Today I started supplementing Reuben’s feeds with formula, and this has opened a can of worms in my mind.
Despite the fact that Reuben is substantially bigger than his sister was at this same age, over the past few weeks his weight gains have been somewhat dismal. My child health nurse is wonderful, and has not once made me feel any kind of guilty, and has supported me to the hilt with my desire to exclusively breastfeed. For about the past month, Reuben has wanted to feed about every 1.5 hours through the day. Occasionally I can stretch him through to 2 hours but it can be a battle. While he was sleeping well at night, I could deal with this, telling myself that this was the price I paid to sleep well at night. However, for the past two weeks or so, Reuben has decided that feeding 2 hourly at night was also necessary. My wonderful husband has tried so hard to settle Reuben back to sleep without being fed to let me sleep, but the poor baby is actually hungry, and won’t be placated with anything but a feed.
Feeding Reuben anywhere between 10 to 12 times a day is utterly exhausting. Although he is a quick feeder, it takes up a lot of my time and means that I get less time to look after Mayana, the house, and myself. It also means that Reuben’s day sleeps have become terrible, since he is always waking up looking for food. When he feeds he is never still; he kicks and wriggles, pulls off and whinges. He has become less and less happy in general, and there have been days when I feel that all he does is cry. Today when I took Reuben to be weighed, he had lost ten grams. Lost ten grams in spite of constant feeding. I couldn’t believe it. This is the second time in three weeks that he has pulled a negative number (he gained 200g+ last week and I thought we were well back on track). Alison asked me gently how I thought my supply was going. I honestly hadn’t thought about it. In my mind (and I’m sure I’ve blogged about it), Reuben was feeding more frequently because he was going through a growth spurt and was trying to up my supply. For a few days there I was getting that ‘full’ feeling again, and experiencing letdown when Rueben drank. When Alison asked me that today, I realised that I really wasn’t sure how it was going. I know that for the past few days I have not been able to tell which side I am up to when I’m feeding – which I really should since he only feeds on one side per feed. This I assumed was because he was full, but maybe it’s because he had exhausted himself trying to drink from the first side? I realised that Reuben falls asleep at the breast almost every time I feed him. Maybe because he is relaxed… but again, maybe because he’s exhausted himself?
All I know is that I’m giving him all I’ve got, and often at the expense of the rest of my family… and it’s not seeming that it’s enough.
I don’t want to paint Alison in a ‘typical health-worker who points to formula the second something looks “wrong”’ kind of light, because she is so far from that it’s not funny. Alison asked me today what I thought I should do. No prompting, no ideas or opinions. She told me to trust my instinct. And my instinct told me that Reuben is just not getting enough from me. I hesitantly, and with tears in my eyes, said to her, “I think I need to give him some formula.”
Mother guilt is a strange beast. In that moment I felt wildly guilty, and yet at the same time as though a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. Guilty that I was letting him down by introducing some formula to him, but also guilty that I hadn’t maybe done it sooner and made my baby happier. Relieved that I don’t have to keep putting myself through the stress of this, and then guilty for feeling relieved. Terrified that once he gets a taste of the bottle he’ll reject me completely and just like that our breastfeeding relationship will be over.
The truth is, I haven’t been enjoying breastfeeding lately (ooh and there’s that guilt again). I love the idea that I am nourishing him, I love the special snuggles… but it’s been hard and frustrating and all. the. time. And it’s no fun when it’s like that.
I am at peace with the fact that my children will never be big kids. I know that when I started Mayana on supplement feeds she still didn’t start making massive weight gains, and at 3 years old she’s still only scraping in on the 3rd percentile on the weight graph. I don’t mind if my baby is not chubby or rolly. I am the first one to tell you that there has to be babies at both ends of the spectrum for those graphs to exist in the first place. I don’t want a big baby, and that’s not what it’s about. Even the weight gain thing doesn’t bother me (well, it does when he loses weight, if it’s slow I’m okay with that). What I do want though is a baby who is happy and healthy, and not hungry.
Today when I fed Reuben his first bottle of formula, he laid on my lap and drank. He didn’t fidget or kick or pull off or cry. He laid still and drank and drank, and within about 20 minutes, that 250mL of formula was almost completely gone. I fed him with tears running down my cheeks, telling him I was sorry, but I realise now that it’s okay with him. His tummy is full, it wasn’t a stressful experience for him. Maybe he was even a little bit relieved too. After I fed him, he burped but didn’t throw up. He always throws up, and after watching him guts so much milk, I’m somewhat baffled as to why? It will be interesting to see what difference this formula makes to his vomiting. I wrapped him up, put his dummy in his mouth, and laid him in his bed, with no protest. For the first time in weeks. He’s been in there for nearly an hour now, and I haven’t heard a peep. For the last two weeks, he’s been awake within 40 minutes, looking for another feed.
So yes. I’m relieved. And I’m feeling guilty. But right now, having processed my morning by writing about it here, the scales are starting to tip more towards relieved. I’m still planning on breastfeeding Reuben as well. At this point I will give him two bottles of formula, and 3-5 breastfeeds a day – mainly because this was the pattern that my very wonderful GP in Toowoomba suggested for Mayana when I started her on supplement feeds.
You know what? I’m a little bit proud of myself. Today I made a decision for Reuben, and God knows it was a hard one. I could have fought it and kept going with my two hourly breastfeeds because that’s what I think is the ideal thing. But instead, I swallowed my pride, and my Dutch stubbornness, listened to my Mama instincts and made a decision that I think will be the best one for Reuben… and for Peter and Mayana. Mother’s guilt can go jump.