our breastfeeding story

November 14th, 2014

So, first of all, let me say: for those of you that aren’t actively thinking about babies on a day to day basis, I totally get that this post will have zero interest for you, and for that, I apologize.  Feel free to skip this one, and I’ll see you in a day or two with my next post.  No hard feelings!  But if you’re curious about breastfeeding, a topic that has occupied a huge portion of my mental energy for the last six months…  Read on.

Before I got pregnant, breastfeeding wasn’t a topic that occupied a lot of my day-to-day thought.  My view on it was pretty simple: the medical literature shows some benefits.  I wanted to give it a try, but I knew that many moms can’t breastfeed, no matter how hard they try, for many reasons, both medical and personal.  Some babies can’t feed that way and never learn to. 

Still, I felt certain that if there was a natural way to feed our son, I wanted to at least give it a shot.  But I promised myself that, if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t beat myself up over it.  I’d switch to formula and feel comfortable that I was meeting my baby’s needs in a way that worked for us, guilt-free.

(Side note: HA HA.  That was my pre-baby self talking.  My post-baby self quickly realized that there is no such thing as “guilt-free” when it comes to your kid.)

The hospital I delivered at was incredibly supportive of breastfeeding, and there were nurses, lactation consultants, and a free breastfeeding class all offered within days of his birth.  But, ultimately, I didn’t even really need the extra support: Bear was a natural and had no trouble feeding, latched perfectly, ate hungrily, and slept for a few hours at a time without a peep. 

But the big surprise wasn’t him.  It was me.

I loved breastfeeding.

Yes, it hurt at first.  A small part of me was terrified of it before he was born — the stories about bleeding nipples and breast infections and how *hard* it would be.  But I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love those moments with our baby boy.  How wonderful it felt to be snuggled up with him.  How peaceful and happy it made me.

The first few weeks were hard, and it was painful and uncomfortable and took forever and frustrated me on a regular basis.  But then, one day… it was easier.  It didn’t hurt anymore.  It didn’t take a special pillow or a particular position.  It was just how I fed our baby.

And… I thought that was the end of the story.  I thought that if you successfully breastfed for your baby’s first weeks or months, you were set.

But as the months went by and Bear got bigger, something different started to happen.

He was hungry.  All the time.

As a newborn, he’d sleep four and five hour stretches at a time.  (I know: I was *very* lucky.) But as a four-month-old, he was suddenly up every hour, starving.  I was exhausted and frustrated, but I loved breastfeeding and didn’t want to give it up.

Or, I should say: I had very mixed feelings about giving it up.  I loved nursing, but it also took a toll on me.  I could never make enough milk to pump, so I couldn’t leave the baby for more a few hours at a time, which was challenging with work.  Because he was hungry so often, I was feeding him up to ten times a day — hours and hours of every day were devoted to it.  I had plugged ducts almost once a week, which were painful and scary.  And there were mornings, afternoons and evenings when I’d feed him, lay him down, and hear cries minutes later because he was still hungry.

And so, I decided to try some formula. 

Baby-Bear-Breastfeeding

I struggled a lot with that decision — the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a baby’s first year, and I had friends who’d done it successfully.  If they could do it, I found myself thinking, I should do it too.  In giving him some formula, I felt like I was failing our son somehow.  Yes, my rational mind knew that was ridiculous… but emotionally, I had trouble accepting it. 

But the day finally came when I couldn’t put it off any longer.  I fed him two ounces of formula… and cried the whole time.  (Seriously.  We can blame postpartum hormones for at least a portion of reaction, which I now recognize was completely insane.) And Bear promptly threw up the whole bottle. 

Needless to say, it was traumatic for both of us.

And then I remembered my thoughts about breastfeeding before Bear arrived: that I’d give it a try. 

That I’d do my best.

And, you know what?  I’d done my best. And it wasn’t the end of the world if my best wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding for the first year.  And so… I gave myself a break.  I stopped trying to be “perfect” and started doing what worked for our family.  We kept breastfeeding, but Bear also got some formula. 

