Eco-friendly Winter Holiday TipsParenting
When it comes to breastfeeding versus formula feeding, many of us know that breastfeeding is best.
Its free, it helps your baby build up their own immune system, its best for brain development, and did I mention its free? It also helps shrink our uterus faster after giving birth and can even help lower the risk of breast cancer.
Now that I have gotten the facts out of the way, I need you all to know, whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed your baby, know that you are doing what you think is best for both you and your baby at that moment. Doctors, nurses, and people in the general population will try and shame you for going exclusively formula or for breastfeeding too long, or in public or whatever. The world has a lot to say about how we choose to feed and
nourish our babies. I’m not here to get into that debate with anyone. I just want to share my experiences with breastfeeding and know that whatever you choose, your baby will be fine!
I’m a mom of three boys, each with multiple years between them in age. With that being said, my mindset was different when each of my children came into the world. Not because I was having more kids, but because I was at different stages of my life when I gave birth to each one. Throughout these ten years of birthing three kids, I have had an extremely complicated relationship with breastfeeding. I have a unique story for each child, and all of them have made me want to take a bat to my breast pump at one point or another.
With my first son, I was a senior in college when I gave birth to him. This alone had its own set of challenges that I was not prepared to face. But that’s a story for another time. When he came into the world, the idea of breastfeeding was just plain weird! For me, up until that point in my life, I viewed breasts strictly as sex tools (sorry Mom). For this I blame the patriarchy, TV, American college culture, and my own ignorance. Breasts were looked at and portrayed as parts of the female body put on this Earth strictly to please men, or at least that’s how I was conditioned to think about them. I very seldom, if ever, thought of them for the purpose of feeding a baby. I know this may sound crazy, but I’m just being honest. This is how I felt and I simply could not wrap my head around the idea of a young baby boy sucking on my nipple! Like…..EW! Latching on was absolutely out of the question. So, I tried pumping for a very short period of time, but once classes started back up for me, that was done. With that being said, my first son was pretty much exclusively formula fed. At this point in my parenthood journey, I was just trying to survive. All I could focus on was getting my degree and keeping my baby alive. It was then, breastfeeding and I parted ways for the first time. I didn’t even think twice about making the switch, other than to acknowledge how expensive formula was. Sheesh!!!
Now, when my 2nd kid came around, five years and a wedding later, I thought about those feelings I had when my first child was born. Breastfeeding is weird! So, right out of the gate, I was pumping. I breastfed exclusively for the first two months of his life. I was producing enough to feed him, but I wasn’t producing much extra. So, building up a reserve to give him when I was planning on going back to work was very difficult. Also, breastfeeding is obviously the way nature intended, I support that mindset 100%. But living in modern society, it takes a high level of commitment to exclusively breastfeed your baby. I had another child to take care of and I was preparing to go back to work as a teacher the upcoming school year. I still needed to plan and get my summer assignments done, not to mention squeezing in any type of self care that I needed to stay sane. I mean, even going to a baseball game with my family was difficult and involved me hand pumping in the car before and after the game. I knew I had to stay diligent for the risk of losing my already sensitive supply altogether.
But then, my best friend was getting married in New England and my husband and I went on a two-week vacation to celebrate her bachelorette party in New Hampshire, our first anniversary in New York, her wedding back in Massachusetts, culminated by an overnight stay in Vegas for my husband’s cousin’s wedding. My oldest was staying with my in-laws during that time, set to meet us in Vegas for the family wedding. Now, I am well aware that being away from your three month old for two straight weeks is not ideal and many women may not have went on this trip, but please understand why I made the choice to go and don’t judge me. My best friend from college was getting married. We were instant best friends when we met. She helped babysit my first born when I had class and held me while I cried over baby daddy foolishness. We had dreams of being the maids of honor in each other’s weddings, I was hers and she was mine. So there was no missing this wedding.
My mom and aunt, understanding why this trip was a must, took the baby, and flew with him out to the east coast so that I could see him, bond with him, and give him any milk I had been able to produce in our days apart. If you’ve ever travelled while breastfeeding, WITHOUT YOUR BABY, you’ll know that shit is hard! From pumping, to engorged breasts, to storing breast milk, to pumping and dumping, it was extremely difficult to maintain and my supply suffered greatly due to all of those challenges. Needless to say, once we came home from what I call, “the wedding tour,” breastfeeding was done and by month four, my 2nd kid was also being exclusively formula fed. Whoops!
When my third son was born, I was determined, and I mean DETERMINED to make my relationship with breastfeeding work! Little did I know that with this child, breastfeeding and I would have the most complicated moments in our decade long relationship yet. So I hit the ground running, dove right in, I had him latching on and everything. But I immediately ran into some kinks, trying to get him to latch the right way was a challenge. Sometimes I would become so full I had to physically massage milk from my breasts, and was brought to tears from the pain of my sore nipples and the boulder-like texture my boobs took on when they were full. But for the most part, things were good, I was producing plenty for him to eat but also extra in order to build a reserve. I even felt the connection that many women talk about when he was feeding. It really was a spiritual experience knowing my body was producing everything my baby needed to survive. I felt great about my choice and was so happy that by baby #3, I finally “got” breastfeeding.
