There are a myriad of people who will not hesitate to tell you all about the numerous benefits to breast feeding. It is best for the baby and has some pretty great health perks for mom, too, including a decreased risk of breast cancer. Awesome. No, really, I mean that.
Doctors, scientific researchers, lactation consultants, La Leche League reps, other moms, and COMPLETE STRANGERS will tell you all about how formula is the devil and breast feeding is the only way to go. What makes this more unnerving are the nurses along the way who will swear up one side and down the other that every woman can breastfeed, and that those who are unsuccessful just aren't committed to it enough.
I beg to differ.
My son is almost two months old and I desperately wanted to be able to breastfeed him. I knew that my sisters, as well as other, equally well respected, women in my life had experienced trouble in doing so. I knew that I might not be successful. I kept telling myself that it would be okay. If I could do it, great, if not, formula isn't the end of the world. The nurses at the hospital told me that was the wrong attitude to have. The nurse teaching the 7 week parent preparation course assured me that I would have no problems, I just had to be willing to stick it out. So I steeled myself the best that I could. Outwardly I told my friends and family that I wouldn't be heartbroken if I couldn't do it, but I wanted to try. Inwardly, I thought that was the truth. Until it happened.
While I was in the hospital, several lactation consultants and a slew of nurses tried relentlessly to help me. When my milk came in before I went home they were convinced I just had to stick it out, it was going to work. I was determined, but I had a small problem. My son would scream relentlessly during most of his waking moments. I didn't know what was wrong. He had a good latch. He had a strong (ouch!) suck. He wasn't tongue tied. What was wrong? Finally, one of the nurses from the nursery handed me a bottle of supplementation formula.
Wait, I was told I just had to stick it out. I was told there was no reason a woman could not exclusively breastfeed her child. I was told it was a matter of will. This nurse disagreed. She recognized his cry and said he was still hungry. I had nothing left to give and my child was still hungry. What else could I do? So I gave him the bottle. And do you know what happened?
He stopped crying. He slept better. I felt horrible. My determination to exclusively breastfeed was starving my child. What kind of mother was I? What was wrong with me? So I continued to supplement with a bottle the rest of our stay in the hospital. And the lactation consultant rolled her eyes at me as if I were some kind of lost cause. She brought me a pump and told me to pump after every feed to increase my supply so I could stop supplementing. That mostly lead to sore nipples and about a quarter ounce, but Rome wasn't built in a day.
Then we went home. My supply continued to decrease and it became harder and harder to breastfeed at all. I was reduced to heaving inconsolable sobbing every couple of hours when it was time to try again. HEAVING. INCONSOLABLE. SOBBING. I have never cried that hard or that much in my life. And that, I'm ashamed to admit, is saying something. What was wrong with me? I thought I had prepared myself for this possibility. I thought I could handle it. Now, though, all I could think was that I was a giant failure as a mother. I wasn't enough for my son. My heart broke over and over again, but I had to put aside how I felt and focus on what he needed. So I kept supplementing and made an appointment with the lactation consultant at pediatrician's office. I hadn't met her yet and prayed that she didn't roll her eyes and tell me I wasn't committed enough, because if she did I might implode into a concentrated ball of white hot rage.
In the meantime, my sisters, my friends, and my mom all tried to comfort me. It happens. Some women have trouble. The nurses were wrong, not every woman can do this. You love your child enough to not let him suffer. He'll be just fine. Some of the sweetest, smartest, healthiest, most beautiful children I know were formula fed babies. It is not the end of the world situation they are telling you it is.
I rented a pump from the hospital to help, too. I had been using the hand pump at home, but needed the heavy artillery. Double electric, hospital grade, #1 trusted brand in America. This HAD to help, right? So I pumped. Every two hours. I ate the foods that are supposed to increase your supply. I drank more water than ever before in my life. I stared at my child while pumping. I smelled his head. I tried everything I had ever heard. I looked up more tips online and tried those, too. My supply was still decreasing.
My visit with the lactation consultant was actually pretty great. She gave me more tips. Showed me some techniques to make the breastfeeding process easier. She comforted me. She gave me 3 grocery bags filled with packages of formula to supplement with and told me not to give up, but to do what was best for my son, which was to feed him enough. She also had me go ahead and make another appointment for two weeks later to check in.
It wasn't an easy two weeks. When I returned, my supply had decreased even further, despite my efforts and adherence to her advice. I dreaded what she might say. Was she going to think I wasn't trying? Because that just wasn't true. She comforted me again, gave me another list of tips and tricks, and more formula.
My saga continues, but I have learned a few things along the way. I still have moments when I break down in tears. I still have moments when I feel like a failure as a woman and a mother because of my struggle.
And then there are those moments when a woman behind me in the grocery line while I'm buying more formula, an old friend, a new acquaintance, or complete strangers that happen to see me pull a bottle out of the diaper bag give me that look of disdain that says "How could you do that to your own child? You gave up. You just wanted life to be more convenient for you. Your child will suffer for your selfishness." In those moments I don't want to cry. I don't feel ashamed. I get angry. I get defensive. Would you rather my child be malnourished? You don't know my struggle. You weren't there when medical professionals told me it was time to start supplementing. You haven't been there for both the heaving sobs and the quiet tears during bottle time. I'm thrilled for you that you were able to breastfeed without issue, or at least, without issues to this extent, but I'm having trouble so get off your high friggin' horse and stick your judgement where the sun doesn't shine. I'm not a failure as a mother. I'm not a failure as a woman. I'm not being selfish. I haven't even given up breastfeeding completely. I have changed techniques, taken supplements, and continue to make the changes and plow ahead through it all. I'm trying, dang it. And how dare you try to make me feel like a failure and add to my distress. HOW DARE YOU. HOW. DARE. YOU. I would say I wish similar struggles and failure upon you, but I don't. I'm not THAT petty. I wouldn't wish the feeling of helplessness that I have experienced on ANY OTHER MOTHER. So why the MESS would you wish such a feeling of failure on me with your unconcealed disdain and air of superiority?
Breast is ABSOLUTELY best, but it isn't the only option and letting my child die of malnourishment is not an option at all so BACK. THE. HECK. OFF.