I had such good experiences formula feeding my first three children, I naturally figured I’d feed my newborn son formula as well. That experience scarred me for the next decade.
My milk didn’t come in, which left both of us feeling frustrated and desperate. All I could do was cry as everyone around me pressured me to “stick with it!” I was convinced there was only one way to feed my baby, as a chorus of “breast is best” rang in my ears. I struggled to produce more than a few drops. My baby fought to latch on time after time, so my nipples bled. I almost lost a nipple to an over-eager breast pump.
After all that, formula seemed like a Godsend and I never looked back. Until, ten years and two kids later in the weeks leading up to my son’s birth, I contemplated giving breastfeeding another go. Despite how well formula feeding had served my family, I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding. I reasoned that enough time had gone by since my scary brush with the breast pump, and feelings of failure, turned me off to the idea. Still, on the day I delivered my little guy, I felt so wishy-washy about how to feed him I just went with what I knew best and asked for formula in the hospital.
That first day, my son seemed apathetic about eating. Being familiar with sleepy newborns, I was confident he’d take a bottle in the next 24 hours. But the nursing staff encouraged me to get him to eat as soon as possible, insisting it was vital for his health and wellbeing. So I prodded his uninterested lips with the nipple of the bottle, hour after hour. As we settled into our first night together, he still hadn’t taken more than a few tiny sips of formula.
Somewhere around 4 a.m., I sleepily untied my hospital gown and gave nursing a try, thinking perhaps he’d be more interested in my nipple. If he took to breastfeeding, cool. If he didn’t, I knew formula was a good option too. My son latched on right away and went to town. That day, 10 years after my baby was born, I successfully breastfed for the first time.
Eight weeks later, I’m still breastfeeding. My son and I have developed the beautiful breastfeeding relationship I never thought was possible. And I truly believe I owe our success to detaching from the pressure to master breastfeeding. From the very first moment, I promised myself I would supplement with formula if breastfeeding ever felt stressful or painful. And I have not ruled out switching to formula all-together
Of course, that my baby took to breastfeeding in the natural way I’d heard so many other moms describe was a huge part of why it works. But I’m guessing he sensed my laid- back attitude about feeding, which helped tremendously. On the flip side, my firstborn probably took on my anxiety and distress about feeding. It makes sense that our breastfeeding journey took a nosedive after just one, albeit miserable, week.
As my son and I continue to enjoy our easy-breezy breastfeeding experience, I only wish I could go back in time and have the same outlook about feeding my other children. I know now that formula feeding doesn’t signal the end of the world. It’s a great addition, or even alternative to, breastfeeding if nursing alone isn’t working at first, sometimes, once in a while, or at all.
Just the other day my nipples were sore and I gave my son formula for a few feedings to get a break. Guess what? He was fine!
More moms need to hear the message that breastfeeding is great, but beating yourself up if it’s not working is a horrible thing to do to yourself and your baby. Just relax and stop worrying that breastfeeding is an “all or nothing, no matter what, no excuses, no exceptions” kind of situation. Maybe then you will figure out an effective breastfeeding strategy that works for you, just as I did. Even if it took me 10 years!
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.