off so I'd have time to make more milk. He literally would suck me dry a few times a day and still want more. At the weight check at three weeks, Alex hadn't gain any weight. With all that nursing he was doing, he didn't gain a single ounce of weight.

Then we had to start supplimenting. His lack of weight gain and the doctor saying we needed to suppliment made my heart sink. We had been working so hard for so long. I felt like I had failed as a mother. I fought back tears as I listened to the doc's advice to get his weight back up. The doc said to offer two ounces after every other feeding or if he seemed hungry. She warned that it could lower my supply as it might make him go longer than every two hours for feeds. We started the suppliments and he was a much happier baby. All that fussing he had been doing, he was just hungry. I take that back, he wasn't hungry, he was starving.

After 30-60 minutes of nursing, Alex always seemed hungry. He would eat a full two ounces after each nursing session and be hungry again in less than two hours. At this time I was getting ready to go back to work and started pumping. I was able to get about half an ounce to an ounce after some of his feedings and stored this away for when he'd need it while I'm gone.

Alex had another weight check at four weeks. At this one he had not only gained back his birth weight but an extra ounce as well! That was wonderful news. We were getting him dressed again and getting ready to leave when I looked down at his billing slip and saw the diagnosis code: Failure To Thrive. Those three little words were a huge shock. I knew he was having trouble gaining, but failure to thrive is some serious stuff. Philip reassured me that he would be okay, that we got it figured out and he was doing fine.

I don't know that I've told anyone else about that diagnosis code. I feel like those fifteen letters were somehow stitched in scarlet on my breastplate but only I could see them. At this point Alex was probably getting about 50% formula, 50% breastmilk and I had every breastfeeding mother telling me about how breastmilk was best and formula was so terrible. It was toxic and "venom" and they could never give it to their babies, not knowing what it really was. Everyone put in their two cents about how he needed to be exclusively breastfed until he was at least six months. Even the formula cans have in big bold letters: Breastmilk is best for babies.

I just wanted to scream at every one and any one:

"But my son was starving! Literally starving! Can't you see? Don't you understand? He needs this. I tried. I tried so hard, but he needs the formula."

Alex was primarly formula fed for his second month. I still nursed him when I was home and then gave him formula until he was about six weeks old. That's when his reflux really began to show. He was spitting up everything, even my breastmilk. We changed formulas and I watched what I ate, but it didn't matter, he just kept spitting up. Not only was he spitting up, but he fussed at his bottles and seemed generally uncomfortable any time he was laying down. Finally, we started thickening his bottles. This really seemed to help him keep his formula down, but he was still spitting up after nursing. Well, you can't exactly add rice cereal to your breasts. I started pumping even at home so that he could get thicken breastmilk. However, it was just not realistic to pump as often as I was nursing. My supply started to go down and pretty soon I was pumping for twenty painful minutes to barely get an ounce. Then I decided to just stop pumping and let Alex be formula fed only.

This whole experience has been incredibly trying, but through it all I learned what it means to really be a good mother. Being a good mother doesn't have a damn thing to do with what you feed your babies. Being a good mom isn't dependent upon whether your child nurses from a nipple made of flesh or plastic. Being a good mom means doing what is best for your baby and making sure they are happy and healthy.

I am a good mom. We have a few bags of breastmilk left in freezer but once they're gone, Alex will be exclusively formula-fed. And he will be happy and healthy. He is growing and is so strong. And I will proudly buy those giant cans of formula at SAMs club and mix up his bottles everywhere we go. And I couldn't care less what anyone else has to say about it.

I know there are some moms who will read this and think that I'm a terrible, horrible mother. But there are other moms out there who went through the same thing, or are going through it now, and all those judgemental women are making those moms go through this without any help or support. When you're doing everything you can your baby isn't gaining weight, it's down right terrifying and all those judgemental comments and back handed remarks just make the worry grow even more.

If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, or if you've had to go to formula even though you wanted to breastfeed only: you are not alone, and you are a good mom. Don't let anyone tell you different.


  1. I found this post today while researching failure to thrive as my little miss is still struggling to gain weight at 4 months! Our story was so similar to yours - it's so good to hear stories of other moms who tried as hard as they could and still ended up having to switch to formula. I hate feeling judged, but I KNOW I am doing what is right for my baby! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Vanessa. You are an awesome mom! Don't listen to anyone saying anything else. I hope your little girl starts gaining well and wish you both happiness and health.

  2. I cried. I specifically searched on Pinterest to find someone that may have been going through the same thing I did. I am so glad that things started going well for you. Our case isn't so happy. We have now moved to 'amino acid medical food' Elecare formula and she is still losing weight although she eats 4 oz every 3 hours. I am so tired of people telling me 'this is what will work' who have no background in the medical field other than their own experience as a mother. After finding nothing after procedures, they are going to take blood to look for liver and kidney deficiencies and think it may be an enzyme disorder to where she doesn't take nutrients from her food. She is 3 months today and is in the 13th percentile. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about 'failure to thrive' being burned into you. It's like acid to your soul. Especially when everyone else has so much to say about it. Anyway...thank you for writing.

    1. Kenzie, my heart breaks for you and your little girl. I pray they find answers and that her little body will start to grow and become strong. Hang in there, Momma. If you think of it, let me know how she's doing.