1.18.2011

How To Feed A Child

Who knew that feeding your new child would be such a harried experience. You're already nervous about your ability to take care of this little person and suddenly you discover that something as simple as feeding it carries a heavy burden. Whether it's the lactation nazis who make you feel like you've never done enough, the formula companies who seduce you with the ease of formula, or the parenting magazines who attempt to walk the line and sing the praises of both, parents are bombarded with tons of advice regarding how and what to feed their children.

While formula feeding was all the rage for my parents' generation, breastfeeding has come back into vogue. We are inundated with radio and television ads advocating the benefits of breastfeeding and are made to feel like failures and stew in a lifetime of guilt if we formula feed. Colostrum is often referred to as "liquid gold" and people who comment on pumping equipment and accessories refer to "every precious drop" and how horrified they are if any is spilled. There are even shields made to collect any milk that is released during the day rather than "wasting it" in a nursing pad in your bra. Then there are the myriad bottles that are made to be "just like mom" or "as close to nature as possible." It's clear that in today's world, breastfeeding is the gold standard and formula-feeding is the also-ran.

What I found missing from all the advice was a recognition that how parents ultimately decide to feed their child depends a great deal on the circumstances of the family and no position, regardless of side, can ever account for the endless possibilities of what brings parents to their ultimate decision. I don't think any woman who gets pregnant plans to formula feed. Even the teenagers of MTV's 16 and Pregnant initially attempt to breastfeed. Any why not? Outside of all the health benefits to mom and baby, it's free! Still, even with all the media pressure to breastfeed, whether parents elect to breastfeed or formula feed, there is plenty of support out there for either decision.

What's frustrating to me is that there is a third option that very few people, medical providers included, consider or recognize. It's not a simple option, or even "ideal" (although none of them is in my book), but it's the one that works best for me. But, before we discuss said option, let's go back and figure out how I got here.

I intended to breastfeed. I knew of the health benefits and was seduced by the thought of effortless weightloss as well as free food. I set up my birth preferences to include immediate bonding and attempts at breastfeeding in an effort to get off to a successful start. Nature, however, had other plans. Between Lil' Bit's need to head to the nursery for oxygen and my erratic heartbeat and fainting, we had little bonding time and no immediate attempts at breastfeeding could be made. When I finally got to the nursery to try breastfeeding, it was a spectacular disaster, with lots of crying on everybody's part. The nurses made a note to get me pumping equipment and to have me meet with the lactation consultant.

In meeting with the lactation consultant, it became clear that breastfeeding was going to take lots of work. Not only was Lil' Bit having issues not wanting to suck because it gave her a headache (the result of her conehead from the long labor and 3-hour pushing session), she kept getting her tongue in the way. We were given a contraption that allowed me to finger-feed Lil' Bit whatever colostrum I was able to pump and then supplement with formula without having to bottlefeed and, in doing so, we would teach her to keep her tongue down. This was an extremely exhausting system, as taping the small tube to a finger and getting said tube and finger into Lil' Bit's mouth was difficult. You wouldn't think so, but trust me on this.

When we would report to the nurses how much she was eating, we were informed that we weren't doing it right. She wasn't eating enough at each feeding. Although I listened thoughtfully, I wasn't sure what the nurse intended me to do. I couldn't make her eat anymore than she was. Besides, if I had been breastfeeding, we'd have no way to know how much she was taking in, so why was there this big to do? Each day I would try to get Lil' Bit to latch, but the lack of immediate food always left her screaming. The nurses told me to stick with it and that once my milk came in, it would be easier, because she would get an immediate response.

Once we got her home, we kept with the pattern. However, it became clear that the finger-feeder was not going to keep up with Lil' Bit. She had an appetite and it could not give her food fast enough. At this point, we elected to feed her from a bottle. I still pumped and we gave her whatever I produced from a bottle first, but if there wasn't enough, we supplemented with formula. I knew giving her the bottle would make breastfeeding more difficult, but the lactation consultant had told me that "going to the breast should be a good experience for the baby, so if she starts screaming, it's time to stop for that attempt." Well, there was always screaming. Remember my previous discussion about a stubborn child? She wanted her food and she wanted it now, thank you very much. I continued to try breastfeeding, but she never did latch. Even after my milk came in and was abundant, she still got her tongue in the way, she bit, she screamed, and we were both left tired and frustrated.

In my exhaustion, I remembered that the point was to give Lil' Bit breastmilk. I was already doing that--albeit by bottle. I was going to have to do that anyway once I got back to work, and this way Phil could help with the feedings. Before Lil' Bit was two weeks old, she was dining exclusively on breastmilk from a bottle without formula supplementation, and does so still today. We had stumbled upon what is known as "exclusive pumping" or "EP." This is option number 3, although it's hard to convince people. Everyone asks if we are breastfeeding or bottlefeeding, and I explain we are bottlefeeding breastmilk. The question should be: are you feeding breastmilk or formula, regardless of the delivery method. With EP, Lil' Bit and I both get the health benefits of breastmilk without the trauma of breastfeeding, and Phil can help with the feedings. It's not perfect. Feeding take longer--I have to warm up the bottle, feed her, and then pump. I am somewhat tied to the pump, as I pump 5-6 times a day at 4-6 hour intervals. And even when she sleeps through the night, I still have to wake up for a pumping session.

Still, doing it this way, I am prepared for when I go back to work and have already begun stockpiling milk in the freezer for when she heads off to daycare. And the truth is, neither breastfeeding nor formula-feeding is perfect either. Each option has benefits and drawbacks and it is up to parents to decide what is best for their child. I just wish there were sources of information out there for parents that outline all the options, highlighting their benefits and drawbacks, without pushing an agenda. As a new parent, I have enough to worry about without feeling as though I have done it all wrong before I barely got started.

*EP is receiving more recognition, such as this article in Time Magazine, but is still not widely accepted.

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