Friday, November 23, 2007

Journey to Weight Gain

When Ewan was born we quickly discovered that he was not gaining weight like he should have been. He was very fussy, difficult to put to sleep, and always seemed like he wanted more to eat after he emptied my breasts. We started giving him additional supplemental food after he nursed so he would be satisfied. I was taking herbs, a drug called Reglan (a drug that promotes prolactin to release from the body that stimulates milk production), and pumping. It was a lot to do and I was willing to do what it took so that I could hopefully breastfeed Ewan exclusively. My milk supply never caught up to what he needed and I was devestated. By the time he was 5 months old he had completely weaned himself from nursing. It was much easier to get formula from a bottle. We figured out that a small complication of blood loss and anemia at his birth were responsible for my low milk supply.

When I had Isaac, I was very nervous about whether or not I would be able to supply enough milk for him. Because he was born early it was even more important to me that he get breastmilk to eat. It was the best choice for him since he was more susceptible to illness as a preemie. I had to start off our nursing relationship by pumping which was difficult. Within the 2 weeks Isaac was in the NICU he was nursing. We took him home and all was well. He was gaining weight and healthy. When he was 4 months old his weight gain slowed down significantly. I was worried but the pediatrician wasn't and said to keep doing what I was doing. When Isaac was 9 months old his weight gain picked up again and all was well. I continued to nurse him until he was 15 months old. I loved it so much and was looking forward to nursing my next baby.

Then I had Graham. Still nervous about being able to make enough milk but excited to have the bonding experience that nursing brings, I dove into nursing Graham. It took him 3 weeks to regain all his baby weight. That can be a red flag but he seemed content and not hungry after feedings. At the end of his first month he had started gaining but very slowly. We went in for weight checks and he looked and acted healthy and not like a starving baby. Then, from month 1 to 2 he had no weight gain. We were perplexed. He seemed to be getting enough to eat but he should also have been gaining weight. We thought that maybe because he was so big to start off with he was finding his natural balance. I started taking a drug that increases milk supply and pumping after feedings. Graham gained 10 ounces and all seemed to be going well. Two weeks ago I got mastitis and it decreases my milk supply. I weighed him again this past Monday and he had lost weight. I decided that he really was not getting enough food and that he needed a supplement after feedings because by now he should really be gaining weight.

I have a supplemental nursing system which provides a way to give a supplement by placing a tube in the baby's mouth while he is nursing so that it stimulates your milk supply and gives baby a supplement at the same time. The down side to it is that it is difficult to use and I hate it. It took an additional 30 minutes to feed him 1 ounce of expressed milk using the SNS. That made the feeding session take 1 hour and I don't have that much time to feed the baby. I have 2 other kids to take care of too. I decided for my own sanity to give him the supplement in a bottle. He is almost 3 months old so I wasn't too concerned about nipple confusion. Since giving him the supplement I think he has gained about 8 ounces. Apparently Graham is a fairly "content to starve" baby. His personality is pretty laid back and he just wasn't fussing about not being hungry.

That is all the facts of what happened but this whole issue of breastfeeding has been quite an emotional roller coaster for me. When I was pregnant with Ewan and learned all the benefits of breastfeeding I got so excited about the experience. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to make enough milk to feed my baby. I did everything I could possible do and it really made the entry to motherhood a rocky road. I shed many tears and asked God why I couldn't feed my baby. I felt like something was stolen from me.

When Graham started not gaining weight I felt sad and depressed. Again, why is this happening to me? God, don't you know how important it is for babies to get breastmilk? Don't you know how badly I want to nurse all my babies? I know you are able to make my body to make more milk...can't you do this for me? I asked for lots of prayer and wisdom to know what to do. What was the right program for me to do so that my supply would increase? I had so many options to try that I felt like I had to DO the exact right thing in order for it to work. But where was the faith in that? Eventually I felt like I had exhausted all my options and that I just had to trust God to come through for me. I asked some other birth teachers what they would do if they were me. People had good suggestions that I tried. Nothing was working the way it should have been. Breastfeeding is such a natural thing, why does it have to be so difficult for some people?

My body was failing me--a symptom of our broken world. I think that other women might feel similarly when they have trouble conceiving or birthing their babies. As I was praying about my milk supply and asking God to please speak to me the phrase, "Breastfeeding is a badge of motherhood to you." came to my mind. At first I wasn't sure what that meant but after praying about it some more, what came clear to me was that to me part of being a good mom means that your nurse your babies.

***As a disclaimer, I don't judge other women who have difficulties nursing and choose to bottle feed--I don't hold the same standards to other women that I have for myself.***

When it came down to it, I felt like in order for me to be the best mom in the world, I needed to exclusively nurse Graham so I could have the best bond with him and provide the best nutrition for him. I mean, what kind of mom would I be if I provided MY kids with artificial milk? After praying about it, I believe that God is teaching me that my ability to be a good mom comes from HIM alone, not on my ability (or lack thereof) to nurse my children. It sounds so simple but this has been such a hard lesson for me to learn and to embrace. I am learning more about the GRACE of God and how any goodness that comes out of me and my ability to be a mom is from Him.

Since my epiphany, I have felt so much more free to enjoy my baby. I felt angry early on that this whole issue was stealing the joy of having a sweet little baby to nurture and take care of. This could be my last baby and I want to enjoy every minute of it! I don't want to miss out on all those sweet moments because I am to busy stressing out about why my body doesn't work perfectly. Now that Graham is gaining weight I am even more happy and full of joy. One of the birth teachers I talked to has a lactation consultant friend who has in big letters on her binder FEED THE BABY. It is so much more important that my baby get the nutrients and food he needs and part of my job as a mom is to make sure he gets food no matter what the means. Knowing that Graham is gaining and growing makes me happy.

