Breastfeeding, the task that divides moms everywhere. Everyone seems to be for it or against it. But what about those that are lukewarm to the concept? Before I got pregnant, I saw no problem with formula. When I was pregnant, I decided I would breastfeed as long as it was convenient. If I was making the milk, I may as well put it to good use instead of spending a fortune on formula. Once I had a baby, I became obsessed with making breastfeeding work, regardless of my low milk supply. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of my intention to do it only as long as it was convenient. I became convinced, I wasn’t a good enough mother if I didn’t exclusively breastfeed.
Learn From My Mistakes
I had read plenty of blog posts about how breastfeeding is usually difficult at first, so I didn’t expect it to be easy. However, I didn’t expect there to be so many obstacles to overcome. Here’s what the first few days entailed. You may not end up with these issues, but I was in no way prepared for them or the way that they would affect breastfeeding success. The things outlined below all negatively affected my confidence in my ability to breastfeed and/or my milk supply. I am telling you my story in the hopes that you can avoid some of the problems I had and feel better about your current feeding situation.
Right After Birth
My son was sent to the NICU shortly after being born and I wasn’t allowed out of bed to go with him. Therefore, it was many hours before I even got to try breastfeeding.
Labor and delivery nurses are all trained to some extent on how to help new mothers with breastfeeding (at least in California). However, NICU nurses, not so much. When I finally tried breastfeeding it was in the NICU and the nurse wasn’t sure how to help me.
The NICU at the hospital where I delivered puts all babies on dextrose IV to provide them with calories. Therefore, my son felt no need to eat.
My son was born on New Year’s Eve which also happened to be a Sunday night. The hospital where I gave birth didn’t have lactation consultants for weekends and holidays. Therefore, despite asking many times, I didn’t get to see a lactation consultant until my son was almost two days old.
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In the Hospital
The nurses I had in general weren’t very proficient in helping with breastfeeding or showing me how to use the hospital pump. The notable exception was the nurse I had overnight the second night. This one nurse finally decided I may need a nipple shield which is what got me through the night.
I finally saw a lactation consultant about 2 hours before they discharged me. The only meltdown I had while in the hospital was when I was told I was being discharged and felt that I had no clue how to feed my son. I didn’t feel like I could breastfeed effectively, and no mention had been made about formula. While the younger me thought formula sounded great, I had no idea what to do with the stuff at this point.
The lactation consultant made mention that I had a “sleepy” baby, and so I may need to pump to help establish my milk supply. However, she had never seen the type of pump I had, so could offer very little advice on how to use it. I also didn’t fully grasp the concept that the lactation consultant was trying to get across and the importance of establishing my milk supply.
Back In The Hospital
My son was born with a vacuum assist which I guess predisposes the baby to high levels of bilirubin. This was exacerbated by my lack of milk supply (not enough liquid to flush the bile out) and as it gets worse the baby becomes much sleepier. We were discharged without me knowing any of this. The result is that I wasn’t getting him enough milk, and he got persistently sleepier (but I didn’t notice because I had no clue how a newborn should act). He would start nursing and then fall asleep, so he wasn’t effectively eating enough. This further worsened my already low milk supply.
Three days after going home, my son was admitted to the NICU to be put under the lights. I was told that it would be best if I pumped so he could have a bottle instead of taking him out from under the lights to breastfeed. I was already feeling like a bad enough mom at this point, so I did as I was told.
He had never had a bottle at that time but took to it great. However, I should have noticed the red-flag that I would pump for well over 30 minutes and only get 2 ounces of milk. However, I had no clue what normal is, so this didn’t seem odd to me.
My son gets discharged again 24 hours later. I now know that he will happily drink from a bottle, so decide I should pump and get my husband to feed him once overnight while I sleep.
The following week he isn’t gaining weight fast enough, so we were sent to the lactation consultant. The alternative was having to supplement with formula. I had evolved, somewhere along the way, to decide that I HAD to breastfeed to be a good mom. I’m told we have to pump after ever feeding to get my milk supply up.
By 2 weeks postpartum, my routine had become allowing my son to breastfeed around the clock on demand and then pumping after each session for 30 minutes. The only exception was someone else giving him a bottle once during the night. This routine was exhausting. After a couple of weeks he was gaining weight (slowly but going in the right direction). We no longer had house guests wanting to do a midnight feeding by this time, so I stopped the midnight bottle and just nursed around the clock.
Well when we went back to only nursing, he lost weight! We figured out he liked the bottle, because it was a lot less work for him to get the milk. He didn’t want to put in enough effort to completely empty me, further decreasing my milk supply. A milk supply which had taken a lot of hits by this time.
Returning To Work
When my son was 6 weeks old, I needed to go back to work starting with a weekend-long work trip where my husband and son would be staying home. Shortly before the trip I finally admitted defeat. I wasn’t able to feed him sufficiently with only breastmilk and create a 3-day freezer stash for him to eat while I traveled. This truly felt like another motherhood failure.
I continued to pump and produce as much breastmilk as I could. However, I never saw gloriously filled bottles after a pumping session despite my best attempts at boosting lactation. My son, Paxton also became progressively more averse to nursing as he got older. My milk flow was slower than a bottle, and when he was hungry, he was mad. He wanted food now and fast. My breasts couldn’t manage that kind of service. Eventually I was pumping, but no longer nursing. I also had a friend with an oversupply of milk. Paxton enjoyed drinking milk she gave to us because it wasn’t needed for her son.
The Final Result
Once Paxton started getting as much formula as he wanted from a bottle, he started gaining weight and was much happier. He gained a pound in 1 week with this new plan. When I saw this, I wasn’t stressed about him getting formula. I resurrected my own statement that I would breastfeed for as long as it was convenient, and acknowledged that it was no longer convenient or in his best interest.
I still believe that breastmilk offers great benefits such as immune protection. However, there isn’t anything wrong with using formula because you need to or simply because you want to. When I eventually stopped all pretenses of attempting to provide some breastmilk at 5.5 months, I experienced a huge sense of relief. A lot of stress was lifted from my shoulders.
In hindsight, I’m not sure why I continued trying to force my dismal milk supply for so long. Now solid food has started filling the calorie need. However, I’m perfectly happy with formula for the times when a bottle is needed. I do still feel the stares of others when we are in public and I pull out formula when Paxton needs a bottle. I know formula is the best option for us, but the first-time mom in me is still very aware of the mom judging that goes on.
My Message To Moms Everywhere
This mom judging needs to stop! Feeding formula used to be the norm, and then breastfeeding took center stage. There is so much advocacy for women who choose to breastfeed and making hospitals and public places breastfeeding friendly. However, the pendulum has swung to the far right. We now imply that if you aren’t breastfeeding you are a sub-par mother. We have normalized breastfeeding to the extent that we have alienating formula feeding. This needs to stop!
Here is my final call to all moms. Fed is best! Don’t stress so much over it. There are so many other things to stress over as a new mom! Feeding doesn’t have to be on that list. Support all other moms no matter how they feed their baby, and quit the silent, judging stares.