Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

On breastfeeding and nourishment August 29, 2009

Filed under: For moms,Mothering role — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 9:44 pm

200px-Breastfeeding-icon-med_svgI have low milk supply.  How do I know?  Through long and laborious efforts, ultimately unfruitful (or at least, with very limited fruitfulness), with my first two infants. Knowing that ‘breast is best’ and striving – in classic type A fashion – to be the best mom possible to my tiny bundles of joy, I poured untold hours into making breastfeeding “work” with my babies.  I pumped round the clock. I took Fenugreek.  I used the supplemental nursing system through which extra food could be fed to the baby while I nursed. I met repeatedly with the lactation consultant. I went weekly to the breast feeding clinic for weigh-ins to track weight gain (or, often, lack thereof). All these efforts eventually revealed that in our particular case – my babies’ and mine – breast was simply not best.  My babies failed to thrive.  Once they were bottle-fed, they did great.

When our newest baby entered the world two weeks ago, I brought all this knowledge into the scenario and knew that breastfeeding would almost certainly be a limited venture.  My plan was to start off on the breast for the first few weeks, see how things went, then start supplementing as soon as it was clear the baby needed it.  When we met with the pediatrician on Friday for her two-week appointment and I learned she hadn’t gained any weight in a week – well, that was that.  Cut and dried, right? Start supplementing the breast with the bottle.  So I did.

A post-partum woman is not the most rational creature in the world, however, and the combination of hormones, sleeplessness, and emotions did their work. I felt bad, as I had the first two times. I wished it could have been different. I envied all the ‘normal’ women who have sufficient milk to feed their babies.  I felt, at the end of the day, like an inadequate mother.  My baby needed nourishment… and I could not provide it to her.  Other moms can provide their babies with “liquid gold” but mine, for reasons I can’t explain (this has been most helpful to me in pondering it), is evidently more along the lines of liquid lead.

As I prayed it through and reflected on it, though, I realized how much our vision of ourselves as mothers – who we hope and wish we could be – often does not match our reality. I love the idea of breastfeeding a well-nourished, content baby… and yet this vision and my reality will never intersect.  For other new mothers the longed-for vision may be other scenarios that they can’t achieve… getting pregnant easily and without assistance, for example, or vaginal birth, or unmedicated vaginal birth, or a pregnancy that doesn’t make them feel horrible day after day for nine months, or even mothering healthy babies with no special needs. (All of these, incidentally, I have been blessed enough to experience, repeatedly, and yet it’s still so easy to feel bad about the things that don’t work out instead of thankful about the things that do, isn’t it?)

And I thought too about how we as moms want to nourish our kids…  whether physically through providing the food they need as infants (as in my case) or in a thousand other ways.  This is the job God’s given us, so of course we should strive to do it well.  BUT, and this is a big but, we will never do it perfectly.  We will never be able to fill them, satisfy them, make them content or whole.  If I feel inadequate, it is because, in a way – I am inadequate… and yet can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  We mothers are nourishers, yes, but not the Nourisher. As we acknowledge this, we can lay aside the idols we can make of our own visions of motherhood and repent of the ways we try to control, even reign over, our mothering and our households.  We can trust and allow God to nourish our children through us and then leave the rest, all that is beyond our ability or control, to him to meet their needs in his own perfect ways.


9 Responses to “On breastfeeding and nourishment”

  1. Megan Says:

    First of all, congratulations on the birth of your daughter! 🙂 I’m not sure the difference in birthdates between our newborns…Caleb was born on 7/31.

    This post totally resonated with me. Maybe because I was in the same boat essentially. Because Caleb was not latching well, and I was a complete basketcase (and that’s putting it nicely), I had to make the difficult decision to go for formula. To be honest, before he was born, I hadn’t even thought of the possibility of that happening. I was all about breastfeeding and thought moms who gave formula to their babies were second-rate. Talk about a lesson in humility.

