Kittens Can Do it, so Why Can't We?


Kittens Can Do it, so Why Can't We?


When Hai saw the breastfeeding film in her childbirth class, she thought, Yeah, I could do that. If other baby mammals can nurse easily, my baby can, too. But after her son, Aydin, was born prematurely and she discovered she had inverted nipples, she learned that it wasn’t as simple as placing a baby on your breast and watching him magically start sucking. Each breastfeeding attempt just made her feel more and more distant from Aydin.

But then she came up with a surprising solution—one that didn’t involve nursing or formula—that allowed her to be the kind of nurturing, attentive mom she wanted to be.

What changes have YOU made in your parenting routine that have allowed you to bond with your kid?
Tell us in the comments.

14 thoughts on “EPISODE #5: Kittens Can Do It, so Why Can’t We?

  1. This article (like all the others on this blog!) is so spot on with my experience. I, too, had problems breastfeeding from the start. I have come to envy those moms and babies that seem to connect so well so fast when it comes to nursing – but this is not what happened with me and my daughter (who is 6 1/2 weeks old).

    She was a very sleepy newborn and would fall asleep at my breast almost immediately. She showed almost no interest in nursing for the entire time we were in the hospital. When she did manage to be awake at the breast and try to latch on, her sucking was “disorganized,” according to one of three lactation consultants that tried to help us. So, we began the production of using a nipple shield, cupping my breast with a “C” or “U” hold, propping several pillows around myself in order to position her correctly at my breast, and even used a syringe filled with sugar water to insert into her mouth while at my breast to encourage her sucking.

    Like Hai and Hillary describe, I began to get extremely tense when it came time for each feeding (which came every 2 1/2 hours, but since the whole production took at least 1 1/2 hours to complete, it felt like we had almost no down time between feedings). I felt that my purpose with the baby was completely utilitarian and not at all emotional. I existed only to feed this baby, and it wasn’t working. So I was failing. It was heartbreaking, emotional, and downright scary when she lost more than 10% of her body weight and doctors started getting a bit concerned.

    So we diligently made an appointment with another lactation consultant with a breastfeeding organization in our city, had several appointments with her every few days at which she would weigh my daughter and find time and again that she wasn’t gaining as much as we would like. With each appointment, we would come up with a different strategy to try – a combination of nursing at the breast (with all the proper pillows, supports, nipple shields, and foot stool to ensure proper positioning), pumping, feeding expressed breastmilk, and supplementing with formula (similar to what Hillary described).

    The problem with this? Well, that it was basically hell. And it took two people (my husband and myself) over an hour to complete at each feeding. We were both emotionally and physically exhausted, and neither one of us ever got a break. And after a week and a half, my husband would have to go back to work. This was not sustainable.

    I then tried pumping exclusively so as to eliminate one of the steps (nursing) – which really wasn’t working anyway. She was basically using my breast as a pacifier and not getting any milk anyway because of her “disorganized sucking.” So we would give her a bottle of breastmilk and then I’d have to get her settled down enough to lay her down while I went to pump. We tried to make it as comfortable as possible – setting up the breast pump by my computer so I could surf the Internet while spending 15 minutes, 8 times per day pumping (that’s 2 hours every day, in case you’re counting). I read online how to make your own hands-free nursing bra so I could try to do other things I had to do like pay bills or type an e-mail to friends and family who wanted to know how things were going. But still….this so time consuming it didn’t seem sustainable. I would feed the baby, burp the baby, change her diaper, get her calmed down enough to set her in a place where she wouldn’t scream the entire time I was pumping, assemble the tubing and bottles for the breast pump, pump for 15 minutes, clean the tubing and connecting parts, and refrigerate the breast milk (which would then need to be heated up for the next feeding that, by this time, would be in another 30 minutes).

    The logistics of it were running me ragged. I didn’t feel an emotional connection to my daughter because there simply wasn’t time. I was spending all of my time and energy on the utilitarian task of ensuring she was getting food in her body. This, too, was not sustainable.

    Add to all of this that our daughter was very fussy, and seemed to be having terrible gas pains and painful bowel movements. We are first-time parents so we thought this was normal for a child. But when we started comparing her stools to all the descriptions of what a breastfed baby’s stools should look like, we realized we weren’t seeing the yellow, seedy stuff described as normal. We were seeing a blackish, green stool and a red ring around my little girl’s bottom. There was an allergy issue. She was reacting badly to something in my diet that was getting into the breastmilk.

