FFF Friday: “I promised myself it wasn’t going to go down like this…AGAIN.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

This story speaks volumes about – well, about so many things. 

So for once, I’m going to be quiet and let it speak for itself. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones. And Happy Valentine’s Day – I’ve got nothing but love for each and every one of you, including the wonderful Caroline. 

-The FFF

***

Caroline’s Story

Recently, I was putting the final touches on the spread I had laid out for our lunch guests when I unexpectedly began to panic.  We were awaiting a visit from a new-to-town couple and their toddler, and I wasn’t worried about normal things, such as kids behaving and everyone having a good time.  Instead, I realized it had been an hour since my baby had had his bottle, and with the frequent feedings his reflux demands, I knew he’d have to eat again during our guests’ visit.  My mind began racing to consider if this was going to be an issue and I immediately recalled the first time I’d met the mom at church, and her tone then and comments as she’d discussed infant feeding with another mom.  I had forgotten about that, and now I was worried about the inevitable discussion (you all know the one!) when the bottle would come out.  Was I going to get the verbal “At least you tried,” accompanied by the condescending smile, or would it be the, “Well, so-and-so’s milk/baby didn’t do x for y whole days, but then she tried z and she was able to nurse!”?  Should I just plan to take my son covertly upstairs to the nursery for a diaper change and give him a few RTF bottles in private?  I spotted my bottle sterilizer – was there still time to hide the contraband from the kitchen?

You know, I promised myself it wasn’t going to go down like this…AGAIN.  You see, this was me (FFF Friday: “These are the memories I have of my sons first few weeks”). Short version: no milk supply.  The happy ending to that story didn’t take place until my first born son’s twelve month pediatric appointment when we were given the clear to switch to cow’s milk.  I drove home that day crying tears of joy, thinking, “He’s FINALLY going to be eating the same as all the other kids his age!  Thank God!  It no longer matters!”

While pregnant with my second born, I became committed to not having another horrible first year.  I read up on IGT and myth vs. fact regarding nursing (yay for this website and Joan Wolf’s Is Breast Best?) and talked at length with my best friend who happens to have both an MD and a PhD in biomedical research.  While I knew in my head that the supposed benefits of nursing are often overstated without proper scrutiny, in my heart I still genuinely wanted to be able to nurse.  I hated bottle feeding my first born – aside from the social pressure and guilt, I hated the preparation time and hassle of keeping sterile equipment, not to mention the mess and cost.  However, while I had decided to give nursing another shot, I wasn’t going to go overboard spending hundreds of dollars on supplements, equipment or consultations – this time, the only extra thing I was willing to try was the one thing we had not tried with my firstborn: placenta encapsulation (talk about the epitome of crunchy motherhood!!).

My second born son’s arrival was nothing out of the ordinary, save him being post-term, with nothing happening that might interfere with nursing.  The day he was born, he had no interest and would not latch, but I was encouraged not to worry.  Eleven hours after his birth, he still wouldn’t latch and had been crying out in hunger pains, so I chose to give him his first bottle.  It honestly felt wonderful to be able to feed my newborn and ease his pain with a bottle!  I had dehydrated and basically starved my first born and wasn’t going to do that with my second born – I refused to put nursing above my child’s health again.  By day two, the placenta pills were ready, my son had a perfect latch, and we spent the day working on getting my milk to come in.  To my utter amazement, it did!  Something white began to come out of my chest, and the feeling I got the night of the third day when I heard a child of mine actually swallow for the first time while attached to me was amazing.  I was not given that blessing with my first born son, so I am grateful to have had it with my second born.

As the days went on, we spent the majority of my newborn son’s waking hours nursing. I would switch him from side to side to side for one to two hours, and only when he was super fussy from hunger and would no longer latch would I allow him a bottle.  The formula milk would then settle him to sleep for a quick nap, and the cycle would repeat.  I was determined to give nursing all that I could, and began to dream that my milk supply would increase so that I could drop off the formula.  As the days and weeks began to pass, the ounces of formula seemed to be winning the race, so I added pumping in to the mix to try to increase my supply, sometimes able to pump one or two full ounces in a twenty-four hour period.

