still not crying over spilled milk, part the third

This is the third and final ramble in what has become a three-part epic about having the peditrician tell us that Baby Pickles was underweight and that we needed to give her formula and what we’ve done about it so far.  You can read part one here and part two here.  And before I get going, thanks so much to all the lovely folks who have commented on the first two posts.  Particularly the comments on my intial post made me feel so awesome and supported and not alone and hell yeah.  And right about being skeptical!  Because a doctor saying your baby’s weight is too low is not necessarily the last word on the subject.  Because doctor’s are particularly good at fear mongering.  Anyway, as usual, you guys rock.  Thank you.

I hadn’t realized.  But having kids makes you realize so many things, and what I’ve been particularly focused on realizing lately is how much, how seriously very very much, what we eat affects us.  I mean, I knew that.  Sort of.  You are what you eat, right?  And so I try to make sure I am not an enormous vat of white sugar, Frankenstein plants, antibiotics, pesticides, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

But did you know that what we eat and how we eat it can change the way we look?  Not in a “he’s fat and she’s thin” sort of way, but in a fundamental “this is the shape of my jaw” sort of way.  For example, if you breastfeed, your baby’s jaw will develop differently than if you don’t (or if you don’t for very long).  And of course a lack of various nutrients (or the presense of various detrimental substances) can result in smaller people, smarter people, allergic people, and on and on.  Realizing this as I’m watching Baby Pickles grow has shown me how much more of what we eat we really are.  So much more than I ever really was able to wrap my head around.  Everything.  Everything.

Which is why breastfeeding Baby Pickles for as long as it is mutually acceptable for both of us is so important to me.  Which is why I was hoping to never have to give her a drop of formula.  But, whoops, too late.  As I have mentioned here and here.

The first time I fed Baby Pickles formula was a Saturday.  After a week of up-and-down weights that ended with a cumulative gain of either absolutely nothing or a 20 gram loss, depending on which scale you were willing to believe, I didn’t want to wait any longer (it is taking all my self control not to make a wait-weight pun here, badabing!).  I still wasn’t convinced that the problem was that my body wasn’t producing enough milk, couldn’t produce enough milk, but I didn’t want Pickles’ health to suffer for it in the meantime.

More worrisome to me had been the thought of having to give Pickles a bottle.  Because babies don’t have to suck as hard on a bottle to get at the milk, they often start to prefer the bottle to the breast.  And ruck-zuck, as they say in German, you’ve got yourself a baby who refuses to breastfeed.  I wanted to give Pickles as much breast milk as I could—the stuff is pure magic I tell you—and so I didn’t want to run that risk.  That’s where the supplemental feeding contraption came in.

A supplemental feeder is a kind of spacey device designed for just this purpose.  It consists of a plastic bottle that you wear, upside down, on a string around your neck.  Two tiny tubes are attached to the head of the bottle, and these you tape onto your nipples so that the end of the tube sticks out just slightly more than the nipple itself.  First you let your baby drink breast milk, and when you’re empty, you open up the tube and let her drink formula.  That way she only drinks as much formula as she really needs, and she still has to suck just as hard to get it.  I.e. laziness doesn’t come in and ruin your breastfeeding relationship, and you don’t have to think too much about how much milk you’re giving her.  She gets to decide.  Another pro for the supplemental feeder.

So we started with one bottle a day.  In two days Pickles had gained 130 grams (about what she had gained per week previously). Using the contraption was pretty easy, and Pickles drank about half of each bottle offered to her.  Then she drank the whole bottle, slurping the last sips with that straw-at-the-bottom-of-the-soda-cup noise.  Then we offered her two bottles a day.  Now we’re back to one, which she is only drinking half of.  If there is any information to be gleaned from this (non) pattern, I don’t know what it is.  I am glad, however, that it appears the problem lies with me and not with her.  *Cue more detective work.*  Because I’m still not willing to believe this is an unsolvable issue.

About a week into formula feeding, a good friend with a nine-month-old baby gave me a call.  She knew about my milk problem, had been with me to La Leche League meetings, even lived in a Bauwagen herself.  “I had an idea,” she said.  “Why don’t I just pump milk for you to give to Pickles?  I have more than enough.”

I grinned.  “Really?  You would do that?!  I have to admit the idea had already occured to me, but I didn’t ask you about it because I thought you might think it was weird.  Or too much work.”

“No, I mean I don’t want to do it forever since I want to get rid of my milk eventually,” she went on, “but if you’re only giving her one bottle a day that should be no problem.  As long as I don’t have to clean the pump.”

