Even as a girl, I assumed that I would breastfeed my baby. When my dolls were hungry, I did not give them a bottle, but lifted my shirt and brought them to my flat nipple. That assumption was challenged the week following the Squiggle’s arrival, when I learned that my milk was not sufficient for him.
The Squiggle weighed an astonishing 3.14 pounds at birth. He was more than thin – he was scrawny. Due to some yet unknown reason, my placenta failed to nourish him. He arrived two weeks early, just in time to be considered full term, and very weak. When I attempted to nurse him, he sucked weakly and then fell into a deep slumber. The act of feeding required too much effort. We tickled his toes, gently jostled him, wiped his face with water and begged. He’d perk up, nurse for a minute and then fall into lethargy. My first milk, a yellowish, fatty, antibiotic-laden fluid called colostrum, did not contain enough calories to nourish our son. In their first week of life, most babies lose a few ounces or up to a pound until the mother begins producing a more recognizable milk. Our baby could not to afford to lose any weight. The Green Mountain Man and I spent a day and a half distressed that our baby was starving in front of us.
Our midwife arranged for new mothers in the area to provide milk. We pumped my colostrum and mixed it with the other mom’s breast milk. Thus, the Squiggle was receiving antibiotics and bacteria flora his gut needed from my colostrum and calories from the supplemental milk. Nursing became a three-person operation, involving me, the Green Mountain Man and the Squiggle. I held the Squiggle to my breast. When he began to nurse the Green Mountain Man would slide the syringe along my skin and then squirt the milk mix into the baby’s mouth. Success! The Squiggle drank greedily and then collapsed into a milk-drunken stupor.
Two hours later when we performed the feeding operation again, he sucked harder and longer. Within two days, he was acting more like a proper baby. In his more alert state, he detected that the syringe, rather than the flesh held the tasty treat and to my distress turned his head from my chest when he saw the syringe.
By God’s grace and through the generosity of other moms, my week-old baby only lost an ounce and then gained two, but I hated giving the Squiggle some other woman’s milk. I worried that the Squiggle would learn to take milk only from a bottle or syringe. I wondered if I would be able to pump milk for very long. The hand-held pump we used worked very slowly and the colostrum only flowed in drops. Pumping was a tiring and painful process. Yet, I knew that formula’s nutrition pales in comparison to breast milk.
When the Squiggle was four days old, my milk came in. My breast felt as if they were filled with hard, heavy pebbles, and I soaked the bedclothes and sheets. I was uncomfortable, but so happy to be able to properly feed my baby. Since that day, my baby has only consumed my milk. Yet, I know that without the supplemental milk, the Squiggle might have starved to death. I am deeply grateful for those women who shared their baby’s food with mine.
Now, I have an opportunity to give the same gift to a dear friend of mine. She is adopting a little girl and loathes the idea of feeding her girl formula. While she is not able to produce milk, I have milk in abundance. What a joy it is to allow this child an opportunity to have the best baby food available – mama’s milk!