As someone who has been there, making the choice to breastfeed or formula feed your newborn can be difficult. I say this as someone who has done both and understands the struggles that come with either decision. Here’s my story.
IN THE BEGINNING
Feeding your baby is your #1 job once he or she is born. Whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed is a very personal decision and can be affected by many different factors. This is a topic I struggled with minutes after my son was was born, a month in, three months in and 7 months in. During my pregnancy I became incredibly anxious and breastfeeding was no exception. As a Type A personality who needs to thoroughly prepare for everything and know exactly what to expect, giving birth to a new born human really threw me for a loop. I read up on the different positions to hold your child while breastfeeding, picked up Lansinoh Lanolin Cream and Organic Bamboo Nursing Pads and bought 6 different types of bottles in case he didn’t like some of them. As far as I was concerned I was as prepared as I could have been, especially since I obviously assumed I would be one of the women who was naturally going to be awesome at it.
Boy was I wrong, on all accounts! There is actual photographic evidence of my cry of pain the first time my son tried to latch but instead bit down as hard as he could with his toothless gums. Just because he didn’t have teeth doesn’t mean those little gums aren’t rock solid and felt like the jaws of death! Throughout my stay at the hospital he just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it and I was already starting to feel like a failure as a mother, just a few days in to my new job. By the time we got home from the hospital my nipples were so sore I was barely holding back tears every time he tried to nurse. It got to the point where I would let him sleep longer than recommended because I dreaded the next nursing session. Frozen nursing pads with lanolin on them gave me some short term comfort but everything just felt wrong.
THE MYTHICAL NIPPLE SHIELD
So of course I jump on google to try to find some solutions and one thing that keeps coming up is a nipple shield. What the hell is a nipple shield? I think I remember one of the nurses mentioning that in the hospital but nothing else comes to mind. So off to Babies-R-us we go to find this mythical thing called a nipple shield that I am convinced will solve all our problems. Man was that exactly what it did! The Medela Nipple Shield is the one that I used, but you might have to give it 2 tries before you find the one that is the correct size for you. Once you figure out the size you need, all you do is stick it on your boob and offer the pointy part to your infant who should latch on to it and start suckling.
The first time I used it was like a dream come true, there was still some soreness but nothing like before which had essentially felt like someone rubbing heavy grit sandpaper across one of the most sensitive parts of my body. The best thing the shield did was allow my body time to heal without continuous pain, the worst thing it did was make it very hard for my son to learn to latch without it. Commence the unnecessary worrying and stress that for some reason all moms seem to do to themselves. I ended up having to use the shield for the first two months of my son’s life and guess what- he is completely fine.
I only ever met a few other women who were using or had used them in the past, or at least only a few women talked about it. They seem to somehow have fallen into the category of things that lower your status as a good mom. I hadn’t realized this until a woman approached me at Mommy and Baby yoga class while I was using it. She was so relieved to see someone else using one and until then had been embarrassingly hiding in the corner with her and her daughter both almost completely covered by a blanket. It was then that I realized she felt ashamed for having to use a nipple shield and I was floored. Sure I had realized it obviously wasn’t the norm and was slightly envious of women who seemingly had it all figured out but it never occurred to me to be ashamed. That stupid little piece of plastic; while making the process much messier; had allowed me to supply my son with all of the nutrients he needed and I was incredibly grateful.
THE PROMISE LAND
On the day of his 2 month wellness visit he kept refusing the shield so on a whim I gave it a go without it and voila! Like the last two months didn’t even happen he quit the shield cold turkey and we were off on a brand new nursing adventure. Unfortunately, this adventure hit some pretty rocky roads only about a month later when, due to lack of sleep and a pretty nasty cold, my supply dropped dramatically. On the third or fourth night of my son screaming in my arms because he was still hungry but nothing more was coming out, my husband had had enough and opened a bottle of formula. He offered this bottle to my starving son who sucked it down with abandon while I held him and cried, feeling once again like a failure. This was something I was very unfamiliar with feeling but there was nothing I could do to change it. Sure there are lots of suggestions out there on how to increase your output but most of them involve sitting for hours attached to the pump. I already dreaded pumping and after very little success and many hours wasted I gave up. Looking back on my hospital stay and follow up wellness visits one jarring realization I had was; not a single healthcare professional ever uttered the word formula to me. Guess what- it is not poison!
Once I came to terms with this new situation however, I felt relieved. Relieved that not all the pressure was on me anymore, relieved to not have to always be within 100 ft of my son at all times and relieved that I could sleep for longer than 3 or 4 hours at a rip! Supplementing with formula offered me a little more freedom which was the hardest transition for me so far. I obviously love my son with all my heart but at the same time I was feeling suffocated and needed a breather. So beginning at 3 months we started supplementing once a day with formula. Unfortunately this creates a snowball effect and by 5 months my right side had completely dried up and my left side was hanging on by a thread as his intake of formula increased. The fact that we sold one house, bought another and moved in and out of those respective houses only after a cross country road trip did not help my situation. Right around the 7 month mark, my son started to get his bottom two chompers and would use them in his frustration if not enough milk was coming out. Ouch! It was at this point that it became apparent that I was only trying to hold on for my sake and it wasn’t benefiting either of us to continue.
Although it is recommended to breastfeed for the first year of your child’s life, it is not worth sacrificing your sanity and well-being for. I will admit I still feel guilty at times, convincing myself there was more I could have done to up my supply. But forcing myself to do something that made me miserable was not going to be good for me, my son, or my relationship with my husband. I do miss it at times but I know I will have another opportunity down the road and hopefully it will go a little smoother the next time around. So I will leave you with this, no matter how you end up feeding your child, as long as you do just that, it doesn’t matter how! Just don’t start them off with chocolate cake!