Feeding. Probably the most important, but yet most contentious, topic with regards to babies. Naturally, it’s also the source of the most problems. When you think about it, it should be so easy. I mean, look at the animal world from the perspective of the urban populous. Nursing mothers, and their newborn offspring alike, need no education or intervention. Both parties know exactly what to do and just do it. So why are we so different?

I used to think that humans overcomplicate things for themselves, and for the most part, we probably do. But that being said, humans have the unnatural ability to fight the law of natural selection. To compartmentalize and circumvent natures way of perpetuating a stronger race and gene pool. In any case, here we are. Sleep deprived… stressed… and completely exhausted.

It’s safe to say, for us at least, that the lions share of problems relating to babies is stem from feeding. K has really been a great baby in that she cries with obvious purpose, though that is slowly changing now that she’s being more self aware. When she cries, she’s either dirty, in pain, or hungry. Easy. The first is easily fixed, the second we’ve thankfully not really had to deal with, and the third… oh gosh the third…

Back to the point of contention. Feeding… breast vs formula. Two different camps who seem to fiercely oppose each other. A quick trawl of internet parenthood forums would forgive you for thinking you’d have stumbled back in history into a religious war. Pro-boob vs Pro-powder. Much childish behaviour, strawman attacks, and ad hominem arguments ensue. Like with most battles, I say you’re both idiots.

Nursing science has evolved to such a point that, I personally believe, it doesn’t matter which path you take. Both can lead to a physically healthy child. The question is whether you wish to take nature’s way, or the other way. Sure one may have benefits, but they also have negatives to that choice. And this is what life is all about, choice. Weighing the pro’s and con’s of your decisions. The key is not the decision you make, it’s how you arrive at that decision. To know why you have chosen that path, and as I’ve said countless times, “just because”, is not a valid decision making process. Feeding is no exception.

Just like sure breastmilk may have more antibodies, endorphines, and all that stuff, but you suffer in the form of inconvenience and discomfort. With formula, it’s sure as hell more convenient, but it’s not natural and you run a higher risk of infant obesity. This same conundrum will manifest itself in later life, such as tuition overload for better academic performance at the expense of childhood, and the focus on career and cash over quality family time as an adult. Both choices are valid, what counts is the basis for those choices, and the understanding of the relevant opportunity costs. To argue over these points as to which is the absolute correct path is absolutely pathetic. One can share their views, but they have no right to force their views. You have no right to mormon your choice down anyone else’s throat.

The most important factor that makes a healthy child, holistically, is love and affection, and I challenge anyone to dispute this. We humans are emotional and social creatures that crave these things. Look at ourselves. We can be omnivores, carnivores, or herbivores (freaks!), but our body can still be physically tip top. The most important indicator of our quality of self, is how we are emotionally… and this has nothing to do with food. As parents, our prime focus is the emotional sustenance of our children, because there is no other surrogate for that. You can physically sustain a human a thousand different ways, but there is no substitute for love, support, and affection.

This is the core basis of all my decisions relating to Karissa. I told Erica I don’t care whether she opts for C section or natural birth, ultimately a healthy baby is the objective. Logically, C Section is preferable, as it removes many of the variables associated with natural birth. And I hate variables when it comes to life or safety. However, nature’s way is that of natural delivery, which is believed to strength and better prepare the baby for the world during the birth process. However, increased chance of complication. Erica opted for natural and I supported that, though nature ended up dictating that it wasn’t to be.

Same with feeding. My preference was for the natural way, but if Erica chose formula, then I’d have no problem with that. She was formula fed as a baby, and me breastfed. We made the breast choice.

It’s intimidating to hear the nightmare anecdotes from mothers whom have had trouble breastfeeding. All we could pray for is that we blessed when it came to God’s breastfeeding lottery. We won a mixed bag. Sure we got some awesome metaphorical gummi bears, but we also got some of those awful licorice sticks. Fricken’ licorice… who eats that shit?

Erica started breastfeeding from the moment K was born, and as any new mother will testify, it wasn’t a pleasant process. Chafed raw nipples, painful latches, frustrated baby, not enough milk. The colostrum came as usual, and milk indicators soon after. It’s heartbreaking to watch my wife, whom already has a very low pain threshold, in tears because her nipples were raw, sore, and slightly bleeding, but yet had to endure the dreaded feeding time for the sake of the baby. This intense combination of pain and duty is something no man will ever be able to relate to. My heart broke watching her in such agony, but not being able to do anything about it. I went out and bought some nipple shields and hydrogel pads on a friend’s recommendation to help ease her pain. The nurses supplemented the feeds at night with formula.

On taking K home, her weight loss continued. K lost 12% of her birthweight as we tried to persist with pure breastfeeding, but there was no way for us to gauge, at the time, if K was getting enough. When we took her into the pediatrician a couple of days later, she said K was dehydrated as her stool was dry and she wasn’t peeing very much. So we decided to do measured feeds. E expressed so we could measure what her output was, and exactly how much K was getting. The objective was to ensure that her weight decline and dehydration was arrested and the trend reversed. E pumped, bottle fed the expressed milk to K, and topped up the residual with formula. There simply just wasn’t enough milk coming.

