This article originally appeared on Jamie Quitain-Good’s blog The Starfish Diaries, in August 2013. It is reproduced here with her permission.
We were expecting Bradley Boy to come out anytime between Christmas and New Year that year, but God knew how much we wanted to hold and kiss him so He sent him out a little early. One month early – he was born at 36 weeks and 5 days. And between the house moving (which by the way coincided perfectly with my nesting!) and planning for his arrival, thinking I still had a month to prepare, we were absolutely not ready when he came out.
His clothes were not washed. His crib and car seat were not out. My hospital bag wasn’t ready. I thought I still had a month to get all those done. Everything else was not ready, but I knew there was one thing I was ready for. One thing I dreamed about night and day, one thing I talked to my husband incessantly about, one thing I knew I would do no matter what. I would give him the best and nothing less. I would BREASTFEED.
So, I didn’t buy him bottles, sterilizers, bottle cleaners, pacifiers. Heck, I didn’t even buy a breast pump. Because I was set out to be a hardcore exclusively breastfeeding mom.
Then, it was time. It was time to hold him in my arms and nurse him for the first time. I couldn’t put a tab on my emotions because there I was, about to give my helpless newborn everything his tiny body needed, and all he needed and wanted was me. It was a beautiful rush. Up until I realized that no milk was coming out. He wasn’t getting anything out! I panicked a little, but he would spend so much time sleeping that the first few hours didn’t bother me.
Then, the nurse came in to see how he was feeding. I was told he had to be able to have milk because his blood sugar was low, and it was urgent that he fed to raise it to a safe level. Now, I panicked a lot. We received donor milk just to raise his blood sugar, but it hurt that it did not come from me. I was supposed to be Bradley’s super hero with magic milk for him. But, I did not deliver. I was hormonal, but it really got me down in a way I knew that was beyond hormones.
But well, I had two choices: either I receive donor milk or give him formula. And I wasn’t ready to introduce my tiny baby with a tiny tummy to the “evils” of formula milk. So, we continued to receive donor milk until his blood sugar was finally fine.
Now, the real battle began. We took Bradley Boy home and with no donor milk anywhere. I needed to produce milk ASAP. I wasn’t only crying at that point, but wailing like a little girl lost in a mall. My mother and mother-in-law thought the best decision would be to give him formula because they both gave Brian (my husband) and me formula and we turned out fine.
But, I couldn’t do it. I know this kind. Well-meaning older gen moms would wonder why you wouldn’t supplement with formula because they did, and all their kids turned out fine. Formula was such a trend when we were babies.
So, I called for reinforcement.
I called our childbirth prep class teacher, and I cried on the phone asking her if Bradley would be fine because I couldn’t give him milk. She reassured me my milk would come in soon, just as long as I let him latch, and just continue to nurse him.
Our neighbor taught me the breast massage to coax the milk to come out, as well as to relax me because milk doesn’t come out of a stressed momma. Again, she told me I would be fine and that milk doesn’t really come in right away. When she was a new mom, her milk came in after 4 days, and her little boy is now a smart, healthy exclusively-breastfed 4 year old.
I called my sister-in-law and she told me, that on her fourth baby, her milk came in after 3 days. But, she didn’t panic because she had panicked enough on her first child, and that what I was going through was completely normal. Just continue letting Bradley latch, she said.
I called my other sister-in-law, who had tried to breastfeed but ended up supplementing with formula, and she said if there was one thing she could do over, she would’ve continued nursing. She didn’t want me to regret any decision I made then because one little move could change our breastfeeding journey forever.
So, after a rough first night, Brian and I decided we were getting up with a united front: we would fight tooth and nail to give our little Bradley the best kind of milk there is: breast milk.
So, my milk did eventually come in after a few days, and I was a blissful nursing mom. But, then Bradley would still sleep most of the time so I thought he was getting what he needed.
Then we noticed he was nursing for hours on one breast and either he cried afterwards seemingly unsatisfied, or he would just fall asleep. I asked if it was normal that he nursed for so long, and they said he must be going through a growth spurt, and that he was hungrier than usual. But he was still yellow. So he probably got a little sunburned because we made sure he got enough sun to get rid of his jaundice. But it didn’t work because he wasn’t getting the bilirubin out of his system. His poop was still green and never turned yellow as it should. I thought it could have been from a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance so I nursed him longer on each breast instead of switching too soon.
Then, his weight began to drop. He lost his chipmunk cheeks and he looked like a wrinkly old man when he cried. His birth weight was 2.8 kilos, and after a month, he weighed 2.2. It crushed me.
I held him in my arms that night, locked our bedroom door, and cried out to God. I was asking Mama Mary mom to mom, to please intercede for Bradley, to help us find out what to do.
