Thursday, February 10, 2011

The early introduction of formula

I still go to the breastfeeding support group weekly and I’m pretty much the only person who attends so regularly. In seeing a lot of moms with newborns over the past several weeks, I’ve heard so many who were told they should supplement with formula in the first days due to the baby losing too much weight. “My baby lost 11% of her weight!” one said, without realizing that 11% of seven pounds is not that much.

It makes me sad to see so many moms caused to worry when initial weight loss is normal for so many babies.

“Maybe I wouldn’t listen if it was my second child,” one new mom said. “But with a first child, you don’t know what you are doing and you don’t want to take any chances. So you do what the doctor says.”

It makes me so glad that we had a doula our first time around. She encouraged me to have the confidence that my body would do what it needed to do. I needed that encouragement, as my body took a very long time to do it. Long enough for River to lose over a pound. Long enough for the pediatricians to express concern, to suggest formula repeatedly. Long enough for River’s lips to become chapped from dehydration. I think it was somewhere around a week when my milk finally came in.

I never had a copious supply, but it was adequate. If I had supplemented earlier, I wouldn’t have had enough and I’m doubtful I could have caught up.

This time, Willow dropped from 7 pounds 15 ounces to 7 pounds 5 ounces and our pediatrician expressed concern. She sent us home with a sizeable sample of newborn formula, in ready-to-feed bottles. She worried about the lack of poopy diapers as well as the weight loss. This time, we were able to ignore her supplementation suggestion with confidence. We put the formula in the corner, the milk came in (earlier than last time) and she’s been doing fine.

Week after week, I see women struggling to pump and to get their supplies back in line after introducing formula. As one woman described it, once the formula is introduced, it’s a downward slide from there in terms of breastfeeding.

That was the case for us. Once I started giving River a decent amount of formula (around six months) I was never able to give him only breastmilk again. I was able to give him some breastmilk until he was a year old, but I constantly struggled to pump and felt like I was always behind.

I don’t think this is a bad thing if formula is the right choice for a family. But it makes me sad to see women with newborns, who wanted to breastfeed exclusively, but were instructed by people they trusted to introduce formula so early.

I imagine in some of their cases it may have been necessary. I think in many of them, it may not have been. That perhaps they could have used a little encouragement to ignore the scale and the diaper counts and the precise measurements of what goes in and out, and instead to trust their bodies to do what is needed for their babies.

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