    So we eliminated dairy. We eliminated chocolate. She would have a good day, and then a bad day, followed by a good day and two more bad days. Just when we thought we had discovered what it might be that was making her sick, things would revert back to being difficult again. My husband and I discussed other possibilities – could it be caffine? Wheat? Corn? Spicy foods? We discussed the possibility of writing down everything I ate to keep track (this would be in addition to all the tracking we were already doing of how many ounces she would drink, how many wet/poopy diapers she had, how she was sleeping). But we realized that it could be weeks before we figured out what it was in my diet that was causing our daughter this much pain.

    Then one Saturday morning, during a rare moment when the baby was still sleeping and we had not yet gotten out of bed, my husband suggested we try something. Maybe we should feed her formula exclusively for the weekend just to see how she does. Then we would know for sure if our daughter’s reactions were normal or if they were directly related to my breastmilk. So, we tried it. We fed her exclusive formula for the weekend while I continued to pump 8 times per day (if there’s anything I learned from the volumes I’d read about breastfeeding, and from our lactation consultants, it’s that you’ve got to keep that milk supply up!).

    And guess what? She was so much better on the formula. The redness on her bottom went away, the “normal” looking stools we had been waiting for appeared, and she stopped screaming in pain and kicking her legs when she had a bowl movement coming through. After seeing this change in our daughter – we had a hard time wanting to take away the formula and put her back on breastmilk. Sure, all the literature says that breastmilk is best – but what we were seeing, for our daughter, didn’t match up with that. She was doing so much better on formula, and we were all three getting more sleep.

    I was hesitant, though, to stop pumping. Switching to straight formula seemed like a monumental decision that we couldn’t turn back from. I had intense anxiety about it for days. But suddenly I realized that feedings were no longer something I dreaded. My husband and I could trade off feeding times, and I could go to sleep early if he did the late night feeding, and he could sleep in late if I did the early morning feeding. We were happier, our daughter was happier.

    My husband said to me – “look at this situation objectively, and forget everything you read and the things the lactation consultant told you. Is our daughter eating well? Sleeping well? Gaining weight?” The answer was yes. And she was doing all these things better on formula than breastmilk.

    And so I let it go. I slowly stopped pumping, and slowly gained back the time I spent “at the pump” and was able to spend that time with my daughter. My husband and I became equal partners as parents and shared the duty of feeding her, while still having energy to enjoy her during her awake times.

    This experience has left me feeling a bit resentful of all the literature I read in preparation for motherhood and nursing, as well the well-meaning lactation consultants that were pushing me to do what they thought was best — to feed my daughter breastmilk. But it took my husband and I several weeks to gain enough confidence to realize that WE had the ability to look at our daughter and our situation, and determine what was best for us all.

    It frustrates me that formula feeding was always portrayed as a lesser option than breastfeeding or feeding expressed breastmilk. It is portrayed as a last resort option when all attempts at breastfeeding have failed (there’s that F-word again). When really, formula feeding is an extremely valid option (one that many of us adults that are parents now were raised on). And ultimately, it’s a choice that is given too much weight nowadays. If my husband and I hadn’t stressed so darn much about this whole issue those first few weeks, perhaps we would have been able to enjoy our newborn, instead of feeling like frustrated, angry and incompetent parents.

    With formula feeding, we not only gave our daughter the relief from green, painful and diarrhea-like stools, we also gave her two parents that were happier and better-equipped to care for and love her.

    1. Thanks for your story, Jeannine. I know several people who found that formula worked best. You never know what’s going to make your baby healthiest and happiest until they’re here, huh?

  2. Oh my wow! I just went through Jeannine’s story and suddenly the mystery that happened almost THREE years ago was solved!

    I fed my son by breast, expressed breastmilk by bottle and formula right from the onset. He was gaining weight and developing well, except he cried a lot, especially at night and during bowel movements. Then when I went back to work and he had more bottle (including expressed) than breast, he started ‘rebelling’ against the breast. He would CRY everytime I tried to breastfeed him. People suggested he was too lazy to suck after having it easier with the bottle. It was so frustrating that I ended up deciding to stop and express all the breastmilk instead. However, between my work and other responsibilities I didn’t have time to express lots and lots of breastmilk, plus it seemed I didn’t a lot of breastmilk anyway. So in the end I resorted to just formula feeding. At around the same time, we moved to a new city, and it’s always been that ever since we moved he stopped crying and it was just a mystery to us. Until I read the story above I just never connected his nightly bouts of crying to breastmilk!But now that I think of it, that must be why the crying stopped and he became an angel seemingly overnight…

  3. I suspect your baby cried at night because your supply was low (from not draining them a minimum of 8x every 24 hours either with baby, pump, or a combo) and your baby was hungry and unable to satisfy at the breast. But more than that I suspect it’s because you did not have the right education and support to be successful. I am 100% sure you did the best job you could do with the knowledge and support you had at the time. It is the lack of education and support that fails us (moms, dads, babies), not our breasts or our breastmilk.

