Breastfeeding was a nightmare with my first daughter. We started off 12 hours behind as she spent time in the NICU with oxygen to clear the fluid from her lungs and antibiotic injections for the high white cell count. By the time I got her, she had been poked and prodded, pacified, and given formula. Adding latch issues and a nippleshield to the mix at the hospital left me feeling completely incompetent. When she began violently vomiting entire feeds several times a day we suspected milk allergy. When she arched and screamed at every meal she was diagnosed with reflux. And when it all became too much and I had dealt with mastitis and painful clogged ducts for three months, we switched to formula. Her pediatrician looked me in the eye and suggested I stop nursing, I was relieved. I needed someone to give me permission to stop. Because otherwise it felt like giving up. I remember sitting in a rocking chair with No1 and sobbing, “I’m so sorry. I just can’t do it any more. I tried but I just can’t.” I felt like a failure.
As it turns out, formula feeding her was exactly what we both needed. It relieved so much of the anxiety that was crushing me in those early months. She became healthy and happy. Feedings were no longer battles that dominated the day and set the mood each night. Life went on without breastfeeding for us. Now she is an amazing three year old who has only ever had one ear infection. She can correctly pronounce the names of two dozen dinosaurs and give you their characteristics. She loves her mom and knows she is loved. Formula both fed AND nurtured her.
When asked while I was pregnant about breastfeeding, my answer was always, “I’d like to try but I’m open to whatever will be best for both the baby and me.” And I meant it. At least I thought I did.
No2’s birth was amazing. I really need to write her birth story up before I forget the details. She was placed on my chest immediately, spent no time away from us, and roomed with me for our entire hospital stay (minus a few visits to the nursery for weigh ins and pediatric screenings). When I put her to my breast moments after her birth, she suckled – and my heart soared. By the time we left the hospital, my milk had already come in and two lactation consultants had visited and told me how amazingly we were nursing. It felt like a whole new beginning.
And for two weeks, she nursed and slept like a dream baby. I was relaxed and easy with her; amazed at the bond I felt so quickly. Then the screaming began. You know the scream: ear-shattering. She gasped for air in-between sobs and whimpered in her sleep. And despite the commonly accepted wisdom that “babies cry” and “colic has no cure”, I knew my baby was in pain. When she started having green, foamy stools and the pediatrician was at a loss, I turned to the internet. Kellymom.com had my answer. Milk imbalance. I overproduce milk and baby was only getting the watery fore milk, making her gassy and crampy. I began pumping a few ounces before nursing her, block fed, and felt convinced I had my answer.
And she got better. A little. Until she got worse. She would spend an entire day refusing to eat more than a small snack. She would scream if I positioned her for a feed. The only time she would nurse without a struggle was at night. I exhausted all of my options (I know…I should have gone in MUCH sooner. It shouldn’t have been a last option. I kept thinking it was getting better. Doh.) and finally went in to see a lactation consultant. I had spoken over the phone several times with her but it was time to let her watch for herself. And she was immediately convinced No2 was suffering from reflux. Cue the giant (ironic?) sigh of relief.
I’m happy to say that after over a week on reflux medication, things are looking up. She’s even started handling the fast flow more easily and occasionally stops to smile at me while nursing. I’m hopeful we’ll have a long and successful breastfeeding relationship.
Here’s the thing…When things were really bad, I seriously considered quitting. I had nothing to prove to anyone and know from experience that a formula-fed baby can be healthy and happy. But I wasn’t ready to give up. Friends and family encouraged me to listen to my gut and reassured me that they would stand behind whatever decision I made ( have some kick-ass friends and family). And a few well-meaning people told me that bottle-feeding was just as good as breastfeeding. But the truth is, it’s not. Formula feeding my children was (and will be) always a second choice…a Plan B.
I think it’s incredibly important not to judge or shame mothers who formula feed. It makes me sick when I read ignorant posts equating formula to junk food (They’re out there. Don’t go searching for them…it’ll only piss you off, too). Each mother chooses what is best for her baby and herself, and should be able to feed and nuture her baby without judgement from others. PhD in Parenting wrote a brilliant piece recently on the new APA’s new statement that breastfeeding is a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.
Please click over and go read it – she has some great points about why moms get defensive when told that “breast is best” and compares the recommendations to things like the food pyramid and exercise recommendations. I could go on and on, but she really says everything that needs to be said.
My decision to continue breastfeeding isn’t stubbornness. It isn’t selfish (as one of my nurses recently suggested, telling me I might need to “give up what I want and do what’s best for the baby” because nursing was difficult). And it isn’t simply a lifestyle choice. Breastmilk is medically superior to formula. And when I say that, I truly mean no disrespect to moms who have supplemented or have used formula exclusively. I am merely giving my reason for fighting so hard to make it work.
I’m proud to have breastfed 11 weeks. It’s been a ton of work and I’m very fortunate to have both the resources and support to continue to work through the challenges. Does it make me a better mom than one who formula-feeds her baby? Of course not. But it does make me the best mom I can be for my baby and our particular situation. So I will continue advocating for it, knowing that my friends and family will continue to support me. More importantly, I’m done letting others (like my doctors) minimize its importance.