When Spilling Becomes a Problem (Part I)

Throughout my whole pregnancy, I was so excited to meet my precious little boy that I thought of little else. I was about to become a Mum and impending motherhood was going to be filled with tender newborn snuggles, time spent breastfeeding my bundle and changing dirty diapers. And let’s not forget walking the hall getting my babe to sleep and then watching him sleep. I probably wasn’t being very realistic, but what first time mother has a sound and true knowledge of what being a Mum is like.

What I’d failed to factor in was all the things that could go awry. My perfect baby boy arrived 3 weeks before his due date and was a tiny 5lb 2oz. He was hungry. He fed, and fed and fed. Then spewed, and spewed and spewed, then hit repeat.

It shouldn’t have surprised me really. I was a ‘spilly’ baby who failed to gain weight and was eventually diagnosed with reflux and failure to thrive. So it was no shocker that my baby was a ‘spilly’ baby. But how much spill is too much? When does being a ‘spilly’ baby become a reflux baby?

These questions were all answered in time, but it took an agonizing 8 weeks to get the answers we searched for. I asked the lactation consultant while we were still in hospital if there was a chance Connor could have reflux as even in his first days of life, whenever he spilled, he would become increasingly unsettled. I was fobbed off. “Babies don’t develop reflux until at least 2-3 weeks of age. Stop being paranoid.” I mentioned that I had been a reflux baby and also diagnosed as failure to thrive but it mattered to them little.

After 6 days in hospital with my boy, we were finally released into the world and we got to take him home! The day we all wish for but also dread. No nurses with a wealth of knowledge, no cleaners to whisk away the spilled over sheets and blankets and bring back fresh ones. No meals delivered to your bedside (not that hospital meals are anything to be excited about!).

We took our baby home, delighted to be together as a family for the first time. AND in our own home. The first few days went relatively smoothly. There was some spilling, some tears (mine and Connor’s), but we carried on. And then he stopped sleeping. My two week old newborn would have to be fed to sleep, would wake and cry as soon as you removed him from the breast and would take another hour to settle. In the end, by 4 weeks old he would be awake anywhere from 1-5 hours then sleep 4-6 hours and repeat. I asked about reflux again. This time, my midwife. She assured me she doubted it was reflux, but if I was concerned, to take him to see the Doctor for their opinion.

The doctor wasn’t a huge help. We were given a prescription for baby gaviscon, but advised not to give it to our boy until he was at least 6 weeks old and then only to be given sparingly. I gave him his first dose the very next day. What do you know, it settled him slightly and the spilling reduced! A week later, it was no longer working and we were back where we started. By this stage, we’d been referred to Plunket for sleep advice.

We’d also stopped trying to put Connor in his bassinet after trying all the other tricks of the trade (raising the head end of the bassinet, warming the sheets before putting him in, swaddling tightly. You name it, we’d tried it), we’d given up. Every time we laid him on his back, a screaming match would ensue. The only place he would sleep semi-comfortably was my chest – the one place he would sleep was also the one place I was being told in no uncertain terms he should not be sleeping. So against all advice, to save our sanity and get some sleep, we started bedsharing, something we had never, ever intended to do.

Connor was now bringing up almost all of every feed, and feeding pretty much 24/7. The only place he was content, I wouldn’t call it happy, was at the breast. I felt homebound. I missed family events, I stayed in. The only place I went was coffee group. Connor would scream for the entire 20 minute drive to the rooms, then feed and promptly crash out for the 3 hours we were there. It was my only respite, the only place I felt able to take my screaming baby where I received no judgement. Family told us that the way Connor cried wasn’t normal, and now they tell us that they should have done more, but in the moment, it’s about getting through.

At times, I wondered if it was all in my head, but my instincts told me it wasn’t. My boy was in pain. He would scream, and I mean scream, like I’ve never heard a baby scream. If he was asleep on me and transferred to someone else’s chest, he would wake within minutes and scream. My husband was working 10 hour days then coming home and doing all the housework, the washing, cooking dinner. Everything. While I sat on the lazy boy with the baby screaming at my breast, arching his back, or bringing up his feed. It was an endless cycle. A vicious cycle. He’d been back to the doctors twice and while we’d been referred to the Pediatricians, when I asked how long the referral would take the answer was 6-8 WEEKS! I promptly followed up with “Well what do I do in the meantime?”

“Hang in there.” REALLY? Seriously? You’re telling the new mama on tenterhooks to “Hang in there!”?!