    Humans (Americans in particular) have broken the chain of passing down thousands of years of knowledge about (and tricks to) breastfeeding largely due to WWII and the introduction of formula. Baby Boomers were mostly formula fed because their fathers were fighting and their mothers were working. Formula was an incredible invention and, at the time, was quite timely. But no one considered the consequences. Boomers did not grow up watching siblings and cousins being nursed, and then when they had their own babies their mothers could not offer them advice and support…so they forumla fed too. And many Boomer children have a tendency to validate what their own parents did (formula being only one of many things) than risk “disrespecting” the decisions of their parents by doing something different or carving their own path. There was also no education at that time and hospitals routinely prescribed medication to “dry up” mothers without asking for their opionion or permission. Now you have two generations of mostly formula-fed babies and it was now “normal” to formula feed and “avant garde” to breastfeed – thus the beginning of the sexualization of breasts and the powerful push by formula companies to make breastfeeding taboo, inappropriate in public, and “optional.”

    Other mammals succeed at breastfeeding because they learn from their own mothers/aunts (look at the chimps), and because there is no other option…which makes it a do or die situation. Humans cannot accept “do or die” mentality. We are lucky enough to have man-made artificial baby milk but we use it irresponsibly and it has contributed greatly to the “failure” of breastfeeding around the world. It is frightening to think what formula has done to our species and the immunities, intelligence, and lessons we have lost by interrupting this important final step in a baby’s formation and development ounce outside the womb.

    I think all parents strive to give their baby the best and obviously formula is good enough (I was formula-fed myself by my Boomer parents). But I hope the tables will turn and breastfeediong will be the norm again and formula will be the medicinal product it was intended to be – a back-up for the 5% of women world-wide who truly are unable to breastfeed. That is a tough figure, 5%, for many to swallow, but it is the truth. We need to educate people earlier in life, and support nursing familes (not just mothers) if we are ever going to return to the way nature intended. Breastmilk is very much a part of the fittest surviving…hopefully humans won’t slip down on the hierarchical totem pole for our breech of instinct.

    1. Spring–all good points. I think what Hai was trying to get across is that while she was physically capable of breastfeeding under the right circumstances, pumping allowed her to be more present as a mother. For some people, formula serves the same purpose. That’s how it was for my mom. She desperately wanted to breastfeed, but due to lots of complications she switched to formula at 3 months and it did for her what pumping did for Hai. That’s the topic of the next LST podcast episode. While I agree that breastfeeding is, in a vacuum, healthiest for mom and baby, I think it’s important for moms struggling with breastfeeding to know all of their options–all the combos of breast, pumping, and formula that exist.

      1. I can certainly appreciate what you are saying, however there are a few big points that seem to be missed.

        First that these moms think their breastmilk was upsetting to their baby…it was their SUPPLY that was upsetting to their babies.

        Second I find it hard to believe pumping allows for more presence (assuming both emotional and physical) as pumping makes feedings twice as long (you must pump then you must feed…e.g. 15-20 minutes vs 30-40 minutes). And if you are also using formula you are “triple feeding” and elongating your feeding time even more. The sheer energy this takes would be exhausting both emotionally and physically, and deplete what you are able to give to your baby, sig other, and self.

        Finally I would have to disagree that breastfeeding is healthiest “in a vacuum.” That is a misleading thing to say. Breastfeeding is healthiest for mother and baby. If you are referring to relief felt from switching from a difficult breastfeeding experience to formula I feel that is a different statement.

        It’s important for moms and dads to seek out accurate information, take a class from someone certified (ideally not in a hospital where you learn hospital protocol and not so much breastfeeding), find a doctor who is trained/experienced in breastfeeding, attend a support group BEFORE and after you give birth, and surround yourself with supportive people. We are so focused on baby registries and preparing the physical space for our babies – I wish there was more focus and investment in preparing for what actually goes IN to babies.

        1. Yes, yes, of course I mean that doing a combo and letting yourself off the hook with exclusive breastfeeding can be a relief…and as a result can make you a more mindful mother. Mental health is really important, too. This is (I feel) the most valuable lesson I learned from my certified lactation consultant.

    2. Things are not so black and white in reality. Breastfeeding = good and formula = bad, is an argument that doesn’t help anybody. Trying to guilt trip a mother into breastfeeding is not a good way to go: down the line, you’ll lose more followers than you’ll win some. These two mothers tried to breastfeed as much as they could, and after much effort and consultation, they realized it wasn’t for them, for the moment. You never know, they might try it again next time (if there’s a next baby), so why don’t you try to be a little more encouraging and try to stop assuming you know everything?

  4. Beautiful story! Thank you for this! I’m a new mom who had to supplement early on because my son was jaundice (no wet diapers/1 bm after birth). We supplemented using a S.N.S. to help with my supply and to get his weight up. After using the S.N.S. I would breastfeed for over an hour and then supplement each feeding I was more than exhausted. The saying “breast is best” consumed my every thought. I felt like a failure, but I wasn’t. Not at all. I had just carried a tiny life inside of me for nine months and then successfully gave birth. I had every reason to be proud. Once I gave up breastfeeding I was able to enjoy my newborn son. He is six weeks old and growing fast. Although we’re not breastfeeding I do give him my breast while his bottle of formula is warming up to keep him from crying. It’s a nice moment that may not last long, but makes me feel wonderful. I know that I’m doing all I can for my little one.

  5. Thank you for this story! My story is a little similar to Hai’s and Jeannine’s (thank you both for sharing your stories!).

    My problem was the pain. I was in so much pain… I tried everything I could find for two weeks. Among many other things, the nurse told me my daughter should have a frenotomy (cutting the tongue-tie that was a little abnormal), so I put my daughter on a waiting list. But there was a two-week wait for that, and I wasn’t able to wait that long (it had already been one week of searing pain), so I had to give my daughter some formula. I started pumping like crazy in order to have a supply of breastmilk. Then, my daughter had the frenotomy, but it only made the feedings worse. I had no follow-up from the nurses or the pediatric dentist who performed the little operation. Of course, my daughter had started the bottle a few days before, so she was confused between the bottle and my breasts, but it was more than that: she had to adapt to her “new mouth”! Nobody told me about that, so seeing that the frenotomy only made things worse really discouraged me to continue my efforts breastfeeding directly. I continued pumping for a month (the pump hurt as well, but it was more bearable), and my daughter was only fed breastmilk, but with a bottle. After a month passed, I started nursing her once a day (in the morning). It was still hurting, and she was still confused, but I persevered. I continued like that for nine months. It was really hard. I wouldn’t recommend to anybody: as Jeannine describes so well, it’s really time-consuming and demanding. I couldn’t go anywhere without my pump (it was the biggest one, it was a rental), so I was pretty much confined at home. I was in a deep depression, and it really wasn’t a good idea to stay at home 24/7.

    After about two months of “breastfeeding with a pump” (is there a word for that in English? in French, it’s “tire-allaitement”, but in English?), my doula finally found what my problem was: really bad vasospasms. So I took some natural health products, and I started using heating pads, but the pain was still there. Today, I think my main problem was stress. I was SO stressed out! I was a little ball of anxiety!

    I haven’t had a second child yet, so I don’t know how next time will turn out for breastfeeding, but I know a lot more about my body now, so I’m hoping it’ll be less difficult! We’ll see… :)

  6. Hi there, I’m sitting here at 4am while finishing off a breastfeed having just listened to this episode which resonated so much for me. My story is like a combination of everyone’s: Hillary’s, Hai’s and Jeannine’s.

    Before giving birth, I knew I had inverted nipples, so I was prepared to find out everything I could as I knew breastfeeding would be a challenge but I was very determined to succeed. Unfortunately, anything I could find simply said things along the lines of “It’s harder, but with persistence and the right support, it is possible.” This was good to hear, but I wanted practical advice, and I didn’t get any.

    My baby was born via Caesarean as she was breech, which meant after she was born I didn’t get to hold her for an hour and a half, and it’s common knowledge that milk comes in later after a C-section. This was not a good start! However, at hospital I managed to latch her (as I believed), and we fed through the feeding frenzy of days 2, 3 and 4. On day 4, as we were preparing to go home the next day, a midwife noticed that my daughter was super skinny and demanded to weigh her. Turns out she’d lost 15% of her body weight in 4 days, which is a huge amount, especially given her birth weight was already on the lower end. So there and then we gave her a bottle of formula and she immediately changed from the grizzly baby we thought we had to one who was calm, and actually slept! I realised I’d been basically starving her, which was then evidenced by my cracked, bleeding nipples. I assumed this was all normal.