    Truly, ever since labor began, I have been learning all about humility and God’s sovereignty. So many things happened along the way that I said, “I’ll never…” and yet I have! I have learned that no matter how much you plan and prepare, ultimately it is God’s way that will win out. And it may not be what you believe to be ideal, but it’s God’s plan just the same.

    Thank you for penning your thoughts. I’m planning on writing a similar post in the future when my life finally begins to calm down more. Blessings to you and your family!! Hang in there!

  2. Cari Says:

    Your post could not have arrived at a more perfect time to encourage me. Three bouts of mastitis later and FAR TOO MUCH internal conflict over what to do next …sigh. Thanks for your honesty and your perspective. Both are incredibly encouraging this evening.

  3. Barbara Waldron Says:

    Hi again Suz,
    I just “happened” to open this this morning after struggling all night with being focused on the “one thing” that I was unable to accomplish and………….mothering doesn’t change even after 35 years!!! I’m still a “Mom” at my core, even when my “baby” just turned 35. Thank you for your wisdom and willingness to put it on paper.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Heather Says:

    I’m now 9 days before baby #2 arrives by c-section, and I have appreciated how much you’ve shared about your journey with breastfeeding. I felt all those feelings of guilt and incompetence after my daughter was born last year, when I, too, was unable to produce enough milk to nourish her alone. As this pregnancy comes to an end, I’ve had anxiety about what to do when our son is born, and you’ve helped get my mind and heart into the right place. I have prayed to find the answers to my physiological problem, but I forget all of the blessings that God has given me along the way. Now I’m praying for peace in the decision making over his weight changes, and I will also work to thank God for his holy nourishment for both me and our new baby. His food is everlasting, and that brings me great comfort.

  5. Christina Says:

    I enjoy your thoughts. My favorite is that, as moms, we are nourishers…but God is the ultimate Nourisher. You are so right. Breastfeeding (and my not wanting to stop pumping) was becoming about me..not them. And I am thankful for my two babies that I thought I wouldn’t have. They are healthy and beautiful and growing (have gained more than their birthweight in 2 weeks). God is so good. And you have reminded me to be thankful. You are a gift Susan! I am off to spend time with babies and hubby instead of a pump. 🙂

  6. heartpondering Says:

    Appreciate the comments girls… This is a tough area for many of us as moms, and it’s helpful to hear others’ experiences and thoughts as we strive to seek God first and be led by him and his wisdom in our mothering.

  7. Crystal Says:

    First off, I have to admit that as one of those moms who is a “natural nurser” (it hurts like heck the first couple of weeks but is a cakewalk after that), it’s hard to be completely and totally nonjudgmental of those who choose formula feeding w/o much research or a second thought. I think we all are naturally passionate about the decisions we make as moms as they can reflect our personality, our parenting style and our intelligence. When someone disagrees with us or comes to their own very different conclusion, it can be hard to come to terms with their decision not being the same as ours. After all, didn’t we think long and hard about it? Didn’t we pour over books and internet sites to research it? Didn’t we feel right about the decisions we made in our very heart and soul? Yet we must understand that everyone is different, every mom and every child is different, and different doesn’t mean wrong.

    Susan, knowing you and reading this post, I can honestly say I believe you’ve done your research and have tried your hardest to do what’s best. It must be very frustrating when you feel your best isn’t good enough. I agree with you in that even though we are inadequate (in so many different ways), God sees our inadequacies and uses them to teach us about Him and who we are in relation to Him. I liked Megan’s comment about humility and God’s sovereignty. I believe humility is the stuff of growth, and without out, we cannot have compassion for others, whether they seem inadequate or not.

    I also love your sentence, “we can lay aside the idols we can make of our own visions of motherhood and repent of the ways we try to control, even reign over, our mothering and our households.” It’s so easy to set ourselves up on a shaky pedestal as it is easy to come down too hard on ourselves. Yet God still loves us and accepts us through Jesus, inadequacies and all. May we be like Him to each other! Thank you for sharing, Suz – great post!