And so Baby Pickles got her own wet nurse (technically it’s a milk share since she’s not feeding at another breast, but tomato, tomatoe).  There are a lot of people out in internet land who seem to find the concept horrifying, disgusting, wrong.  But to me it feels natural.  What would someone with a milk supply problem have done 200 years ago?  1. Not been freaked out by worried doctors obsessed with charts.  2. Not had her baby constantly weighed.  3. Probably only noticed a weight issue if it was very very serious.  And then 4. Looked for a wet nurse, if she could afford it, or cross nursing with a mother friend.  Did you know that royal ladies only nursed their first-born children?  It was part of the whole “you are marked for greatness” spiel.  Everybody else got farmed out to a wet nurse.  The history of wet nursing is kind of fascinating.  As is the fact that it appears to be quietly reappearing in many people’s lives today.  Having a friend willing to share her milk with my baby makes my little community feel even tighter, more supportive and magical and healthy.

Unfortunately, our milk sharing hasn’t worked out quite so idyllically.  First of all, preparing bottles sucks.  SUCKS.  I keep my Wagen relatively neat, but I am not in the habit of washing anything—be it dishes, my body, or a bottle—every single day.  And with baby bottles you have to wash the damn thing, then you have to sterilize the damn thing, and then you have to warm the damn food up (if using the formula, to a boil), and then you have to wait for the damn stuff to cool to just the right tempurature.  And hope that Baby Pickles is still even interested at that point.  Or hasn’t been torturing you for an hour with heart-rending screams of agony.

Every time I make a bottle, I find myself wondering why anyone would choose this feeding option because “it is  more convenient.”  My ass it is.  Breastfeeding: no washing involved!  A quickly moved shirt and—bam!—you’re rolling!  So there’s the irritation of washing the pump and the bottle.  Add to that trying to meet up with said friend, who only lives a kilometer away, every day for her to pump, at a time when both of our babies aren’t screaming and hers, preferrably, is sleeping (she gets jealous about the pump being on her milk tap).

But despite the difficulties that lie in the logistics of such an arrangement, it’s not the reason that Pickles is still getting mostly formula.  Nope, that’s because she had horrible screaming fits of intestinal (we assume) agony every time she received our friend’s milk.  So either our friend is eating something Pickles’ can’t stomach, or the make-up of the milk (which is currenlty tuned for our friend’s nine-month-old baby) is just too hard for her almost-three-month-old stomach to digest.  Looks like we’ve got detective work on every front.

0 Comments on “still not crying over spilled milk, part the third

  1. You will figure it out! My son was losing weight at first, and though I really wanted to exclusively breastfeed, his health was more important in those first few days. I supplemented with a bottle and there was no confusion, and we went on to enjoy 11 months of breastfeeding. I supplemented with formula because working full-time and pumping was a PAIN, but that’s another issue. His initial problem involved his latch, so I used a plastic guard for about a month. It reassured me because I could see the milk and knew he was getting something. Whatever works for you is right …. Good luck.

  2. I know a lot of people find the whole idea of milk sharing a bit yucky, but when I had Orla I was in the hospital and there was talk of them starting up a milk bank where you could donate breast milk for other babies who were in need of it. Personally, I think it’s an amazing thing, as it’s so full of antibodies and general wondrous stuff that I would have no problem feeding either of my two when they were babies other women’s milk. I drink cows milk, and I’m not loyal to one particular cow after all… P.S. one of my favourite things about breast milk is that if your baby gets an eye infection you can drop a couple of drops of breast milk into their eye and it will clear it up really quickly! Magic!

  3. I gave some of my milk to some friends when they were having trouble feeding their little girl. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

    Good luck with the detective work! Sending you milky vibes!

  4. Ah! I didn’t even think of that! What a wonderful idea, and of course, DUH, but of course we live in a world where that wouldn’t even come up because of course you are supposed to be completely independent, right? But when I was visiting I was hard core wishing for some of that Into the Forest magic supplementary milk action to happen so I could help out… way more logical for it to come from someone who already has milk!!

  5. All in all, sounds like a lot of work. The main thing is that Baby Pickles is growing, and I hope you can find out if there’s a solution to your breastfeeding issue! The wet nurse thing I’ve heard of before, but what a great idea to learn from history. Seems completely natural to me, hopefully it all works out. But I didn’t know that what your mother eats – ergo baby, as well – affects your appearance…

  6. Hey, just read you last couple of posts and caught up- so sorry to hear about your recent troubles :/. Everything will work out, and I have full faith in you as an individual and as a mother- your commitment to both your baby and yourself is inspiring and I really admire you. I think it is very awesome to have a friend offer her milk and also for you to accept and give it a try- that is what friends do for each other and I know you would do the same thing for a friend. It is unfortunate that it hasn’t been working out with her milk, but I guess it’s just not meant to be. Anyway, yeah- totally blown away by you- mucho love going out to you in the rough times and also the super times =).

  7. I’ve enjoyed reading your updates & posted on your first “installment” of this Pickles saga. Anyway, I have an 8 month old son who had issues with weight gain too. Turns out he was allergic to the milk and soy proteins in breast milk. I’ve had to cut out all milk and soy from my diet in order for him to be healthy. I think you mentioned in a post one time that you have issues with soy. I think its a genetic thing. Your friend probably eats soy products and it might be what’s bothering your baby. Just a thought. Oh! And even the soy flour in something as simple as store bought bread was an issue. Everything has soy in it nowadays (in the U.S.) Don’t know if its the same in Germany, but your friend could be consuming it without even knowing about it.