We brought him to the doctor, and when I was asked about his feeding, I told him we struggled to latch, but we did manage to continue nursing. He was on my breast for hours so I thought we were safe to assume he was nursing well.
Instead, he was diagnosed with FAILURE TO THRIVE. Failure to thrive.
My heart sank. Those three words told me that his superhero with the magic milk was failing him. My breasts were supposed to give him everything he needed, but here he was 4 weeks into the world, already failing to thrive. My heart couldn’t stop breaking.
Bradley Boy got admitted to the hospital for 3 days, constant tests, blood work, monitoring, and his tiny foot had an IV drip lodged into it.
I started pumping milk for him so I could measure how much he was taking in. He was supposed to be taking in an ounce an hour and if I couldn’t keep up with that, the doctors said we must supplement because he needs to thrive. I was scared to death of giving him formula so I pumped like crazy. and when tiny drops trickled into my bottle, I cried even more.
Karen, who just gave birth to my godson Inigo then, had her milk come in too. So, she came to see Bradley everyday, and let him nurse for as long as he wanted.** Surprisingly, I noticed he had no trouble latching on to her as he did with me. And Inigo, on the other hand, latched on to me like a pro. We seemed like we were anatomically incompatible, breastfeeding-wise. I also noticed Bradley seemed satisfied about less than half the time than when he nursed from me. He seemed like he was taking in more in a lesser amount of time. His Aunt Karen came to visit him everyday so he was back to his birth weight of 2.8 kilos after a week.
Karen religiously sent him milk at the hospital to supplement my supply and he started regaining weight. We were discharged with the instructions to not let his intake fall below 24 ounces in 24 hours, whether with breast milk or formula, just as long as we comply. Every time he cried when they took blood out or put in his dextrose, my heart bled because it was my fault he was failing to thrive because I couldn’t give him milk. I cried when he cried. I cried when I nursed him. I cried when he slept. I cried because I did not understand why I couldn’t give him nourishment. I was an emotional wreck.
I religiously recorded my milk output every pumping, which I did every hour. I had a notebook for his intake, and between my milk and Karen’s donor milk, we were able to comply with his 24 ounces without opening the can of formula sitting threateningly at my bedside table.
I continued eating malunggay every meal, not caring if I had eaten the same stuff three times everyday for almost 2 months. I continued taking my malunggay capsules, at least 10 everyday. I continued taking Fenugreek, at least 9 capsules everyday. I drank the lactation tea like water, brewing a whole liter of it and carrying it around the house because I was on a mission to finish it. I took Domperidone religiously every day. I ate lactation cookies, oatmeal and anything and everything that has some proof to increase milk supply.
Then, after just a week of Bradley’s release from the hospital, it suddenly was my turn.
I had unbearable abdominal pain, probably from the abuse it took with my obsession to bring in the milk. Plus, my gastric juices exploded like fireworks because of the little voice inside my head, stressing about that can of formula in our room that had to remain sealed. I was confined for two days, and there was nothing in the world I wanted to do but hold my Bradley Boy again.
I was discharged after two days, but I was given medication for 2 weeks, and those meds made me unsafe to breastfeed. Crap. 2 weeks. I pumped but unfortunately had to dump the pathetic ounces of milk I could produce. Karen continued sending over milk, but without my share, it just wasn’t enough to meet the quota our doctors have set. And so, the can of formula had to be opened.
The first bottle was the hardest. I couldn’t do it. I had let Brian do it. It was as if I was succumbing to the fact that I couldn’t produce enough milk to keep my son thriving. It got better eventually, and I remember Bradley’s doctors telling me then, “Breast is best, but formula isn’t poison. It could be life saving in your case.” I remember being horrified each time I gave him a bottle of formula, but when he was hungry and I couldn’t give him milk, I knew in my gut, I had to nourish him in some way. I never stopped pumping milk for him though, every hour, everyday. I power pumped at least once a week, 10 minutes of pumping with 10 minute intervals of rest for 2 hours. I pumped when he drank from the bottle, I pumped when he slept. I was beating myself just to increase my milk supply, and eventually I literally bled myself dry.
I realized then I suddenly missed my baby. I was obsessed with pumping that every time I see his eyes light up, I feel guilt shooting up for not giving him milk, that I rush into my little pumping corner. I hadn’t played with him in a long time. I may be giving him a few ounces of milk, but I am taking away his mother. Because you see, motherhood is not just breastfeeding. Not being able to breastfeed shouldn’t stop you from being the mother your child deserves to have. I had to learn it the hard way. I still believe that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your child, but I have come to understand that it is not the end all and be all of being a mother. Motherhood is feeding, nourishing, giving life.
