Best for Our Children
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 18-19
At Xander's four-month checkup, the doctor asked, "How much is he eating?"
"Just under a liter per day."
The doctor looked at me, puzzled. "Oh, you're bottle-feeding? It said breast milk on our records."
"Right, I pump and my husband and I bottle-feed him."
"But you don't produce a whole liter each day," the doctor assured me. "That's 32 ounces."
"Actually, I produce more than a liter per day. The freezer is full of the extra milk I pumped. I can't even buy frozen pizzas or ice cream -- there's no space."
Four months prior, when Xander was born, I was crying nonstop because he wouldn't eat at my breast. We thought he did, but he always managed to let my milk dribble out a corner of his mouth. He didn't regain his birth weight by week three. People murmured, "Failure to thrive," and I translated it, "Failure to parent." The pediatricians planned on returning us to the hospital for observation and "aggressive formula feeding." Luckily, the doctor suggested our family try "aggressive formula feeding" at home for 24 hours. If Xander gained an ounce, we could put off the hospital visit.
My husband and visiting relatives bottle-fed Xander formula while I cried and pumped in another room. At least I could pump a little milk to add to the formula. He gained that ounce. The doctors weighed him every two days. As he gained ounce by precious ounce, I heard over and over from everyone that formula was saving him.
Still, I wished it was my milk. I pumped as often as most mothers breastfeed. When the relatives left, it meant I spent twice as much time feeding Xander -- the actual bottle feeding and a pumping afterwards. Sometimes I tried him on my breast, but he never got the hang of it, and frankly his attempts hurt compared to the pump.
One night my husband "let me" sleep through a feeding/pumping, and I was horrified that it might decrease my milk production. To my surprise, my next pumping yielded more than I expected. Things improved even more when I switched to a double electric pump.
I grew bolder in my pumping. Fewer sessions gave me more total output. Xander ate his fill -- and hit the 90th percentile in height and weight, much to the doctors' and our surprise -- and the freezer took a new bag of my milk every few days, usually 300 milliliters or more per bag. By his fourth month, I was only pumping for 30 minutes every 12 hours. I felt like we were such a success story.
Not everyone saw us that way. Some breastfeeding moms shrugged me off as a bottle-feeder. Some non-breastfeeding moms thought my persistent pumping were signs I was some "lacto-lunatic." Even though I still believe that Xander and I are a success story, these responses curbed my urge to share our experience. When frequently asked, "Are you breastfeeding?" I learned to reply, "He gets breast milk."
As Xander neared the seven-month mark, a new issue surfaced. My supply decreased rapidly. I pumped less than 700 milliliters several days in a row. Luckily, he didn't require a full liter most days since he had started solids. Thankfully, I had my frozen milk to supplement what I was pumping.
I knew that my decreasing milk supply wasn't the end of the world, and that I should have been happy we managed so well for six months. Each day I repeated those thoughts while trying suggestions that I read online. If the pump didn't feel adequate, I adjusted the tubes or switched to the hand pump. At first there was no change, but then I spent 10 days in the 700 range and climbed slowly back to the 800-milliliter mark. For weeks I watched the low-800s and kept massaging, adjusting the tubes, and trying to decrease my stress. Finally, three weeks later, I pumped 925 milliliters two days in a row. I was ecstatic. A week at that level means I have enough for freezing again.
Some mothers find it difficult to relate to me since I'm "not really breastfeeding" and "not using formula." But I suspect the lessons I learned along this path can help families dealing with somewhat similar symptoms. We're all trying to do what's best for our children.