Why Some Babies Fail to Thrive on Both Breast Milk and Formulas

1943 Winky and Trish

This is my big sister and me sometime after I stopped screaming.

I’m writing this post for those caught up in failure to thrive on milk or formulas and for those who have been told they were failure to thrive babies.

I don’t know much about babies who fail to thrive.  The reasons could be many, including living in a household in such turmoil that the baby couldn’t relax and take her bottle.  One young mother had to be taught to stop fighting with her boyfriend around the baby.

I have heard the story from time to time of a baby that didn’t do well on any formula and only gradually stopped crying and began to get some nourishment from whatever was tried last.  Sometimes there were months of pain and frustration for mother and baby.

My three boys each nursed for more than a year and smiled and grew.  I lived in a village in which most mothers breastfed and I watched a hundred or more children thrive with that good start.

Still, breastfeeding can fail if the mother is nervous or sick or malnourished.  Or if she had her children so close together that her body was not ready to support the second pregnancy and nursing baby.  That is apparently what happened to me.

My mother married and began her family at a time when much of the wisdom of women was abandoned for the guidance of medical doctors.  She didn’t know why I was born skinny and crying or why nursing didn’t help.  She only knew she had a screaming infant on her hands.  I can’t blame her for what she didn’t know.  Her generation lost the village needed to raise each child along with all the knowledge and support such a village  would provide.  She loved being pregnant and she loved caring for babies.  She almost never ran out of energy for family life.

None of what happened to me was her fault.  Nor were we alone.  Across our land many mothers and babies were having a hard time in a way that was traceable to over-civilization as compared to indigenous living.

Took a lot of years and and, at last, an excellent doctor for me to understand that I was skinny because my mother’s body wasn’t ready for another pregnancy and that I was screaming because her breast milk lacked the usual healthy biotics that help a baby digest.  Babies are not born with intestinal probiotics, my doctor told me.  They get the good bugs from the birth canal and from nursing.

After six weeks of frustration, Mom put me on raw cow’s milk with Karo syrup in it and I stopped screaming.  The raw cow’s milk would have had the probiotics I needed for digestion.  But for the first six weeks of my life I was my mother’s enemy.  That part of our story did not end with the cow’s milk.  We had by then been deprived of the early bonding that comes with successful breastfeeding or bottle feeding.  Let’s not let this keep happening to our families.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t give medical advice.  In everything you do for your child, use your own best judgment.  I simply suggest retrieving the old wisdom that kept humankind on track for many generations.  If your infant has trouble with both breast milk and formula, you could supply the needed probiotics, or, you could try raw goat’s milk or cow’s milk, only making sure the farm is clean.  (I don’t recommend Karo syrup or any form of corn syrup, a story for another day.)

Here I am with Benjamin, who was breastfed and content.

At five days he is almost smiling in his sleep.

1972 with Benjamin

Author: Patricia Mitchell Lapidus

Anyone may walk down the road wondering who we are, how we are supposed to live, and what happens when we die. Some folks like traditional answers. Some folks don't want to spent their time thinking too much. I felt called upon to search these questions in depth and in some surprising places. Each of my books is a story or group of stories about what I found during a wide-ranging journey. My home state of Maine was a hard place to leave. But I knew I had to go. And if I didn't make it back home to Maine except to visit, I did find home in the comfort and joy of discoveries that washed away the pain that had started me on my travels.

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