I told Aaron the other night I have a hard time looking at pictures of Abby from November and December. Maybe someday soon I will not, but right now, it’s still a little close in memory. Abby was born weighing 7 lbs 3.5 ounces, and I wanted very much to breastfeed her exclusively. Since she was born over the weekend, the only chance to see the hospital lactation consultant was the Monday of our discharge, and it turns out she called in sick that day. We had told the nursery that I would be breastfeeding, and when she wasn’t with us (some time away so we slept), they brought her to me and the nurses tried, though in brief moments, to show me how to nurse. But it wasn’t their job, so we were left mostly to muddle through.
Getting home, we quickly made an appointment with a nearby Lactation Consultant, who came out, weighed her, showed me some techniques and so on. We set up another visit later in the week to measure progress. Some of these details are now a blur, but in short she wasn’t gaining weight very much early on. She got weighed at home a few times. She never lost more than 10% of her weight, but what she did lose just wasn’t coming back quickly. I talked to people, went to the mom’s group, kept trying things. I went through the weeks of nipple soreness before things started getting better, including using prescribed all purpose nipple ointment (which, by the way, is terrific!!).
Aaron was so diligent in bringing her to me in the middle of the night, so that I could get precious extra moments of sleep. With her, almost always also came a snack and water or drink. I took Fenugreek, ate oatmeal, drank more water. I read websites and books. I worried about it. Her pediatrician had not indicated any immediate concerns, and at one of her subsequent (I think 6 wk) check up, she finally seemed to be headed forward, even though she was still not at her birth weight. I remember calling the LC with the good news that the pediatrician was telling us to keep going. He did however, suggest we make an appointment for her to be checked by the GI to rule out anything else. I did, but it was going to be several weeks away, given the holiday timing. In the meanwhile, I relaxed, and tried to finally just enjoy being with her.
She smiled and cooed, she had wet diapers and pooped that glorious orangy breastfeeding baby poop regularly, and she slept a fair amount. She nursed both sides, for several minutes, sometimes falling asleep at the breast. All of these were seemingly normal baby activities. By this time, I’d started pumping, so that once in a while she was taking bottles of expressed milk as well. Other milk I was freezing in hopes of putting milk away for my return to work.
Pumping was not easy, I’d get anywhere between .5-2 ounces after feeding her or in between feedings. But all the info I had read said this too was normal, that the breastpump wasn’t as good as a baby at expressing the milk and not to measure success by output. It also hurt much more than I’d expected, so I tried different flanges, different intensities, different times. It all seemed about the same. As a new mom, I didn’t have a sense of scale – if this was wrong and how so.
And then came the 3 month check up, about two days before the GI appointment. They stripped her down, and she weighed 7 lbs 5 ounces.
At her 3 month appointment.
She was just 1.5 ounces over her birth weight.
I was crushed by that news, when I knew her peers were weighing in at 9 or more pounds by now. However, the pediatrician still didn’t indicate he saw a problem and to start supplementing. This was unusual, as I’d heard most pediatricians turn to formula pretty quickly. So I was more confused than ever, but I knew this was not right. I spent the next few days very anxiously waiting for the pediatric GI referral.
The doctor listened to what we said, then weighed her, and we sat down to talk. He was not happy with what was going on, and was stopping just short of ordering her hospitalization. We agreed to start to aggressively supplement – after every breastfeeding, we were going to give a bottle of either stored breastmilk or formula. We’d try it for a few days, with a check in call over the weekend, and if it didn’t help her to gain weight, we were going to the hospital.
I wanted to curl into a ball and cry. I still do, now… had she been starving all this time?
We went home, ready to execute the new plan. We started her on Similac organic (which in hindsight was ok, but I’d probably choose a different organic if I had to again) after she’d had access to a full breastfeeding. I read more, and we made an appointment with a new lactation consultant who rented us both a scale and hospital pump. I reviewed feeding and pumping techniques with her. She was very calming, and gave me hope that nursing and breastmilk still had a role to play. I switched to More Milk Special blend caps (from the tea/fenugreek), then ultimately Domperidone. We started weighing her every day. It was early December.
And she started gaining. In fact, in just a few days, in time for the follow up with the GI, she’d put on over half a pound. We were relieved it wasn’t a digestion or metabolism issue. But I felt guilty about how long it’d been going on, how maybe it was something I’d done, or not done. I broke down crying in the new moms group shortly after the GI appointment. It took me a few weeks to at least find some peace with going to supplementing, but it was made so much easier by seeing her gaining weight, starting to catch up to her birth month babies. And I kept at the pumping and feeding so that as I went to work, each day I was able to send her with two to three bottles of breast milk. The most I ever pumped, as a result of multiple 40 minute sessions, was 11 ounces in a day. Most days were closer to 8, just barely enough for the bottles.
It turns out she loved and loves eating. Over the next three months, she zoomed to the top of the weight chart (over 80%), where she remains today. And ever so slowly, around the six month mark, we started weaning – I cut down from three pumpings to two a day at work. I cut one nursing session, then another. She started eating foods, and loved just about everything we gave her (except peas). In a few weeks time, she wasn’t even interested in nursing as she could get whatever she needed from the bottle and food. I was ready too, though I did cherish those last few weeks of nursing the most, and it meant a lot to me to give her the last frozen breastmilk I had stored away… I get little pangs when I hear other moms say they’re still breastfeeding at 9 months, a year, whatever. Or that it’s been easy for them, that formula is evil… in truth, it’s why my daughter is just fine today.
She is the stereotypical chubby baby now, and I just hope those dark days didn’t harm her in some way we’ve yet to see.