When I found out I was expecting my first child, I had no idea how important breastfeeding would become to me. I knew very little about it, no one in my family had breastfed. My grandma told me once she didn’t "believe in it," as though it were Santa Claus. But as all new mothers do, I read all the baby books to educate myself the best I could for our impending bundle of joy. I learned, to my surprise, that apparently "breast was best" and that was an actual saying! My midwife backed this up telling me all the benefits of breast milk and all the wonderful things it can do. So I decided to be blindly optimistic and take a leap of faith, I also secretly stocked up on formula samples.
I swear my son was born hungry. At a whopping 8.10 pounds, he came into this world via c-section and immediately tried to latch onto my face while the doctors were stitching me up. I remember thinking how natural breastfeeding seemed, and I remember wondering how anyone had a hard time doing this- it was so easy! Ha!
Fast forward to about a week later when we had our first check-up at the midwife office. My midwife told me that my son had dropped a dangerous amount of weight, in fact, if he lost any more weight he might have to be hospitalized. I was devastated. I felt like I had unintentionally failed my newborn. I couldn’t believe my body was letting me down. After a brief sobbing meltdown in the car I called everyone and anyone who might be able to help. Doctors, Lactation consultants, etc. I joined every breastfeeding group on Facebook; I read every article; I went to meet-ups. The more knowledgeable I became, the more determined I was to make this work. And so it started. I threw out my secret formula stash and became a passionate advocate for something I had known nothing about only a few months earlier.
After parading my son from appointment to appointment we learned, we were dealing with a variety of issues: lazy latch, cracked nipples, low milk supply, overactive letdown, the list goes on. For months I tried anything and everything anyone recommended: pumping, prescriptions, supplements, lactogenic foods and even donated milk. By six months I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I obsessed over my son’s weight constantly; I found myself googling wet nurses at 3 am! My bewildered family watched all of this unfold and “not so gently” suggested I try formula. I scoffed their ideas many times before, but this time, I was defeated. My well-meaning grandmother dropped off some formula at the house, and I made up a bottle. Before I knew it our breastfeeding journey was over. Again I felt like a complete failure. And yet…so relieved. Being exclusively responsible for a tiny human’s substance is a major responsibility, and to be honest, I wasn't handling it very well.
When I found out I was expecting again, I immediately began to have anxiety about breastfeeding. Why? I was much more knowledgeable, I had all the tools to be successful this time, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.
Ready or not, 19 months after giving birth to our son we welcomed our daughter. It wasn't long before I found myself falling back into my old pattern of daily weigh-ins and the flurry of lactation appointments. The doctors weren't concerned about her weight - but I was. I was becoming consumed with it. When she didn't settle immediately, my first thought was "she's starving, I don't have enough milk." This was the only way I knew how to breastfeed – with worry. My mental health was taking a toll.
I wish I could say I had a very clear "A-HA" moment, but I didn't. Somewhere along the line, I came to the realization I had to stop my anxious behaviour. I was missing out on so many sweet moments with my daughter, who may realistically be my last baby. I still have to remind myself of this daily; it’s still something I am working on. Despite what the books said, I realized that ultimately "fed is best." Formula is amazing. It saves babies lives when a mom can’t (or chooses not to) breastfeed. It wasn’t the enemy I was making it out to be. I wish I had realized with my son that I could both breastfeed and give formula. It didn’t have to be all or nothing. I don’t believe this option is presented enough to new moms.
My baby girl is four months old now, and we are still exclusively breastfeeding. My goal is to make it to one year. We are facing many of the same challenges we did with our son so we may not make it. Not exclusively anyways, and that's okay.
Breastfeeding is hard. It might be the hardest thing I have ever done. I am hoping by sharing my story I might offer some peace to another mom who is up searching for answers at 3 am.
Whether a baby is formula-fed or breastfed all that matters is that their tummy is full.