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Breastfeeding & Formula: My Story

You are a good mother. I am a good mother. We both make decisions that we believe are the best for our situations. Let's remember that and give one another grace and support.

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The decision to breastfeed my children was a no brainer for me when I was preparing to become a mom for the first time. Actually, the decision to breastfeed continued to be a no brainer for me when I was pregnant for the second time, too. It just made sense to me. It's "liquid gold", right? I'm sure you have all heard all of the stats about breast milk before so I won't even go there right now. Plus it is certainly cheaper than buying formula, although nursing pads & nursing bras & breast pumps can definitely add up.

My breastfeeding experience with my oldest was wonderful. I nursed him for 13 months and aside from the usual adjustment period at the beginning (ouch.), there weren't any major problems. He gained weight well, was content, and everyone was happy. So when I was expecting my second baby, I prepared for the same experience. Why wouldn't I? Well...it didn't quite work out that way.

My second child was 9 pounds & 22 inches long when he was born. Certainly a good sized little guy! He latched on to nurse within the first couple hours of being born (significantly sooner than his older brother) and he ate all.the.time. during his first few days. Of course, that didn't help the after pains, which I heard got worse with each child birthing experience but WOW! Not cool. Anyway, he had no problems with nursing right from the start. He was maintaining his high weight percentile for the first few appointments....and then we went to his four month appointment. He had gained less than half a pound in two months and his weight percentile dropped from 70th to 8th. Our pediatrician was obviously a bit concerned but what I loved and appreciated about her was that my husband and I always felt like she fully respected us and our views. (She moved back to her home state last summer and don't even get me started about it. I cried when she left and my oldest still cries about her being gone....) Before saying anything else, she asked me what I wanted to do. Without hesitation, I stated that I wanted to continue exclusively breastfeeding. She said ok and we set up an appointment with the practice's lactation consultant.

For a month and a half, I took my baby (and my very patient three year old) to weekly weight checks & appointments with the lactation consultant. I drank the special tea, took fenugreek, ate steel cut oats & lactation cookies, and attempted to pump after every nursing session. Oh, and I cried. A lot. I remember someone telling me, "Don't be ashamed if you have to use formula," and, believe me, my emotions had nothing to do with being ashamed of using formula. It was a mixture of confusion & sadness, both of which were rooted in the fact that I had a great nursing experience with my oldest and wasn't having a great experience now. It was and, honestly, still is hard to understand exactly why I would have no problems the first time and issues the second time. But, just as all children are different, every nursing experience is different, too. Well, maybe that doesn't apply to everyone. I don't really know. But I have two very different children and had two very different breastfeeding experiences so I'm just going to go with it.

While my youngest was very slowly gaining weight, it was a small amount and he started to act very unhappy after each feeding, even if he had "nursed" on each side for twenty minutes. Breastfeeding was becoming a stressful, upsetting experience for us both. At his six month appointment, our pediatrician and I decided it would be best to start supplementing with formula. It felt very strange and foreign to make a bottle of formula the first few times but seeing how happy and content he was after a feeding made everything beautiful. I continued to nurse as long as I could even though I knew my supply was low and decreasing each week. Around 8 months, I was only nursing two times each day and just before 10 months, I was no longer able to breastfeed.

And you know what? That's ok. I'm ok. He's ok. Looking back at that time, do you know what the hardest part was? The hardest part was the views of other moms. Some of these thoughts were voiced directly to me. Some were in the form of posts shared on social media. Some were blogs or articles that I happened to run across on my own. To be fair, the majority of women/moms were very supportive and encouraging. I'd like to think some genuinely didn't realize how their words might impact me, and I say that because I worry that I may have been one of them during my first two and a half years of motherhood (before my youngest was born). I pray that I never said anything that made someone who did not exclusively breastfeed their baby feel "less than" and if I did, please forgive me! I was easily able to nurse my oldest son and if "breast is best", then heck yes, I was going to give my children the best!! But then parenthood threw me for a majorly unexpected loop and I realized that caring for my child, that the best for MY child, was not relying on breastfeeding. The phrase, "Breast is best, except when it isn't," is spot on. I will not dispute that breast milk is amazing. You know what else is amazing? Providing my child with the nourishment that he needed. Formula is pretty magical, too. I'm so thankful for the people that created formula. And for all those moms out there that use formula for whatever reason, you're doing a great job! You have made the decision that is best for you and your child and that's what matters.

(A little side note here---I'd like some more in depth studies on how babies who are breastfed have fewer/less severe colds & ear infections. My oldest/exclusively breastfed child is five and has had multiple colds, two ruptured ear drums, and at least 12 ear infections, his first being a double ear infection right after he turned one. My youngest/"breastfed for 6 months & mainly formula fed for 6 months" child is two and a half and has had one cold and zero ear infections. Just interesting....that's all.)

Sadly there was one instance where someone told me that maybe I hadn't tried hard enough to continue exclusively breastfeeding and that maybe I had "given up" too soon. I knew that this individual had no issues nursing both of her children and I'd like to think that she was simply speaking from a place of not having had this problem and therefore truly did not understand. It was very hurtful for someone to say things like that to me, especially knowing how much effort I actually did put in to trying to make breastfeeding work. I still have a hard time believing that someone actually had the audacity to say those things to me.

I've said it many times before but I'll say it again. We all parent our children in the way that we believe is best for them. That looks different from family to family and even looks different from child to child. Does that mean I loved my oldest more because he never drank formula? Does that mean that my youngest was neglected because he didn't have as much breast milk as his brother? Absolutely not. My children's needs were met in the ways that they needed to be met. They are happy, healthy, thriving little boys.

So to all you parents out there--breast feeders, formula users, or some combination of the two--you're doing a fantastic job caring for your babies. Don't let anyone make you feel "less than" because of the decisions that you make. I loved the time I had breastfeeding my boys and when one of my boys needed something more, I loved that there was another option to take care of his needs.

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You are a good mother. I am a good mother. We both make decisions that we believe are the best for our situations. Let's remember that and give one another grace and support.

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