I don’t think that formula is bad. I don’t think that breastfeeding is better*. I think generally speaking that if you breastfeed one baby and you formula feed one baby, they’ll grow up just fine, neither with an inherent advantage. So I went into the whole breastfeeding thing with very few expectations. Even I fell for the hype.
In my childhood, I remember my mom singing the accolades of the breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding is natural and good! The body knows how to make the perfect mix of fats, proteins and nutrients that the little baby needs! The body provides the baby with the perfect mix of nutrients!
Over time, I observed my friends and their breastfeeding struggles. I watched as they put up heroic efforts for weeks to feed their little babies the way nature intended. One friend couldn’t generate enough milk and then got slapped with every type of breastfeeding related illness that you could get. Wearily she quit six weeks in.
So, I had no great expectations for myself with breastfeeding. I figured I’d give it a go and then we’d go from there. At first, it seemed fairly easy. But the second day in, Little Buddy decided he didn’t want to latch any more. My husband and I were in a hospital that offered latch classes and boasted lactation consultants around the clock. We attended the class and scheduled four follow-up appointments with two different lactation consultants during our six day stay at the hospital following my c-section.
Nothing seemed to stick. At first Little Buddy would seem to latch but then he eventually gave up. The consultants gave us nipple shields and feeding tubes. When the nipple shields wouldn’t work, we resorted to pumping every few hours and feeding Little Buddy by filling a 10mL syringe with milk and then slowly plunging the milk through a tiny tube into his mouth while he sucked on our fingers. We left the hospital and immediately met with another lactation consultant who got us on a different sized nipple shield that magically worked. We were instructed to wean little buddy off of the shield…but the entire experience of not being able to feed your child was far too traumatic to even entertain changing what was working.
Supply came in well and I assembled a decent quantity of milk in the freezer. I went back to work and pumped four times a day, which more than adequately took care of Little Buddy’s needs while my husband watched him on paternity leave. When he was 16 weeks old, he went into day care and began destroying my milk supply. Suddenly I couldn’t keep up and became obsessed with upping my supply. I took fenugreek, ate oatmeal, ordered Mrs. Patel’s bars and was pumping every three hours to boost my supply. Still – Little Buddy was tearing through the freezer packs.
One day, I stared angrily at the freezer, my eyes boring holes into the last two four ounce packs. I ripped the free can of formula from the hospital from the cabinet and set it on the counter. My husband peered at me and said, “Oh, OK we’re going to supplement with formula? Sounds good.”
I looked at him and then looked back at the formula. I didn’t want to pay for formula. I had become obsessed with Little Buddy having a ‘perfect game’. That is, never having a drop of formula touch his lips. I decided to work from home the next day, breastfeeding him when he needed it while my mother watched him in between. The following day was a Saturday, so I continued my exclusive breastfeeding plan and watched as my freezer slowly plumped up with new packs of milk.
It was all that I could think of. I’d check my day care app to see how much he had eaten and compare it to how much I had pumped. Day after day, Little Buddy mopped the floor with me. There was no way I could keep up.
As I became obsessed with producing, my mother and husband worriedly asked if perhaps I wanted to stop breastfeeding? Depression had started to wrap dark, cold talons around me as I started leaving work early stressed because I had to breastfeed.
Finally one night after a long day of cluster pumping and still getting destroyed by Little Buddy’s bottle intake, I quickly mixed a bottle of formula and popped it in his mouth. Greedily he sucked it down and asked for more. Releasing a long sigh that I hadn’t realized I had been holding, I mixed some more and fed him another two ounces.
My shoulders sagged and I relaxed as I tossed out the fenugreek. It was no perfect game, but we were going to do this, Little Buddy and I. We were going to get through it, even with some of that evil formula.
*I understand conceptually that breastfeeding is better for the baby than formula for gut health and a myriad of other things, however when it comes to total health of the mother, father and baby, breastfeeding can create stress and depression. Therefore formula can be a ‘healthier’ total family health choice.