gorilla mama: not crying over spilled milk

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.

0 Comments on “gorilla mama: not crying over spilled milk

  1. Don’t forget that science is the religion of our age. We dare not question it and its decrees cause deep stomach twangs of fear and guilt if we do (…remind you of any previous age and its own all-pervading religion?;)

    I have been thinking on this a lot lately: however “alternative” I am, never normally visiting the doc, using all sorts of alternative health treatments, herbs etc, as soon as something “serious” comes along, we can’t help reverting the society’s deeply ingrained mantra of fear – go to the doctor. Even tho we know they often don’t know!

    I’m not totally against western medicine – it does A&E type stuff very well, but in terms of treating a whole healthy person, it’s rubbush.
    My partner is a student of Chinese Medicine – in traditional China, your local acupuncturist would be paid only whlist you were well – as soon as you got ill, you’d stop paying him and it would be in his interest to get you better again (often by moving in with you and treating you intensively)! Makes the way things are done in the west seem a bit mad doesn’t it? ie that they only get money from unwellness…

    Trust your instincts… humans have managed for thousands of thousands of thousands of years without formula.

    And sending love to your little clan from the rainy moors of southwest UK 🙂 xx Rima

  2. Oh my god. Before you go and change ANYTHING, you need to look at your baby and ask yourself, “does she seem in good health? Is she bright, happy, or lethargic and not quite so happy?”. I had a similar situation with Orla who was always very small. It doesn’t help that S & me are quite small too. Anyway, the health visitors who I took her to on nearly a weekly basis to get weighed told me that she was underweight and if things didn’t improve they would need to inform social services! That alone scared me to death! Their scare-mongering made me put her on formula which they suggested I use as supplementary to breast feeding – which of course just made her want 100% formula which made me mad. Then as this DIDN’T change things AT ALL, they then told me I had to wean her early at like 4.5 months or something crazy. It was nuts. But she was my first child, I thought they were the experts and I didn’t know any better. Anyway, the outcome was that it made no difference at all. Orla is small and she’s a very healthy full of energy 5 year old, and she still doesn’t eat very much, and that’s just the way she is naturally. So please, unless you are seeing any signs that your daughter is not thriving, then just don’t do it. Your body will produce as much milk as your baby needs, that’s kind of how it works. As above, trust your instincts!

  3. hello there,

    I’m not online much either…and don’t seem to have my head together enough to write anything at all….but here’s a quick hello instead. and a wave


  4. regarding fenugreek, beware of overdoing, for me it was also acted as a super laxative, yuck and oowie

  5. I’m so sorry you have this to deal with! Blech. But I’m glad you’re following your instincts and getting second opinions and alternatives to try first. I’m in the US, and my mother is a pediatrician, and she’s always appalled at other docs who get on parents’ cases about their small-size children and insist on formula supplementation or early weaning, which leads to a whole cascade of other interventions, often unnecessarily. She’s a big proponent of the WHO height/weight chart, too. I always find it ironic that in the US there’s all this hysteria about childhood obesity but then all this hysteria over babies who are naturally small. Sometimes it just feels like a hysterical conspiracy.

  6. My daughter was always off the charts. She is still tiny at 20 months and 22 pounds. It’s just her makeup. I am sure the same is for your daughter. That being said, YOU are the one looking at her sweet face and changing her bum. You can tell if she is skinny and/or becoming unhealthy. If not, don’t buy into the formula pushers statement.
    The charts need to be thrown out !

    Keep up the good work Mama ! Miss P is a lovely little baby 🙂

  7. Pingback: not crying over spilled milk, part two | click clack gorilla

  8. Such a cute baby! Sounds like you know your stuff. However, I was going to say that the rule of thumb to determine if a breast-fed baby is getting an adequate amount of milk is their diapers. If she’s happy and her diapers reflect an adequate intake then I wouldn’t worry too much about her weight.

  9. Fenugreek will make you smell like lovely maple syrup all of the time, and help with the milk production. Like other commenters said, if she is bright eyed, happy, and active and not lethargic and listless then you are doing a wonderful job. I sometimes think that doctors don’t have enough real life experience (if they are not a parent) and cannot think further than what a “guide” tells them. Best of luck, you are doing a great job mama!

  10. Rima: Oh my god that sounds absolutely amazing, paying your health care person when you are well!! Wow. We certainly do think backwards about that, don’t we (“we” as a culture)? I like to imagine living in small communities who basically took care of everything for their health care person. Built them a house, brought them food etc. But that would have to be in a society where money wasn’t involved I think.

    Fiona: Oh man, I should have just called you when all this was happened. Who knew?! And from the look of all these comments, a lot of people have dealt with the same thing. Crazy. And so incredibly irresponsible of doctors to recommend what they do!! WHAT THE FUCK?

    haveyouseen: hello! *wave*

    Tess: Well, that would actually be a good thing for me. All that futile pushing I did ripped bits of me I didn’t even know could be ripped. And at the moment I’m taking laxatives four times a day anyway, so any extra benefit would actually be appreciated. :/

    Rachel: I think hysterical conspiracy is the perfect word for it.

    Amy: Thanks so much to you (and all the others) who are sharing their support! I can’t even describe how great it feels. Going through this without anyone to swap “I was there” stories with has made it harder. I should have posted all this immediately as it was happened. But I was too busy crying and worrying and never having time with two hands free to type anyway.

    Paula: 🙂 hee hee

    Rebecca: Yeah, her diaper amount was totally fine, even during the week when she didn’t gain a thing. Every once in a while she would poop just every other day, but that’s totally normal for a breastfed baby.

    LeAnn: It totally has. I love smelling like fenugreek. Hihi. Perfume from the inside. And thanks for the encouragement as well. She is generally a pretty content baby, even more so at the moment. Though I tried to eaten lentils the last few days and they seem to be making her a very unhappy baby. Guess they are on the list of things I shouldn’t be eating.

  11. Pingback: still not crying over spilled milk, part the third | click clack gorilla

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