For the following months, I rode the combi-feeding emotional roller coaster.  Breastfeeding became my primary focus.  I knew most of my son’s daily calories were coming from the formula milk, but I continued to get my hopes up about one day nursing exclusively.  I remember getting so happy just to see a bit of breast-milk poo mixed in with my son’s dirty diaper and hoping the next diaper would have more.  I found nursing to be so much easier than bottle feeding.  My son had a textbook latch with only the occasional lip tuck, and he would drop off and re-latch himself if he wasn’t on properly, so I didn’t have pain from the latch – the only pain I experienced was the glass shard sensation from him sucking on an empty breast.  It was also a breeze to soothe a baby at 2 a.m. with the breast while my husband prepared the bottle of formula that would eventually get the baby back to sleep – so much better than having the baby scream while waiting for a bottle!   When I had female visitors over and had to nurse in front of them, they gave me happy smiles as though to say, “Welcome to the club!”  Our pediatrician even treated us differently, talking about the superiority of breastfeeding and how she wouldn’t need to monitor his growth like she did with our toddler (even though they are following a similar curve), which meant no monthly weight checks or daily intake reporting this time.  I even got to experience the odd sensation of nursing in public, both in a private room and in our car, finding that to be an extremely efficient way to soothe a crying baby when out and about.  The only drawback to the nursing side of combi-feeding came in the bonding department: it wasn’t the bee’s knees I’d thought it was supposed to be.  We nursed tummy to tummy with him looking over my shoulder, and I found I better enjoyed gazing into his beautiful eyes while he ate from a bottle.

Eventually, combi-feeding with low milk supply proved to be unsustainable.  By the time my placenta encapsulation pills ran out, we were giving him a bottle every two hours plus nursing every four, and I had lost all hope of ever being able to nurse exclusively.  When my son was a few days shy of four months old, he refused to latch for several days.  I tried to express, but could no longer get anything white to come out.  My milk had dried, and my son had self-weaned (yes, such things actually DO happen!!!).  Rather anticlimactically, with no painful swelling or leaking, nursing was now over.  Meanwhile, my husband had noticed some of the familiar signs of post-partum depression creeping into our lives again, but so long as I had been nursing even a tiny bit, I was unwilling to feed anti-depressents to my son.  Looking back, I know it was a stupid decision to put the idol of nursing above maternal mental health, but at the time, all I could think of was how much we’d gone through with my older son and how I would have done anything just to have been able to give him a teaspoon of breast-milk.  I just didn’t have the heart to pull nursing away from my younger son (once he pulled himself away, though, I did get back on the medication).

So, there it is.  That’s my story for unsuccessful breastfeeding, take two.  There were some lessons I learned the first time around that made things easier: avoiding public baby groups, feeding my son at church in an out-of-view location, ordering formula online or sending my husband in to the store when we had a coupon, avoiding militant lactivists on the internet, staying away from baby books, and taking the toddler but leaving the baby home with my husband when our whole family is invited to a party.  Maybe such tactics make me a far-from-fearless formula feeder, but if you recall my goal of not having another horrible first year, it was essential for me to avoid hurtful comments and invasive questions.  It has also helped to read every post on the FFF so that I can be reminded that I’m not alone.  I have learned the hard way to limit my interaction with some of my more judgmental friends so as not to have another criticism of my child’s feeding, my birth choices, or my parenting decisions bouncing around in my head for days afterward… except for that tiny little omission I mentioned at the beginning of my story.

So, did I cower in the nursery?  Did she see the bottle supplies?  In the end, the family ended up not coming to our house that day, so I was worried for nothing.  That’s how it goes.

