**I feel that a HUGE disclaimer is needed here, as the purpose of this post is not to shame or speak negatively about the way any mother chooses to nourish her infant. Any statements I make below that could be interpreted as negative are not meant to be, but rather to voice my current struggles in motherhood in hopes that someone out there can relate or has experienced something similar.
Something many women don’t seem to like to talk about is the way in which they have chosen to feed their infant. Maybe they feel they will be judged or shamed by family, friends, other mothers, or even complete strangers on the internet for the decisions they have made. For the last month, all I have wanted to do is talk about all of the feelings I have been feeling with other mothers or someone other than my husband, but to be very honest, I too was scared, and felt like I may be judged – shamed because I was considering transitioning my exclusively breastfed baby to formula.
I should start by backing up to just over four years ago when my daughter was born. Throughout my pregnancy with her, I always knew I would nurse. There was absolutely no question in my mind, because everything I had read or been told pointed to this as the single BEST way to nourish my baby. So, when she was born and they laid her on my chest and she immediately latched on and started nursing, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘how can anyone think this is hard?’. Fast forward to a couple of weeks later and things did indeed get hard, VERY hard. I sought help from breastfeeding support groups, La Leche League, and even a private lactation consultant through our hospital, but I was determined that I would keep going no matter the difficulties. All the marathon nursing sessions, pain, teeth (dear lord, the teeth!) and growth spurts, my daughter was breastfed for over two and a half years. She hardly ever was given even a bottle of pumped milk, and never received a drop of formula. At the end, I was completely ready to be done, but wow, did I feel darn proud of what I had accomplished!
With my son, he didn’t take to nursing quite as immediately out of the womb as my daughter did, but our journey to this point was eerily smooth. He latched and sucked well, and was gaining a whopping pound per week, basically through two months. While breastfeeding him was going so well, HE wasn’t doing so well. From a week old, my poor boy has been plagued by some pretty severe acid reflux and lots of tummy troubles. While he continued to nurse well, rather than being satisfied and content after feedings, he was screaming and visibly uncomfortable. Dairy was already out of my diet, but as I eat a primarily vegan diet, I felt like everything I ate was causing him discomfort. Not fun for mama or baby.
Not only is it awful to watch your child be uncomfortable, something I hadn’t really accounted for was how nursing would affect my four year old daughter. Between 30 minute nursing sessions every two hours, followed by 20 minutes of soothing an upset baby, I felt like in my day I only had enough time to tend to his needs, and my daughter was left alone. In the last month she has started to become much more needy and won’t even leave the room unless I come with her. If I am nursing, she would start yelling and trying to hit me with toys in an effort to get my attention and to have me stop what I was doing and be with her. The mom guilt and stress started to become overwhelming. Many days ended with tears and a completely stressed mama.
It was about a month in that my husband and I started thinking about trying formula to see if it would make our little guy more comfortable. It was that or pump him full of an acid reducer medication and destroy his little tummy even more. Even though I wanted him to be more comfortable, following through with giving him formula has been the most emotional decision of my life. SO many days and nights were spent sobbing when I even thought about it. Not because I think formula is bad, but because I had nursed my daughter for so long, and really the process of nursing was going so well, I didn’t feel I had a reason to stop…I felt like I would somehow be failing him and I felt like he couldn’t possibly love me if I stopped nursing him.
After many tears I fed my son his first bottle of formula. We both cried.
He wouldn’t even drink any of it initially. After a few tries though, he grabbed my hand and looked right into my eyes as I told him it was okay, and he finally started drinking it, and I cried a lot more. But you know what, I also started feeling a little relieved. Relieved that maybe this would allow him to finally be happy and comfortable, and it would also allow for more time spent during the day being more attentive to my daughter. Not having to have my breasts out all day and night also sounded pretty darn appealing. Having some help during night feedings, and perhaps allowing my husband and I more time away together without me having to worry about pumping. I could see the positives, but I still couldn’t fully push away the many negative thoughts and judgement I may face if I chose to stop nursing.
In the last month, we have went between trying formula, then back to nursing, then pumping and feeding him bottles of pumped milk along with some formula – my indecision wasn’t good for any of us. I was still having trouble letting go of my fears of what exclusively bottle feeding would mean. I was having the hardest time getting over my feelings of failure – failing him.
Breast is best they all say – well, I would agree in most cases, but for my son, and for my family, we will likely have one child who was breastfed, and one who will be primarily formula fed. And I’m okay with it…I WILL be okay with it. Because nursing has become a burden – a stress instead of a time to relax and bond with my baby. I could keep going, and I’m sure my son would eventually grow out of his tummy troubles, and my daughter would probably eventually move past her jealousy – but how long would that take? How many more months will I have a screaming, writhing baby in my arms all day who won’t sleep and who is completely uncomfortable? How many more months will I have to neglect my daughter and risk her feeling left out and upset all for the sake of my own hangups on exclusively nursing?
For those who are curious, we have decided to move forward with formula. I will continue pumping for a short while and feed him some breastmilk each day for the next few months, but this was the best decision for our family. My purpose in sharing this story is to start to normalize these types of discussions. I have felt very alone and upset while thinking about making these changes for our son, and if only I could have read about someone who felt similar or had an experience like I have had, maybe I would have felt more supported rather than like I was failing.
What makes me happy is that my son will have a full belly, he will continue to grow and I have no doubt he will know he is SO loved, regardless of how I am feeding him. While I will miss his sweet sleepy smiles as he would fall asleep while nursing and his sweet smelling milk breath, I know that I am doing my best for him. (cue more tears as I write this)
Please feel free to share your feeding stories below, I would love to hear them! And if public comments on this matter aren’t your thing – I’d love to hear from you via email! Thank you so much for reading!
This is a no judgement zone, so any negative or shaming comments will be immediately deleted!