The Skinny on Nursing

I was planning to write a lovely real post today, as it's Tuesday and I'd like to have pre-written post for tomorrow (for you reading, today). If you haven't noticed, I'm trying to settle into a Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting routine. I'm not getting all rules-y and legalistic about it, ergo no lame stress.

Unfortunately, I had a really rough morning. See, the routine is that when I wake up I have to take a thyroid pill (when pregnant mine massively underperforms) on an empty stomach with a full glass of water and then not eat anything for an hour. Here's what's so odd--I never had a problem with my thyroid pill routine when I was in the throes of nausea for 8 weeks. But now that I'm 15.5 weeks, and past the general, all day nausea (and, mercifully rarely nauseated at all), I'm suddenly having a really hard time with my thyroid pill. Yesterday I nearly got sick and today I absolutely did. It was horrible. Praise Jesus that since my RNY surgery I don't have stomach acid anymore or it would have been even worse.

You know when your whole body retches and your face feels somewhere between paralyzed and uncontrollable spasms? Horrible. It was like that. Gave me a terrible headache. Which is why now I'm recounting the bummer experience instead of writing about other stuff.

That said, I read a pretty great article yesterday and just had to share it. If you don't know, or forgot, I had a really rough time breastfeeding. In fact, this picture breaks my heart despite how adorable my boy is:

Roger at 4 months. So skinny :(

He's so horribly skinny. We were, at that point, trying to exclusively feed him breast milk. I would nurse, though by that point he would cry and fight because barely anything was coming out. I was pumping a gazillion times a day (literally 6-8) and only getting about 2.5-3oz per breast. This post from when we switched to formula tells more detail, but let me just say that I tried everything. Suffice it to say, the guilt and struggle was so painful. I still feel a little twinge of sadness when I see the pads that nursing mothers put in their bra that disguise leaking--I never needed mine, as I never leaked, so they sit sad and unused on a shelf in Roger's room. I'll actually pack them for the big move today or tomorrow in an infant box, praying that when Wiggles gets here this fall I do need them.

But you see, per the picture above, what was best for my conscience, what I said was best for my son because breast is best, right?, was that it wasn't best for Roger. He was terribly underweight, not sleeping because he was hungry, and I was frustrated and in tears feeling like a failure every single time he needed to eat, which is still 5-6 times a day at that age. It was just such a painful time.

It's hard when thinking of other friends, too. When a friend who recently had a baby writes me to ask about how to transition because her supply just isn't there and she is, in her own way, facing some of the same things I did. Or when pregnant friends are annoyed at getting formula samples in the mail, offended that the establishment, corporate machine that is formula is pressuring them. I totally get why they feel that way--I did, too. Then formula basically saved Roger's life. If it didn't exist perhaps we could have found a wet nurse but I sure don't know how we would have afforded that. My heart develops fissures at the thought of mothers from generations past who didn't have formula, didn't have a wet nurse, and watched their tiny infants die from starvation. Praise God for formula, even though I'm going to try my hardest to exclusively nurse again this time around.

Anyway...I wasn't expecting to write all of that! Guess my headache is less noticeable when I get on a roll. It's nothing to do with Jesus, but I did appreciate this article so I'd love for you to read it!

10 Things Breastfeeding Advocates Need to Stop Staying

Let me know what you think! For the record, I do still struggle to understand any able-bodied mother who doesn't even try to breastfeed. But ultimately it's about her baby, her body, her family, and I can't control other people. They answer to Jesus, I answer to Jesus, and I can rest in that despite my inability to understand. Anyway, again, what do you think? Love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Hey Tami, just curious after reading this if you were induced while you were in labor with Roger. I ask because Pitocin seems to be the most popular drug used to induce labor nowadays, and ironically enough, Pitocin is not recommended for breasfeeding mothers. Not sure if that may have been a contributor to the struggles you had, but I know others who had trouble breastfeeding and an underweight baby, and they were induced with Pitocin.

  2. Interesting. I was induced with Pitocin, so maybe that was part of it. The doctor thinks that my surgery may have also been a key factor. We'll see how things go this time around. We especially hope to go into labor naturally this time!

  3. I had two very different nursing experiences with my two kids-- John nursed till he was over 2, I was able to pump at work no problem, never had a drop of formula . He loved to nurse-- I had to force him to wean. Oliver never really liked to nurse-- he would nurse enough, but never comfort nursed or anything. I never was able to pump much for him, and he self-weaned around 9 months. My supply with him was never really robust, but it was sufficient for him. He was also very slim until he started solids, then he took off! I hope your next nursing experience is great!

    I do want to say something about one part of your post-- saying formula companies shouldn't send samples isn't saying, oh, formula is evil. Those free samples have been linked to lower rates of breastfeeding. It's against the WHO codes. It is a marketing tactic, and formula companies should not market to pregnant women. If women want formula, it is readily available and they can easily access it. That's all we need.
    You also can't equate your situation w/ women hundreds of years ago and say, oh, if formula didn't exist Roger would be dead. If formula didn't exist, you would have fed him goat's milk or cow's milk. That's what women did if they didn't have enough supply and couldn't hire a wet nurse. Sure, it isn't ideal nutritionally, but it would have provided the calories necessary for growth. There are also lots of other things (surgery, induction) that may have affected your supply. It's just like, if I didn't work, Oliver would have nursed longer. I can't use my story as some kind of proof that some babies self-wean before 12 months b/c he got bottles b/c I worked. Does that make sense?

