As a dietitian, I knew that I would breastfeed when I had a baby. Why? I was taught that breastfeeding is best, and I agreed that breastfeeding is best. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding, including that it contains the perfect balance of nutrients and it contains substances that help protect babies from infection and illness. It seemed like the perfect food for my infant, and I never envisioned feeding issues. I wasn’t nervous at all about breastfeeding: I just felt like it would come naturally. Then I had a baby. After two weeks at home, she was losing weight even though she had supplemental formula provided while breastfeeding. I worked with a lactation consultant daily during this time. My daughter started having stomach issues, and I was terribly ill. I was pumping constantly to increase milk supply but barely producing any milk. The pediatrician eventually found that my daughter needed an elemental formula. This formula helped my child to be healthy and thrive. I was so grateful (though disappointed that I couldn’t breastfeed), and I have a healthy eleven year old who was formula fed.
Along comes number two, and my plan again was to breastfeed. Postpartum depression and more baby belly issues, as well as not enough weight gain, led us to formula after one difficult month of exclusive breastfeeding. I didn’t feel like a failure necessarily, but I wondered why I couldn’t provide what my daughter needed. Though, once again, my daughter thrived on formula, and I have a healthy nine year old. And again, I am so thankful.
Then came number three, and the two of us succeeded with exclusive breastfeeding for eleven months! We had a rocky start, but he gained weight, and we were able to stick with it. My son thrived, and I currently have a healthy six year old who breastfed.
What did I learn from this that I feel is a message to share with others?
- Breastfeeding is wonderful.
- Formula feeding is wonderful.
- Doing what you have to do to have the healthiest baby and mom possible is a triumph. Having support, no matter what your feeding choice, is vital. If you are breastfeeding and don’t have a support system, you can connect with a lactation consultant at your hospital, through your doctor, or through the La Leche League.
- You are not a failure if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. But do try it and get support if you are interested in breastfeeding. Sometimes the beginning is rocky since both you and baby are learning, but many succeed with time and patience.
- Either way that you decide to nourish your baby, have an area set up for yourself and others who will share feeding duties. Have a comfortable chair, a blanket for you, necessary supplies (burp cloths, baby blankets, hand sanitizer, etc.), entertainment if needed (a book to read, a journal to write in, the remote control), a lamp, a camera to capture precious moments, etc. Have anything that you need to help you to relax and be calm and to, as much as you can at 3 a.m., enjoy that time with your little one.
- Bonding happens…whether you breastfeed or formula/bottle feed your little one.
- Every situation is different. Just because you may not find success with breastfeeding one child, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. You may succeed, or you may need formula again, and either is okay.
Loving and caring for your baby is how you succeed, whether you breastfeed or formula feed. Do I still believe in the science that tells me that breast milk is best? Yes. But I also believe that using formula to nourish your child is an acceptable alternative, and the decision of whether to breastfeed or formula feed (or both if necessary) is a family decision that should be made after careful consideration of the family’s circumstances.