Breast-feeding… it’s okay if you can’t!
My plan was always to breast-feed. Months before our son was born, I started doing research on which breast pump I wanted and finally bought one before the birth so I could have the parts sterilized, cleaned, and ready to go. I picked up supplies whenever I was in the baby section at the store. I had it all covered – a hands-free pumping bra, expensive nursing bras, storage bags and freezer organizers, portable coolers and bottles of different sizes. Not only did I know it was the best source of nutrition for my baby, I was also looking forward to the instant bonding and closeness with baby that breastfeeding mothers report. I was going to be a breast-feeding mother. After all, it’s what’s best for the baby! How could I not breast-feed?
A few days after our son was born, I was diagnosed with Influenza A. I was pretty sick, which made it that much harder to take care of a newborn baby. Just when I thought we made it through unscathed, the pediatrician noticed that our baby wasn’t gaining weight as he should. She suggested I pump to see how much milk I was actually getting and start supplementing with (gasp!) formula. As someone who researched breast-feeding thoroughly and read multiple breast-feeding forums online, I really wanted to avoid using formula because certainly if he was drinking formula, he would not want or need to breastfeed. Luckily, the pediatrician convinced me that formula was best for his health while his weight was down. She said if I pumped and I was getting enough, I could slowly taper him off formula and go back to exclusively breastfeeding. Their final recommendation was to try to breast-feed, followed by feeding him formula, followed by pumping. I was supposed to follow this routine every two hours. (And try to get plenty of rest to fully recover from the flu – yeah, right.)
Unfortunately, when I pumped, I realized my milk supply was very low, most likely a side effect of being ill. I definitely was not producing enough to help a baby gain weight appropriately. I decided to call a lactation consultant and see what could be done. I was exhausted from the round-the-clock schedule to feed the baby, but I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
When I met with the lactation consultant, she ensured my baby’s latch was correct and suggested I continue with the previously determined schedule. She gave me a supplement to increase milk supply. It tasted horrible and prevented me from drinking liquids for 30 minutes before and after taking it twice a day (aren’t you supposed to drink a lot of fluids when breast-feeding?)
After a few more weeks, I was barely functioning. I was starting to resent my sweet baby for being hungry. I never enjoyed my time with him because I was constantly worried about producing more milk. The lactation consultant assured me there were other things I could try, but I was giving it my all already, and it just wasn’t working. I was avoiding friends who were breastfeeding, searching the internet relentlessly for any advice and ultimately pictured our son to be less-healthy and less-intelligent of a child since he wasn’t getting the breast milk he needed.
At my six week postpartum visit, I explained the whole ordeal to a nurse in my OB’s office. She compassionately said to me “oh honey, just be done.” And just like that, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I decided to accept the fact that it just wasn’t working out, that I could still have a healthy and happy baby, and that life could be easier than what I was making it. It’s almost as if I just needed another mother to give me permission to be done.
Within days of making the decision to stop, I was sleeping more, enjoying more time with my baby, and probably being a nicer person to my husband and family. We all know there is a big campaign around “breast being best.” I think a lot of mothers (me included) get depressed and feel like a failure when nature just doesn’t work out in their favor. So here’s my advice to all the mamas out there – while I do think it’s good to at least try breast-feeding… it’s okay if you can’t! There are many other aspects to good parenting than breast-feeding. Now, instead of pumping and fighting with my body on a daily basis to make more milk, I get extra time to snuggle my baby (and get some much needed sleep). So give yourself a break. Your baby will turn out fine with formula- because he or she is loved by you.
What words of encouragement do you have for moms who can’t breast-feed?