So I am still nursing Graham and giving him a supplement afterward. I will continue to nurse him for as long as he wants to. It feels inevitable that within the next few months that Graham will gradually switch over to bottle feeding. And I am okay with it. I have peace. I have done just about everything that I knew to do to make it work. I could have chosen to use the SNS for longer but I figured that my sanity and ability to take care of my other kids was more important. I feel nervous about how the natural birth community will respond to my decisions but I feel like I am being the best mom I know to be right now. I feel like my experiences have given me the ability to have compassion on moms who have difficulties nursing or even birthing their babies.

I hope that I don't forget my identity in Christ and continue to put my hope in him. I am thankful that he has met my needs through this time and that he has spoken to my heart and brought me closer to Him.


Grace H. Lin said...

it is good to hear from your experience. i have learned to not become too prideful when it comes to nursing and to not judge and to accept all ways of feeding our babies. it's more important to me that caleb grows up in a safe, secure, and loving family. thanks again for your entry amelia.... i love your honesty!

mamabrown said...

You are already the best Mom, sweetheart. You love your babies and do the utmost to love, nurture, and care for their physical, spiritual, and mental health. I am so very blessed to have a daughter that has faith and depends on God to help with the very honorable and very difficult job of motherhood. I believe motherhood is a complex, hard, and consuming life's work. You are doing a terrific job. Absolutely! Not even one doubt about it!

nicapamela said...

i appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in confessing your struggles in this area, amelia.

it appears finding our complete identity in Christ remains a challenge regardless of what stage of life we find ourselves in.

hugs to you.

Marie said...

So, as a self-proclaimed member of the natural birth (and parenting) community I have to remind you what you said to me once...with natural parenting it doesn't matter so much what choices you make and how things actually happen (you were talking about birth), what matters is that we are educated when we make the decisions, rather than doing things just because the dr's say so or because everyone else does it too.

You are not a failure. From everything I've seen you are a GREAT mom. I've admired you since I met you.

We were lucky. Logan latched on and still nurses like a champ. For the most part, I've had plenty of milk for him. I've never had to supplement. But here we are, almost 14 months later, and I see NO letting up. When I'm not at work he wants to nurse every hour. Sometimes I have to tell him no just to keep my sanity. Sometimes he nurses so much I become raw and the tissue becomes sore. With the exception of the last two nights and at the maximum 5 more throughout the last 14 months, he wants to wake up every couple hours to nurse. And its not because he's starving...the kid is in the 95% height and 60's for weight.

My point isn't to make you jealous or rub it in your face (hopefully I'm not doing that) point is that there are negatives to exclusive breastfeeding too, one of which for you and many other women is that their babies won't grow very much and may not be getting enough to eat and you have to have supplement.

In this world, only you can know what is best for your sons, and you have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to help you make the decisions you have to make. It is obvious that you love your sons and are making the best choices you can for them.

It's kind of like in the birthing go into birth choosing everything natural, but after 48 hours of active stage 1, you know you need some help. you still try to do it as natural as possible, but you may add an intervention here or there. Ultimately the health of your baby is the most important thing.

amelia said...

Thanks Marie,

I didn't feel like you were rubbing it in my face at all. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement!

Anonymous said...

Graham, Isaac, and Ewan are so very blessed, beyond even what they may ever actually be able to comprehend, to have you as their mommy.

Christy said...

Since I learned from our IVCF friends that we were both expecting babies about the same time, I've been reading your blog. You as a 3rd time mommy have a lot of godly wisdom to offer me as a 1st time mommy! There have been many times I've wanted to comment on your blog, but times gets away from me. After reading this blog entry, I am compelled to comment.

In anticipating Trey's birth, I educated myself all I could about breastfeeding ... taking classes & reading books. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed Trey for at least one year. No way was I going to use formula. I was so excited to get started breastfeeding.

Very quickly it became apparent that Trey was not getting enough food and losing weight too rapidly. I had to begin supplementing with formula. It broke both my and Rob's hearts. We continued to hope that my milk just hadn't fully come in yet, so we persevered. I, too, took Reglan and pumped after every feeding to stimulate my milk supply. My efforts were never enough. My milk supply never became adequate enough for Trey's needs.

Due to the time it took to breastfeed, supplement with formula, and pump, the routine became too arduous to continue. I cried so many tears over the decision to stop breastfeeding. It took me quite awhile to mourn what felt like a true loss and utter disappointment in my body.

Once I stopped breastfeeding, I found I bonded better with Trey. I had more energy to focus on him, whereas before that energy was put into breastfeeding and the fight to perservere that it unfortunately became. Like you, through this time, I've come to learn that I am no less of a mommy since I feed my baby formula. God still proclaims over us both that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. From time to time, I still feel twinges of regret and sadness. In those moments, I have to give it back to God and trust Him.

THANK YOU for this blog entry and your realness and honesty. I thank God for you!

Christy Dulaney

amelia said...


I totally know what you mean. Thanks for sharing and commenting!

Since letting go of what I wished my body could do I really have felt like I could bond with Graham better. It does take a little more time to add a supplement after feedings and once it feels too arduous to do that I will stop too. Right now he doesn't need one after every feeding.

I am glad that you feel like you are being the best mom you can be! Sometimes I wish I could literally take that "mommy guilt" we have and burn it. I know that I will feel those moments of sadness too--but I too can rejoice in the wonderful son that God gave me.

Lauren said...

You know what I think. I just want to tell you that this was an extremely beautiful post.