Fed is best: Supporting Bottle Feeding AND Breastfeeding
The Choice is Yours and Yours Alone
“Breast is best.” “Breastfeeding is natural.” If you’re pregnant – heck, even if you’re not – you hear this a lot. Friends, family, doctors, even strangers, will ask you if you’re planning to breastfeed or go with bottle feeding. I have my MPH in maternal-child health from one of the leading programs in the country, and when I was in the program, breastfeeding was touted as the only logical choice, which made me uncomfortable. What if a woman couldn’t breastfeed, or simply didn’t want to? When I became pregnant, I decided to try nursing, and if it didn’t work out, switch to formula. I thought I was okay with this decision. After all, it’s what I’d talked about for years.
After my son Micah was born, he latched immediately and the nurses said we were “naturals.” It wasn’t until we were settling in our room a few hours later that a nurse noticed he was very shaky, prompting her to check his sugars. Sure enough, his sugars were dangerously low, making it necessary to supplement with formula. He wasn’t getting enough colostrum from me. While I knew this was normal and that it takes a few days for milk to come in, I was surprised to find myself upset about bottle feeding; almost like I was failing at the first task of motherhood I was given.
His sugars were checked with every feeding for 12 hours, and it was only after formula feeds that the sugars were stable. I continued to put him to my breast and feed, but was getting more and more discouraged every time. I started to only give him formula, and when asked if I wanted to pump to stimulate my milk, I said no. The nurse’s hesitation after my answer made me feel even guiltier. But I was exhausted, frustrated, and in pain after an extremely fast, un-medicated birth. I just couldn’t do it.
Ridding of the Guilt
Before we were discharged, a nurse was checking him over while he was screaming, and she asked me if anyone mentioned a tongue-tie. I said no, and she said I might want to ask the pediatrician. When the lactation consultant came in, she looked at his tongue and agreed with the nurse. The next day was our first morning at home, and after a night of constant breastfeeding and a screaming infant, I called the pediatrician in tears, explaining the situation.
The doctor kindly explained that he likely wasn’t getting enough milk (my milk still hadn’t come in), and it was okay to do bottle feeding with formula. She told me that parenting is hard enough, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about feeding my child, no matter how it’s done. I hung up the phone with a surprised feeling of relief. Surprised because I never thought I’d need validation to give my child formula. Surprised because I never thought I’d feel guilty about giving formula.
That day, I decided to formula feed only. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and the postpartum hormone crash was hitting me full-force. I decided that I had enough to stress about, and I didn’t want feeding to be one of them. Despite this, I couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt, which continued to surprise me. It made me realize how much I’ve internalized the messages that say breastfeeding is the only way to properly feed your child; that if you don’t breastfeed you’re doing a disservice to your baby.
Bottle Feeding and Breastfeeding
The next day, my milk came in, and Micah must have known, because he started rooting like never before. I decided to give nursing another try, and we’ve been doing a combination of nursing and formula ever since. We’re going on 7 weeks, as of this writing.
He did have a tongue-tie, which didn’t help with his latch or ability to get milk. Once that was released, his latch improved and he nurses a lot more. I don’t feel guilty about bottle feeding anymore – but it’s taken me a while. In public, if I feed him a bottle, I sometimes want to explain to people that I breastfeed, too.
I can’t tell you how many friends of mine have had to use formula, and feel guilty about it. We shouldn’t feel guilty, but we do. Motherhood is hard – really, really hard. There’s so much to do, and so many expectations and opinions floating around, that if we try to please everyone, we’ll drive ourselves crazy. Those early days of nursing were miserable, stressful, and completely overwhelming. I felt like a failure, when I should have been simply enjoying the moment– not to mention, my son wasn’t getting enough food. When I initially chose to formula feed, the relief I felt was immense.
Love With Confidence
For the first time since coming home, my son was calm, had a full belly, and slept like…a baby. I finally felt a little confident, like maybe I really could do this mom thing. It was that confidence, I think, that carried over to the next day, when I tried nursing again. A relaxed and confident mama is a happy mama, and a happy mama means a happy baby. A fed baby is a happy and healthy baby – whether it’s breastfeeding or formula bottle feeding, or a combination of both; it shouldn’t matter. Each mom has to do what’s best for her, so she can (as Rosie always says) love with confidence.
Check out Rosie’s recent post about why it’s important that we stop mom-shaming and instead focus on community parenting.
Jaime Herndon earned her MS in clinical health psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, her MPH in maternal-child health from UNC-Chapel Hill, and her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia University. She is a writer, specializing in women’s health and oncology, and a new mom. In her spare time, she is training to become a doula and a certified childbirth educator. Her writing has been featured in New York Family Magazine, Mommy Nearest, and HuffPo Parents, among others.
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