***

Be my valentine. Email me your FFF Friday story: formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “The pointlessness of all this breastfeeding guilt struck me…”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

Ashley’s story illustrates why I worry about our current, restrictive breastfeeding recommendations, not just for those who don’t want to nurse, but for those who do.  Breastfeeding can and should be an amazing experience for both mother and child. By making it a parenting imperative rather than viewing it as a choice (because we do have a choice, as we have throughout history – formula is a more attainable, normalized, and stable alternative than wet-nursing or using paps/unprocessed animal milks, but alternative have always been there), it becomes more like a root canal rather than a massage. If someone wants to nurse once a day for 3 months, they should be just as supported in that choice as someone who breastfeed exclusively for a year. As Ashley explains, sometimes combo feeding can offer the best of both worlds; isn’t it the right of every nursing dyad to find what works for them, with their individual needs? Imagine how it could be if we lived in a world where everyone viewed infant feeding like Ashley’s daughters do. From the mouths of babes, as they say.

Anyway. Have a great Christmas, FFFs. This is my gift to you – one of the most well-written, stand-up-and-cheer, affirming pieces that has come floating through my inbox. Enjoy.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashley’s Story

Today, I nursed my baby for the last time.

And because she’s my last child, I’ll never nurse a child again.

Here’s my confession: We are a full 4 months shy of the AAP-sanctioned 1-year, “it’s-okay-you-can-quit” point.

For me, weaning “early,” entirely by choice with no dramatic reason other than I WANT TO was big step forward in shaking off the rather paternalistic expectations of Bloomberg, my baby-friendly hospital, breastfeeding pressure–promoters in general who advocate breastfeeding for a full year, the sacrificial nobility (yet apparently second-best option) of pumping at work, and the crock that a simple but firm “no bite!” during teething will eliminate all nipple strife.

With my first child, Charlotte, I went through typical breastfeeding hell. Bloody nipples, bawling (me) during oh so painful nursing, and more bawling (her) due to hunger, because I had been told a bottle of formula was a “slippery slope” that would lead to more formula and a reduced milk supply.

I dreaded each next painful feeding and pumped (often while my daughter cried—pumping takes TIME, and you can’t do much mothering attached to the machine) to get a break from my child’s mouth. I longed for sleep or a feeding time-out. My entire support system lived on the opposite coast, and I felt utterly alone and terrifyingly inept.

Finally, when Charlotte was 3 weeks old, I turned to formula. After hours and hours of her frantic crying and equally frantic nursing, I called the pediatrician. Formula, he said. Give her formula.

This being couple years prior to those blasted baby-friendly initiatives, I had some formula from the hospital. I sobbed as I fed my daughter that first bottle, devastated at my failure to merely feed my baby The Right Way and The Best Way. Charlotte drank bottle after bottle. Finally satisfied, she drifted off into a 5-hour nap. From then on, I guiltily slid down that slippery slope, becoming a combo feeder and supplementing when my supply came up short. I vowed to never again let my baby go hungry. I kept my promise. I never skimped on a formula feeding to try to increase my own supply, and cranky Charlotte became a jolly, lively baby.

Returning to work, I pumped for a while. Eventually, I quit, which added to my guilt. Of course I had read statistic after statistic on how working outside the home was the #1 reason women quit breastfeeding “early.” And of course I had read those glib assertions that with a wee bit of commitment, working mothers could still hang onto their I’m-a-good-mom badge by pumping multiple times a day. “Think of it like a little break!” the pamphlets said. Hardly. “Return calls while pumping!” our (male) pediatrician’s hand-out said. Um, pumps are LOUD. “Think of pumping as a way to connect with your baby!” a website cheered. No, pumping just reminded me that she was away from me.

I continued as a combo-feeder, breastfeeding mornings and evenings and bottle-feeding during the day. Ashamed of what was my apparent lack of maternal commitment, I’d hide the canisters of Enfamil at the bottom of my Costco shopping cart, fearing judgment from strangers.