  4. That's great that you're hoping to do a natural labor this next time. Have you looked into any natural birthing classes, like the Bradley Method? That's what Jaimie and I are doing and it's awesome how much information and preparation the classes and books provide.

  5. Josh -- That's great that you guys are doing that! This time around I'm holding it all much more loosely. I hoped for a natural birth the first time but by the time we got to 41 weeks and I saw the statistics on stillbirths approaching 42 weeks I was all for an induction, even though it led to an epidural. Truth be told (and I may blog about it at some point) I really put so much pressure on myself to be natural and felt so guilty about having an epidural for those first few months. I've realized, though, that it really does only matter that Roger is here and healthy. And I remember that moment I met him--it really was meaningless how he got here. He was here, alive, healthy and that was all I cared about. As I feel pressure (mainly from myself) mounting to "do it right" this time, I go to Jesus and ask him for wisdom and freedom. I can everything "right" and end up with an emergency Cesarean and my identity as blood-bought daughter of Christ and appointed (and received and accepted) mother of my children is no different. So we'll see how things go. I may read some helpful books, I may not. I need to take it one step at a time and pray for discernment about whether I'm idolizing a birth method or freely, worshipfully preparing with wisdom :)

  6. Colleen -- What totally different experiences with your two boys! We'll see how this time goes. I feel a lot of peace about it. I hope for a healthy supply and super nurser of a baby (and pray for it) but I really do feel so free about the fact that Roger is healthy and great. We do plan to rent a hospital grade pump for a month or two this time, and, if it helps, just purchase one since we plan to have at least one or two more biologically. Again, similar to what I told Josh above, it's all with an open hand to see how it goes.

    I both sort of agree but also disagree with your second point. I do think some stuff is downright evil, like the reports of Nestle convincing mothers in Africa that their milk is poison to their babies, giving free samples so that mother's milk dries up, and then destitute women can't afford formula but their milk is gone. It makes me sick; I'm not sure if it's still happening but I remember reading about it last year.

    That said, I don't think formula is entirely evil. For one, while marketing to pregnant women may not be entirely ethical, those women do have the right to do what they want with the samples. I can't speak for everywhere, but where we live there's a huge push from the local hospitals to exclusively nurse with great support systems if you have trouble. Never is the message that formula is the only option perpetuated.

    (continued in next comment)

  7. (cont.)

    For me personally, while I would have exclusively nursed had I been able, I am grateful for formula. The nutrients it provided were as close to breast milk as possible, and Roger thrived. Additionally, while your point that not every low-supply mother watched their baby starve is true, it's also true that some women did have babies die when there wasn't the option of formula. For Roger, even at 1 year the transition to regular milk was rough for the first few weeks and I really don't think his digestive system would have done well had we not had the option of formula circa 4 months.

    I do know that lots of women donate breast milk and, while some may judge me for not wanting my son to have what's "best" and giving formula instead, I simply just don't consider that an option. The idea of another woman's, especially a stranger's, breast milk going into my son is just not something I'm comfortable with. At least with formula I know exactly what's in it; with a donated woman's milk I don't know what she puts in her body.

    Finally, that's where I think we may have to agree to disagree--my stance is that while I don't love the way formula making companies bombard women in order to profit off of them, I do think that the average American woman knows her options and has support and isn't forced into anything. It's a choice to use or not use the samples sent, and for us, when I stubbornly in my pride refused to try formula, I'm not sure how much longer I would have let Roger be so hungry had I needed to go buy formula to try. But we did have a sample can and once we fed Roger a bottle or two where his tummy was actually full he became a totally different baby. He was happy, playful, slept, and far, far less frustrated with eating.

    Each woman (and her spouse) gets to make their own choices, but I just personally think the idea that formula (and the companies who make it) is inherently evil is bunk. I don't abide by many of their practices and agree that some tactics aren't wise, but I also am very grateful that I had that sample because allowing Roger to have formula was the best thing for us.

    I think that's the main point of the article--no one's saying formula is great and breast is evil, but it's just as wrong to perpetuate these ideas that women who eventually stop nursing are, basically, bad moms who don't love their children as much as wonder-"breast is best"-moms do. I'd like to see anyone have spent even one day with me for the months I spent taking nasty herbal drops that made me retch; pumping multiple times a day while trying to comfort a tired, frustrated, hungry, cranky baby; taking medications that made me feel really "off"; researching for hours on what to eat and not eat to encourage milk production; drinking nasty, hoppy, dark beer to try and increase supply; not sleeping well because I couldn't sleep on my stomach; etc, etc. We spend so much energy demonizing those who do motherhood differently instead of really looking at what we want to do, how we want to do it, and having the freedom to rest in our decisions and let others make theirs and I, for one, found the article so refreshing!

  8. I'm not saying formula is evil-- obviously, Oliver got formula at day care every day from about 6 months on and exclusively formula from 9 months to 12 months. It provided appropriate nutrition for him, and I'm glad it was available. And of course everyone knows their options and nobody is forcing anyone to use formula. However,the fact remains that formula companies should not market to pregnant women. That's all. Most other countries don't allow that kind of marketing-- again, there is a WHO code about this that the companies are refusing to follow. This doesn't prevent anyone from knowing their options-- the formula is right there for anyone to see.

    It's clear you tried everything you could to breastfeed (though dark hoppy beer is delicious, not nasty!). I really hope it works well for you next time. I agree that we don't need to worry about how other women parent. I can honestly say that I don't care at all who breastfeeds and who doesn't. However, I do care that women are left to make that choice on their own, without the use of inappropriate marketing tactics.