  8. heartpondering Says:

    I appreciate the candor of your comment and can relate to the idea of feeling committed to your parenting decisions, and the rationale behind them, and therefore finding it difficult to refrain from judging others. I’ve totally been there as a mom (and blogged about it too – https://heartpondering.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/judging-well-without-being-judgmental/)
    If I were in your position I might well have a similar view as you do on this… and it’s that reality that causes me, I think, to take an ‘outside looking in’ view of my own inability to breastfeed and feel so bad about it. And feel that I need to explain myself and my situation to others so they know how hard we tried. [This, I realize, is blatant people-pleasing and a sin to be repented of – the opposite of living for an Audience of One as I should – but that’s another post for another time.]

    It’s funny, your terminology of “cakewalk” related to nursing. As I’ve reflected on it this past week, I’ve thought about the far cry between how breastfeeding “should” work – and does for others (like you) – and how vastly different my experience is. The fact that a mother would feed from her child from her own breast and that child would flourish, grow, develop fat rolls – well frankly, I just can’t imagine it. I know that it is SUPPOSED to work that way and does for others… But for me, it’s just not so. We work and work at it and my kids just wilt and drop weight and are fussy and hungry. It made me think of moms I know who aren’t able to conceive naturally without intervention, month after month. The notion that some women can simply have sex and then get pregnant is baffling to them and seems almost outlandish. That’s me with breastfeeding… I now can’t even imagine, 3 kids later, feeding my kids at the breast and having them thrive.

    Sally Fallon, who created the homemade formula recipe that I use for my kids, wrote: “When I started out with my family, I was an absolute fanatic about breastfeeding. I knew that breastfeeding was the best way to nourish a growing infant… I couldn’t understand why any mother would give a bottle to her baby.” Then she realized that she had inexplicably low milk supply and that her kids were starving despite her best efforts to nurse them. The humility that Megan wrote about obviously hit her hard too… I’m thankful for the proactivity that led Sally to help other moms like me in the same boat.

    A week after writing this post, I still struggle with the reality that my baby will soon get no breastmilk. The woman with a low milk supply that cannot be elevated to adequate levels to feed her child has to, in very short order, choose between two options that are distasteful to her: 1) adjusting to the reality that, once her baby is getting nourished elsewhere, she will not work hard or long to suck a small supply of milk from the breast so the effort to feed her there becomes frustrating and taxing. [Two days after beginning supplementing with a bottle, my daughter basically wouldn’t nurse anymore… same experience with my son.] Thus she must turn to pumping if she wants to retain even the small supply she has. Hence she is pumping 5, 6, 7, 8 times a day – while also feeding her infant from a bottle and caring for the older kids. Or 2) accept that, much as she wants to provide breast milk for her baby, the time and effort being put into pumping can’t be maintained against the other demands of life, when the reality of the small quantity being accumulated there is taken into account.
    Both these options stink.

    Throughout the week, as I’ve thought this through while pumping (and not pumping), I’ve come back to the essence of the post – of who God is and all he’s done and doing. For some reason he’s given me large babies and a small supply. I don’t know why. But his plans are always good and his grace is always sufficient, right? So that is enough for me, and I must remember that.

  9. Crystal Says:

    I know well the feeling of failure as a parent when things don’t turn out as “normal” as we’d like. Staying pregnant seems to be my “failure” as I’ve had 4 miscarriages and an ectopic. It not only can bring about heartache but also a sense of failure at not being able to be the healthy vessel in which a child can grow and flourish (similar to breastfeeding). But you’re right – “His plans are always good and His grace is always sufficient.” When we understand that our plans for our children are good as well and our all-encompassing love usually sufficient for them, things like nursing vs. not nursing, working vs. not working, and other such controversial subjects usually matter most to us and not so much to our children. They just want to be loved and accepted…as do we.

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