  8. my son who drank my pumped breast milk from bottles had severe reactions to milk, onion, and especially eggs in my diet,

    beans for my cousin’s boy caused lots of pain, he still can’t stomach them at 15 years old

    Above is an arty video made by some friends of mine who were in the position of being wet-nurse in their community. It’s a good thing. You are such a good mama. I have been recommending your blog to all new mamas I know.
    With love,
    mama of two teens (yeah. I made it this far. so can you sister!!)

  10. When you’re all done solving your mysteries and looking for something interesting to read while Pickles is napping, look into diet and epigenetics. It’s the study of how what we eat now not only determines what we are, but how it affects generations after us, and it’s absolutely fascinating.

  11. What a nightmare! But as long as Pickles is healthy, that’s all that matters. You know you’ve tried your best for her.

    On the subject of wet-nursing, I offered to pump milk for a friend of mine when she had issues with her baby latching and developed recurrent mastitis having to pump all the time. She wasn’t keen on the idea and eventually switched to formula. But I don’t see anything weird about it.

  12. i now things will work out for you & Pickles very soon. You are already the most inspirational and hard-working momma around:) happy friday!

  13. It’s truly awesome to hear your story. You’ve shown that there are many solutions and answers, and have tirelessly forged ahead in providing the best possible care for your child. You’ve been inventive, you have learned, and you are now teaching others through your own experience, which has surely been incredibly frustrating and even heart-wrenching. The phrase ‘wanting what’s best for our child’ is something that has to be felt and experimented with, but it is a surefire thing with absolute standards. I’m so proud of you for finding creative solutions, for questioning, and for being willing to share your process with the world, even while in the midst of it all. I’m sorry things have been stressful, but you are standing up for yourself & your family, and that’s awesome. You have more than proven yourself as a fantastic mother! Your challenges open up much dialogue and conversation about so many topics of child-rearing that many parents do not ever approach. You’re doin’ it! Woot! Love!

  14. Jen: Awesome that you guys figured out your problem and went on to breastfeed for so long. Here’s hoping I figure out my issue someday too.

    Fiona: Heh, love the point about adult milk drinkers not being loyal to just one cow. 🙂 And thanks for the email which I will probably not manage to reply to for ever. But expect a call from me one day soon I think. 🙂

    Rachel: Milky vibes received! WOOT!

    Fishie: Now that would have been something.

    Sara: Thanks. And isn’t it fascinating? So many interesting things that I’m learning from Pickles.

    Amanda: You are the sweetest, as usual. Thanks for the support. Wish we were neighbors!

    Rebecca: Good point with the soy. My milk donor friend is allergic to gluten, but I think she does eat soy. I should ask her about that. For some reason it didn’t even cross my mind. She and I were thinking it was possibly onions and cabbagey sort of things, but duh, things I’m allergic to Pickles might be too…

    Tess: So far Pickles can’t handle uncooked onions (cooked are fine), beans, and lentils. There’s another subject for detective work…

    Amy: Thanks for the recommendation. Will watch it when my internet connection gets a little faster. Today it’s a tortoise.

    Paula: Oo! Sounds fascinating. Good call.

    Radical Ramblings: I guess a lot of people are weirded out by the whole “exchange of bodily fluids” bit of it, see it as too intimate or something.

    Sarah: Thanks!!

    Katey: And thanks to you to. Your comment is pretty inspiring in and of itself. Rock on.

  15. I ended up having to switch Cupcake to formula milk when she was six weeks old – I was heartbroken at the time, just so sad at not being able to breastfeed successfully and so ashamed at my physical inability to do what I’d convinced myself was the most fundamental of mothering tasks. Now, 6 years on, I realise the most fundamental mothering task was to do what was best for *her* and I *did* manage to do that.

    I’m now just so grateful that I live in a country where I could access and afford that alternative source of nourishment. I’m also so very, very grateful that she did gain weight and grow despite my misgivings. We do what we can – maybe we become the parent we never thought we’d be, but hey, if your child is alive and thriving, so what?

    You sound like you’re learning and staying adaptable – sounds like a great way to parent from my perspective.

  16. Every time I make a bottle, I find myself wondering why anyone would choose this feeding option because “it is more convenient.” My ass it is. Breastfeeding: no washing involved!

    My sentiments exactly! To me the inconvenience was worth it for feeding my baby my milk while I was at work (because I like my job, and the time away from him was refreshing to me) but I did very much notice it was inconvenient. The only way I can see that bottle-feeding would be more convenient is if you were the father or adoptive parent of a baby whose mother insisted on being a hermit in a tree-house or something equally inaccessible.

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