Back in February, at Eleanor’s 2 month appointment, we found out that she was very underweight. She had gained 7 ounces when she should have gained more like 2 and a half pounds. Turns out that she had a tongue tie, which is when that piece of skin under your tongue is too long/tight for it to move properly. So even though she was going through the eating motions, not much was going down. Suddenly a lot of things made sense. What we thought was colic was her nearly constant hunger. She wanted to eat ALL the time (18+ hours/day)– way more than average– but we were told she was just having a growth spurt. She also didn’t have a lot of dirty diapers, but when I asked a nurse about it she said that it was common with breastfed babies.
I felt really guilty for a while. What kind of mom doesn’t notice that her baby is starving? But with all of the problems we noticed, there was an explanation that made it normal, so we just didn’t know. Why would a baby who was eating all of the time not be getting enough to eat? Not to mention that she was hitting all of her developmental milestones and has always been super alert and strong. But still, I felt pretty crappy about it.
The doctor referred us to a lactation consultant/RN. As with most LC’s, she very strongly encourages exclusive breastfeeding. However, because Eleanor had been eating so little my supply had plummeted. Since she was so underweight, we didn’t have time to bring my supply back up. I had to start supplementing with formula right away, which was super frustrating for me as I had always wanted to exclusively breastfeed.
The above picture on the left was taken right before the LC appointment, and the one on the right was just one week later. I think that the difference in her face is huge! She quickly started looking way, way healthier and acting a lot happier, too. She gained 3 lbs in a month, her hair started growing again, she slept way better, she acted full after eating… The quick bounce back made me feel less awful about it all.
With the tongue tie, I had to get situated very particularly in order for Eleanor to eat. Just trust me when I say that it was extremely difficult to get it right. But even then, she had developed bad habits and still had a lot of trouble getting her mouth to work (not to mention the low supply). She needed to see an Ear-Nose-Throat specialist as soon as possible or I likely wouldn’t be able to continue nursing. Unfortunately, there was a problem with her insurance and they were going to make us wait an entire month to get the fix- which was basically useless.
After some prayer and pulled strings from the LC, we ended up waiting two weeks to get a referral to an Ear/Nose/Throat specialist, rather than a month. They fixed Eleanor’s tongue tie that appointment. It was so sad watching them hold her down and stick scissors in her mouth. She actually cried less than at vaccinations, though. Those probably really hurt since she had hardly any fat on her!
Now that Eleanor can actually move her mouth the way she needs to, she’s eating way better. We’ve slowly worked our way back up to about 50/50 nursing/supplementation. We still spend over 3 hours every week with the LC trying to improve that ratio even more.
It’s sad that I feel like I have to justify myself to others when I give her formula. The condescending looks and remarks really hurt. Even if I had just chosen to formula feed from the start, that wouldn’t make me a bad mom. People have no idea how much I struggled trying to get her to breastfeed. Spending over 18 hours daily feeding her and not knowing why it still wasn’t enough. Experiencing physical pain and exhaustion trying to comfort my starving baby. Finding out that my best efforts weren’t enough. Worrying that I had caused lasting damage to my baby. Trying to afford the formula I didn’t even want to use. Being put on lactation medication that gave me depression as a side effect (we since found an alternate, fortunately). Jumping through hoops with crappy insurance. The last thing I need is people accusing me of “not trying hard enough” or “giving up”. I shouldn’t have to justify myself, but I still feel like I need to.
I share this post not for sympathy or validation, but to add to the experiences of other women who have had difficulty nursing. Sometimes I think that breastfeeding is portrayed as this process that should be simple and come naturally. But for a lot of women, for whatever reason, it’s not.
Eleanor is still underweight, but catching up to where she needs to be. I’m so grateful for the doctors and my LC who have been so helpful and understanding through it all, and the support from family and ward members. Some days are harder than others, but we’re figuring it all out and as always, just doing our best.