My Small, Perfect Baby
Marietta GA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 6, November-December 2005, pp. 252-253
I have a reputation among my friends for researching everything. When I have a decision to make, no matter how big or small, I feel compelled to do research. However, I am often hesitant to trust sources and find that I continue to research until I find "the truth." My approach to pregnancy and parenting has been no different.
While pregnant, I spent all of my free time gathering information about childbirth and infant care. I read a variety of books and magazines, attended childbirth and parenting classes, read articles online, participated in online bulletin boards, and attended local La Leche League meetings. I even went to an LLL Area Conference and participated in some pretty technical sessions.
Armed with my information, the birth of my baby still held surprises. In all of my research, I had never read about a baby being born just three hours after the first contraction. My husband's single focus was to get me into the hospital before I started pushing. The relaxation exercises and massage techniques we studied diligently were of no use to us. My labor was my first lesson that facts and averages do not make a complete picture.
Luci weighed seven pounds, three ounces at birth and was eager to nurse. More accurately, she was eager to suck on anything near her mouth. Those first few days of her life could not have been more serene. All the intrusions that are part of a hospital stay were drowned out by my intense focus on my baby. Our sleep-wake cycles harmonized as we snuggled in bed for most of the three days. We perfected latch-on and positioning and nursed often. At Luci's first visit with her pediatrician, everyone was pleased to see she had gained back the initial newborn weight loss and had surpassed her birth weight. I was happy to proclaim that we were a successful breastfeeding couple.
As the weeks passed, a routine emerged. We both seemed to be happiest if we stayed busy. Nearly every day, I had something planned. I met friends for lunch, went shopping, strolled through the park, or lifted weights at the gym. Luci was always with me and we nursed everywhere we went.
In August, we went back to the pediatrician for her two-month appointment. This time, she weighed nine pounds, 14 ounces. The pediatrician noted that she had dropped to the 25th percentile in weight for her age. I think this is when my obsession with weight charts and percentiles first developed. Over the next four months I cycled between "worried sick" and "confident" about Luci's health. Some days, I obsessively tracked wet and dirty diapers and length of time at each breast. I checked her mouth to ensure it was moist and her skin was supple. I felt to make sure the fat pads in her cheeks were still there.
I discovered a lot of great online resources that provide information on infant nutrition and growth. Many became favorites that I visited regularly. I often read the same articles over and over for reassurance. I also connected with other mothers with small babies and we formed an email group to discuss the growth of our "tiny tots."
All of my worrying peaked in early December when our pediatrician recommended I supplement with formula. When the pediatrician entered the exam room, she asked the standard question, "Do you have any specific concerns today?" Of course, I responded with, "Yes, I am concerned about Luci's weight."
My heart sank when I heard the doctor recommend formula. Perhaps she reviewed Luci's chart before she came in the room, but, in my opinion, her recommendation was based solely on my concern. My mind was racing. This woman's professional opinion was that the "perfect food" had failed. I was not providing Luci with the nutrients she needed to thrive; furthermore, a powdered milk concoction could do a better job than I could. I had failed at my primary responsibility as a mother.
At that moment, I began to process all of the information I had gathered. What stood out was the 10 months of support and information from my La Leche League meetings. I remembered a discussion I had had with other nursing mothers. We agreed that it is wise to utilize physicians for their medical knowledge, but not necessarily their parenting advice. At that instant, in the doctor's office, I was empowered to be my child's advocate. I told the doctor that I know mother's milk is best for Luci. I asked, "Do you have any medical concerns regarding Luci's weight?" The pediatrician reviewed Luci's file, asked me some questions about our nursing routine, and examined Luci. She decided there was no medical reason to give Luci formula. In fact, she said that the reason she suggested formula was to make me feel better. "Wouldn't it minimize stress in your life if you could measure the amount of milk your baby consumed," she asked? No, using formula is not easier. Furthermore, parenting is not about doing what is easy; it is about doing what is best for your child and your family.
From June to December, Luci had learned more than I could have imagined. I had learned just as much, if not more. Every day of her life, my instincts told me that she was healthy. However, it took me six months to trust those instincts. There are situations when an infant does need formula and there are times when slow weight gain legitimately requires medical attention. But, that was not the case with Luci. People come in all shapes and sizes, so do babies. Some have those cute rolls on their thighs. Some have short little necks. Some have big blue eyes. Some are bald. My baby has long fingers, light brown wavy hair, fair skin, and she is smaller than average. Of 100 babies her age, 85 percent weigh more than she does. But she is my small, perfect baby; and that is the perfect size for her to be.