I have a confession that I’m not ashamed to admit. You know why? My son is healthy and adorable and thriving and I’m proud of him every day.
When I found out I was pregnant my “feeding plan” was to use formula. I had no plans to breastfeed. Frankly, I just did not feel all that comfortable about it. I am a little bit of a modest person when it comes to my body, and the thought of my breasts being the center of another human’s world made me uneasy. I live a very busy, on the go lifestyle, and I knew that breastfeeding probably wouldn’t really work for us.
Through conversations with other moms, I often felt guilty because I wasn’t even considering the idea. In today’s day & age, you frequently hear about how “breast is best” or some people will swear that if you exclusively breastfeed, your child will be smarter and healthier. I would often hear those who had exclusively breastfed refer to others who didn’t try or who gave up as “lazy” and “not committed,” and I immediately started to wonder if I was already being judged for my decision.
I broke down and took a breastfeeding class at EJGH when I was 35 weeks with plans to exclusively pump to avoid the awkwardness but still offer the health benefits. I had this plan for several reasons. First, there was the whole modesty thing. Breastfeeding sort of overstepped my comfort zone. Another reason is simply because I wanted Scott to have the opportunity to bond with Andrew through feedings while sharing the responsibility (especially in the middle of the night). I figured I probably wouldn’t produce enough milk alone so I intended to do both breast milk and formula.
When Andrew was born, they rolled me back into my room to recover, and they brought him to me for “skin to skin.” The lactation nurse showed up and immediately got him nursing. He latched on nearly perfect the first time, and he got the hang of it immediately. At that moment, my modesty flew out the window, and I wasn’t bothered by this strange woman manhandling my boob. All I cared about was my son, and I wanted to do what was best for him and that included benefits of the first milk for his immune system.
The whole process went great while I was in the hospital. I was very fortunate to have a lot of help from the lactation department when I needed it. By day 2, my milk had already come in. We rented a pump for when we went home to make bottles so Scott could help, and I had my plan in place.
Once we got home, Andrew did great the first few days. Then, one day he just didn’t want to latch. He had no desire to be near my breast, and he would move his face away and cry. I tried all of the suggestions the nurses had given over and over, but he just cried and cried and cried. It was so disheartening. I felt like something was wrong with me, and I was failing as a mother. I kept thinking to myself “What am I doing wrong?” “Why won’t he eat?” “Is he getting enough?” From there I decided to exclusively pump. Except I would pump and fall asleep halfway through it, holding those weird horn things that would lose their suction as soon as I would lean forward in my sleep. Of course, all of the milk that had collected would pour down my shirt and that liquid gold was wasted, and then the loss of that breast milk would lead to a complete break down. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and I felt like a giant cow whose sole purpose was to be milked all day long. I felt fat, ugly, and like I couldn’t even pump right. I was a hot mess.
When Scott went back to work and I was home alone with Andrew, I would break down in tears because I was scared to death that I was doing something wrong. Horrible thoughts went through my head, and I would get so worked up because I knew I wasn’t nourishing my child since he would no longer latch or nurse. I questioned whether or not I was even good enough to be a mother. At this point, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was beginning my struggle with the postpartum anxiety that plagued me for nearly 5 months after his birth.
A little over two weeks in, Scott came home from work with some mini ready-feed bottles of formula. He took Andrew from me and took over feeding. I remember I fell asleep for a long while and woke up and felt better… like a huge rock was lifted off my shoulders. I tried pumping a few more times, but as we gave Andrew more formula, my breasts dried up. At first, I felt like a failure and like I had broken a rule of motherhood. I felt the infamous “mom guilt” because I actually enjoyed giving Andrew a bottle and then being able to go to bed without having to pump for an hour with little to no milk to show for it.
But then I realized that I felt BETTER mentally and physically. I finally started feeling like I had it together, like I had a schedule in place and that Andrew and I were in sync with each other. While I still struggled with some difficult emotions and anxiety, moving on to bottle feeding helped me cope with new motherhood much more easily because I was able to share the responsibility with Scott. I then realized that what other people thought about how I fed my son did not matter. He was doing great. He was gaining weight, thriving, and growing by leaps and bounds. It was at that moment that I knew that an attached, functioning mother was better for my son than a depressed, unattached mother attempting to give him breast milk.
It was around Andrew’s first birthday that I realized that, had I continued breastfeeding and the struggles I faced, I may have spiraled into a much worse state of PPD/A. I know some will judge me and think I didn’t try very hard or give it my all, but honestly that doesn’t matter. I did what was best for all of us. I often reflect back on that when I see new moms struggling. I remember how hard it was to juggle it all, and I always remember that you NEVER KNOW that person’s situation. And that first and foremost, as long as the baby is healthy and loved, that’s all that matters. Not whether or not they got their milk from the breast or Similac. It’s all about what’s best for the child and their family.