But then latching on became increasingly difficult. My nipples were just so raw and taking the time to get him to latch on properly became so daunting. I decided to give my nipples a break and just pump and bottle feed him what I had produced. That worked for us for awhile. While my body was still recovering from child birth, I would just sit and pump, loving him and feeding him, on repeat just the way nature intended…
BOY, was that BORING! It was torture. My days consisted of little else besides pumping and Netflix, literally every day. I tried simply just enjoying my baby and the much needed break from work. I knew it was what my mind and body needed, but after awhile it became depressing. My purpose on daily basis was to feed my children. I became ACTUALLY depressed. Social media and the news made it worse. My brain felt idol, my days felt meaningless, and my thoughts often wandered to dark depths. But, my baby was exclusively breastfed and I maintained a great supply, that’s all that matters right? Because breastfeeding is what’s best so that’s the most important thing to think about right? WRONG!!! That’s not all that matters!
Sure, I was devoting all of my energy to simply being a mom and feeding my baby, but I was literally sacrificing my mental health. I rarely left the house, I rarely spoke to other adults, and listen people, one can only binge watch Netflix for so long before your brain starts to melt. I didn’t want to go out to socialize because of the inconvenience of pumping or the anxiety I felt for being gone too long and feeling how full my boobs became. I had to watch what I ate and drank because I didn’t want the baby to be too gassy or to have alcohol in his milk, or my usual concern, negatively affect my supply. I was in breastfeeding mode, all nursing all the time.
I needed a break from only being a mother, I needed to figure out a way to feel like a person again. So I went to a Mom event curated by an old colleague of mine, designed to emphasize the importance of self care. I purposely didn’t think about my supply, how many hours I could be out before I needed to go home and pump, or what I could eat or drink. I sat in a circle with a few other mothers and we bitched about breastfeeding for a solid 30 minutes. I soon found myself coaching my friend about what I had done with my two previous children and my complicated relationship with breastfeeding that ultimately made me decide to stop doing it altogether. I assured her that I was on the verge of ending breastfeeding myself for even this baby because it just became too much of a commitment that I wasn’t willing to make anymore. I remember saying, its ok to stop breastfeeding because you just don’t want to. How could I tell her that, and not take my own advice?
So, in the weeks that followed, I began to leave the house for longer periods of time, I stopped waking up in the middle of the night to pump and just slept through for as long as the baby did, and I just pumped when it fit into my schedule and lifestyle. I enjoyed that method much more, I just felt like I was brought back to life in a sense because I could focus on other things I cared about in addition to my children. But, my supply took a hit, I was producing less and less milk and digging into my frozen, “back to work,” reserve more and more. I even went to buy some emergency formula. Then, my supply officially ran out and I was pumping only once or twice a day, just to empty myself out.
At this point, the baby had been drinking only formula for the last two days or so, with a bottle of breast milk sprinkled in every now and then. But then, his diapers started to change, and he became noticeably gassier, he was waking up in the middle of the night more often because the formula just wasn’t filling him up the same way. That’s when I started to feel something I hadn’t felt AT ALL when deciding to dump breastfeeding with my previous two sons…guilt. I felt so guilty for giving up on breastfeeding. Just one week after ensuring my friend that you’re not a bad mother for formula feeding your baby, there I was, feeling like a bad mother! Though I wasn’t producing much, my supply hadn’t completely dried up yet. So I googled how to produce breast milk after your supply has dried up and something called re-lactation came up.
This time around, I did some research on how to help increase my supply and looked up products geared toward helping breastfeeding mothers be more successful. I stood in the breastfeeding aisle at the store for a solid 15 minutes just in awe of all of the products that were out there to help mothers navigate their breastfeeding journey: nipple guards for babies having trouble latching, lactation cookies and supplements, even little heating pads to help to treat engorgement. My supply never fully returned, but I was back to producing enough to split his formula feedings in half and I kept it up until I went back to work when he was 5 months old, which had been longer than both of my previous kids.
So what’s the moral of this story? Well, we all know that there are many benefits to breastfeeding, both medically and financially. Why not try to give your baby something that your body naturally makes that has the best brain building and immune system building power right? In a perfect world, every mother would want and be able to breastfeed her baby. But that’s not the way it is and sometimes trying to stay committed to something that isn’t working for you may cause more harm than good. You can’t properly love and nourish your children if the process is draining you, or it doesn’t work with your schedule, or because you just… don’t… want to.
With that said, I approached breastfeeding all wrong from the beginning. Because it was my third child, I did minimal research, I relied too heavily on my instincts taking over and thinking breastfeeding would be a smooth ride because that’s what I was genetically supposed to do. I overestimated my knowledge and went in completely unprepared. By doing so, I created more obstacles for myself, making the process much harder to approach than it needed to be. But I learned so much about myself and breastfeeding in the process. So my advice to any woman out there making the decision between breastfeeding and bottle feeding is this: try it. Simply just try breastfeeding and if its not for you, then make the choice that you feel works best for everyone in the long run, whether its nursing or formula feeding or both. But before you dive in head first, its going to take some preparation so, be prepared.