We’ve had two months with Baby Pickles, and I haven’t been particularly chatty online about it. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s that my time with two hands and more than five consecutive minutes on the computer has been few and far between. But it makes me feel like I’m going to explode when I don’t get a chance to write anything (stuff for work doesn’t satisfy this need, unfortunately), so the Beard is making a concerted effort to get out of the Wagen with Pickles more often. It’s not that he doesn’t want to spend more time with Baby Pickles, it’s just that she likes to spend most of her time at the milk tap. Go figure.
I really love breastfeeding. The lazy part of me loves the ease and convenience—no equipment to wash or sterilize, no formula to prepare and warm to just the right temperature. The thrifty part of me loves the savings—formula and bottles and things are expensive. The foodie part of me loves the health benefits it allows me to pass on, and the knowledge that I am not feeding my baby anything artificial or funky, no label-reading required. And the rest of me loves the soul-wrenching, mind-numbing level of beautiful, serene, forever bonding that it facilitates. An adorable teeny tiny baby who, while having a drink, is suddenly so overcome by happiness that she feels the need to stop for a second and smile goofily up at you? Oh. My. God. Janitor to aisle four, another customer has melted.
That being said, you then might be able to imagine how I felt when we took Pickles to her third doctor’s appointment, and the pediatrician looked at her weight (which was low) and said: “You need to give her formula.”
A baby being labeled as “underweight” is one of those sort of wishy-washy things. The charts the doctors in the west use tend to be on the high side (as in, expect high weights), while the WHO charts include a lower range of weights under “healthy.” But individuality complicates the issue (ah yes, the complication of every medical issue, ever, and the one our current medical system seems to have lost the time for dealing with) as a baby with small parents might be smaller than one with bear-sized parents, for example. It is hard to say which baby’s low weight is a result of a problem and which baby’s low weight is a result of genetics or individual timing (some babies having growth spurts at different ages than expected, for another example). And doctors these days don’t often have the time to figure out the difference.
Those three words felt like a sledgehammer in the face: “give her formula.” No, no, no! This wasn’t the kind of doctor I wanted to work with! The kind of doctor who would recommend formula before asking me one single question about breastfeeding. The kind of doctor who would rather throw the easiest solution to the problem at her patients than take a few minutes to see if the healthiest choice for Pickles diet—i.e. human milk–could be sustained with a little tweaking of tactic or technique. Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a doctor who had the time for that kind of relationship with his or her patients. The system just isn’t designed that way. So I told her I would get a second opinion from a lactation consultant and my midwife, thankyouverymuch.
I’m still wondering if the pediatrician thought I actually wanted a second opinion on Pickles’ weight. Though in my head I was thinking “well, we’ll see what the WHO charts say,” as well as “we’ll see what the midwife’s scale says,” it was the need for formula supplementation that I wanted a second opinion on. The stuff isn’t pure evil or anything, but I knew that feeding babies formula carries certain risks (you can read all about them here if you are interested), particularly at this age, before Pickle’s intestines are completely finished developing. I would give Pickles formula if she needed it, but I wasn’t going to believe she needed it until I talked to someone who had the time and the training to talk to me intelligently about breastfeeding.
The doctor, meanwhile, seemed a little rattled that I wanted a second opinion at all. But maybe she’s just not used to having people question her advice. Doctors, after all, enjoy a rather haloed position in society. I was 25 before I realized that they don’t actually know everything, that a lot of the time, they don’t have a fucking clue what’s wrong with you or what to do about it.
So we went home, and I went into hyperdrive. I went to the pharmacy and had them order fenugreek capsules (an herb known to help increase milk supply), bought nursing tea, and combed the internet. Then I called the leader of my La Leche League group (a breast feeding support group that I have been going to since I was a couple of months pregnant). Incredibly kind, she helped me cool off, and then popped a package with blessed thistle capsules (another herb alleged to help boost milk supply), The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book, more fenugreek, and domperidone (a medicine available only in Belgium, strangely) that might help in the mail. (Fenugreek, blessed thistle, and domperidone are the combo of supplements that LLL adoptive mothers hoping to breastfeed might take, but don’t ever take domperidone as a first response to breastfeeding problems! Read up on it, and for the love of cod don’t base any of your own medical decisions on my blogular anecdotes.)
We talked about boosting my supply, about making sure I was eating and drinking enough, and about options for the case that I really did need to give her formula, among other things. Talking to her was fantastic, calming. Because despite all the information I have about breastfeeding and supplementation (and how the supplementation is often not necessary), despite the fact that I know that doctors don’t always know everything or have time to discuss more time-consuming options with their patients, hearing a doctor express worry about my baby was scary. And the knee jerk reaction to fear is to do whatever the loudest voices are saying you have to do to fix it. Even when we know better.
To read part two in this series, click here. For part three, click here.