As I have mentioned before, Gabriel grew very slowly in his first few months of life. This is a fact that is linked to my low milk supply. I wanted to write about my breastfeeding problem as it happened, but new parenthood, stress, and worries over the issue itself prevented me from doing so. Now, however, I wish to write about it so that it will be out there to help other women who may find themselves in the same situation in which I found myself.
I will start from the beginning. Gabriel was born a normal, healthy, baby boy on August 3, 2007. He weighed in at seven pounds and eleven ounces. He nursed within a half hour after his birth. I met with a lactation consultant, as well as supportive nurses, before leaving the hospital. The first few days of breastfeeding were difficult, but based on what I know about the breastfeeding experiences of other first-time mothers, I do not think that there was anything extraordinarily different about our case. I nursed Gabriel constantly, never going more than two hours between feedings except at night. He received no supplementation, no bottles, no pacifiers, etc. in order to avoid any sort of nipple confusion, supply issue, or other breastfeeding problem.
Gabriel’s weight fell to seven pounds at the lowest. At a week-old, Gabriel was declared “healthy and thriving” by the doctor that we took him to. I diligently kept records of his diaper activity for the first month, he was slightly behind at times, but the doctors were never concerned about it. At three weeks old, Gabriel weighed only seven pounds, eight ounces. He was not yet back up to his birth weight. Since I was committed to breastfeeding, and Gabriel was otherwise healthy, his doctor saw no reason for any real concern and I continued with constant breastfeeding. At his next check up when he was about seven weeks old, Gabriel weighed only eight pounds. He was averaging growth of only two ounces per week, rather than the at least four ounces that is preferred. Since everything was well otherwise, Gabriel and I continued breastfeeding exclusively.
I took Gabriel to the doctor several times over the next couple of months. In an attempt to produce more and/or richer milk, I drank mother’s milk tea, used a fennel oil rub, and took other herbs that are known to assist in lactation. I also began pumping whenever Gabriel slept while continuing to nurse him constantly. He continued to grow slowly during this time. At three months old, Gabriel weighed in at only one pound over his birth weight, though he continued to be healthy and normal otherwise.
Around bedtime on November 13, 2007, at approximately three and a half months old, Gabriel made it clear that he was hungry. Gabriel was very frustrated at the breast and crying inconsolably, I offered him 2 oz. of formula, he drank 1 oz. and turned into a happy baby again. I did not like giving him the formula, but I felt terrible that he had been crying in hunger. I remember the incident clearly: stressed and crying, I prepared two ounces of formula. He drank one ounce, was instantly happy, and went to sleep easily. I hoped and prayed that formula supplementation would not become a regular part of his diet. My hope was not to be so, however. The next afternoon, Gabriel repeated his hungry baby routine. I knew that, once again, I was out of milk and he was still hungry. This time, he drank down the entire two ounces of formula. I remember feeling awful for making him fuss for so long before giving him the formula, because he settled back into a happy, satisfied baby after drinking the formula.
Following that second formula feeding, I had a minor “break down” of sorts. When I was pregnant I studied breastfeeding, we even took a breastfeeding class at the hospital with a lactation consultant. I was prepared, on some level, for the common breastfeeding set-backs. Since I had read that 95% of women can breastfeed exclusively with few or no problems, I never really considered that I would have any real problem with breastfeeding Gabriel. In fact, I had made a commitment that I would breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, and keep nursing until Gabriel no longer wanted to – which would probably be at least two years. Since formula is somewhat controversial, I really wanted to stay away from it if at all possible. In sum, I had set myself up for a difficult time mentally and emotionally. Eventually, I came to grips with the fact that whatever is necessary to have a happy, healthy baby is an acceptable path when it comes to food – whether “ideal” or not.
Next: My Breastfeeding Trials – Part II, which will bring the story up to present day.