Everyone has an idea in their mind about how having kids will go. You make a birth plan, take classes, read books, and you just know that breastfeeding is going to be the best experience of your life. And then reality gives you a slap across the face to remind you who’s in charge.
“Every drop counts”
The nurses and pediatricians told me this, repeating the benefits for baby’s immune system and growth. My OB-GYN told me, repeating the benefits for myself—the lowered risk of breast cancer, my uterus returning to normal shape and size faster, and even helping me lose a little weight! Friends, family, and social media would remind me, repeating how “breast is best” and how it helps you gain such a strong bond with this new little miracle. These people in my life were just trying to be supportive, but instead, it sent my anxiety through the roof.
“Every drop counts”
With my first baby, I only breastfed for four days. At his first checkup, he had dropped 13% of his birth weight (8-10% is the normal range), and I freaked a bit. I switched to pumping and supplementing so I could see how much he was getting. My supply was never great despite taking vitamins and following tips from the pediatrician, friends and online searches.
By six months old, my son was 100% formula-fed.
With my second baby, I was determined to do better. My milk came in only three days after I gave birth and I breastfed for six whole weeks. At his two-week checkup, he hadn’t gotten back to his birth weight, but he was doing well. The lactation consultant had me nurse him while in the office and said we looked great. His latch was good, his suction was good, and he was actively swallowing my liquid gold. Such an ego boost! At around six weeks old, we went in for a weight check (to be sure he was still on the right path), and even though he was gaining, he wasn’t on track according to their charts. They told me I needed to start supplementing with more formula. And just like that, my spirit was broken. I thought I was doing better and yet here I was, for the second time, being told that I am not enough for my baby. I stopped breastfeeding and went back to pumping so I could bottle feed and make sure he was getting enough food.
“Every drop counts”
Both times, I wanted to give my babies the nutrition they needed. I wanted to boost their immune systems, have that special bond, and sure, gain the benefits myself. I am a stay-at-home mom, not contributing any income, so purchasing formula was another punch to the gut. Breastfeeding, of course, is free. This was supposed to be a natural thing that a woman could do and I felt like a failure.
I kept telling myself that I was doing my best and that anything I provided was an accomplishment. But it wasn’t always that simple. Some days would be good and I would get a lot of pumping sessions in and even have a small stash in the fridge (seriously the best feeling ever!). Other days, not so much. Any time I would leak in the night or spill while making a bottle led to tears. I was wasting what little bit I had to offer my baby. Every drop counts, right? And I just lost however much that was. Again, I would feel like a failure and hide for a couple minutes so my babies didn’t have to see mommy crying.
The first time around I could pump for longer sessions, and frequently, while the baby would nap or sit in the swing. But with a baby and a toddler to chase after, it wasn’t that easy. Sessions would get cut short or I would get so busy I would forget about them completely. My already not-big-enough supply kept diminishing. Every day I would have an internal battle about continuing. At this point was I even making enough for it to matter?
My five-month-old is now 100% formula-fed.
The decision was not made lightly, but my daily stress and anxiety levels have been lowered a little bit (I’m still a mom of two boys, so they’re not gone completely). Now I get to spend each day focusing on playtime and cuddles instead of being hooked up to a machine, feeling like a cow, and crying when hardly anything goes into the bottle.
I know from experience that words from others (no matter how sweet and supportive they’re trying to be) will not change how you feel if you are struggling with breastfeeding. The decision to keep trying is yours alone, and regardless of how your baby is fed, a happy, healthy baby is the only goal. So, mamas, if you’re struggling and want to keep going, do it. Everything you can give your baby is such a wonderful gift. If you’re struggling and want to stop, do it. You are not a failure. Your baby will do just fine on formula. And plus, now you can go take a hot shower while Dad feeds baby!