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.
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.