I realized that once upon a time I was the kind of person who judged moms who formula-fed. I thought they were selfish, they just wanted to go back to the life they had without the inconvenience of a demanding baby at their breast 24/7. I thought they were irresponsible, that they did not take the time to research on the irreplaceable benefits of breastfeeding. I thought that they were lazy, that they did not try hard enough to breastfeed because the books say milk will really come out if you just keep at it. I thought I was going to be a better mother than them one day because I would breastfeed my child as long as he wants to. Now, I know there are moms who formula-feed who are selfless, practically consuming themselves with an obsession to breastfeed but failing nonetheless. I know there are moms who formula-feed who are responsible and making sure their babies won’t ever have to be diagnosed with failure to thrive and by all means nourish them in whatever way possible. I know there are moms who formula-feed who beat themselves up, working hard to get the milk flowing but will never be able to. I know that moms are not better than other moms because there is just no reason to compare or complete a checklist to make you win the best mom award. Motherhood is a special thing that you share with a very special someone. There are no comparisons, no charts, no benchmarks. Love is the only requirement.
I realized that breastfeeding doesn’t come easy for everyone, so when you and your baby manage to work it seamlessly, embrace your blessing. The jealous bug still bites me sometimes when I see moms nursing effortlessly, and why Bradley and I had to go through what we went through when all I wanted to do was give him the best. My advice:
Don’t give every formula-feeding mom well-meaning advice without asking what they’ve been through. It gets me each time somebody tells me just to eat malunggay, like it was the obvious first step that I didn’t take. I know I have followed every advice in the book, I have even downloaded audio galactogues and painstakingly listened to it while pumping. That mom may have tried tested methods, even the unconventional ones, just to get the milk flowing, so don’t judge her and bomb her with advice like she didn’t try.
Be there for your formula-feeding mom friend. Though it’s true that there are moms who just prefer to formula-feed for reasons that are entirely theirs without needing explanation, you never know if that formula-feeding mom next to you is that kind of mom, or the mom who fought tooth and nail to breastfeed but failed. I am blessed to have Karen as a friend. She has been with me and Bradley Boy at the start of our breastfeeding journey, encouraging, supporting and reassuring. But, when she saw how my obsession was taking its toll on me, she told me it was okay to relax. She continued giving milk to Bradley everyday, and she did so lovingly, without judgment. I was blessed because I had supportive breastfeeding friends who loved me and Bradley more than my ability to make milk, who hugged me when I cried, and not once judged me. One even offered to have frozen milk flown in from Manila for Bradley and another changed his diapers dotingly while I sobbed inconsolably. One never questioned why but texted me every time she could pump extra milk for Bradley. I have the best neighbors ever. So, be there for your formula-feeding mom friend, my friends kept me sane even if my hormones easily made me a candidate for postpartum depression.
Husbands, stand by your wives. Keep your united front. During our journey as new parents, there were many times we questioned our ability to raise another human being, and if we did not get our act together, we might have been unable to bat other people’s judgment. After we got over the initial shock of parenting, we supported each other all the way, supporting and trusting instincts and informed decisions. Brian supported my desire to breastfeed, sheltered me from judgment, and when we started to formula-feed, he was just as supportive. We only had one goal in mind, to raise our Bradley Boy healthy and happy, however it takes. And 8 months later, we know we did.
I still definitely want to exclusively nurse our next baby, and I believe I have become a stronger, less judgmental, more respectful kind of person coming out of this adventure with Bradley Boy.
This blog post is for all the formula-feeding moms out there who get judged into thinking they are not good moms. This is for all the breastfeeding moms who give liquid gold to their babies and untiringly change the world with this advocacy one mommy at a time. This is for the partner of every new mom, who stands by her and buckles up on her emotional roller coaster and unconditionally hugging and supporting her. This is for Bradley love, I loved you before you were born, and love you more each day. I will always, always love you. This is for me. It’s kind of liberating to share our story, and have a chance to thank the people who were there every step of the way.
Motherhood, especially the first time, isn’t easy. But the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. The smiles, the giggles, the sloppy kisses and hugs, the heartwarming milestones make all the tears, self-doubts, pain, worries all worth it. I would do them all again in a heartbeat. That, I believe makes us one in this motherhood thing, not the way we feed our kids. The way we love our children is what we must hold on to to stand by our united front.
Happy breastfeeding month to all moms! Yes, that includes breastfeeding moms, and formula-feeding moms who believe in breastfeeding!
**Please note, if you are considering feeding a baby human milk from an unscreened source other than the baby’s mother, you should know that there are possible health and safety risks for the baby – you can read more here.