Here’s the screwy thing: At that point, I actually ENJOYED breastfeeding Charlotte, although (or because?) I did it only twice per day. I missed her desperately when working, and now that nursing was no longer a painful, bloody horror show, I loved our sweet, quiet time together.

My daughter weaned herself at 8 months old (yes, babies CAN wean themselves).

Charlotte’s weaning was a mutual and well-timed decision. But even after all the tears, angst, and sheer work that getting to that point entailed, I still felt like a failure. Like I had come up short due to inexperience, the audacity to work outside the home, and the fact that Charlotte simply adored her bottles of formula. In the back of my mind, I worried that I should’ve tried harder.

Next time, I vowed, I’d do better.

When pregnant with my second daughter, Lorelei, I dreaded the upcoming burden of breastfeeding, knowing it would steal from the joy a new baby brings. The pain. The stress. The nurses coming into my room every 2 hours to reprimand me for letting her (and myself) sleep instead of feed.

And that’s pretty much what happened. Sure, I was more adept this time around, but this child also tore me up. Again, I spent hours and hours of my maternity leave pumping, always paranoid about having a relief bottle on hand, loading up the freezer, and giving damaged nipples a chance to heal.

Except for an ounce or two of formula now and then to “top off” a feeding before bed, my daughter was, I suppose, exclusively breastfed for the first 3 months.

But I saw myself as a formula feeder. I viewed that yellowish powder like the Ben & Jerry’s pint I always have in the freezer—there if I needed it but technically off limits. And yet, like the ice cream, I knew I’d eventually consume it, so I felt preemptively guilty. Worrying about the next feeding and my milk supply absolutely consumed me, especially after I returned to work and was at the mercy of what my pump could do.

I pumped at work for 3 months—miserably. My employer, bless its heart, installed a lock on my office door. I had a private place to pump, so what was my excuse? I figured I better keep going. Pumping, pumping, pumping.

My supply faltered, especially after several weeks of ongoing illness. Eventually, I had to mix in some formula with the breast milk when I prepared bottles for day care. Then a whole bottle. Then two bottles.

This devastated me. I had worked so hard! But I realized that I could not WILL myself to make more milk. I just couldn’t. Still, I pumped.

Then one glorious day, my pump broke. My $300 pump that had caused so much misery was dead.

I could buy a new one, I thought.

Or, I could quit pumping.

Though initially upset and panicky, not super thrilled to be backed into a weaning corner, I slowly started to remember what life was like before my body was expected to produce meals every 3 hours. I could take my older child to birthday parties and gymnastics on weekends without pumping a bottle for my husband to give to Lorelei and rushing home for that next feeding. I could get more work done at work, I could spend less time cleaning parts, and I had so much less to remember to pack on hectic mornings.

So, I quit pumping.

With Lorelei, I eventually found that nursing sweet spot I had hit with Charlotte, breastfeeding entirely on our terms—Lorelei’s and mine. Again, I breastfed in the evening, before putting her to bed, and again in the morning before work, my now 3-year-old Charlotte nestled against me, chatting or rubbing her little sister’s head.

Yesterday, as I nursed Lorelei before work, Charlotte asked, “When I was a baby, did I eat from you like Lorelei?” I said yes. “And when I was a baby, did I drink from bottles like Lorelei?”

Looking at Charlotte’s bright, healthy, nonjudgmental face, the pointlessness of all this breastfeeding guilt struck me. To my daughters, breastfeeding is totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering. And to them, bottle-feeding is also totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering.

And they should know.

Lorelei unlatched, sidetracked by her sister, and my goofy girls started blowing raspberries at each other and giggling. My girls know they will always be fed and are deeply loved.

I’m grateful that formula helped me adequately feed my children, and that, with both my girls, I managed to have a segment of time in which I enjoyed breastfeeding.

I hope they know how much I’ve loved nursing them in those quiet, intimate evenings, when we were reconnecting to close out the day, breastfeeding on our terms—for us, and not to maintain supply, to support national anti-obesity agendas, or because hospital pamphlets told us to.

