by Kari Swanson
My daughter was placed on my chest immediately after my obstetrician finished stitching up my c-section incision. She latched onto my breast and started breastfeeding right there in the operating room. Last month we celebrated her third birthday. She knows that babies have mama milk. She also knows that big girls have mama milk until they are ready to stop having mama milk. I expect that sometime between now and the time she is around 5 years old she will gradually wean.
Some might consider the fact that my daughter is 3 and still receiving breastmilk to be extreme, but anthropological evidence indicates that this is biologically normal for a young hominid primate. That being said, it is probably no surprise that I consider myself to be a lactivist. I believe that human breastmilk is the biologically normal food source for human infants and I volunteer as an admin on The Leaky B@@b in order to support other breastfeeding mothers and to help normalize breastfeeding in a culture that has largely lost sight of the real reason women have breasts.
What may come as a surprise to some is that my daughter and my son before her received formula in addition to breastmilk. Why? Because I work full time outside of my home and I am among the unlucky few who truly do not respond well to breast pumps. For whatever reason my body just does not give up the gold for a machine despite my supply being more than adequate. After a time, despite numerous tips and tricks, pumping whenever and wherever I could, I ceased to be able to pump enough milk to entirely meet my babies’ nutritional needs while they were separated from me while I worked.
With my daughter I was fortunate to be able to spend 3 months home with her after she was born, and to spend 3 months thereafter working half time. I pumped at home before returning to work and I pumped before work, during work, after work, and on non-workdays once I returned to work. I had a small stash of milk in the deep freezer when I returned to work, but it was quickly depleted. When I first returned to work and pumped I easily had enough milk by the end of the day to send to the daycare without dipping into my frozen milk stash.
I determined how much milk my daughter needed in her daycare bottles using an iPhone app called “Breast Milk Calculator.” The app uses the baby’s weight, age and number of feedings in the previous 24 hours to suggest how much milk he or she needs per feeding. Using the app I determined exactly how many ounces she needed per bottle. The number of feedings was based on the number of hours she was away from me and how frequently she would normally nurse.
But, just as it had when my son was a baby, my pumping output dwindled over time. Eventually I was pumping less than an ounce per side per pumping session. I used up my entire frozen milk stash. Despite my best efforts at around 6 months I was no longer able to pump enough to send only breastmilk in my daughter’s daycare bottles. So, I sent as much breastmilk as I could and to make sure she had sufficient nutrition I sent formula too.
When my daughter was a newborn she, like her brother, needed supplementation. They both had jaundice and they both lost more than the usual amount of weight after birth. Although her condition was better than her brother’s had been (he was a very sleepy 37 weeker with more severe jaundice), my daughter was also a slow gainer. So, the IBCLC we saw recommended supplementation while I built up my own supply. When my son was a newborn he received formula supplementation, but my daughter received donor breastmilk, or as we referred to it “Auntie milk”—because our milk donor was my sister who was still breastfeeding her toddler son at the time my daughter was born.
By the time my daughter was in daycare full time and my pumping supply could not keep up with my daughter’s demands my sister’s son had weaned. I considered donor breastmilk, but decided against it. My strong, healthy baby did fine on formula, and I felt that the relatively limited supply of donor milk in my area should be available to babies for whom formula was not an option, babies whose mothers could not breastfeed them at all or whose health really warranted the exclusive use of donor milk. So, we chose formula instead.
I already knew exactly what formula I would choose for my daughter if I reached this point, because I had read quite a bit of research about formula before I had my son. I looked up numerous scholarly research articles and reviews of the literature about formula on PubMed. At that point I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had been given the somewhat unhelpful advice that my desire to breastfeed and to go back to work full time were “setting [myself] up for failure”. So, in case that was true I did all of that research about formula and based my decision on what I had read. (Bear in mind that my son was born in 2004 and donor milk was not as prevalent, except from milk banks by prescription and at a rather high price.) Despite many assertions otherwise, infant formula is an acceptable, nutritionally adequate alternative to breastmilk and is a much better choice than the milk of any other mammal or milk made from plants.
Eventually both of my babies received only formula in their daycare bottles. Both times the amount I was able to pump became miniscule compared to the amount they needed and the stress and frustration of pumping so little became too much for me, so I stopped. They both did fine on the formula they received part of the time, so I felt comfortable giving them as much as they needed while they were separated from me. My daughter had breastmilk exclusively, either at the breast or in bottles, for more than 6 months. They were around the same age when they started receiving formula alone in their daycare bottles: 7-8 months. Despite this both of my babies continued to breastfeed whenever they were with me. They never experienced nipple confusion, expressed a preference for the bottle, or had nursing strikes. They both stopped receiving formula when they no longer needed bottles at daycare.
So, yes I am a lactivist. I believe breastmilk is the biologically normal food for human infants. But, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
You can read more from Kari over on her site and enjoy her thoughtful, thorough writing and beautiful photography.
Did you respond well to breast pumps? Have you had to supplement? If so, what did you use? Were you able to supplement and still reach your breastfeeding goals?