I am a huge advocate of nursing babies, and breastfeeding is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. This being World Breastfeeding Week, it’s the perfect time to honor it. After all, breast milk is pretty much the most perfect food there is and the fact that our bodies can make it and serve it to our babies like their own personal vending machine is amazing. I always encourage my new mama friends to at least give it a try and I’m more than happy to share my tips and tricks for making it work, because as much as I wish formula could compare … it just doesn’t.
That being said, breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum as a mom who has bottle-fed and breastfed and it has definitely given me a unique perspective. While breastfeeding is a wonderful way to provide nutrition for our babies and a great way to bond, it simply isn’t possible for all moms — and I was one of them.
When I had my daughter, I fought like hell to make breastfeeding work for us. I started trying to breastfeed her as soon as possible after giving birth (it was a natural water birth in case you’re wondering if the way I gave birth may have had any impact) but she lost an entire pound within the first two days. She was lethargic and my midwives were worried, so I was started on a pretty intense regimen.
This is what my life looked like during the first three months postpartum: I would nurse for about 40 minutes, then in order to avoid using formula I would supplement with donor breast milk using an SNS system attached to my breast. After that, I would use a breast pump for about 20 minutes. After that, I’d wash bottles and by then it was pretty much time to start the cycle again. All. Day. Long. On top of this routine, I was taking a cocktail of hers and tinctures to boost my supply, eating galactogogues, and taking placenta pills. I went to a weekly breastfeeding support group, met with multiple lactation consultants, and even tried craniosacral therapy and a frenectomy in order to improve my daughter’s latch. I did these things for three months and still my milk supply never increased.
I cried every day. I felt so much pressure from all the other crunchy mamas/midwives/doctors/general public to make it work. I felt like a failure, like my body had failed me at this seemingly basic task that women had been able to accomplish for ages before me. My baby was never satisfied and often fussy because there was never quite enough donor milk. I had to ration it, because I felt like giving my baby formula would make me a terrible mother. I became depressed. I had moments of resentment toward my baby for treating me like a 24-hour diner and I had a hard time bonding with her. I was miserable.
And then one day my husband had a “come to Jesus” talk with me and told me that exclusively breastfeeding does not a good mother make. He told me that he would support my decision to feed our child in the way that I thought was best, but that she really would be OK if we started supplementing her with formula. I felt awful, but I knew he was right. Killing myself to breastfeed was making me a worse mother, which was the opposite of what I wanted.
I started supplementing with formula that day and I immediately felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was like I could finally breathe again and as an added side effect of my decreased stress, my milk supply actually did increase. I ended up nursing until my daughter was 17-months old and even though it wasn’t “exclusive” I was incredibly proud of the accomplishment.
Despite the blood, sweat, and tears I put into nursing, I still got the side-eye from people when I would give my daughter a bottle of formula in public. It was like I could feel the judgement in their eyes saying, “She must not love her child. What a shame she’s not breastfeeding that baby.” If only they knew.
I have friends who’ve experienced the same and it breaks my heart. There are so many reasons why women are unable to breastfeed — perhaps they’re a foster parent, or maybe that baby was adopted. Maybe that mama had breast cancer and a masectomy or maybe she suffered from awful postpartum depression and giving up nursing was part of the process in helping her get well again. At the end of the day, we are all moms and we just want the best for our little ones.
So if you want to breastfeed and are able to, more power to you, mama! I would strongly encourage it, because it really is the best start you can give your baby. Know that it is hard work and give it your damnedest, but in the end know that you are a good mama no matter how you feed your baby. Bottle or breast, let’s just feed our babies.
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