I’m done breastfeeding. I’m nostalgically wistful and a little sad.

But I do not feel guilty.

***

If you feel like sharing your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “From formula to breast and back again…”

I’ve been floating in and out of a rather potent rage-fest this past week. Between the bizarre conflation of breastfeeding advocacy and disaster relief in the Philippines, bribing women to breastfeed, and the announcement of yet another documentary that talks about breastfeeding while completely ignoring the elephant in the room…. my head is swimming. Which is why I love Bria’s story, below – it cuts through the bullshit. It speaks to the gray area, the reality of breastfeeding in our Western culture, with all the ambivalence, mixed emotions, and varied experiences this act can entail. Her story illustrates in a starkly beautiful way why this discourse is not ever simple. It requires deep thought, reflection, and acceptance that breastfeeding is not just a public health issue, and not just an emotional issue. Those that are unable to see nuance and separate fact from hyperbole have no place in the discussion… and yet, it seems, these are the only voices that “matter”. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones (and let’s hope next week is better),

The FFF

***

Bria’s Story: From Formula to Breast and Back Again

I have been thinking of how to write this story for months.  I have gone back and forth trying to fit it into a linear box, but it is not linear, there is no clear beginning or end.  It is multilayered and multifaceted, much like parenting.

There was the labor: 36 hours before she made her sweet arrival into this world followed by no sleep for mama in our nic-u-only-nursery, mother-unfriendly hospital.

There were the articles I researched and read after our breastfeeding/lactivist class that convinced me that the science pales relative to the claims.

There was my own history, breastfed till I was two.

There was my desire to breastfeed and my desire to not breastfeed.

There was the satisfaction I got from preparing her one bottle of formula before bed and adding her vitamin D drops.

There was her 13% weight loss in the first week of her life.

There was the pediatrician, the most clear and non-hyperbolic voice in all of the swirling noise: baby needs calories – mom needs rest -offer breast every three hours _not more often _ supplement 2 oz formula in between.

There was the less-crazy lactation consultant.

There was the more-crazy lactation consultant.

There was more crazy lactation consultant asking what I had done to stimulate my milk production so quickly.  “I bought the Fenugreek and I am drinking THE tea.” I said,  “And I am only offering the baby my breast every three hours and supplementing in between.”

There was her frown and dismissive response: “Oh, well it must be the Fenugreek that caused your milk to come in.  We don’t recommend rest as a way to stimulate milk production.”

There was my inability to tell her: I-never-took-the-Fenugreek. 

There was the feeling of rejection that came in the early weeks when baby would scream in the afternoon every time I would offer her my breast.

There was the calm at night when I would offer her my breast and she would eat happily and go back to sleep.

There was the pump.

There was exclusive nursing for our month in Europe, no time to make bottles.

There was my satisfaction with being able to “do it”.

There was the simplicity of the food: always with you, always ready.

There was the feeling of wanting to take the baby off my breast as soon as possible every time she ate.  To have it be done.

There was the guilt I felt when I was sure I had ended the feeding earlier than the baby was ready because I couldn’t stand it one more second.

There was the sticker shock at the grocery store after she was weaned.

There was the amazement with my breasts, that they could produce this food on such a tight schedule, the filling, the tingling, the stickiness, the let down.

There was the decision at six months to wean the baby, though we had established a solid breastfeeding relationship.

There were my mixed feelings about weaning.

There were the wonderful Swedes who despite high breastfeeding rates, few of them nurse much past 6 months.

There was my desire to stand with women who choose formula and parents who must use formula. I chose to read the studies.  I chose not to feel guilt, because there was nothing to feel guilty about, other than how my predominantly white, educated, privileged cohort managed to co-opt the discourse on infant feeding by exploiting studies from impoverished 3rd world infrastructures, glossing over real conditions of poverty (such as lack of clean water and unreliable access to refrigeration and healthcare) and repackaged these studies as showing both alarming health risks associated with formula feeding, and a “norm” of lengthy breastfeeding, as though we are all one big happy world of mothers and babies, all living in together in the same cultural traditions and socioeconomic conditions.

