*disclaimer: this post references boobs. a lot.*
**also, I am, in the words of my friend Lauren, “pro-mom” when it comes to feeding babies**
It’s World Breastfeeding Week!
This is super fresh for me. Up until a couple of weeks ago my little one was exclusively breastfed.
I was breastfed, as was my older sister (I guess, I wasn’t there) and my sister has successfully breastfed her two boys until their first birthdays. I just assumed that I would do the same. This seemed like a natural rite of passage and quite practically, breastmilk was free. I was planning to return to work and knew with cost of childcare any place we could offset the costs associated with baby, I was down.
When Lincoln was born he didn’t latch right away so we were given a nipple shield with little to no guidance on how to use it. He was fairly jaundiced and when we returned to the doctor at 5 days old and he had lost a lot of weight (more than the recommended 10%) and my milk hadn’t really come in and as a first timer I was panicking. My sister was far away (and had two babies) and I couldn’t seem to find anybody that could help me. I knew I needed to get his latch checked, I knew we needed to ditch the nipple shield and I knew that I didn’t want to wait days in between doctor visits for him to be weighed. I also didn’t want to be a failure.
The pediatrician was less than supportive and told me that my baby was starving to death (actual words) and because I had the flu two weeks before he was born my milk probably wouldn’t ever come in and I’d need to always do formula as supplementation if not for all. I had failed at breastfeeding before I even started.
I felt like my body had betrayed me.
That visit was a Thursday, and after many tearful phone calls with my sister and trying to get anybody from lactation on the phone at Wake Med for a follow up I found a pediatric practice with a lactation consultant on staff that was super willing and happy to help me. They were able to see me the very next day.
Their lactation consultant sat with us for 2 hours, helped me check his latch and did a weighted feeding to make sure he was transferring milk correctly. Lincoln was a super sleepy eater and she showed me how to keep him awake for a full feeding and how to tell when he was done, since he would just fall asleep… always. She also helped me realize that my milk had not come in because I was taking two antihistamines (I told hospital staff and the first pediatrician this) which obviously, I know now, kept milk from coming in. Once I stopped those my milk came in and he was back up to his birthweight by two weeks and we no longer had to supplement.
There are few things in life that I’ve been as proud of as getting Lincoln back up to his birthweight. I was sleep deprived, an emotional wreck, pumping around the clock to get my supply up, nursing for 45 minutes every 2-3 hours, pumping in between… I was maxed out. I still wish that those first two weeks had been a little less dramatic (looking at you, “starving to death” pediatrician lady) and filled with a bit more rest and quality family time, but it is what it is. We survived and lived to tell the tale. And I was proud of my accomplishment.
So, fastforward 6 months and I’d been exclusively breastfeeding Lincoln and it was great. I had survived a couple of months of pumping at work and was able to keep up with providing breastmilk for him without having to do formula.
Here’s a narrative that is pumped (was that a breastfeeding joke?) into many mom’s heads these days: Breastmilk is best. So, formula is…..
Formula is what? Second best?
That’s the thing. Nobody really ever outright says that formula is bad. It’s just kind of, implied. Who wants to give their baby second best on purpose?
So, he was 6 months old when I started working from home and feeding, truly, on demand. Every hour and a half he wanted to nurse. And like any good breastfeeding mom should, I let him. As the primary food source for my child how could I possibly tell him no!?
He was sucking the life out of me. Quite literally.
I was trying to work at home and would panic anytime he would cry. I thought he was hungry. I would try to put him down for a nap and he would cry and I would feed him to sleep. And then once I popped him off he would wake up. For two weeks straight he wanted to be on my boob all day.
It’s just a growth spurt. Or teeth. Or the ‘Wonder Week’. Or maybe my milk is drying up. Or maybe I’ve ruined him for naps by letting him nurse to sleep. Or maybe his latch is bad and he’s not getting enough milk. Or maybe he has a heart condition because he’s so little and sweats a lot when he nurses. Maybe he is making up for the first few weeks of his sleepy little life. Maybe I really don’t make enough milk. Maybe that pediatrician was right after all. Or, maybe its just normal. I’m feeding on demand. Such a lucky work at home mommy nursing my baby all day. Maybe I’m just lucky and it doesn’t feel lucky. Maybe one million different scenarios.
So, I just cried a lot. At him. With him. Without him. Feeling like a big, fat, failure. This time because I was breastfeeding.
Here’s the thing about having a baby. You’re totally different after, and you better hope to God that the man you have this baby with is 1) understanding; and 2) knows you well enough to know when he needs to intervene.
After nearly two weeks straight of me literally having panic attacks and in tears from all the pressure of working motherhood (holy crap, the pressure! I’d rather push two babies out every single day than deal with those terrible horrible two weeks again!) we decided to revisit the idea of formula. This time not to save Lincoln, but to save me.
Marshall brought it up and I cried and cried and cried at the thought of giving that to my baby, but then the next day (after another tearful morning of a baby stuck to my boob) I went to Target and bought some Honest Company formula and came up with a plan.
And it was fine.
The kid drank the formula none the wiser that it was any different than anything else in his bottle.
And it was fine.
We snuggled while I fed him a bottle and he burped, smiled and gave me a big ole wet sloppy baby kiss.
And it was fine.
And I could breathe. Bit by bit, with every bottle he took of sometimes all breastmilk, sometimes all formula, sometimes a combination of both I could feel myself turning back into a person. And for the first time in a long time, I enjoyed the person that I was.
More than anything, I think that the best thing for Lincoln, above breastmilk, is to have a mom that’s a whole person.
So, it is World Breastfeeding Week. Breastfeeding, like every part of parenting, looks different for every family. And that’s the way it should be because every family is different.
It is not a shame if you wean before a year, or before whatever arbitrary guideline you have set for yourself. It’s okay if you want to nurse during the day but do formula at night (because sleep is the most prized possession of them all). Whatever combination of things that you need to make life work for your family is worth it. Do it. Do it now. Don’t hang on to something for bragging rights or to make yourself feel better about mommy guilt or to make yourself feel superior to moms that choose other paths (talking to myself here, because I have done all three of those things).
I honestly believed that the connection I felt with Lincoln was based on breastfeeding. I know scientifically there is a case for that (hi, oxytocin!), but in my heart I was terrified to give that up like in some way I’d become just like everybody else. Nope. I’m still mom and I’m awesome. I’m the favorite. I make sad things happy, and happy things happier.
This week is the first week we’ve done exclusive bottles during the day. Originally, I wanted to keep bedtime and wake up nursing but tonight I fed him a bottle and then we snuggled, read a book, talked about our day and then I just held him until he drifted off to sleep and it was amazing. The freedom. The sweetness of seeing his face, memorizing his little features, feeling and listening to his breath. Pure joy. Not constantly analyzing his sucking and breathing trying to deduce if he was asleep and eating or eating or asleep or done or just napping or whatever. The kid ate six ounces. Done. Good. Nighty night.
Right now we are doing one intentional bottle of formula a day and I’m pumping the rest and using my freezer stash. I’m not actively trying to wean but if it happens, it happens. I’m not stressing about it. As proud as I was to get Lincoln back up to his birthweight, I must say I am proud of myself for being able to see that breastfeeding was not working for us and being able to take steps to make it work. I also will admit that I did not just “realize” this one day, my husband really helped me see this with many kitchen floor ugly crying conversations (me ugly crying, him putting me back together). This journey has been pivotal for our marriage and for that I am so grateful. This is what life is made of. Hard stuff making beautiful stuff.
Moms, my point is, be whole people. Whatever that looks like. Wean if that frees you up to snuggle more, play more, live more and stress less. It’s so ok. You are not a failure. You are a whole person, and a whole person’s mom. You are amazing.