I can’t even count the number of times someone asked me to consider using formula – from hours after Bella was born and didn’t latch right, till just a few months ago. Then got upset or offended when I explained I wanted to just breastfeed, and I knew I could. And I got The Look. It’s the look of “OK you crazy hippie – since you know better than I do.”
(ETA: Since quite a few of you know my Dr. personally, let me be clear that it was not her. It was nurses, trying out new pediatricians, and last minute doctors we saw that often suggested this to us. Our old Dr. is a bf’ing advocate.)
Since we’ve had to take Bella to Children’s Hospital for her reflux, and then lack of significant weight gain, I have been told time and time again to consider putting Bella on formula, both for her reflux and since my supply didn’t seem to be enough for her. Each time, I’ve said Bella is exclusively breastfed and asked if there were any other options. Which – there are. Olive oil, butter, and other fats for her weight, medicine and time for her reflux.
Yet, she was in the 5th percentile or less every time we went to see a doctor. More prescribing would be done because she was so small. More tests. Some so awful that Bella still screams in terror when we lay her down in a doctors office. Labwork that cost thousands of dollars. Diagnosis for “Failure to Thrive” that made me cry all the way home for apparently being a neglectful mother, but not knowing how that could be. Questions that eluded to us not feeding her properly. Questions about stress, our marriage, home, diet, care… “What about formula?” they’d suggest.
No. Sam and I discussed it, even went to buy some, but once again decided it wasn’t for us. I don’t have anything against formula when it’s used in the right context, but I breastfeed. And I didn’t believe that was the issue, although after months of having it suggested I began to doubt my choice to exclusively breastfeed her.
I knew from other breastfeeding moms that their kids were also considered small, or underweight, at visits to the doctor. I wondered if perhaps because some children do become heavier on formula, if it had changed the curve babies were measured against. I brushed that thought off – I had told all my doctors we breastfed, so of course they were taking that into consideration.
Today we went in for our last appointment at Children’s. The doctor was pleased to see Bella gaining weight and doing so well. He turned the computer to show me the curve she was on, and how she was still under the 10th percentile but very healthy as all the tests had come back normal. And then?
He pulled up another screen. “And this is the WHO chart for breastfed girls/boys, we’ve just recently started using it. So as you can see, compared to other strictly breastfed babies, Bella is in the 50th percentile for height/weight. Which is right on target. It looks like you guys are good to go.”
All the months we spent worrying about her weight - when probably for at least the past five months or so she’s been fine. Right where she should have been as a breastfed infant. She never had to go through most of those horrible tests.
Before you think I’m getting all judgy on the medical community – I’m not. I love Children’s. I really liked our doctors, I know that they were trying to do the right thing for us. I’m ever grateful they fixed her reflux and noticed a problem with her weight curve. She did need a few more fats in her diet.
If they had used the WHO chart after I explained she was breastfed - we would have never had to put her, ourselves, and our finances through hell. We would have had two visits and determined she was back on track. I would have never questioned my decisions and beliefs that what I was giving Bella was what she needed.
In a small way, today was a personal victory for my choice as a mother. It erased all my doubts, my worries about not doing the right thing for Bella. I’m just sorry I never thought about pressing them to see if other breastfed kids her age were also her size. I believe my doctors would have looked into further, and gladly, with me had I confidently brought up the subject.
So here’s my advice to moms that choose to exclusively breastfeed - if your doctor talks about your child being underweight, bring them the WHO chart and talk to them about it. Do it yourself at home. Research it. Ask questions. You should have the information needed to feel confident in your decision. Formula, breastfeeding, whatever. Make sure you know why you do what you do.
Even if you do get the crazy hippie look once in a while. It’s fine – just flash them the peace sign.
And maybe a boob.