Lastly there was this; breastfeeding and formula feeding were expensive in different ways.   Lucky me that I had the money for formula and the time to breastfeed.  Babies cost no matter how you feed them and of course the smiles, laughter and snuggles we get in return is the true purchase.

 ***

Have a story you’d like to share? Email me – formulafeeders@gmail.com

FFF Friday: “I’ve seen both sides…there is so little black and white.”

Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.

Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so. 

 

When I had Fearlette, I was really enjoying breastfeeding until the lactation consultant came in and informed me that there was “no way” I could nurse on just one side. I’d been doing exactly that for the first 24 hours of Fearlette’s life, due to nerve damage of “unknown origin” I had discovered in one of my breasts during my breastfeeding hell with FC. I knew I couldn’t withstand the pain again without heavy painkillers (not an option while taking care of two under two) and according to the hospital LC, I would have to pump religiously on my bad side in order to continue any sort of nursing relationship with my new babe. I had already promised myself I wouldn’t go to heroic measures to breastfeed when I felt confident as a formula feeder; it just wasn’t worth the risk of my PPD rearing it’s ugly and all-too familiar head. 

It wasn’t until months later that I questioned the LC’s advice. Why couldn’t I nurse on one side? If our bodies were made to adjust to our babies’ needs, couldn’t my body have adjusted to this situation? Couldn’t I have at least given myself the opportunity to try? Wasn’t there a possibility of some sort of happy medium?

Reading Brittney’s FFF Friday essay brought up these feelings once again. As she so wisely says, there is so little black-and-white – and yet we are treated as if every woman’s experience, every woman’s body, is one and the same. Without the shades of gray, I doubt we’ll ever be able to provide the right sort of support to mothers – the type of support that allows for supplementation, for combo feeding, for odd and individual nursing relationships. 

Here’s hoping we can get there, someday. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones. 

The FFF

***

Brittney’s Story

 

I have so enjoyed Fearless Formula Fridays, but never felt my story was interesting enough or my writing talented enough to submit. But recently when Suzanne talked about the need for mothers who’ve seen both sides to be a part of the discussion, I decided I would share my story with you.

When pregnant with my first child, I heard all the benefits of breastfeeding, of course. I have seen many women in my family do it, and we were short on money… so of course I decided I would breastfeed. I went in optimistic but apprehensive, after all, I had surgery to remove a tumor on one breast, and I was told it would probably be ok but there is no way to know until you try.

 

My breastfeeding journey, like so many other women, was fraught with stress and turmoil. Both breasts made milk, but because the ducts were severed during surgery, one breast was painfully engorged and nothing would come out. Already down half my supply, days in I started supplementing with formula. Once I introduced a bottle, my son’s latch became worse and he was uninterested in the breast. The lactation consultant said if you do all the right things (extra pumping, fenugreek, drink liquids, etc.) your body CAN make enough. So I pumped. And pumped and pumped… every 2 hours around the clock at first. I seem to be one of those women whose body doesn’t respond well to pumping, because it was less and less each day. About 3 months in, when I was barely pumping half a bottle a day, I stopped. I was relieved to put it away, but I still struggled with guilt off and on that first year. I could see he was healthy and happy and intelligent. But some small voice (or the very boisterous voices on baby-themed internet message boards) told me that I obviously hadn’t given 100%. The regret resurfaced when friends had babies and seemed to effortlessly breastfeed their infants. They didn’t have to purchase formula, carry bottles, do dishes, and have bottles littering their kitchen counters. I envied their convenience and bonding time.

