When Breast Milk Isn’t Enough

Those who have kept up with my story on here and over on Facebook will know my beautiful little bub has always been a terrible sleeper.

He would cat-nap during the day, and from about 3 months old he would wake every 30-90 minutes throughout the night for a feed.

I also discovered at his 6 month checkup that he hadn’t put on any significant weight in months (a couple of hundred grams at most), and that got me really worried. In the first few months of his life, bub was skyrocketing with his weight and growth along his own projectile, but that completely stagnated.

The doctor wasn’t too worried as he has been hitting all of his developmental milestones early, and is generally a very happy and otherwise healthy baby.

But I was still worried.

And I began to wonder if the sleep and the weight were linked, and my breast milk just wasn’t enough for my boy any more. I was certainly producing a lot, but perhaps it wasn’t of a good enough quality.

I called the Australian health line to get some advice, and they suggested offering more frequent breastfeeds to increase my supply, but to also try and cut back the amount of feeds we were doing during the day (I know right…) as well as adjusting my diet to include more calories and good fats. The only problem with that advice was that bub would only feed when he wanted, and we were feeding so often as it was. I knew this wasn’t going to be the answer.

Our doc suggested supplementing with formula or a bottle of breast milk before bed to try and help him sleep a longer stretch at our 4-month check in. The only problem with that at the time was he flat out refused to drink from a bottle. We have no idea why, but as soon as the bottle hit his mouth he would protest in no uncertain terms. Perhaps linked is the fact that he also refused a dummy (and still does).

Cue a couple of months of trying many different brands of bottles, trying with expressed milk and different formulas, different people, everything. We even started solids early in the hopes that the extra calories would help him sleep better.

Also cue months of increased anxiety and stress on my part. The feeling of being completely trapped (as awful as that sounds) with a baby who could only be breastfed, and needed feeding every hour or so, coupled with 6 straight months of sleeping no more than 4 hours in a single chunk (and that very rarely), was not a good place for me mentally.

But then a minor miracle occurred. My cousin suggested a completely different brand of bottle, Minbie, and I found some second hand near by. I bought them and we tried them and he accepted them! Hallelujah!

We started giving him infrequent bottles just to make sure he would stay happy with them, and continued to monitor his weight and sleep (hint: there were no significant differences).

I went back to the doctor concerned about his weight again, and she suggested supplementing my breast feeding with a bottle of formula after every feed, since he would now accept a bottle. She also sent a referral off to a sleep specialist in case this didn’t help in that aspect.

So off we went to buy some more formula, and I started offering him a bottle three or four times a day. I don’t really know why I only did that much, but that’s what I did. He took to it like he was starved. And in a way I guess he was.

Within that first week he was waking only once or twice a night to feed. By the second week he was sleeping through the night! He has stayed sleeping through the night since, except for a few random nights here and there, and we are definitely continuing to supplement.

I can feel my milk supply dropping sharply, but I’ll keep offering as long as he wants to breastfeed. I know babies like to breastfeed for more than just the milk, and he does seem to enjoy and take comfort from it still. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of milk in there for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind too much. I was planning to wean him off the breast and on to bottles by the time I returned to work anyway, so it’s just happening a few months earlier than I’d thought.

As for his weight, he is now back to his steep incline on the graph – within those three weeks or so he’d put on at least half a kilo. My arms can feel the difference, that’s for sure. He even appears happier, if that’s possible.

It cannot be denied that my poor boy was hungry, and my milk couldn’t give him everything he needed. Cue the mummy-guilt that I didn’t get it looked into sooner, and the desperate hope that I haven’t disadvantaged him in any way by delaying supplementing until now.

As for my mental state, I can tell you it has been so greatly improved that I almost feel like a new person. I enjoy motherhood a lot more now that I am getting some decent sleep (even if it took my body a few weeks to stop waking through the night expecting him to be awake wanting a feed). Also knowing that I am not bound so tightly to my baby makes life easier. I know that may sound harsh, but knowing I can leave him in the care of my husband, or other family members, and go do something like get my hair cut or attend a wedding, is a very important aspect of my life as a wife/daughter/friend/person-who-is-not-exclusively-a-mum.

Moral of the story – mums, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right (he technically was developing fine except for the weight and sleeping), then it probably isn’t right. Keep in consultation with your health care professional, don’t be bullied or suggested into exclusively breastfeeding if you know it just isn’t working, and feed your beautiful baby in whatever way is best for them.

 

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