Taken at the hospital after 10 hours of being awake and crying

And then the next day he cried for 13 hours. Yep, you read that right. 13 hours straight. My 8 week old baby boy, screamed his little heart out for 13 long, exhausting, horrific hours. I put him to the breast and he would arch his back in pain and flail about. I put him on my shoulder and he would scream in my ear. I handed him to my husband with tears in my eyes. “I can’t do this anymore.” And so we took him to ED. We were at wits end. We’d tried everything. We couldn’t keep going the way we were. It was impossible.

Trusting the Baby Formula Companies

Yesterday I posted this to The Motherhood Project’s facebook page:


….Much to the offense and disgust of some of our friends. (Sorry.)

I think that is the breast vs. formula debate wasn’t so pronounced then I would have received a different reaction.

But unfortunately, there exists a massive divide between formula feeders and breastfeeders.

When you promote breastfeeding, the formula feeders throw up their arms and cry ‘foul’, stating they have the right to feed their babies as they choose, and that many mothers ‘don’t have a choice,’ and that they ‘don’t love their babies any less for formula feeding’.

Apart from the fact that the WHO guidelines state there cannot be any formula feeding marketing for young babies… promoting formula then throws the breastfeeders into chaos because breastfeeding rates are already low enough.

Remember Piri Weepu, who was photographed bottle feeding his baby (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10783518) and the subsequent outcry?
The point of this was because it is becoming the norm to make bottles a natural part of our culture, when we should be accustomed to breastfeeding being the normal. Dolls are sold complete with bottle… not a breast! It is more normal to see mothers bottlefeeding, than to see shirts hiked up for breastfeeds.

I was once very brainwashed – I fed my baby formula and believed that not every mum can breastfeed and it is necessary to give formula in some cases. I believed that women should not be judged for how they feed their baby and every woman has the right to decide how to feed her baby.
I even started and ran a nationwide support group for bottle feeding mums, when several of us struggled to find accurate and non-judgmental advice on making bottles, choosing formula, and parenting with guilt. This group ran for almost two years and we had over 200 members. One day I’ll tell you about my formula-feeding story!

I know a lot more now. I certainly don’t know it all…… but from what I know, and from my new breastfeeding experience, I know that almost every mother CAN breastfeed her baby.
What lacks, and prevents this (and thus increases formula) is largely a lack of support and knowledge. Mothers are on their own at 2am, when their nipples are bleeding, baby is screaming, her toes are curling at the thought of another painful latch.
She doesn’t have the support and love that she needs to tide her through this painful, confusing and frustrating time. She doesn’t have the information she needs, and she certainly didn’t expect these complications.

Let’s be honest, hands up! Who actually knew what it would be like to breastfeed?
Who knew what complications could arise and what could be done to prevent them, and treat them?
And when you were faced with these issues, what support were you given? Some antibiotics, a cabbage leaf, advice to bottle feed, and maybe a pump?

If you were a solo mum, did not have the support of your family, or were faced with other difficulties, is it any surprise that you wouldn’t want to continue feeding? If every feed time made you despair  cry, want to avoid your baby, and your nipples bled, is it any surprise that you would opt for the bottle?

It’s absolutely no wonder that mothers declare that they are unable to breastfeed. It is not an easy decision, they will probably shed a few tears, feel immense guilt, endure more pain as the milk supply engorges before diminishing, and possibly face judgement from nurses, friends, strangers.

It is certainly not ‘easy’ to endure those bleeding nipples, recurring infections and mastitis, and I understand why thousands of mothers opt for the bottle after experiencing this. 
I believe our culture is also very lazy, we like to do things the easy way. I know many mothers who have chosen formula because they believe it is easier. But I know that if you have endured any problems, that going to formula was not ‘easy’, nor a decision made lightly, but it was a decision you made because it was ‘easier’ than fighting through breastfeeding.

The thing is, nothing about becoming a mother is easy. In fact, once you conceive (for many, even before this), it is no longer about you. It’s about your baby.
Pregnancy is not easy. It is exhausting. By the end of it, when your feet are swollen, your back is sore, you have a sore pelvis, you aren’t sleeping, it’s not the best interests of your baby to declare that you want it all over so lets take this baby out NOW. (Well, the sad thing is, that in some places, you actually can have the baby taken out at your will. But it’s not in the best interests of baby).
And when you’re in the middle of childbirth, and you’re into your 20th hour and you’re exhausted and tired and sore, its not in your baby’s best interests to pull it out NOW (unless of course, baby is distressed, that’s entirely different.) You have to keep labouring, knowing each contraction is bringing you closer.
When you’re desperate for sleep, it’s not in your baby’s interests to leave your baby in their cot while you go off for a nap.
When the going gets tough when you’re breastfeeding, it’s not in your baby’s best interests to give up because you’ve had enough.

