When my first son was born I had no problem getting him to latch. However, it didn’t take me long to doubt that he was getting anything from my breast. “Trust your body,” the student midwife advised, “it’s been preparing 9 months for this day.”
It didn’t take very long for me to realize that what I needed to trust was my gut. A few hours later my son was subjected to painful heel pricks nearly every hour on the hour. “His blood sugar is a little low,” the nurse advised, not wanting to worry me. I asked what “a little” meant and it amounted to being no more than two points below average.
“Let’s give him some formula,” I suggested to my husband once the nurse had left the room. He agreed and fed our son whatever he’d take before drifting off to sleep.
By the time his next feeding rolled around, it was the middle of the night. We were roused from sleep by a nurse who proceeded to encourage me for nearly a half an hour to breastfeed my screaming son. He didn’t like being woken up. He didn’t like bright lights. And he clearly wasn’t getting anything from the breast he’d nibble on in between whines.
“When can we give him some formula?” I asked, exhausted and at my wit’s end.
“Anytime,” she said, “Mommy’s choice.”
“Okay, let’s do it.” I didn’t even need to say the word. My husband had already prepped the bottle.
The next day we were advised by yet another nurse that she could tell us everything we’d ever want to know about breastfeeding. The honest truth was that our milk wouldn’t be coming in until after we were discharged. She was right. Colostrum be damned. My milk didn’t arrive until nearly five days after my son was born.
Had I kept trying to breastfeed during that time my son would most likely have been one of the growing number of newborns arriving back at the hospital mere days after being born, dehydrated or jaundiced due to inadequate nutrition. It’s a nasty fact that’s finally getting the attention it deserves thanks to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Researchers daring to buck the “breast is best” trend observed that supplementing with formula during the first month of life will not only prevent a newborn’s readmission to the hospital, it will also help him to breastfeed better as well.
Dr. Amy Tuteur points out that most indigenous cultures praised for exclusive breastfeeding believed in pre-lacteal feeding. Native communities across Africa have been supplementing newborn feedings with sugar water for centuries. It’s an important fact that is often overlooked by lactivists anxious to praise native practices as “natural” and therefore superior to Western methods of newborn care.
And while the study didn’t comment on the health of the mothers involved, I can guarantee you that the women who supplemented with formula were given the time and space they needed to increase milk production, learn more about how to effectively breastfeed, and choose to continue breastfeeding on their own terms.