Ever since I started my blog, I’ve been planning a little series called “Picking Sides”. There’s nothing like National Breastfeeding Week to get this thing off to a controversial start. I’m going to warn you before you get too far: I’m a physician, I think breast feeding is awesome, I also think bottle feeding is awesome, and I wholeheartedly believe that FED IS BEST. If you don’t agree, spare yourself the energy and madness and stop reading. But if you’re a first time mom, in the throws of the fourth trimester, struggling with literally every aspect of breast feeding… please know that you are not alone. And all the mom-shamers out there can £#?$ off. (Yep, there I go again with that surgeon cursing crap again. Cussing is a sign of intelligence by the way.) But you, my dear struggling FTM, will be all the better for it. And so will your little one.
Ok, so I’m not a pediatrician. I’m not an OB-GYN. I’m just a trauma surgeon, who had an amazing 40 week and 2 day pregnancy that ended with 25 hours of labor and an unplanned c-section. All followed by 8 weeks of struggling to breast feed.
Dear Mom Shamers, start your judging now. Yes, I only breastfed for 8 weeks with my first child. See advice above.
Here’s the thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to breastfeed. Hell, I’d been hearing about all the benefits for well over a decade before having a child. I know the science and I’m not here to quote it.
I also know that I was BOTTLEFED, from day one. And I turned out ok–I mean I became a trauma surgeon, married my best friend, have been the mother of 8 animals of my own (5 at this current time), live in a great home, in a great place, with some great friends and family, and I’m the proud mommy of a beautiful one year old little girl. Also, I had perfect attendance in grade school and was never out for sick days except during the flu epidemic in the winter of 1995. I got mono at 15, and that’s only the second time I missed school for being sick. I didn’t get the flu again until 2003 during my first college finals. I was always (and still am) very healthy.
So let’s start there–bottle feeding does NOT doom one to be unhealthy, unintelligent, or unworthy of love. Period.
Why only 8 weeks you ask? I mean, if you can make it through 8 weeks, you can make it through 52 or more, right? Um… no. Hell no. My milk never came in first of all. We had a great latch. I manually expressed in the hospital and literally got drops on to a spoon. Not even a teaspoon out and not to mention it was painful trying. But I kept going even though our little one was losing weight more than expected and it felt like she was cluster feeding from day one. I mean it’s normal for there to be lag time, especially with a c-section. It’s no big deal. This is what it’s like to be a first time mom in the first few days. I’m supposed to be exhausted and baby is supposed to be crying all the time. Sound familiar?
It was suggested that we see our pediatrician the Monday after we were discharged (we left the hospital on a Thursday). She was still losing weight when we got there, and the nurse gave us a 2 oz bottle of formula and told us to just try. Literally, less than 5 minutes later, our little one had finished all 2 oz. I had no clue she could eat that quickly, or needed to eat that badly. I suddenly felt like I had been a horrible mother for the first week of our baby’s life. Why had I not asked more questions in the hospital? Or maybe seen the pediatrician on Friday? I had no clue that my newborn could actually be happy with a full tummy! And that’s when he told me to start supplementing.
I tried everything–every breast feeding supplement, every last color of Gatorade, commercial and homemade lactation cookies, visualizing let down (which I still have no idea what it feels like), manually expressing, pumping after every feed, pumping in between feedings, power pumping, etc, etc. Not a damn thing worked. My original goal of making it 6 months quickly dwindled to 6 weeks–just until I got back to work.
Mom Shamers–notice that my goal was now 6 weeks and I made it 8! Ha!
“Get a lactation consultant” they said. So I did. We found out that I was lucky to produce an ounce in 20 minutes. So a whole 2 oz if I breastfed for 40 minutes, and then maybe a couple ounces more if I pumped afterwards. I’m talking more than 60-90 minutes that I spent on every feeding during my first two weeks just hoping to get a few ounces! It wasn’t enough to sustain my little one and it wouldn’t have been enough for me to ever go back to work. (I had 8 weeks of unpaid maternity leave and was back at it 7 weeks after I delivered.) But despite those struggles, I still gave it my best shot for 8 solid weeks. Despite power pumping for an hour and getting just 5 ounces, I kept trying. For 8 weeks, I fed on each breast, then pumped while I fed baby girl a bottle of formula (which she always sucked down) and did it all again a couple hours later.
I literally had zero time for me. I could barely shower. I couldn’t cook a meal, sometimes I didn’t even have time to eat a meal. I lived between my bed/couch, the changing table, and the kitchen as I was constantly washing bottles and pump parts. I hardly had time to truly bond with my child during those brutal 8 weeks. And let me tell you, when breastfeeding isn’t going well, you are not genuinely bonding with your baby. No freaking way. You are simply losing your mind one little suckle at a time.
When I finally decided to give it over to the bottle and GASP! formula, we bought a Baby Breeza Formula Pro and my life was changed in minutes. Sixty to ninety minute feeds now took twenty. Just twenty minutes for baby to get everything she needed. That meant 40-70 minutes of play time with my little girl that I hadn’t yet had. Suddenly, I didn’t cry every time she cried because I felt like a dairy cow and a dairy farmer. I finally spent precious moments enjoying her smiles, coos, laughs, and first after first.
A year into this little one’s life, and she’s had no ear infections, no RSV, no flu, no GI bugs, and maybe a very brief viral cold or two. Granted, she is not in daycare, but she does see other children for at least one hour every week, plays at parks and playgrounds, and is exposed on the daily to 5 dogs and every ICU multi drug resistant bacteria that exists thanks to having two parents that make that their home away from home.
To all of you mommas that have successfully breastfed for weeks, months, or years, mad props to you! You’re doing amazing! To all of you soon to be mommas, give it a go. Do your best, but don’t lose out on yourself or your first moments with baby in the process.
To all of you overproducers, I’ll be honest, part of me wants to say “screw you”–that super jealous part of me. Thank Goodness for you and all the ones before you that got babies like mine through hard times when their own mom couldn’t produce. Donations/wet nurses are saints.
To all of the scientists that created formula because wet nurses were no longer en vogue, thank you too. I’m here because of you.
To all of you non-producers, here is your shoulder to cry on and arms to hug you. This is a reminder that you AND your little one are going to be just fine–even if you totally depend on the cheapest formula you can buy. You (nor your body) are failing–no matter what anyone else has to say. You are not alone.
With the next one, I’ll try it all again. I’ll give it my best shot again. But I’ll also give myself a break because a healthy, fed baby is best.
Cue the haters.