And you know what?  He was happier, I was happier, and everything just kind of fell into place. 

Now that he’s almost seven months old, I still nurse him three or four times a day, and he get formula too.  It works perfectly for us.  (Well, as perfectly as anything with a seven-month-old can ever work, which is to say: sometimes.)

I’ve been nervous to write about this, because people tend to come down firmly on one side of the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and sometimes people act like there’s only one right way.  But I’ve spent the last few months doing both.  And, you know what?  That’s what worked for our family. 

So, here’s how I feel: If you’re able to breastfeed, give it a try.  If it works, that’s terrific.  It’s an incredible experience and I, personally, love it. 

But if it doesn’t work?  You are still a great mom.  You’re still doing an awesome, amazing job for your son or daughter, and the last thing you should ever do is beat yourself up over making a decision that’s right for your family.

Because here’s the thing: I hate that something as simple and personal as how you feed your child sometimes feels like a competition.  I hate that anyone feels guilty for doing what they need to do to take care of their child and themselves. 

Breastfeeding moms are doing a great job.  Formula-feeding moms are doing a great job.  Combination-feeding moms are doing a great job.  (Pumping moms, don’t even get me started: you ladies are saints.)

Every single one of those moms is doing their best for their child, every single day, without hesitation.  And turning breastfeeding into a do-it-my-way battle makes it harder for every single one of those moms.  And we all know that being a mom is hard enough without anything making it harder. 

So however you decide to feed your child, do it with kindness and compassion and love.  That’s all they really need anyways.

Baby-Bear-Bottle

Tags: baby · life

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 SacyDill // Nov 13, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Bear LOOKS like he is getting plenty! Chubby and healthy! One advantage of the bottle is someone else can feed him more often if need be. Back in the olden days, doctors also recommended that about this time moms add a little diluted rice cereal to the diet and then gradually thicken it. Teething can also affect sleep and the digestive system,. Give him water for that as well as all the recommended topical medications for his bottom. Also he might want something to teethe on; ask your doctor about that.

  • 2 Irene // Nov 13, 2014 at 10:49 am

    How much I share of your post today! I wouldn’t had left a comment, but the fact that you called me a “saint” made my day 🙂 Only people who have tried pumping understand what it means… I pumped for several weeks at work with my first son and now I have been pumping for 3 months, twice a day for my second one. In a bathroom cubicle at work. I must admit I don’t particularly enjoy it (who likes feeling like a cow) but it allows me to continue feeding my son the days I am at home. And I love feeding him! So I’ll keep doing it for as long as I feel like doing it. And if by then he still needs milk while I’m away, I’ll tell daycare to give him formula. No regrets, no bad feelings. As you said, we do the best no matter how we feed them.
    Besides, in a few years, only us mums will remember for how long our kids were breasfed 😛

  • 3 Samantha Levin // Nov 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Love this post Katy! My baby is ten months now. Breastfeeding surprisingly came naturally to me, I was very lucky. I did it exclusively for 4 months and when I went back to work I found my supply decreasing with the more pumping I did. So I introduced formula to her. I did both for two months. It worked perfectly for a while but unfortunately my job got more demanding with meetings and eventually my milk dried up. I had a hard time with it, but she is healthy, happy, and attached to me so what else can I ask for? We moms do what we can. Bear looks healthy and happy and that is the most important thing to. Additionally, mom looks good to which is a nice plus as well 🙂

  • 4 Katherine // Nov 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Great post! People need to be reminded that while breastfeeding is beneficial and worthy of “giving it a shot,” it is not necessary and not the right choice for lots of people. I think combo feeding is the best choice for many moms, especially those who are working. For me, pumping always came pretty easily so I didn’t have to use formula, but it’s still annoying to carry the pump stuff around, clean it, etc. Which reminds me, that’s what I’m going to have to do when I go to my conference next week. I am not done with nursing altogether, and I don’t want to lose my supply by leaving for a few days. On the positive side, at least I don’t have to worry about saving the milk; Athena drinks cow’s milk now as well and has some frozen milk stored up at home.