When I became pregnant with my second child I was determined to breastfeed, fixing some mistakes I had made and armed with the knowledge that I could only feed from one side. It worked! I may look a little lopsided, but that’s ok! It involved lots of pain and marathon nursing sessions (thank goodness for Downton Abbey DVDs at 3am!) but we are going on 9 months of breastfeeding. I know it’s not easy or automatic, so I am that much more grateful it is something I could experience. I am also thankful to be able to relate to both sides of the “debate” better. I grew to truly love breastfeeding, so I understand why people get so passionate about it. But I also know that formula is a good food for babies, and that you don’t understand another mother’s journey. Ultimately I believe that each mother does the best for her child, because no one loves them like she does.

There is so little black and white: in the research, mothers’ anatomy, babies’ inclination and individual circumstance. Many of those friends with seemingly easy breastfeeding relationships supplemented and eventually switched to formula when pumping at work became too much. Statistics say that most mothers do introduce formula at some point. And many of us start out breastfeeding in the hospital. So there are many of us combo feeders out there, whether purposeful or not. We can make sure that breastfeeding is accepted in public and supported when the assistance is desired. We can ensure that formula is safe, available, and the best nutritionally it can be. I hope I do my own small part to help mothers when I tell my story and speak up for women coming under judgment for their feeding choices, because I’ve seen both sides. And both of my sons are thriving and healthy and wonderful. I’m a blessed mother – blessed to produce milk from my body, and to live in a country with fresh water and accessible formula. I needed both.

***

When you’re ready to share your story, send it over to formulafeeders@gmail.com. I don’t bite. Unlike my 2-year-old. 

 

FFF Friday: Mental health, bottle feeding and self care

I don’t think this post needs much introduction. I specifically chose it to run this week, because it explains why I feel that the “I Support You” campaign is so integral to World Breastfeeding Week. Only by approaching each woman’s journey as an individual, personal, and valuable experience, can we hope to properly support mothers in their breastfeeding goals. 

Thank you so much, Anne Marie, for allowing me to share your story – and I hope the FFF audience will also check out her blog, “Do Not Faint”,  as she is a tremendous advocate for maternal mental health.

Happy Friday (and happy Breastfeeding Week, and “I Support You” week), fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Anne-Marie’s Story: Mama’s Mental Health, Bottle Feeding, and Self-Care

Many excellent, well-informed doctors helped me take care of my mental health before, during and after my pregnancy, and I feel both grateful to them and proud that I have become such a good advocate for myself. My talent for advocacy came in particularly handy when it came to making decisions about how we would feed our baby, because I received so much conflicting advice that I once burst into tears at the idea of another doctor giving me more information. To be fair, I did a lot of planning before we even tried to get pregnant, because I depend on twice-weekly therapy, anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants in order to function as a human being. In other words, there were many people over many months with many opportunities to offer advice, information and opinions, solicited and unsolicited.

Here is a list of my decision, in chronological order, based on the advice of various “professionals” and “experts”–

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding.
  2. Exclusive bottlefeeding: formula.
  3. Exclusive bottlefeeding: donated breastmilk from a close friend.
  4. Exclusive bottlefeeding: the hospital’s donated breastmilk during our stay (lawyers refuse to allow us to bring our own, but the head nurse in postpartum recovery managed to get permission to get me access to the milk bank because the whole thing was patently absurd) followed by our friend’s donated milk when we got home.
  5. Short-term breastfeeding, followed by bottlefeeding: a team of midwives, nurses and lactation consultants meet to discuss the stupidity of the hospital’s liability fears dictating our choices about feeding our son and it occurs to someone that a few days of my colostrum might actually do more good than harm, for me, my baby and everyone’s stress levels.
  6. Breastfeeding and bottlefeeding, followed by exclusive breastfeeding, once we have established that our son and his tiny liver are doing ok with the medicine that is in my breastmilk.
  7. Breastfeeding with intermittent Dad-administered bottles of my own pumped milk or formula.

The point of it all, really, is that this combination of my milk, donated breastmilk and formula has worked really well for us. But a combination like that would never have occurred to me without all the expert help and opinions I had, and I don’t think that many mothers consider doing anything like what we have done. Shouldn’t it at least be an option? Why is it breastfeed or formula feed? And why does “bottlefeeding” always mean formula?

