My Feeding Journey: “No matter what we did, my baby girl didn’t gain weight”

My husband, Rory, and I have two daughters: Eleanor, who’s four, and Emerson, who’s eight months old. My feeding journey with both girls was very difficult: we struggled with latching problems, tongue-tie, jaundice, no-to-low weight gain, feeding tubes, and more. There was a time when I felt guilt, and wasn’t comfortable opening up to others about my journey. But now, whenever I can share my story so that it helps another parent, I’m happy to do it. 


Dealing with latching problems

With my older daughter, Eleanor, my plan was to breastfeed. I wasn’t really open to formula. But when she was born, she had difficulty latching, and at her one-week check-up we learned that she had tongue-tie. Not only that, she wasn’t gaining weight appropriately, and had jaundice. 

Her pediatrician pushed formula as an option, to help Eleanor get calories while we figured out breast-feeding. We did take Eleanor for tongue-tie revision, but even after that she never truly latched on. I spent countless hours and tears trying to feed my daughter the way I wanted to, but breastfeeding was unsuccessful. I had so much mom guilt. 

So I switched to primarily formula feeding Eleanor. I also pumped twice a day for six months. I hated pumping, and the stress just wasn’t good for my mental health. Once I decided to formula feed solely, a lot of weight was lifted off my shoulder. But I still felt shame and embarrassment.


A second chance at breastfeeding

With my second daughter, Emerson, I didn’t want to have any guilt. I was fully prepared to breastfeed—but I also stocked up on bottles, formula, and everything I needed to feed her whatever way worked best for us. I’m a registered dietitian, and I looked into a few different formulas before finding Aussie Bubs. I felt comfortable with its clean ingredients and rigorous nutrition standards.

My mindset this time around was so much better: I connected with a breast-feeding consultant and was part of community support groups. I felt very supported, and the idea of breastfeeding felt less daunting this time around, as I had already been through what I thought was the worst of it. 

Emerson was born right on her due date and when she latched beautifully, I thought we were in the clear. I would finally have a stress-free feeding journey with little to no struggle. Since her older sister had had jaundice as a newborn, I made sure that we were feeding Emerson round the clock in order to manage her bilirubin levels. After her first pediatric check-up, we got great news: no jaundice! I continued to breast-feed her exclusively, on demand. She seemed to want to eat constantly.

But at our next pediatric appointment, Emerson hadn’t gained as much weight as expected, and she had fallen off her growth curve. Her doctor suggested she come in for daily weight checks, and I started seeing two different lactation consultants. I was exhausted from all the appointments and literally feeding her around the clock. 

On top of that, she would not take a bottle. Specialists tried to help, as did numerous friends and family—but she just was not interested. I would have asked a stranger off the street to try to give her a bottle because I was so desperate for her to take it from someone. We ended up having an occupational therapist come and work with us weekly, trying different techniques. 


A new diagnosis and feeding plan

Finally, our doctors suggested we have some tests run at the hospital. I was devastated, but so hopeful for answers. We were hospitalized for five days and saw countless doctors and specialists. Sweet Emerson had numerous tests and bloodwork and still seemed to smile through it all. We did weighted feeds and everything was checking out for her, but she still wasn’t gaining weight as expected. She also still refused to take a bottle—and that’s when the doctor said it was time for a feeding tube. 

She had a nasogastric (NG) tube placed in her nose and down her throat in the hospital, so that she could be fed that way. The medical team taught me and Rory how to care for it, so we’d know what to do once we were discharged. I was still breast-feeding Emerson around the clock, and in between feedings I was pumping, and we were fortifying my breastmilk to a higher caloric density. We would try to give her a bottle of the fortified breast milk, and then whatever she didn’t take, we would give it through her feeding tube. Finally, we started to see her weight go up with the supplemental feeding through her feeding tube. 

When we returned home, we worked with an occupational therapist weekly and were referred to a feeding team, who we saw once a month. The feeding team diagnosed Emerson with silent reflux, and she was prescribed medicine that helped tremendously.


Success—and the value of support

My daughter is now eight months old, and we have been tube-free for officially one month, WOOHOO! For now, I still breast-feed on demand and we give her fortified breast milk through a bottle. She also takes full feedings of formula if I’m away from her. I really enjoy breast-feeding, this second time around. It is my little quiet time with my daughter.

If I had to describe my feeding journey in three words, I’d say: blood, sweat, and tears. It honestly took my all to feed both girls. Being hospitalized was probably our lowest point. There were four days where I didn’t see Eleanor. It was tough because the hospital was an hour from home, so Rory took care of Eleanor while I was with Emerson. I was so involved with my daughter’s care, and all the tests, that I didn’t take any time for myself—I didn’t even get a breath of fresh air for days at a time! Looking back, I should’ve asked for more help. 

Sharing my story has really helped heal me and given me a purpose for all this. I don’t want other moms to feel they need to suffer alone or feel guilt. Some of the most wonderful moments of these past months have been connecting with other families with similar situations. Through social media I found moms who had children with feeding tubes. It was helpful to build a support system—a community. My advice to all parents is to lean on your people, and give yourself grace. 

During this journey, someone told me that I was the best person for my daughter to have in her corner. Realizing that I could be an advocate for her really helped me. It has also inspired me professionally. Though I spent most of my professional career doing clinical work in a hospital setting, I have more recently been working one-on-one with parents to help them start their babies on solids. I also consult with various brands as a nutrition advisor. My experiences have made me passionate about pediatric and infant nutrition.