  • 5 Ashley // Nov 13, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! My daughter is 1 month now and we’ve been formula feeding since she was 10 days old. I was all about breastfeeding before she was born and after the hospital really pushed it. They made it seem like it was the only option for feeding, so we tried. We tried hard. She wasn’t latching right, which made me bleed, which made it harder for her to latch, and so on. I tried pumping, but even from a bottle she wouldn’t take my breastmilk. The morning after one particularly rough night that involved a lot of crying by both of us, I finally gave in and let my husband feed her some formula. It was the hardest decision I had to make since finding out I was pregnant, and I felt so incredibly guilty. I cried the whole time. And when we took her to the pediatrician and they asked how we were feeding her I cried some more. I still feel guilty every now and then, but I know that we made the right decision. Our daughter is actually getting the nutrition she needs with formula and she gets more opportunities to bond with her dad since he can feed her too. No one should feel guilty about how/what they feed their child. So really, thank you so much for this post. It definitely makes me feel better and I’m sure it will help someone struggling with their decision.

  • 6 Sarah Reinitz // Nov 13, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I read this as I am nursing my three week old son.  Thanks for writing this post with honesty and a dose of reality.  We will probably become a combination feeding family too! 🙂

  • 7 Jessica R. // Nov 13, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Such a great great post and I wish there were more voices like yours out there.  I did not ever try to breast-feed my children.  I knew from before my first child was born that it just was not for me or my family.  I never struggled with guilt over it (I knew it was the right thing for me and the baby and our whole family) but I did bridle at the pressure that our society puts on women.  I never heard one negative word from our doctors or pediatricians, but I have literally heard women say (who didn’t know I was a formula feeder) that women shouldn’t be ALLOWED to have children if they weren’t going to breastfeed them!  (Crazytown.) So I so appreciate your voice of reason and understanding and acceptance!  What a beautiful story of doing what worked for you, Baby Bear and your whole family!  🙂

  • 8 Leslie // Nov 13, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    I agree 100%. I made it 6 months exclusively feeding or pumping, and at 8 months had a week long business trip where pumping wasn’t really an option, so at that point she went to all formula (and “real” food). At first I felt like a failure, but it was the right move for us and made everyone (baby, mom, and dad) so much happier. I love that you posted this. 🙂

  • 9 Julia // Nov 14, 2014 at 10:28 am

    thank you for this. I am crying reading it. I still have extreme guilt over giving my daughter formula when my supply never came in. I too know it is irrational – and hearing someone else who I admire and respect say it too helps me accept this even more. Thank you.

  • 10 Ailee // Nov 15, 2014 at 12:11 am

    I absolutely love this post. I was so nervous about feeding before Isla was born, then when she started… Ouch. Then mastitis after 5 days. That wasn’t fun. I’m so glad I stuck with it though. A month ago, we went to Mexico without Isla and I got hit with food poisoning our last day and threw up all night when we got home… And couldn’t produce. I cried and cried because I couldn’t keep food down so wasn’t able to make milk and that meant formula – like you said, I felt like a failure. It’s crazy how we do that to ourselves!! Now about that 4-5 hour sleeps as a newborn… What?! That’s amazing. Hope that’s a trend with all your kiddos.

    Xo

  • 11 Steph // Nov 20, 2014 at 10:05 am

    I am glad you could make peace with this so early on. It took me a long time to do the same.

  • 12 Kate // Nov 26, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for writing this.  We had many troubles with nursing and did combo feeding for 11 months.  I felt so much of what you described, the guilt was overwhelming.  Ultimately, we stopped all nursing at 11 months and at 16 months my daughter is doing fantastic.  Bear is super cute and has a loving mama.  You are doing a wonderful job!

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