Let me start this post by saying that with better support from a caring lactation consultant, I have been able to breastfeed my daughter better than I was my son. I’ve heard that milk comes in better the second time around. I also advocated harder for support and knew a little bit more about it, having already done it. Still, my daughter gets one, sometimes two, bottles of formula a day. And trust me, it’s not for lack of trying. I have come to the conclusion that the odds are still against me: my body is just not capable of producing enough milk for a baby. After a year and a half of wondering, I have two new conclusions as to why that is.
Plenty of websites and medical professionals, lactation consultants included, love to tell you that if your baby fusses while breastfeeding, it’s not because you don’t have enough milk: “It’s just a growth spurt. Hang in there!” “Every woman can breastfeed successfully if she tries hard enough.” “There are very few reasons why a woman couldn’t breastfeed successfully.” Did you hear that last one? There are reasons why you wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. The ones usually stated have to do with the immediate health of the mother – surgery or illness, for instance. It’s extremely difficult to find any information on true medical diagnoses that might lead to a woman not being able to breastfeed – a diagnosis that she might have known prior to pregnancy and might have been able to seek more support or at least prepare for supplementing, mentally, physically, and let’s face it, economically. Formula ain’t cheap.
My daughter lost 12% of her baby weight while in the hospital before I began supplementing her with formula, the same as my son. Her fussying and crying was exactly the same as his. And the look of relief, “Ahhh! Food! Now that’s what I’m talking about!” was the same as my son’s once her father gave her the first bottle and first taste of formula. It was an easier decision to make in the moment to supplement, having had to do it once before. Still, all the doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants assured me that I could stop once my milk came in.
A few days later, I began to finally hear the puff-puff noise of my daughter swallowing while feeding. What a satisfying sound. Yes, I did it! I thought. I am woman after all! Half-a-uterus be damned. But by 7 or 8pm, the fussing continued or worsened, and I begrudgingly continued supplementing with a bottle. She gained back the weight she needed to and passed her checkups with flying colors. She was perfect, right on track. No more, no less. “You can stop with the formula now,” the pediatrician said.
Well, easier said than done. In fact, there has only been one or two days in the last seven weeks that my daughter didn’t have formula, not including the first few in the hospital. More than once I broke down in tears after hours of crying, fussying, and sucking: “Why can’t I be enough? Why can’t I be enough for her?” I asked myself if she was supposed to be happy between feedings, like the doctor said she would be, why is she still cranky, tired, or hungry? She’s not colicky, because I can soothe her… with food.
I tried another “nursing vacation” where you do nothing but nurse for days. And guess what? As with my son, it didn’t work.
So I started wondering again, Surely this isn’t for lack of trying. What might be the cause, something that no one talks about because they don’t want to give you an excuse for giving up on the very difficult work of breastfeeding?
The first clue dawned on me one night as my husband brought me yet another glass of water.