We discovered that K would sleep substantially longer with formula compared to breast. She would last about 2-3 hours on 90ml of breastmilk, and about 4-5 hours on forumla. So we gave her breastmilk throughout the day and formula for the feeds at night. 1 formula feed around midnight before we slept, and the following night shift feed. Initially we both got up, but since I had assignments to finish and exams to prepare for, E told me to sleep through and take the early morning shift. On the days when she was exhausted, I would relieve her on the night shift. She also had to take the night shift primarily as she needed to pump every 3 hours to improve milk supply, only skipping the morning shift for sleep.

E took Fenugreek and Brewers Yeast as natural supplements to promote lactation, however, I’m not exactly sure if this has improved milk production with any significance. The Gynae prescribed domperidone, which seemed quite effective, but we didn’t want to rely too much on prescribed medication just in case there were side effects. In the short term however, it helped.

Fast forward to 3 weeks. We decide to try to wean K off the bottle and move to breast. However, we ran into the problem that many mothers know all too well. Nipple confusion. Coaxing milk from the breast is a highly unique skillset which the baby has to develop, one that goes unused with a gravity fed bottle. While K still remembered how to latch and suck from the nipple, she would either a) fall asleep and wake up extremely hungry and frustrated, or b) simply start extremely hungry and frustrated, refusing the breast.

It’s not that she didn’t know how, she had just been spoilt by the effortlessness of a bottle. I came across a post on a parenthood forum of a mother detailing how she managed to resolve the problem of nipple confusion with the aid of a supplemental nurser. I’ve never heard of this device but it sounded technically like what we needed. The problem is to resolve the frustration that K experiences when the milk doesn’t come, and she goes into a highly agitated state. The supplemental nurser works by inserting a thin tube connected to a milk reservoir into the babies mouth alongside the nipple. When the baby sucks the nipple, it also pulls milk from the reservoir and gives the baby instant reward or gratification from the effort, alleviating the frustration. She also simultaneously is getting milk from the nipple, which also acts to stimulate milk production more effectively (supposedly), than a pump.

Our first couple of efforts were met with frustration. We discovered that the core reason for this was that the baby was already extremely hungry and in an agitated state. In other words, the basic principle of behavioural modification at play. Once the mind is in a heightened or agitated state, it shuts off to learning new information.

The key was to introduce the new process while K was calm and before she was ravenous. And it’s working! However, it’s absolutely exhausting. Right now it’s a two man job to see it through as manipulating both nurser and baby is extremely fiddly. Once E gets the hang of it, I’m sure it will be easy to solo it. Our first few efforts saw the feed session lasting two hours as we juggled frustrating and crying baby, a hose that kept displacing itself, and vacuum problems with the reservoir. Once overcome, things started to work pretty well. And that’s where we are now. We are seeing significant progress as K is realising that the bottle ain’t coming. It’s boob, or bust. And I’d like to think survival’s ‘do or die’ instinct will win out in the end. We just hope that the milk production is still on it’s way, as E isn’t producing enough to feed K on pure breastmilk alone.

We didn’t explore the option of a lactation consultant because my preference is to do things on a logical and case my case basis. We’re blessed by being the most educated and well-connected generation in history, with limitless resources right at our fingertips. By combining high observation, logic & reason, with those information resources, my hope is that we can exclude as much professional intervention as possible.

For me, a father, the scariest part of the whole journey was supporting not the baby, but her mommy. The guilt that Erica felt at not being able to provide such a basic need to her baby was overwhelming. Again, it’s a feeling that fathers, and not even all mothers, will ever know. We’re not all equal, with some women being more prone to guilt and self-blame than others. It may be hormones, or it may be unique personality. It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t worried about the baby, as I said before, we have a thousand different ways to ensure that it doesn’t go hungry. But we’ll never know what the combination of hormones and a strong maternal responsibility will do. Erica felt helpless, impotent, responsible. And when she would see how angry and frustrated the baby got at her nipple, because she wasn’t producing enough, it just broke her down. And no one, not even fellow mothers, have any right to judge another against their own point of reference for there is no control point or measure for this. Each mother is highly unique, and the permutations of all relevant contributing factors almost limitless.

All I could do was reassure her that the baby isn’t angry, it will never go hungry, and it will never be unloved. I reassured her that she’s doing her best, undergoing so much exhaustion, pain and discomfort, and that is so much more than anyone could ask for. Self-sacrifice is one of the, if not the, most powerful gifts that anyone could ever make. Human, animal, or even God. If that is the only thing that you’ve given, to anyone, it’s already more than anyone could ever ask for. Watching my wife, Karissa’s mother, do this time and time again… not only has our baby already received more than it needs, but also me, by just being a part of it.

To all mothers, whom have selflessly given so much of themselves for the life and welfare of their babies, and in whatever form that they’ve chosen to do it, I truly salute you.