Both of these pictures are motherly, loving, healthy and beautiful. So isn’t it unfortunate how something that should be simple, like keeping your infant fed and healthy, can be a topic of such controversy?
I am very glad to have been able to provide breastmilk to both my children (heavily utilizing the multiple resources available to me) but also very thankful formula was there as an option when we needed it. After reading yet another “Moms who choose to formula feed are lazy and selfish” post that showed up in my Facebook newsfeed, I’ve decided to write about my own experience.
My delivery of my first child, Ember, ended up being much more drawn out than expected. She had a bruised, swollen head on one side and I needed to heal from an episiotomy. Both of us were too “out of it” to easily get the hang of nursing right away. The nurses and lactation consultant in the hospital tried to help us but it just wasn’t happening at that point. Thankfully I had stocked up on all the free formula you can sign up for, so we started using that when we got home. I also rented a hospital grade breast pump from a pharmacy, which gave me the best possible chance of helping my milk supply come in while we fumbled with a nebulous latch at home.
Right there, my breastfeeding journey could have been over. The breast pump cost about $80/month to rent. For some, this would be too great a cost in addition to buying formula. So THANK YOU FORMULA COMPANIES for the free formula! It ended up being enough for the first month. And even if renting or buying a pump is not a financial barrier, it takes A LOT of mental and physical energy to pump enough (every four to six hours around the clock) to ensure that your milk supply comes in. It was a very long first few weeks, but I got through those 1 and 5 a.m. red eye sessions with the help of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on Netflix, as well as a large dose of “I must be a good breastfeeding mom” guilt syndrome.
Hurdle #2 I had the privilege to overcome: getting to regular lactation consultant appointments. Because of my episiotomy and tearing, I actually could not sit upright enough to drive myself anywhere for the first three months. So my husband had to take time off work to drive me to these daytime appointments. I am very thankful that his work was so flexible with him, and said so to his boss at the Christmas party that year. If I was a mom who didn’t have this transportation help, I wouldn’t have gotten to a lactation consultant and my breastfeeding journey would have ended.
When my daughter was eight weeks old, we finally had a lip tie identified and snipped, which involved a good squirt of blood and some high pitched wailing on Ember’s part, but it immediately improved our nursing experience. It wasn’t an obvious lip tie, which is why various doctors hadn’t noticed it sooner, but if I had not been seeing a diligent lactation specialist who triple checked, I would have likely given up on nursing due to the pain it caused me.
Over the course of the next few months, breastfeeding gradually got easier and I was able to end the regular pumping sessions and formula top-ups. I still used formula when out though as I wasn’t confident nursing in public places. (With my second child, I am no longer self-conscious and am able to discreetly nurse virtually anywhere without using an annoying cover). When my daughter was about 15 months and was only nursing a few times a day, she ended up self-weaning because at this point I was six months pregnant with her brother and wasn’t producing much anyways.
Breastfeeding and overcoming those barriers can feel like you are on the battlefield, and formula feeding is by no means the “lazy” or “selfish” way out. It actually takes more work to formula feed in many ways. You have to prep the formula using boiled and then cooled water, and then throw out what doesn’t get used right away. In the first four months you have to sanitize the bottles in boiling water or in microwave bags because the experts say that the dishwasher just isn’t good enough. And doing all this in the middle of the night or on the road can be much more complicated than nursing! It’s why I was incredibly thankful when I was able to breastfeed my son Heath with ease from the start. Heath jettisoned out of the birth canal (onto my living room carpet since we didn’t make it to the hospital in time) without much for complications, and was primed and ready to latch. Given I already had a handle on nursing, we got into sync with each other relatively quickly. This time round I ended up engorged instead of having milk supply issues, which meant I was able to pump off the excess to freeze and save for when I was away from him. Though I’d say the major downside to not having regularly used bottles/formula early on with Heath is that he became a total “boob boy” and it was difficult for grandparents or my husband to convince him to use a bottle when I wasn’t there.
I also want to point out that Heath nursing so easily really was a blessing, because I was dealing with postpartum anxiety (made worse by yet to be diagnosed post-concussive syndrome), and having breastfeeding complications and needing to incorporate regular bottle feeds would have just added another layer to my depression, anxiety and feelings of overwhelming disorganization. This is yet another reason why ostentatiously proclaiming your generalized opinion on this topic can be so damaging.
I do want to take a moment to encourage new moms who are really hoping or trying to breastfeed, as this is the category I found myself in. The more you attempt to figure out nursing with your first, the easier it will (probably) be with subsequent children. I honestly don’t know if I would have managed to breastfeed my son if I hadn’t been able to access resources and put the work in when my daughter was born. It is just more straightforward (not to mention the desire to treat your children equally) to stick to the same routine with a second child. Plus the transition to two children was challenging, and I find it hard to picture myself actually having the time or energy to commit to figuring out breastfeeding for the first time with a second child.
I could have written an article about how I “prevailed,” “knocked down the barriers” and “stuck to my guns” in order to successfully breastfeed. But that has already been overdone on the internet, often with an air of superiority. I truly hope that sharing about my breastfeeding journey has come across with humility, respect and gratitude. There were barriers yes, but I am deeply grateful that I had the resources and people in my life who helped me address them while finding a healthy balance for our family. It’s not an easy journey no matter the route you take, and for most, joining the ranks of motherhood is an inherently unselfish act no matter what variation along the spectrum of parenting decisions you choose.
On a final note of gratitude, since I was hoping for a smoother delivery and breastfeeding experience with my second child, while pregnant I prayed this Bible verse over my son, and I believe those prayers were heard and answered:
“Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.”
~ Psalm 22:9