If you are reading this fuming over my sheer cheek, know this. I have had well over 7 infections myself, each one accompanied by agonising pain, chills and other flu symptoms, tears and antibiotics. It is nasty. The last such infection put me into hospital for a week. Nurses and family alike asked me if I was going to stop breastfeeding now, but I know I was astonished at the thought! Feeding your baby (though agonising) can offer the best relief from the pain and move the infection faster. Plus, after getting through that, I wasn’t giving up!!! I know what it is like to bleed, to swear at the initial latch, to cry at the thought of feeding, to stand in the shower and look at your bleeding, bruised, peeling nipples, perched on the edge of massively swollen, red and painful breasts.
I know what it is like to accept defeat, to purchase your first tin of formula after agonising in the supermarket aisle over which one to choose. I know what it is like to be up at midnight, sterilising bottles, or mixing formula while your baby screams. I know what it is like to receive judgmental comments, to get the stares from strangers, to doubt yourself, to feel the guilt, to feel like you have failed your baby.

And I know what it is like to get through those very same complications and go on to have a successful breastfeeding relationship for two years with my baby. I have been on both sides.

So we can sit here and debate that mothers have to put their needs first or they can’t look after their baby…. and I agree. I just feel that our society has become so much about the ‘easy’ way that when the going gets tough, we give up too soon.
In all of those scenarios above, for the mothers who give up and go with the ‘easy’ option, there are mothers who ride through.

Are you right or wrong for doing that? Who has the right to judge you on that? Only yourself.

So that brings me back to the very beginning. If what I posted on Facebook yesterday, about formula companies brainwashing us, made you feel offended and attacked, then you are judging yourself.

I did not judge you. I did not attack you. I did not set out to offend you.

My intention for posting that image (and here it is again):

My intention is for us to LOOK at the FORMULA COMPANIES and their role in how we feel about breast vs bottle.

We shouldn’t be looking at each other, and judging each other. We should be looking at ourselves….. and the companies that have brainwashed us.

We should be looking back at our bodies, and the way nature intended parenting to be, and trusting our instincts (which is what The Motherhood Project is ALL about!!).

I love this article from Evolutionary Parenting where she states:

Dr. Wolf’s argument also misses one of the key things that many of us hear time and again: Women want to breastfeed, but through a lack of support, institutional blocks, and work, they can’t or don’t.  This is very different than nothing worth the effort, and this is what we need to work on.  There needs to be more support and policies in place that give women the chance to breastfeed.  Without that, we are doing all mothers a disservice.

This is why I will never stop saying the problem lies within the system. 

But I’ll take it a step further.  Even if you don’t want to support changing things so that you live in a more family-friendly (and woman-friendly) society and you like the status quo, why not push to make breastmilk more readily available for moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed?  We know that breastmilk was made for human babies, it what they expect to be eating, and no matter how good we make artificial alternatives, it will not be the same.  And as we seem to have learned with all our other processed and genetically modified foods, I doubt it’ll be better.  So why don’t we try and get them that?  Why must we have doctors and feminists so intent on supporting mass corporations making a profit at the expense of families?

And if you do want to push that – check out this: http://www.facebook.com/hm4hbnz

The idea of milk banks, and milk sharing, is heating up and spreading in NZ and I like that.

I despise the ‘Breast is Best’ slogan. It is tacky and gross. I read the other day that formula companies invented it, but I havent yet researched that.

Should we trust these companies?

*Have you read about the 15 tricks of formula companies?

*What about the Nestle` boycott?

*The formula melamine scandal?

*The dangers of formula feeding (also in the 15 tricks article).

Should we trust them? I don’t know.
I think formula does have a place. Just not a multi-million dollar, first choice place.

The thing is, breastfeeding is natural. Breastfeeding is first. It is not BEST, it just IS.

Anyway, now you know how I feel about breastfeeding.

Its not easy. It’s hard work. It’s painful.

It’s great for your baby. It’s great for you. It’s cheap(er)/free. It’s safe and natural.

It is the first choice for feeding a baby. And because I believe that, I will continue to promote it, initiate discussion, and inform on my Facebook page.

If you find that offends you, then perhaps it is your own judgement, guilt and personal feelings that are hurting you.

Because no matter how you fed your baby, let’s all agree that breastmilk is first. And lets all work together to make it the norm, the first choice, for our babies in NZ. Then perhaps the formula vs breastmilk debate will die, and we will no longer have sad/guilty/angry/defensive mama’s in our midst.