I’ll be honest: before I had my son, I used to sometimes judge mothers I saw in public who gave their babies formula. My mom instilled upon me the importance of natural birth and breastfeeding from a very young age (I have a picture of me breastfeeding one of my baby dolls when I was two and a half).
During my pregnancy, I had the utmost faith in my large breasts and, rather than taking a class, had two breastfeeding books on my nightstand. When I went into labor three weeks earlier than expected, only one book had been opened with a bookmark on chapter two.
Braeden’s natural birth went as planned. We never foresaw what happened next because everyone kept telling us he was “term” and there shouldn’t be any complications.
It’s inconceivable how quickly the happiest moment in your life can turn into the scariest.
Within twenty-four hours Braeden was in the NICU, doing all of the things preemies often do: not being able to regulate blood sugar, jaundice, weight loss, and concerns of infection.
Even through this my expectation to breastfeed my child did not falter and I did not expect my ability to breastfeed would be detoured. While in the NICU I’d strip down, not caring who was around, to provide my son with skin-to-skin contact and attempt breastfeeding.
We were only given thirty minutes every three hours to hold him. I had fifteen minutes to bond while trying to breastfeed and saved the last fifteen minutes for a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). We fed our son a syringe full of my pumped breast milk. My husband and I made a great team and even taught one of the pediatric nurses working on the NICU floor how to do SNS feedings.
After twenty-four hours in the NICU, followed by two nights and three days in the hospital, a lot of time spent with lactation nurses, and one meeting with a pediatrician, we were sent home.
We were told to wake our son for feedings every two-three hours but there wasn’t a need to continue with SNS feedings because he had a “perfect latch.”
Once home I sought breastfeeding advice from my doula, contacted the La Leche League, had the “hands-on” support of my mother, and was renting a hospital pump. My supply just seemed to be dwindling.
Why oh why didn’t I take a breastfeeding class?
After two days of being parents on our own we ended up back in the hospital due to Braeden’s jaundice getting worse and 15% weight loss.
I was a new mom full of guilt because I had been unintentionally starving my infant.
I was so dedicated to breastfeeding that I wrote the note below on the whiteboard in our hospital room before any nurse had the opportunity to mention formula. After three more nights in the hospital, we were released with a strong plan that included SNS feedings and a follow-up appointment.
It wasn’t until the follow-up appointment, 9 days after Braeden’s birth, that a nurse realized that “perfect latch” didn’t have much going on behind it. She handed me a nipple shield and I can’t even describe how amazing it was to finally feel my son pull at my nipple.
We were required to bring our son to bi-weekly weight checks to prove he was thriving. This was emotionally taxing but his weight was slowing increasing, although not quite fast enough. We were told we had to start supplementing with formula.
As a new parent, still reeling from the guilt of starving my son, I was devastated, but willing to do anything to see a strong weight gain.
We initially requested a milk bank prescription but were told we couldn’t have one because it was against their policy. We looked into it on our own but realized we couldn’t afford it.
I kept pumping and gave him as much as I could produce along with the formula.
The formula immediately plumed him up and after four more weight checks, we were cut free from the medical system. We could finally just go to regular pediatric appointments like most parents experience.
Over the next two months, I researched and sought a lot of advice: I popped Fenugreek round the clock, drank Mother’s Milk Tea, pumped after every feeding, tried pumping while nursing, and weaned my son off the nipple shield. I still never made enough milk to stop supplementing with formula.
With only two months of maternity leave, I had to go back to work. I brought my pump and pumped twice a day. My son was far more attached to his bottle because of its easy flow.
Breastfeeding became less of a time for us to bond and more of me trying to remain calm while he didn’t want to latch. I would often experience IBS. I watched my other friends breastfeed with ease and became resentful while they remained so supportive of me.
After five months of trying to get off this breastfeeding detour and be able to exclusively breastfeed, I was emotionally exhausted.
My husband often witnessed my struggles with my son crying and me attempting to get him to latch. During one of these instances, I looked at my husband with tears in my eyes and we both knew it was time to stop breastfeeding.
I’m now one of those moms I used to judge feeding my son formula in public. I’ve learned a very valuable lesson and do my best to no longer pass judgment upon other mothers.
There are countless parenting philosophies and many people who feel their way is best. I believe the best way to parent is with love.
My formula fed son is thriving and I no longer feel guilt; only hope that I will get to travel the breastfeeding road and not just the detour with my next child.
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