    Then came the regime, similar to Hillary’s: try to breastfeed (with a nipple shield to pull out the inverted nipples), feed expressed milk, top up with formula, put baby to sleep, express for next feed, try and grab some sleep before it all started again. We were on a strict schedule imposed by the hospital, which meant waking the baby up to feed her. This lasted a week and a half or so, and once she was gaining good weight, we were allowed off the schedule and to feed on demand, but I was still pumping 8xday. In the meantime I was seeing lactation consultant at the hospital and also had a home visit, which meant my breastfeeding was getting better and better. Hooray! There was a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, I was extracting more milk, so I was able to drop the formula top-ups and top up only with expressed milk.

    As our breastfeeding got better, and we weaned from the nipple shields, I wondered why my persistent severe nipple pain wasn’t easing up. She was gaining weight, but my nipples were always painful throughout the whole feed. I assumed they were still sensitive from being pulled out, but another LC visit confirmed that my daughter had a posterior tongue tie, which meant our marathon nursing sessions (each feed would be an hour or so) and the pain I was feeling was due to that. I endured it for another week before we managed to get the tie cut, and things started again to look up. This was at week 4.

    Suddenly at 6 weeks, I noticed my baby hadn’t gained any weight in the previous week. I went back to a bit of pumping and topping up once a day, because I knew that one week was often not enough to gauge weight gain. Still, I was worried. When the scales showed she only gained 60g the next week, the LC noticed that in response to her new tongue mobility, my daughter was sticking her tongue to the roof of her mouth a LOT, and carving out a nice high palate for herself as her mouth developed. This meant she was not effectively sucking and removing milk. As a result I suffered from persistent clogged milk ducts, mastitis and a breast abscess, as well as a dip in my supply. Apparently babies can learn how to suck again as they get bigger and the high palate issue can resolve. Together we made a new plan – back to pumping and supplementing, all in addition to the hour-long nursing sessions. So it’s back to the beginning again, only this time, my husband was back at work and I am nursing for longer. Basically, every waking moment with baby is about feeding.

    This is how it is present day, at 7 weeks. I’ve made myself a goal of 12 weeks, and if she doesn’t get better at milk transfer by then, I’ll reassess where we’re at. Having been through all of this, I think Spring’s point of view is incredibly narrow-minded. I admit that before becoming a mother I was judgemental about women who formula fed, but I had no idea what a challenge breastfeeding was. Now that I know… I firmly believe that what’s best for baby is a HAPPY, RELAXED mother. Someone who enjoys her time with her baby and isn’t stressed and anxious all day about feeding. Regardless of nourishment, a strong relationship between the mother and baby is best for baby. I know myself that painful, long, tough feeding sessions can breed frustration and irrational resentment towards an innocent child! This is what I’ve been learning along the way. So I’m going to be relaxed — if I don’t manage all the pumping sessions, that’s OK. I can supplement with donor milk or formula instead. I don’t want to look back at old photos of my little baby and think I wasted my time with her by worrying and obsessing over breastfeeding. Sure, I had goals of over a year of nursing. But now I’m happy she’s got to 7 weeks with it and she’ll have at least some breastmilk till at least 12 weeks.

    Who knows, maybe it’ll all resolve and I’ll end up meeting my goal of a year or more. But if it doesn’t, and we end up on the bottle, I’ll just be proud we got this far and my baby will be well fed.

  7. I can’t believe this episode is 5 years old–how I wish I had heard this a year ago when I had my first child and was exclusively pumping for the first 6 weeks of her life because she wouldn’t latch. Oh so much empathy for Hai. And for all new moms who feel like those first few months (first year really) are one giant trip through the twilight zone.

  8. I also wish I would have listened to this episode 3 years ago! Funny enough, I am also a social worker, but here in Austin, Texas. Hai’s story completely resonates with me, because it is MY story as well. Breastfeeding was so hard for me due to my inverted nipples and my son’s lack of ability to latch (even with a lot of help for LC’s). When I finally decided to give up breastfeeding and just pump, it was a complete sense of relief and empowerment. I could still give my son breastmilk and not cry every time I tried to feed him. I ended up exclusively pumping for 1 year and I am thankful I was able to do that for him.
    As I write this, I am breastfeeding my daughter who is now 4 months old. Each child and situation is so different. I truly feel that whatever works best for you and your baby is the best way. We must not judge or feel ‘holier than though’ as moms…we just need to support one another through these longest shortest days. :)
    Thank you Hai for your story!

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