So, we’re right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week and right at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month. Everything I’ve seen so far basically feels like it’s “International Pretend to Be Supportive But Actually Silently Judge All the Moms Month/Week.” Like we need a specific week or month for that, right?
In any case, I’ve talked to a number of my mom friends, and I’ve heard the guilt about not breastfeeding, about how hard it is to pump once you go back to work, about the heartbreak of the choice to stop breastfeeding at or before 6 months because you just can’t keep up, etc., etc., etc.
Here’s my confession.
I Was Never in Love with the Idea of Breastfeeding
I know a good number of moms who adore breastfeeding their babies. It’s their time to connect and bond with their children, and they take great pride (and rightly so) in nourishing them.
But I never felt the romance of it. My own mother has told me I wasn’t a big fan of the breast as a baby, and after trying for a few months, eventually she gave me what I wanted, which was apparently a bottle. So perhaps it’s just something in my nature. And god bless my mom for trying.
My Kid Thought My Boobs Were Boring
But nonetheless, I was determined to make an effort at breastfeeding when the time came to feed Pip. I’d seen the research (and the discounting of the research), and I wanted to at least give it a shot. When people asked if I planned to breastfeed (and oh, did they ask), I told them, as long as everything went according to plan, I’d do it for a minimum 3 months. If it was going OK, I’d go for 6 months, and beyond that, we’d see.
A sub-confession: What I rarely expressed was that my major motivator in wanting to breastfeed was financial rather than maternal. Formula is expensive, and babies are expensive enough as is.
In the hours after Pippin was born, he latched like a pro, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can actually do this, and maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it like all those other moms.” But that was the high point of my breastfeeding experience. In the next two days, every time I tried to nurse, Pip would latch, take a couple of drinks, and then promptly fall asleep. The nurse who came for our home visit had told me I’d need to feed him for 20 minutes on each side — 20 minutes of active feeding. I was lucky to get 10 minutes total of active feeding within an hour. Coupled with the insistence that I feed him every two hours — starting from the beginning of each feeding — it didn’t take long for me to lose my effing mind.
By Day 3, I was a total mess, and I could tell Pippin wasn’t eating enough. His little lips were dry, and while he wasn’t unconscious, he wasn’t interested in really waking up for any length of time. In a panic, I started pumping and managed to get a few ounces of colostrum — plenty to fill a newborn’s marble-sized stomach, despite what hospital nurses sometimes tell new moms — which I promptly spoonfed to my barely-awake infant. Between bouts of crying, I managed to call the birth center, and they said to bring him on in. Tyler’s parents came to visit that morning to meet their grandson, but I couldn’t pull myself together enough to join in the happy experience. I was too worried about Pip and too weighed down by the guilt that I was failing at feeding my baby.
The Discovery of the “Third Option”
At the birth center, they confirmed what I knew — that Pippin was losing more weight than was ideal. He was just past the 10 percent threshold. They gave him an ounce of formula from a bottle, just to make sure his sucking reflex was working (it was). Instead of feeling guilt, I just felt relief that my tiny guy was getting some food finally. He didn’t have to work so hard to stay awake with the bottle; he could doze and eat much better than he could dose and nurse. That sealed the deal for me.
I tried to nurse him only once more (same result) and gave him half a bottle of formula to tide him over while I pumped enough for him to eat. My transitional milk came in quickly, and that started us down a new path: exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk.
It was GLORIOUS. Bottle-feeding meant the pressure was no longer solely on me to feed this little infant.
We could split the night shifts — and that meant I could SLEEP. And sleep meant I could stop crying for half of every hour of every day. (I still had to deal with the effects of post-partum depression, so there was still crying, but there was less.) My co-parent, who had felt sidelined by his inability to do much of anything to help, was thrilled to be able to do something (though probably less thrilled at no longer getting all the sleep). We were both able to get close to 8 hours of sleep a night (though I was still getting up every 3 to 4 hours to pump, in the beginning), and as new parents and probably especially new moms know, that is GOLD.
A Pair of Boobs Without a Home
There were some dark nights of the soul around 2 months, when I was dealing with clogged ducts (pretty sure a mammogram will be no big deal now, thanks to that) every single day. (Supplemental soy lecithin is what worked for me, if anyone else is dealing with that.) Pumping time became “research how expensive/nutritious/good/bad formula is” time. In the end, it was always the financial side of it that kept me pumping.
Now, about 4 and a half months in, I’m still exclusively pumping. And because my boobs were trained to respond to the pump, my supply is great despite only pumping 3 times most days. I’ve got more than 2,000 ounces of milk in a dedicated freezer, which would get my son just past 6 months if I stopped now. So it’s been a good solution for us.
And I think it’s a wonderful middle ground that rarely gets mentioned. Even at my incredibly supportive, wonderful birth center, I faced a tiny bit of resistance to my solution. “It’s not too late,” was the refrain even at my 6-week follow-up appointment.
So now I find myself without much of a home when it comes to solidarity about feeding my baby. I’m not breastfeeding, but I’m not formula-feeding. When we first started, it felt like we were cheating the system — in a good way. But a couple months down the line, I felt a little alone. While I probably could have gone to La Leche League meetings, I would have felt like a poser. And yet there wasn’t really much to discuss with formula-feeding moms either, since I couldn’t relate to the hassles of formula and they couldn’t relate to the annoyance of pumping, transferring milk from container to container (though I’m sure now we could definitely relate to feeling like we spend half our lives washing bottles).
The Most Important Thing is That Your Baby Gets Fed
But to be honest, I rarely give it much thought except when I encounter various breastfeeding internettery like I have the past week. And it’s not like any of this hoopla is meant to shame formula-feeding (or exclusively pumping) moms, but that’s the unintended side effect a lot of the time.
But here’s the thing: my kid is getting food that helps him grow and develop. So are breastfed babies. So are formula-fed babies. I know we’ve made the right choice (out of three right choices) because he’s growing like a weed (a much better saying that “sleeping like a baby,” I might add) and adding new skills every week. That’s what we really need to be caring about. While it would have been nice (and probably still would be nice) if there were more awareness of the “third option” or to have a support group for moms who made the same choice I did, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.
So, in celebration of this week and this month, let me just say to all the moms out there: