When we find out we’re pregnant, we hear literally from day one that breast is best. Breastmilk is the greatest gift you can give your child. It’s perfect, natural, and supplies everything the baby needs. And if breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong. And if the baby isn’t thriving, you’re not trying hard enough.
But formula is okay too.
Notice how that sentence starts? BUT. Not AND. That BUT makes all the difference in the world. It feels more like “if you’ve done everything you possibly can, if you’ve cut out every single food in your diet, if you have walked around the block backwards, 37 times, while trying to nurse then baby, then and ONLY THEN is it acceptable to give your baby formula.”
At least that’s how it felt for me.
When I went to my obstetrician’s office, they gave me a welcome kit from Similac. Let’s start the confusion early. Breast is best but we’re giving you really cool marketing materials from a major formula maker. And while we’re at it, we’re going to make sure that the marketing information from the formula maker even discourages the use of formula. Because breast is best.
I’m not here to discourage anyone from breastfeeding. I do think it’s a wonderful, natural, and actually quite convenient way to feed your baby. But it’s not for everyone and I find that more and more people are afraid to admit that.
I bought into the whole breastfeeding idea hook, like, and sinker. My mom did not breastfeed us. Didn’t want to. Said the whole idea felt weird to her. But I knew what was best for my baby and I was going to try it.
I took a breastfeeding class. I felt completely out of place. But I was going to try it. Then the instructor talked about flat and inverted nipples. Hmmm. I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant but I was going to try it.
My son was born almost 4 years ago exactly via C-section. That makes for some interesting complications when it comes to breastfeeding. Your body doesn’t quite know right away that you’ve had a baby so your milk isn’t quite ready. Still, there was the colostrum and latching and everything else.
It’s odd timing. For some women, it creates an instant bond with their baby. For me, it created sheer panic. Here I am in the hospital, which I hated, having just had surgery and my legs were still completely numb. I’m in pain and they give me this beautiful little baby and suddenly I’m thrust into a world that I don’t quite understand yet.
Before I know it, I have nurses and lactation specialists asking me if I tried to nurse yet. I tried. I guess. Then I have women handling my breast like it’s a baggie of wet noodles. Pinching me, launching the baby at my breast. I think I was in shock and then it got worse.
I required shields. I can’t remember the full and proper name but I needed some sort of shield to make my nipples just right for the baby. Awesome. And humiliating. But this was best for the baby. So I wore the shields. I pumped to try to bring in my milk supply. I tried to get the baby to latch on. Was it always this hard?
He was losing weight so we had to move on to another contraption. It was the formula tank with a small tube attached that I had to tape to my breast. That way, the baby could latch on and pretend like he was nursing when he was, in fact, sipping on formula and getting the calories he needed.
After each attempted feeding, I had to take everything into the bathroom and soak it and wash it in Palmolive. This was not the convenient breastfeeding I was looking for.
But we soldiered on. And I say “we” because it was very much a team effort. My husband would wake up with me to help arrange the contraption and offer moral support. We were both frustrated and exhausted.
We eventually gave up the tube as my milk came in but the latching was never easy. I hated every minute of it. I hated pumping (it felt really humiliating to me to sit shirtless with these airhorns attached to my breasts). I wasn’t producing as much milk as I thought. And my baby still wasn’t gaining much weight.
Then came the hurting. It hurt so bad. It burned and I cried every time he tried to latch on. I kept hearing the words in my head. “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” I must be doing something wrong. I wasn’t doing it right. This was my fault. I cried some more.
My husband gently nudged me and asked me to consider giving the baby formula. That would be admitting failure in my mind and I wasn’t ready to do that. We continued and he still seemed hungry.
I wasn’t sure if he was getting much so I pumped as much as I could and thought I would give my nipples a break and see if he would take a bottle. I realized that I was producing much less than I thought. He took the bottle with no problem. And he wanted more. My husband asked if we should try formula and I agreed. It had been a long 3 1/2 weeks of breastfeeding without much success and certainly no enjoyment.
The only picture I have of me feeding my baby.
The funny part of it is my husband didn’t realize there were different sized nipple holes for the bottles. He picked the Y nipple with a toddler sized hole and my newborn baby drank that first bottle faster than anything we’d ever seen.
What happened after that first formula feeding? I realized it was time to give myself a break. It was time to stop stressing over breastfeeding. It was time to stop focusing on the things I couldn’t give him and focus on the things that I could. I cried when I realized I was finished breastfeeding. I cried because I felt like a failure. I cried when my milk supply was gone. And then I cried tears of relief that I could finally start to enjoy my baby. And nobody told me that although breast is best, formula is okay too.