Today was the baby’s one-month appointment. It had been about three weeks since we started the intensive and grueling triple feed program, and I was looking forward to getting good news that she was in fact continuing to gain weight and that we would no longer need to continue this feeding program anymore.
In addition to that, I was looking forward to doing another weighted feed, hopefully to see that she was transferring more milk when feeding at my breast. Honestly though, when we were on our way to the doctor’s appointment, I did not have a lot of hope in this area, mainly because in the last week, she had been particularly lazy at the breast and not really sucking very much or hard at all. And she was also resorting back to her old bad habits and falling asleep because she was working too hard at the breast. This annoyed me, but really, there is no way to actually make your baby more efficient at the breast. I mean, the Cleo lactation consultant had suggested that we get a referral for the baby to see an occupational therapist to evaluate what was causing her weak suck, especially since she had a perfect latch, but Chris thought this was completely outrageous and immediately vetoed the idea. So we never went through with that.
Well, my fears were confirmed: during a weighted feed at this appointment, where she ate on both breasts for about 10 minutes each, she only transferred about half an ounce or 15 mL of milk. I was absolutely mortified and frustrated, and I knew that the measurement was going to be bad because she kept falling asleep despite being hungry. That has always been such a frustration point for me: how the heck do babies fall asleep at the breast when they are obviously hungry? Isn’t the hunger supposed to keep them awake and make them work harder?? Apparently, this is not the case, and my baby is not alone in this.
Her pediatrician evaluated her suck quickly by putting her finger in the baby‘s mouth and seeing how strong she would suck. She immediately confirmed that the baby had a weak suck, and because of that would be unable to efficiently eat at my breast for the time being. The milk transfer was just poor. She suggested nursing for comfort a few times a day but cutting back on it because it was just not working out, and relying on bottle feeds, using breast milk when available and formula when there was not enough. Some breast milk is better than no breast milk, the doctor said, and I needed to make sure to pump regularly in order to protect my milk supply. She also suggested that as the baby grew, she’d only get stronger, so there *may* be hope that her suck would eventually get stronger and she’d be able to transfer more milk while nursing. So nursing should still continue if I wished.
“How can my baby be inefficient at the breast? “I exclaimed in disgust. “This baby has Indian and Chinese heritage; she is supposed to be efficient! It’s in her blood!”
The doctor and her assistant thought I was trying to be funny and burst out laughing. But I did not find any of this funny at all. I was not joking.
It made me really upset to see this happen. I had invested so much time researching and studying breast-feeding articles and blogs and podcasts and taking a class, and knowing that nursing as a primary form of feeding my baby was not going to work really crushed me. That was how I envisioned feeding my baby, and knowing that it wasn’t going to work just stung. Chris said to me that not everything will always work out obviously; I had the unmedicated birth that I wanted, and not having the breast-feeding experience I wanted is just a part of what I needed to accept.
On top of that, nursing as a primary form of feeding your child is a bit idyllic and romanticized: when you nurse exclusively, you have to feed your baby on demand. That means that you cannot adhere to a schedule or force your baby onto a schedule: that means whenever your baby is hungry, even if she only wants to eat for one or two minutes, you have to give your breast to her otherwise it will hurt your milk supply and also hurt her growth, neither of which you want to happen. That obviously can cause massive exhaustion for any mom and lead to mental health problems. I know moms who have been successful with exclusive nursing and nearly went insane or suffered from severe postpartum depression, feeling more like cows than like moms.
So, I was not going to have the nursing experience I originally wanted. But that does not mean that my baby can no longer be breast-fed… Because pumping milk and feeding it to your baby is also a form of breast-feeding; it’s just that it is not nursing. And so that led to more intense research for me on exclusive pumping. There is an “EP” label that I was looking at that was not just Executive Platinum status on American Airlines: that is for exclusive pumping mamas. It would be intense in terms of time, commitment, resilience, and my sanity, but I was still determined to make sure that my baby had breast milk and as much of it as possible for as long as possible… And when I say as long as possible, I meant as long as my breasts could handle it and as long as my mental health was still intact. So that new journey begins now.