Being a good parent is hard. Before I became one, I knew everything about parenting. I knew exactly how I was going to raise my children. I saw other parents around me, struggling with their kids, and thought, “my kid will never act like that.” Five months ago, I had the discipline, schooling and feeding all worked out. I was ready. Then, my son was born. At four months, he hasn’t had a chance to be a discipline problem yet. Nor have any school related issues surfaced. However, at the tender age of four days old, my feeding philosophy took a major hit.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had it drilled into my head that breastfeeding is what good mothers do. Breastfed babies are smarter and better behaved than formula fed babies. That’s what the books say. Bottle feeding is offered as an option if a mother has to be separated from her child, but even then, a good mother pumps her breast milk, freezes it and saves it for these special occasions. Formula gets brief mentions in baby books, but for every page there is about formula feeding, there are five about breastfeeding and how it really is the best way to go.
When I heard women talk about how their babies didn’t like breastfeeding or that they couldn’t breastfeed, I thought they were lazy. Even when those people were close family members who I love and generally think well of. I figured they hadn’t tried very hard. After all, breastfeeding is natural and everyone can do it. Then, my son was born.
I took the breastfeeding class and knew the positions. Right after he was born, I started and thought I was doing pretty well. The first day he didn’t eat much. He was all tuckered out from being born and since he was having the required number of dirty diapers and feedings, I thought nothing of it. The next day he was still rather sleepy, but started eating like crazy. Every hour or so he wanted to eat. I’d finish a feeding and sometimes no more than 30 minutes later he’d be crying again, hungry for more. The third day he had a circumcision and was worn out, especially with the baby Tylenol. He still wanted to eat a lot, but he didn’t cry much. By Saturday, the day we left, he was still eating like crazy, but seemed ok. All the nurses kept telling me he was cluster feeding and that this was normal. He wasn’t quite dirtying all the diapers he needed to, but no one seemed worried. The lactation consultant even came in to make sure everything was ok. My breasts were poked, prodded, pulled and pushed by every nurse in the place and by the time I went home, I knew I was doing it right.
By seven o’clock on Saturday though, we were ready to take Duncan back. The sweet baby we’d had at the hospital was replaced by a demon crier. He could not be satisfied. He cried and cried and then cried some more. He was eating constantly. As soon as I stopped feeding him, he’d start crying for more. I was exhausted and out of ideas. By Sunday we realized he wasn’t having even half as many dirty diapers as he should be and since the constant eating and crying continued, we got worried. The on-call doctor told use he was probably dehydrated. We had to give him some formula. Luckily, my aunt had signed up on Enfamil’s website and had brought us some formula samples she’d received. I mixed up a one ounce bottle as suggested and suddenly my baby was happy again. Or at least not screaming.
We went to his pediatrician the next day and found out he’d lost nearly a pound. When she heard the problems he’d had, she agreed he sounded dehydrated. I was told to keep supplementing him with formula, but encouraged to continue breastfeeding him. I had to bring him back before the week was over. At his next visit, four days later, he’d only gained one ounce, which wasn’t much of a gain. She started asking more questions and that’s when I told her my breasts had not grown at all during my pregnancy. I had mentioned this to my OBGYN, but he didn’t seem concerned at all. She, however, painted a different picture for me. She told me that I probably didn’t have sufficient mammory tissue and that there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed him. I’d have to supplement with formula.
I started going to a breastfeeding support group. I rented a hospital grade pump. I hooked myself up to it after every feeding, just like the doctor suggested, and although I felt like a jersey cow, only got about ¼ of an ounce each time. I tried herbal supplements. I tried medicines. Nothing worked.
At my support group, the lactation consultant was nice, but really insistent that I keep up the breastfeeding. She even tried to get me to wear a strange harness with tubes on it. The bottle of formula would be suspended from the harness and flows through tubes attached to my nipples. That way my son would think all the milk he was getting was coming from my breasts. I drew the line there. I did not, however, stop the dual feedings. He was eating every 2-3 hours, and my feedings were lasting 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. Some days I only got a 45 minute break before doing it all over again. At night, I’d get about two hours sleep at a time. I was miserable, but every time I thought of giving up and just giving him a bottle, I was made to feel like a bad mother.
As the weeks progressed, I realized I was not supplementing him with formula; I was supplementing him with breast milk. He was eating four ounces at a time, and if it was a good day, he was getting one of those from me. I went to the support group again and got a different consultant. I explained my story, and she looked at me as if I was lying. She questioned me brusquely about what I tried, naming off all the things I’d already done. I could tell just by looking at her that she didn’t believe I’d tried it all. She also suggested the strange harness and when I said I wasn’t interested in it, she looked at me as if I was neglecting my baby. I never went back.
My son is a healthy, happy baby. He is height and weight proportional. He hardly ever cries unless he’s hungry or tired. He smiles constantly and loves to laugh. He’s doing everything he should be doing at four months, and while I know this sounds like bragging, he’s actually ahead of the curve on several developmental issues. My pediatrician was amazed at how strong he is. In other words, despite the fact that I only breastfed my son for eight miserable weeks, my formula fed baby is great. For many people this may not be a surprise, but for me it was. There is such a strong breastfeeding movement in this country, that anyone who chooses not to, or simply can’t do it, is made to feel as if they are harming their children by giving them formula. I can’t count the number of times I broke down in tears of shame because I couldn’t give my son what everyone told me he needed. Giving it up was one of the hardest decisions I had to make, but in the end, I figured it was better he had a happy, healthy, well-rested mommy who could play with him than one who was constantly feeling inadequate and miserable. I knew he didn’t need to see me breaking down in tears when someone looked at me as if I was a loathsome insect when I pulled out a bottle to feed my son.
Parenting trends are constantly changing. Thirty years ago, bottle feeding was in and breastfeeding was looked down upon. Before I have my next baby, the trend might reverse itself. However, I really wish I hadn’t been made to feel less than human for the choice I had to make.