My mother was a warrior when it came to having babies. She delivered 3 daughters in less than 8 hours each with no medication and nursed each one of us, on average, for our first year. My mother and I are a lot alike, so naturally, I assumed I would have a similar experience. Not the "no meds" part. I knew going into the delivery room that my fate lay firmly in the hands of the anesthesiologist! But sadly, my assumptions had been wrong. I had very long deliveries and the first one probably lies under the category heading of "Traumatic Deliveries". But all that aside, I still had the sweet image of nursing my babies and giving them all the pure, natural, God-given nutrition that came right from my body. Again, I was wrong.
My baby would nurse but he never seemed satisfied. During his first days, he was fidgety and cried a lot. I couldn't seem to settle him. He was supposed to be gaining weight but he was losing weight instead. And then there was the pain. Everyone told me, "breastfeeding doesn't hurt!" Well, this hurt a lot! After several consultations with my doctor, the pediatrician, and the lactation consultant, it was determined that I had cracks in my skin (excruciating pain) and I wasn't producing more than 1 ounce of milk (he needed 2-3 ounces) each time I pumped (fidgety, crying, weight-losing baby).
How can this be? How can I NOT be able to feed my baby? I know other mom's that have so much milk they could feed all the babies in the neighborhood! My body is made for this. This is what I am supposed to be able to do. Why isn't this working?!
I don't know. Sometimes, it just doesn't. Sometimes, no matter how many lactation consultants you talk to, how much milk-producing foods and teas and water you drink, or how much you try to relax and destress, the milk just isn't there. We aren't always built like our mothers. I had to come to this realization. And then I had to be ok with it.
When you are struggling with producing milk or enough milk, there are a few things you can try before you pack it all up.
Eat foods that help to increase your milk supply. There are several milk-increasing foods you can try. Drinking lots and lots of water is your first step to increasing your milk supply. But there are foods that really help as well. Oatmeal and flaxseed are wonderful grains that can help increase your supply. Bake them into cookies or breads or eat them alone. Blueberries are great for increasing your milk supply. You can add blueberries to muffins (also great for new mom's after delivery - see our post on postpartum restorative health) or on top of your morning oatmeal (double boost!) You can also look online at the many options for lactation cookies to bake at home and mother's milk teas. There are tons of helpful websites that share lists of milk-increasing foods and recipes.
Pump your milk and add it to baby formula. No matter how much milk your body can produce, you can always express your milk with a breast pump and add whatever you have with enough baby formula to equal the amount of ounces your baby needs. If he is needing 5 ounces of milk and you can pump 2 ounces, add your 2 ounces of breastmilk with 3 ounces of baby formula in the same bottle. He is getting all that you have to offer at the same time he is getting enough milk to satisfy and fulfill his needs. You are still giving him all the natural proteins, vitamins, and probiotics that your body can supply. This was the path I took. I added my expressed, 1 ounce of breastmilk with enough formula to satisfy my baby until my milk dried up at 9 weeks postpartum.
When you have fought the good fight, know when to wave the white flag. There comes a time when you realize there just isn't enough milk left to justify all your pumping efforts. In some cases, like mine, the milk simply dries up and there just isn't anymore. When this time comes, you pack up your pump and nursing bras with all the relief and enthusiasm of seeing the last Christmas ornament plucked from the tree and bubble-wrapped safely away until next year. Hold your head high, dust off your hands and head to the next mom-related duty that awaits you. No guilt. No regrets. You have given everything you had to your baby and she will grow up strong and healthy with her formula bottles. She will be a happy baby because she has a happy momma. We worry so much about our babies and what is best for them but sometimes doing what is best for ourselves is also what is best for our baby. Stressed out moms usually make stressed out and anxious babies.
Thankfully we live in a county where when nature fails us, we have a back-up plan. Formula is a welcome relief to weary momma's who are struggling to feed their babies. It is a God-send to a mom who can finally see her baby settle into a relaxed sleep or start putting on the weight he needs. Sure, breastmilk is pure and perfect and it is what most of us want for our babies. But heaven knows we don't always get what we want. Formula certainly isn't the enemy. Embrace it when you need it and be grateful we have access to it.
When you feed your baby his next bottle and watch him fall asleep in your arms. Watch his sweet tiny face as he falls into his milk-coma and flashes his dream-induced smiles and a little bit of milk dribbles out of the corner of his mouth, you will know you made a good decision. You are settled. He is settled and you both can sigh a happy sigh of relief.
My mom was a warrior. But I was a warrior too. I fought and struggled and then I found what worked for me and for my baby. It was disappointing that what I had imagined and planned for didn't work out, but in the end it just didn't matter. Finding a peace for myself and watching my baby thrive was all that ever really mattered.
Be Kind. Be Helpful. Be a sister.
Peace I leave you: my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27