When I discovered I was pregnant – well, really ever since the thought of having children became an actual possibility – I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I researched and read books, blogs, and forums about breastfeeding (maybe, a bit too much) and understood the various “benefits” of breast milk – i.e. antibodies to protect my little one from illness or infection, an increased bond, a no-cost feeding option – the list continues for days. So, when breastfeeding didn’t work out for my son and I, I was devastated.
When Leo was born and I had my very first attempt at nursing him in the hospital, my nurses helped me to get the “perfect” latch – and, for reassurance, I had his latch “verified” by two lactation consultants before being discharged. As I mentioned, I did my research – so, I knew that my milk wouldn’t come in for a few days, but that my colostrum was enough to satisfy his tiny tummy. I knew that I needed to feed him (and, wake his peacefully sleeping body at that) every 2-3 hours to establish my milk supply and help him to retain as much of his birth weight as possible. I knew that the best gauge to determine if he was getting enough was to monitor the frequency of his wet and dirty diapers. Still – I wondered and worried if he was getting enough nutrition from me.
We (and, I use “we” as my husband was very much a part of this struggle) got our first taste of parenthood when we brought Leo home for the first time. Waking and feeding him every 2-3 hours by the clock (as recommended by the hospital) was difficult. Sometimes, Leo wanted to sleep and/or he just wasn’t hungry. …but, I needed to establish my milk supply and “feeding on-demand” wouldn’t do that since he was so young and he could sleep right through his feeding time, right?
Once my milk came in, I was excited. Besides the feeling of engorgement and not knowing how to handle the sensation of a full pair of breasts – I was happy. I felt that having my milk come in so strongly meant that Leo’s latch helped me to establish a supply and that breastfeeding was going to work for me as long as I could get through the lack of sleep from having to wake every 2-3 hours throughout the night. Nursing really wasn’t “that bad” – my nipples weren’t cracking or bleeding and Leo seemed to be content after each session… or, so I thought.
Things took a turn for the worst when we showed up to Leo’s 2-week weight check only to be told that “your baby isn’t gaining weight well enough at all.” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks and I held back tears in front of the pediatrician. What do you mean he isn’t gaining weight well enough? He’s always “milk drunk” after feeds and his latch was “perfect” – wasn’t it? His fussiness minutes later after feeding was just normal behavior of a newborn, right? There’s no way he could still be hungry – he fed for at least an hour. Surely, there’s something wrong with your scale. I couldn’t possibly supplement with formula – that would mean I had failed at one of the main things I could “be good at” as a new mom – feeding my son.
My husband and I instantly decided to give supplementation a try. At the end of the day, Leo’s health is most important and we wanted to see if the added nutrition would get his weight up to where it should be. After supplementing with formula for two days, we ran out of the ready-to-feed bottles and I figured that should have been a good-enough amount of supplementation and I could continue to nurse him exclusively. I wanted Leo to be able to thrive on my milk alone… and, he did… or, so I thought.
When Leo was 3-weeks old, nursing began to feel differently. It started to get painful; the pulling, sucking, and – was that biting? It made me feel disgusted inside. (Ever heard of nursing aversion? Google it.) It gave me an overwhelming sense of irritability. The feedings would last for about 30 minutes – then, Leo wanted to nurse out of comfort for another 30 minutes – and, I wanted to get on with my day before having to feed him again in another hour or so. (Yes, feeding times are estimated from the start of the feed – not the end.) Why didn’t I enjoy nursing my son? Why weren’t we bonding like the internet had promised? Why couldn’t I shake the feeling that I just wanted to “get this over with” and put him to sleep? I felt like a terrible mother for having these thoughts… and, once the thought of dreading feeding time seeped into my mind, I knew I was headed for a downhill spiral. So, I decided I was going to ditch nursing and get acquainted with my pump.
…but, pumping was just as exhausting. I needed to build a milk stash so that Leo would always have a bottle on-hand. So, that meant nursing him when I didn’t have a bottle of my milk available and pumping in-between feedings. So, basically being attached to either my son’s mouth or a machine 24-hours a day? I couldn’t keep up. When would I sleep? When would I eat? When would I shower? Or, be able to leave the house? Or, be able to spend quality time with my husband? (…because, one lesson I have learned since becoming a mother is that quality time is crucial to your sanity.) I was slowly losing myself in the endless cycle of milking.
I had to be real with myself – breastfeeding wasn’t working out for me or my son. I wasn’t able to take care of myself, which meant that I wasn’t able to adequately provide for Leo. …and, that was a huge problem for me and a pill I didn’t want to swallow – ever. So, we made the switch.
Formula didn’t seem like a bad option at this point. Surely, it’s on the shelf for a reason. There is nothing wrong with babies who are fed on formula. Spoiler: My mother fed me and my siblings on formula, my husband was formula-fed, my friends were formula-fed – we are all healthy and thriving in life. In fact – my son seemed like a much happier baby after being exclusively formula-fed for 24-hours. He finally had a full tummy… and, I finally had a genuine smile. I finally felt like myself again… and, I finally felt like I was doing something “right” as a new mother.
So, the moral of the story here is – fed is best. Of course, breast milk has its one-up qualities on formula. …but, by no means is it the end of days if my child is fed in other ways. Breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everybody – and, it didn’t for me.
…but, that is okay.
…and, I don’t feel any less of a mother for it.
…and, neither should you.