How mixed feeding saved me – and my baby


By Brooke Bannister

“Parenting was so much easier when I raised my non-existent children hypothetically”.

I’m not sure who said it – it was just a funny meme I saw somewhere. Funny because it’s true.

I naively thought it would all come naturally – pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding – it is the most natural thing after all, right? Women have been birthing and breastfeeding unassisted since, well, forever. So there was no reason why I couldn’t.

I attended the natural birthing sessions and breastfeeding classes. I had my four-page birth plan printed out and my bouncy ball ready to go. I was prepared.

I imagined a drug-free water-birth with essential oils, immediate skin-to-skin contact with my babe and taking my placenta home with me – not to eat, although I had considered it – but to plant under a tree in our suburban garden. And I would breastfeed my baby, of course, naturally.

But my baby, and placenta, had other plans.

Two weeks overdue, my birth plan went out the window. I was reluctantly induced with an epidural to get my baby out. My retained placenta didn’t want to budge either and I was separated from my baby while I had another procedure to remove it. Determined, I took the placenta home and planted it under a tree. The tree died.

Next – it was on to breastfeeding. Surely this would come naturally, right?

“I’ve got this,” I thought.

But no – I did not.

I was bombarded with a lot of unfamiliar terms to explain (and solve) my baby’s hunger strike and plummeting weight:

Low supply, tongue-tie, nipple shields, double electric pump, syringe feeding, hand expressing, Domperidone, feed thickener etc.

My healthy four kilo (8.8 pound) baby lost weight after birth, which is normal. Well,  up to 10% is normal. Mine lost more. He wasn’t ‘thriving’ in the words of experts. He would suck, suck, sleep and repeat, with no real determination or interest. To me my plump little bundle was starting to resemble a whippet: long and lean with a visible rib cage.

I wanted to get it right and luckily lived close enough to the Breastfeeding Centre of WA.

We had ‘weigh-in’ appointments every three days. They attached me to an industrial-sized double breast pump, measuring my lactation ability and weighing my baby on precise scales to measure his milk intake before and after a feed.

Every visit his weight was lower than the last. After two weeks of pumping between feeds* I burst into tears at the sight of the scales, feeling the numbers were a reflection on me – the failing mother who could not feed her baby.

The support staff proposed a possible problem (and solution) every time I visited.  And I tried it all:

– Problem: He doesn’t like the shape of your nipple.
Solution: Buy and wear a nipple shield.

– Problem: He’s a lazy feeder.
Solution: wake him for feeds.

– Problem: Low supply.
Solution: Homeopathic tonic (that tasted like off licorice)/ pumping in between feeds/ prescribed Motilium (which made my breasts double in size and increased production).

– Problem: Tongue-tie.
Solution: my baby had the thin skin that attaches the bottom of his tongue to the bottom of his mouth cut. Not once, but twice. And I had to hold him still as they did it.

– Problem: Reflux.
Solution: reflux medication for the baby plus mixing my pumped breast milk with a feed thickener.

I tried everything and failed. I was failing.

After many visits and still no weight gain, I found the courage to ask the experts which type of formula would be the best to buy? The reply: “None”. I felt ashamed for even asking.

Don’t get me wrong, the support staff were amazing and committed, but they were committed to breastfeeding exclusively and there was no room for formula in their long list of solutions.

Weighing up between the shame and the look of my fading son, I bought a tin of formula anyway.

Mixed feeding (formula and breast milk) saved me. My sleep increased along with my milk supply and sanity. My son was finally thriving and I was finally enjoying being a first-time mum.

When things aren’t going right in those first few sleep deprived weeks, you know the reasons could be multiple, but you suspect it’s probably just you. Mums have a tendency to blame themselves.

So when I fell pregnant with my second son, I thought, ‘here we go again’. I was ready with my pump, syringes, some leftover domperidome (a drug that increases milk supply) and engaged the hospital’s lactation consultant before and after the birth.

But from day one, baby number two sucked like every suck was his last. He didn’t lose a gram or miss a feed. I had no problem feeding him at all.

Fast-forward a few years and not much has changed.

One son can go days without eating properly. He stops when he is full and is an incredibly fussy eater. No meat, rice, pasta, vegetables. And he will protest to the point of starvation if he doesn’t like a certain food.

Whereas my other son will scream if he misses a snack, eats everything on his plate (and his brother’s) and is not fussy at all. I have even caught him trying to bypass his mouth by shoving food through his navel, on more than one occasion.

Why are they so different? I have no idea. But now I can look back at the baby who wouldn’t suck, gain or thrive and not blame myself. In the end formula got me (and him) through some really tough times.

I don’t feel ashamed of using it now, but I did then. And I should not have.

*Pumping between feeds sounds like a simple request. You feed every two to three hours and pump your breasts IN BETWEEN that. Cooking, groceries, sleep had to be done around that. It’s bullshit and impossible to sustain.

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