Dump the breastfeeding? A difficult decision.

When Theo was born, my breasts would not be ready to feed him for another week or so. Because I had gestational diabetes, my labor was induced on my due date, and to make things worse I had to undergo a C-section. Whatever triggers milk let-down was not ready yet. There was a mere drop or two of colostrum on day three. So the nurses recommended that I “top off” the baby with formula. From his first week on earth in spite of my dedication to breastfeeding for the first year, Theo became a bottle baby.

Unfortunately, Theo ended up in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for three days after a string of cyanotic episodes on day two. He turned out 100% okay, but he was fed primarily formula while I desperately tried to pump breast milk back in my hospital room. By the time we were safely home, I had milk coming in but we had already gotten into the habit of topping off the baby with formula after I nursed him. Every feeding was so elaborate: I nursed him for 20 minutes on each side, and then Vlady or I would give him two ounces in a bottle. Each feeding took an hour.

After six weeks I decided to try to breastfeed full-time. I tried pumping in between feeding to get more milk flow, and it did get pretty decent. After two weeks I was overwhelmed with feeding the baby. It seemed like he wanted to eat every 90 minutes. I had returned to work—teaching 12 hours per week. The milk I was pumping at work wasn’t enough to feed Theo while my mom looked after him. So even with my best attempt, he still got one bottle of formula per day.

I finally gave up this endeavor at about week eight. My mom consoled me, telling me she only nursed me for three weeks, and my younger brother for six. She said it’s very challenging to breastfeed when you are a working mother, and congratulated me for lasting longer than she did.

I dropped into a new pattern: nurse the baby every other feeding. I’ve been doing that for several weeks now (Theo’s now 12 weeks old.) Sometimes I slack though, and go ten or twelve hours between breastfeeds. Mother’s milk is not as vitally important as it was in those first six weeks, when Theo’s immune system was new and fragile. He’s gotten a solid dose of my antibodies and continues to get them in my milk regularly. But he’s also very comfortable drinking formula from the bottle. It’s just easier most times (and quicker) to prep a bottle and give that to him than to give him the length of time he needs to get a decent meal from the boob.

Sometimes the little resolve I have remaining is shaken. For a couple of days there he was very unhappy on the left breast. I use the side-lying position, and I prop him on his side with a throw pillow. Here he was, pulling himself off the nipple and rolling onto his back. He’d go for the nipple again, only to pull off and roll away again. Over and over. I couldn’t tell if he was in pain (he wasn’t crying,) already full, or if something was wrong with the milk flow. If he’d already been on my other breast for that feeding, I’d give up and give him a bottle, which he would down hungrily. And then the night before last, he was crying again only an hour after I’d nursed him in the middle of the night. Had my milk starting running dry? As I have many times over the past three months, I considered weaning the boy entirely.

Then yesterday, we had a really rough day. I’d had to deprive Theo of sleep as much as possible during the morning so that he’d sleep through his 11:30 AM hearing test. I did a good job, because he soundly slept while the doctor stuck all of her measuring devices all around his head and face. He passed the test! But he was in a really awful mood the rest of the day. I’d destroyed his sleeping pattern, I suppose, and by 8 PM he was miserable and absolutely refused to relax and go to sleep. I pulled out my final, secret weapon. I lied down with him, nursed him for ten minutes, and he slept soundly for the next four hours.

If I gave up breastfeeding, I’d have to give up this valuable tactic against the mighty fighting-of-sleep.

I still haven’t decided whether to stop. Today went really well. I rationally mull over the pros and cons of giving up the breastfeeding entirely, and someday I might do that. It’s still very demanding, and I often wonder if Theo’s getting enough to eat.

But do I want to end this sweet little bond only Mommy and he can have?

Not yet.

UPDATE September 23, 2010

Theo has made the decision for us. Two days ago, he refused to stay on the breast for more than a few minutes. He’d been pretty impatient for the milk to flow for weeks. He knew he could be satisfied much faster with the bottle. I don’t blame him. I finally gave in. Theo is officially weaned and does not seem too worked up about it. I, on the other hand, am sad about the turn of events. More…

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