I never really considered formula feeding my babies. It just never occurred to me. I bought into the idea that breastfeeding was best even before I was pregnant. When I had my first son, my milk came in as expected, and my baby latched like a dream from minute one. He happily breastfed exclusively until six months, then continued until 15 months. He weaned himself by slowly dropping one feeding at a time. One night, he just didn’t ask, I didn’t offer, and that was that. Our peaceful, easy journey came to an undramatic end.
My second child was a horse of a different color. He tried, but he didn’t really “get it.” He struggled right from the start. When he was a few days old, I called in a lactation consultant who helped me learn to use a nipple shield. When he wouldn’t nurse enough with a shield, we tried bottles, cups, and tiny little syringes at the suggestion of his pediatrician. It took a month for him to return to his birth weight, and every ounce was a struggle.
It was a nightmare.
He eventually started eating enough to slowly gain weight, but every feeding was tough. He was apathetic about nursing, and he would only take a bottle if we took him outside and walked while we fed him. For months, I nursed, pumped extra milk to supplement, weighed him daily, and obsessed over diaper output. I was determined to keep him exclusively on my breastmilk, so I maintained a pumping schedule that meant I never slept more than 90 minutes at a time.
Every time I put him to the breast, anxiety overwhelmed me. When he was done, whether it was a successful feed or not, I would shake and cry. It wasn’t a beautiful, easy experience like the first time. It was a nightmare.
When my baby was almost four months old, my husband finally sat me down and very gently told me that he was worried my obsession with nursing the baby was becoming unhealthy. Just because he was finally slowly gaining weight didn’t mean that my stress level was okay. My commitment to breastfeeding was overwhelming our life, and it might be time to supplement with a few bottles every day.
Not only was I too exhausted to argue; I also knew he was right. I wept when I fed him his first bottle of formula, but it was exactly what he needed. Formula changed everything. As it turns out, my baby loved formula. It motivated him to take a bottle. As soon as we started to supplement, he started to thrive. He gained weight and caught up to his peers. Soon, he was 50th percentile and healthy. After a while, he even started taking pumped breast milk without a problem. During this time, he was still nursing a couple times a day, and if I was using my rational brain, seeing him thrive would have been enough for me.
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I just wrote an essay about my experience breastfeeding my second baby, and I just had to share these photos. The first one is my son the day before I agreed to start supplementing him with formula. Look at this angry, skinny baby. I hate seeing this photo. He looks miserable! The next photo was taken just one week later when he had been on formula for a week, and was almost an entire pound heavier. That happy, chubby boy was finally living his best life. #breastisgreat #fedisbetter #hangrybaby
Except, I wasn’t being rational. I realize now that I was suffering with postpartum anxiety, but at that point all I “knew” was that, even though it had completely changed his life, formula was second-best. I thought that since he was still nursing a few times a day, the best course of action was to slowly wean him off the bottle and back to the breast.
Somehow, that worked out. As I took away the formula, he replaced it with more frequent nursing. We ended up supplementing for just a couple months. In the end my hard-to-feed boy breastfed until he was 14 months old — almost as long as my first child.
You might think I’m going to use my story as an opportunity to encourage you to never give up on your breastfeeding goals. Maybe you think I am going to prepare an inspirational speech about how proud I am that I pressed on.
But I won’t.
I am here to tell you that I suffered for too damn long for no damn reason. I let the idea that breast is best rule my life, and I missed out on months of joy because I was so obsessed with how I fed my baby.
When I look back at the first six months of my baby’s life, 90% of my memories are connected to feeding difficulties, and there was no real reason to suffer like that. I did it to myself.
Even when my boy wasn’t eating enough, I was still certain my own milk was best for him. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I seriously regret being so blindly committed to nursing that I overlooked the obvious fact that my child needed formula.
Breastfeeding is great. Breastmilk is amazing. I’m all in for breastfeeding when it works out for everyone involved.
Breast is only best if your child is actually eating.
It isn’t best when your baby is hungry, frustrated and uninterested in breastfeeding.
Breast isn’t best when you’re barely sleeping to try to keep up with an impossible pumping and feeding schedule.
Breast isn’t best when you’re riddled with crippling anxiety every time you think about nursing your infant.
When everyone is suffering, breast definitely isn’t best.
I’m pregnant with our last baby right now. I have that familiar first trimester ache in my breasts. I know my boobs are already gearing up to feed the little nugget that’s growing inside me right now.
Maybe I will breastfeed again. If this baby takes to it like my first, I will happily nurse for the same year or so that I nursed the first two. I honestly do hope this baby nurses like a champ. Breastmilk is good for our budget, it is scientifically proven to be the healthiest option, and I hate washing bottles.
But I will never, ever fight that hard to breastfeed again. I will never put myself and my family through the hell of that kind of obsession.
If this baby won’t nurse with a manageable amount of effort (and the key word being “manageable” because there is always effort involved with breastfeeding), I’ll happily fill my cabinets and my baby’s belly with formula, and I will feel no regret.
Breastfeeding is great, but not when it costs me my peace and my joy. I’m never sacrificing those things again.