I don’t think that anyone will dispute the fact that breastfeeding is good for babies. The antibodies and nutrients that a baby gains from breastfeeding are, of course, beneficial. Many moms will speak to how it helps with bonding and how they love the quality time. But what about the moms that can’t breastfeed—or choose not to for various reasons?
During my first pregnancy, I decided that I would try to breastfeed, but if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t make myself feel guilty. Granted, I had an entirely different perspective on breastfeeding having worked in a pediatricians office for several years. I had seen so many moms that wanted desperately to breastfeed, but their bodies would not sustain it. They would come to us crying, heartbroken, and feeling like they were failing at something they couldn’t control. They begged for any and all advice we could give them. But when a baby is not gaining weight—or worse—losing weight, the answer was most often, “You have to supplement with formula.” This was the thing they wanted to hear the least, but it was what was safest for the baby. After seeing this play out time and again, I promised myself I wouldn’t let it consume me if breastfeeding didn’t work out.
So baby number one was born; and, unbelievably, the hospital let us take her home after a mere 2 1/2 days. Us. Two people who had never had a baby and had no idea what to do. Shouldn’t we be allowed to stay in the hospital for a month? Surely one of those nursery nurses was going to come live with us. No? Well this should be interesting.
The first night we had her home, she began screaming inconsolably. Not the soft mewling of a newborn, but the harsh, ear-piercing scream of a baby who was starving. So I tried to get her to latch. No luck. I started crying. My husband didn’t know what to do. I called the Lactation Helpline at the hospital and was given the sage advice: “Just keep trying. It will work eventually.” So the very first night home, we gave in and gave our baby formula while I promised myself that I would try harder the next day. It was soon evident that our sweet little newborn had both colic and a solid case of her days and nights being switched. To really top it off, I was depressed* big-time and didn’t recognize the symptoms because I had never struggled with that before. But through all of this, I was still trying to breastfeed. My body was not producing nearly enough milk, and I was in constant pain. On the day we decided to call the whole thing off, my husband came home from work to find a screaming baby in her swing and a crying wife on the couch trying desperately to pump only to produce a meager two ounces. (A feat that took me 45-60 minutes each time.)
“We’re done. Switch to formula.”
It turned out, I just needed someone to tell me it was OK to quit. I immediately felt better. So after 3 weeks, we switched to formula and never looked back. The whole experience was so difficult for me (physically and emotionally) that we decided to not even attempt it when baby sister came along. I considered trying until a good friend reminded me that women who really want to breastfeed can still struggle with it, and if I already didn’t want to do it, then I was setting myself up for failure.
I didn’t make the decision to formula feed lightly. It wasn’t out of laziness, selfishness, or convenience. I know that breastfeeding is beneficial for babies, and I’ve read all the research. But you know what else is good for babies? Mentally stable moms who aren’t feeling resentful toward their newborns for something that isn’t their fault.
If you are a mom who can breastfeed with ease until your baby goes to middle school, that is a wonderful thing. Truly. I’m happy for you without feeling any jealousy. But just like you don’t like to feel judged for breastfeeding in public, we formula feeding mommies don’t want to feel judged for making our own personal decisions. Please keep that in mind when you post articles and/or your opinions on breastfeeding exclusively. For many moms who take that route, it was a choice that was made for them by their bodies and one that couldn’t be avoided. Above all else, no matter your decision, uplift your fellow moms. Motherhood is a long road, and we need all the help from one another that we can get.
*If you’re feeling depressed, don’t suffer in silence. There’s no shame in asking for help. I should have.
Recognize the symptoms and reach out for help—whether it is through a loved one, your physician, or one of the following resources: