In today’s society, which can be extremely judgmental and wrapped around the idea that “breast is best” for your baby, it is difficult for moms to express a different opinion. Maybe her baby won’t latch, maybe she doesn’t produce enough milk, or maybe she just doesn’t enjoy breastfeeding.
It’s okay to not breastfeed, it’s okay to not enjoy breastfeeding, and it’s okay to use formula and bottles. I want to share my story for anyone out there who is struggling and feels alone as a reminder that you are not alone.
Before our son was born, I planned on breastfeeding for as long as my body allowed me to, or at least until his teeth began coming through (because ouch). I had always heard that breastmilk was the best thing you could feed your baby, it had all the best nutrients your child needed to grow healthy and strong, and so I planned to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months. Being a first-time mom, I assumed it would be easy: baby cries, latches on, eats, repeat. It was much more difficult than I expected.
Our sweet baby boy, Landon, was born four weeks before his due date. It was a fast, crazy, and completely unexpected experience (read about it here). One hour after his birth, we started our breastfeeding journey. We noticed right away that he had some difficulty latching on, due to his levels being high and being premature. The nurses and doctors all said this was normal in babies born early but to keep our spirits high and keep trying our best.
The first time we got Landon to latch, it hurt. I kept thinking there was no way people were serious when they called this beautiful and all the “you’ll feel such a strong bond with your child” was crap. We were in the hospital for two days and could only get Landon to feed a maximum amount of ten minutes on one side before he was too tired and had to stop. We had the lactation consultant come in to help us but all I felt after speaking to her was guilt. Guilt over not being able to get my child to latch easily, guilt over not giving him enough nutrients, guilt over my supply dropping due to him not wanting to eat as long as they recommended, and guilt over not feeling a strong bond with my baby.
The consultant kept telling us that babies need to feed for twenty minutes on one side and then switch to the next side for dessert. Landon never once completed a twenty minute feeding during the first week of his life. For me, getting him to latch and eat ten minutes on one side was a huge accomplishment. Each day consisted of so many short, cluster feeds. I was afraid to sleep in case he woke up and I missed the chance to feed him right away. I remember feeling like a failure and just kept thinking “why isn’t anything working?”
I was finally able to pick up my breast pump one week after he was born and his two week appointment was when we got the exciting news that his levels were great and he was finally gaining some weight back! The feeling of relief that rushed over me when the doctor turned and said “great job, mommy” was so overwhelming I wanted to cry. My husband reassured me that even if he wasn’t eating as much as others recommended, he was eating as much as he could until he was full. We finally made it over what felt like a never-ending hurdle.
That success only led to another challenge; my supply had decreased drastically and once I received the pump, it was nonstop work to increase my supply. Each day after his morning and bedtime feeds and also throughout the day, I would practice “power pumping.” This was my schedule:
Pump both breasts for 30 minutes
Take a 10 minute rest
Pump both breasts for 20 minutes
Take a 10 minute rest
Pump both breasts for 10 minutes
This was my life every single day. Some days I only got a couple ounces, other days I got more. But the only consistent thing was how hard I was on myself for not producing enough. Throughout his whole life, we have always needed to supplement with formula. I knew that was helping to keep our baby healthy and growing but there was always this voice in the back of my mind telling me I failed and just had to take the easy way out. I also started to notice that my waves of postpartum depression would come in sync with breastfeeding which was not great for my mental health.
Landon is now eight months old and has been exclusively formula fed for two months, and before that was only nursing for comfort before bed. It took me a while to stop being so hard on myself, so many other women formula feed, there’s nothing wrong with that. My supply dropped and I never felt this beautiful breastfeeding bond others talked about. Feeding with a bottle gave me more of a bond with my son than breastfeeding because my mental health wasn’t taking a hit. I am still able to hold him close and take in all his features while he eats, and I am happier.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m amazed that many women can not only grow human beings, but also produce what we need to nourish them. Everyone’s experience is different, some good and others not, and sadly my breastfeeding experience was not what I was expecting, but I wouldn’t change a thing because we have an extremely healthy little boy and he has a happy mama.
Switching exclusively to formula was the best decision for myself and my son, and this is the most I have felt like me, guilt-free and knowing that I am a good mom no matter how I choose to feed my child.
Moms need to lift each other up because we are all just doing our best to navigate raising our little babes. There is no manual into motherhood, it’s just something you are thrown into. You don’t get a day to prepare after your little one is born – it all starts then and there. So if you’re like me, struggling and trying to decide what is right for your baby, you are not alone. I am so happy I finally had the courage to post my story and I really hope it helps others out there.
Whether you breastfeed, exclusively pump, formula feed, however you choose to feed YOUR child, you are doing a wonderful job and I am so proud of you!