Yes I’m talking about MJ. She’s a runt. There’s so much emphasis on losing weight that it’s a bit of a shock when you find yourself with the opposite problem, not putting on enough weight! According to the paediatricians and the infant health nurses and the health department an infant needs to put on about 150 grams a week to be doing well. In a good week, little MJ has managed about 100 or 110 grams but in a bad week sometimes even less. It is natural for weight gain to vary from week to week, and there is some genetics involved, but even small babies still need to be putting on weight. And MJ just isn’t cooperating in that department. Each time after I’ve weighed her, I’ve been really diligent about trying to squeeze in extra feeds, setting my alarm for 3 am, dragging myself out of bed to give her an extra feed, but then after a week or so of that, I see her little double chin and those little fat rolls on the top of the thighs and think she must be doing OK. Then I put her on the scales again and she barely tops 5 kg. But she looks so healthy! It’s not like her skin is flapping around like an elephant or anything. But no matter how good she looks and how happy she is, the scales tell a different story.
So how can I fatten her up? Both the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Raising Children Network recommend feeding more often as the best way to boost your milk supply. They say the evening and night-time is an especially good time to fit more feeds in because you tend to make more milk then. They also recommend giving little top-ups or snack feeds in between each feed, so you may as well just have the baby hanging off your boob all the time, African style. Of course you also have to make sure you’re drinking well, eating well and resting well, which for me probably means a few less social events and trips to the city.
This has all come as a bit of a shock to me because Birdy was a tank. She didn’t feed anywhere near as often but she just packed on the weight. I had milk spraying across the room. She could have survived a week in the Antarctic just on her own body fat if she needed to.
So the question is does it really matter if babies aren’t putting on the correct amount of weight? Surely to get those averages there have to be some babies above average and some below. The answer to that question seems to vary depending on who you ask. I was speaking to a midwife at a charity function a few weeks ago, and she told me not to even bother weighing her. She said if she’s happy and she’s got plenty of wet nappies and she’s sleeping well then don’t worry about it. And lots of Mum’s say that as well. Any time I tell another mother that she’s not putting on enough weight, they usually have a story to tell about their own baby who had the same issue. My own mum even said that I didn’t put on much weight until I started solids. It was the good old Farex (the baby rice cereal) that fattened me up. We’ve only got two weeks to go until we start solids so I’m hoping that will solve the problem. But there is always the risk that the baby could have some kind of food intolerance or an infection that is preventing them from putting on weight so that’s why it is important to see a doctor if giving extra feeds doesn’t help.
And if that doesn’t work, what next? I have considered eating hot chips and chocolate chip cookies and see if that helps fatten her up! But usually if a baby isn’t getting enough milk, and if you’ve tried to boost your supply without success, then the next step is to compliment with formula. I really don’t want to do that, because I know that once you start giving formula there’s a risk your milk supply drops even further. So on the advice of a paediatrician friend, I’ve just started expressing extra milk. But it’s so demoralising. I sit there pumping for about 20 minutes and wind up with 20 mls if I’m lucky so it hardly seems worth the effort. The plastic pump just doesn’t get the feel-good mummy hormones flowing in quite the same way as cuddling a beautiful baby. But as much as I love breastfeeding, if she’s not thriving then it’s really not the best thing for her, so I may just have to overcome my pride and put her on a bottle. For now though, I’ll keep setting the alarm for 3 am and hope it pays off at the next weigh-in later today… it’s the least I can do for my little MJ!
Have you had the same problem? How did you fix it? What was the turning point for you? Do you think it matters if some babies put on less weight than others?
Cracked nipples. Mastitis. Breast pads. I left out all the gory details when I discussed this topic on breakfast radio this morning. I wanted to talk about breastfeeding today because some new research has come out looking at the public health impacts of early weaning. 90% of 35 – 45 year olds were weaned before 6 months, and that’s impacted our overall health as a nation.
One reason for early weaning today is women returning to work, but the other is that there’s not enough breastfeeding support and expertise in the general community. Before I breastfed my daughter I’d never seen anybody attach a baby. We’ve lost that communal passing on of knowledge. I know a few mothers who chose not to breastfeed because they didn’t like the idea of it. I think the sexualisation of our culture is partly to blame – young women just aren’t used to thinking of their breasts as a functional piece of equipment for feeding.
Personally I had a positive experience of breastfeeding. I absolutely loved it. I loved the closeness and the bonding – the skin on skin contact with my baby. But, I also remember one phase at about six months where I got sick of it and wanted to quit. Sometimes I felt like I did nothing else for that entire year. But fortunately I never had any problems with my milk supply – actually I had so much milk I felt I should be bottling it.
So what made breastfeeding work for me? I don’t think there was any one thing, but some things that helped were:
– I found out as much as I could before I gave birth. They ran a breastfeeding course at my hospital and I did it twice – once before I gave birth and then again afterwards. I’d really recommend that to anyone who’s having their first baby or who’s wanting to breastfeed for the first time.
– When I was in hospital I rang for the midwife every time I fed to make sure I had her attached correctly. If you don’t get a good attachment then you can really do some damage and it affects your confidence as well. I think it’s really important to get as much help as you can in the first few days.
– I also asked lots of dumb questions. Every midwife has a slightly different opinion on how often you should feed, whether to wake your baby, how long to feed for, but the more you ask, the more you learn how to make those decisions yourself.
– Also I had a goal for how long I wanted to breastfeed and I was determined not to introduce bottles until I was ready to wean. So many Mums I knew were disappointed when their milk dried up after a few months, but they’d been substituting breastfeeds with bottles and then their milk supply dropped. So don’t substitute or supplement with formula until you’re ready to wean (unless of course your baby’s starving. That’s a different kettle of fish!)
People have very different ideas about how long to breastfeed for. I don’t actually have a strong view on when is the right time to wean. In terms of health benefits, the first 6 months are the most important. But extending breastfeeding does extend the health benefits. My goal was to breastfeed for 12 months, because that’s when you can introduce cows’ milk. So I started weaning at 12 months and had her totally weaned by 14 months. That felt natural to me because that was when Birdy started walking and it was a clear time of transition from baby to toddler. But some babies just wean themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. Finally, I think it’s valid to consider the mother’s social, physical and mental needs when deciding when to wean. After all, it takes two people to breastfeed! Both parties have to be happy with the situation.
PS. I received a wise piece of advice once. When you meet an adult, you can’t tell whether they were breastfed or not! So if, with all your best efforts, it didn’t work out, don’t stress too much!
Did you breastfeed your babies? Was it easy for you or did it take practice and persistence? At what age did you wean and why? Would you have preferred to breastfeed for longer? Did you breastfeed in public or were you too embarrassed?