Breastfeeding is one of the most emotionally charged topics in new motherhood. (Vaccinations are a close second…but we’ll save that for a much rainier day.)
On the whole, I’ve found that even if a mom leans hard toward the ‘breast is best’ philosophy, most are inherently encouraging to their fellow mamas. Even if they don’t totally agree with the ‘fed is best’ approach, they can respect it. Regardless of your stance, I hope it’s your experience that all moms you encounter are supportive of your choice…or at least keep any nasty difference in opinion to themselves. It’s been my experience that the most radical moms seem to only troll online forums and rarely confront in person. The good, the bad, the crazy, you have to take it all with a grain of salt…and a pea-sized dot of Dr. Newman’s nipple cream.
If you think about it, really think about the science behind it, breastfeeding is truly incredible. It’s beautiful and intimate. So natural and pure…and (while we’re being completely honest) also just the right amount of Nat Geo. In the best possible way, it’s all of those things, all at the same time. And I couldn’t wait for my piece of that pie.
When I was pregnant, I had no doubt I would breastfeed for the first year, at minimum. It wasn’t even up for debate in my mind, and it didn’t seem the least bit lofty. Admittedly, I was a little worried about how it goes once the chicklet baby teeth start to come in, but knew we’d somehow get past it. I had visions of dancing around in an open field, listening to Joni Mitchell, woven sunflower crown on my head. Barefoot and breastfeeding.
How naïve. I lasted for 9 weeks…and even that might be a little generous.
On the scale of things that are completely and udderly (see what I did there?! ;)) mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, breastfeeding is by far one of the most underrated. I feel like women don’t talk about how hard it is, which further reinforced that it was supposed to come naturally to me as a new mother. If I was failing my first, basic task, how were we going to survive an entire lifetime?? In my mind, we were definitely doomed. And once that doubt started, it was a vicious downward spiral.
I didn’t hate the thought of formula, I just didn’t think we’d ever need it. It wasn’t really a consideration during our baby prep convos. And then… it suddenly became our only option. I remember the exact moment the first supplemental bottle entered our rotation. This particular midnight feeding session involved a wailing baby, a terrified and sobbing new mom, with bone-dry boobs… and a dad, getting the hell out of dodge. (He’s not a monster, he was going to Walgreens to get the goods!)
Giving that first full bottle of formula lifted the giant, million pound weight that had settled on my chest weeks prior. (Eventually, kind of literally, too, you know how heavy those milkjugs can be.) Supplementing became a band-aid to get us through everyday situations. It started with clusterfeeding at night. By the end of the day, my supply couldn’t keep up with Sam’s ravenous demand, so we started subbing in a bottle before bed. That eventually rolled into midday feedings if we were out and about running to and from appointments. Bottles became a source of convenience, and before I knew it, I was relying on them more than I was breastfeeding. And once that shift took hold, my milk supply ran right into the ground. It was a done deal.
One of the greatest advantages of formula feeding for me was being able to track ounces. I needed those stats for my own peace of mind, and I didn’t get that with breastfeeding. Pumping rarely produced all that much for me, so that was never a real promising sign for overall production. Knowing I could control the amount he was eating, and when he needed more, we had it, ready to go in 90 seconds, delivered a different kind of calm to this new mom. I no longer felt inadequate. If anything, I was more confident than I’d ever been. This shift was not a defeat; instead, it was a triumph.
Holding your milkdrunk, sleeping baby is a proud moment for any new parent. Whether that comes from the breast or bottle, you’ve done your job and you’ve done it well, and the snoring baby snuggle is your reward. I was excited to be able to regularly share this experience with my husband. (Sharing the job of early or late feedings on the weekends so mama could sleep didn’t hurt anything either!) I could finally breathe, truly breathe, and I knew in my gut that we were going to be OK. That was a reassurance I desperately needed.
In looking back, I should’ve been more steadfast in seeking support. I could’ve sought lactation consultants, specialists or support groups, but I didn’t. I was embarrassed and intimidated at the thought of expressing this shortcoming to someone else. I ignored that pang in my gut and acted like everything was fine. ‘We’re just taking a little longer to find our rhythm; no big deal. We’re going to figure this out, I know we will,’ my positivity was a relentless cheerleader, and I was thankful for that. But I eventually listened to the other voice that said it was OK to give up. I was not failing my child…as long as I took the reins and took control of the situation. So that’s what I did. I waved the white flag. It was a hard decision, but it turned out to be the best thing for us.
If you choose to breastfeed, the stakes aren’t just high, they’re everything. Your baby’s health, your health, finding your momentum as a duo…essentially your confidence in the whole mom-operation… all of it is riding on you. That’s a lot of pressure to absorb on your own. But you don’t have to do it alone. There are numerous ways to seek support, if you’re willing to ask for it. Your Milk Shoppe can be your first stop; we can help you find any kind of care you’re looking for. We’ve been there, right there where you are, and we know how scary it can be. We hope you know we’ll always be in your corner, ready to swoop in when you need a hand. All you have to do is ask.