My midwives talked with nurses and lactation consultants, because I had so much anxiety about feeding my baby. That wonderful team directed me to a pediatrician who specializes in breastfeeding medicine, and it is she who changed my entire outlook. The psychiatrists who warned against breastfeeding on meds meant well, but they knew about adult-sized doses and side-effects. My first clue should have been that one of them actually said, “Lots of our generation, including me, had formula, and we are all fine!” Can I get an eye roll for that line? This was hardly the evidence-based reassurance I was used to getting from the same doctor who had once handed me a whole stack of pages of medical journal articles on pregnancy and psychiatric medications. The pediatrician who helped us, an actual expert in actually feeding actual babies told me that the nursing relationship only works well if everyone is relaxed and happy. This is why she was thrilled to tell me that I could breastfeed on my medicine with safety, as far as the evidence showed, and that we could use our freezer full of precious donor milk to give us peace of mind.

She also taught me to relax about breastfeeding before I gave birth, because in her experience, a mother/infant pair can learn to breastfeed even if (heaven help us!) an infant should have a bottle or pacifier early in his life. That came in really handy when my son was born with a tongue tie that the hospital staff failed to notice. He could not, would not latch. The nurses fretted. I pumped colostrum and tried to stay calm, but it wasn’t until our breastfeeding expert clipped that tongue tie that we could nurse comfortably. In the meantime, we were happy to feed him from a syringe or a bottle, and we loved seeing his grandparents participate.

For the first three months of his life, my son had bottles of donor milk, and he breastfed, every day. I pumped for the ounces he drank to keep up my supply. By the time we ran out of donor milk, we were thrilled to see that he was showing no sign of any side effect from the medication in my milk. Unfortunately, he quickly began cluster feeding for hours right around the time I was getting used to exclusively breastfeeding. I had no time to pump for bottles; he was always nursing. After a night during which he nursed from 11 pm to 4:00 am, stopping only to switch sides or scream while his diaper was changed, I arrived at my therapist’s office in despair. I can’t manage my anxiety without sleep. Every doctor had told me that without at least a four-hours-in-a-row chunk of sleep every night, my mental health would suffer. My therapist asked about formula. I cried about how hard I had worked to feed my son only breastmilk. Then, I thought about sleeping, and bought formula immediately after leaving my therapist’s office.

I ask my husband to give our son a bottle when I’m feeling very anxious or stressed, or when I would just like a break, or when I would like to finish what I am writing. When I need to sleep or recover from a migraine, all I need to worry about is keeping myself comfortable, because I know that our son will be fine with the loved ones who care for him and feed him. Usually, I find that breastfeeding strengthens my bond with my son, that we both enjoy it and, for us, it’s extremely convenient. I also find that my anxiety and depression are much easier to manage when I have had enough sleep. My husband and I both get at least one break, every day, when we are “off-duty” and responsible for none of the parenting. When it’s my turn, that often means a bottle of formula. I am still trying to figure out why so very many people get so very upset about that. I honestly do not understand.

Mom, Dad and Baby are happier with the way our family does feedings. That short-lived experiment with “EBF” was absolutely miserable for me. It was a huge moment for me when that switch in my head flipped from “breastmilk or formula” to “do whatever it takes to be healthy and happy,” because I stopped believing that I could sacrifice my mental health for my child. All three of us suffered when I made myself a martyr.

Everything we learned about feeding babies along our rather strange journey has helped my husband and I in other areas of our relationship and family life. We check in with each other and stay creative in how we try to balance the trickier parts of this child-raising business. Sometimes, that means that one of us takes on responsibilities that may be uncomfortable so that the person who is ill or exhausted can try to get from “miserable” to “uncomfortable. A few bottles of formula have not transformed us into people who are happy all the time. But our approach to feeding our son has made us more creative problem-solvers, and that has definitely made us happier.

***

If you’d like to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, please send it to formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...