In the few hours after my first child was born, I thought I was really catching on to this whole ‘motherhood’ thing. I could hold him without letting his floppy little head fall back and was learning how to breastfeed. By the second day, however, I was not so confident. I had given birth without an epidural; I paid my dues, I thought. WHY was breastfeeding so irritatingly painful? Shouldn’t this be the easy part?
I tried and tried. Bram cried. I cried. I was miserable.
The nurses finally wheeled in a heavy-duty commercial sized breast pump that sounded like a jet engine and reminded me of the machine used to milk the dairy cows at the farm near my parent’s house. As I sat hooked up to the machine on the edge of my hospital bed — bloated, bleeding, and uncomfortable — I had never felt so defeated. After 30 minutes the nurse came back in to monitor my ‘progress’. Less than 5 millimeters sat pooling in the bottom of a plastic jar. That was when harsh reality hit — I wasn’t producing any milk for my baby.
Matter-of-factly, the nurse flashed the baby’s health chart.
“Here is your baby’s birth weight,” she pointed to a black X on a curve.
“And here is your baby’s weight now,” she pointed to another X falling to the bottom of the page.
“He’s losing too much weight.”
“But… I want to breastfeed.” I said dumbfounded. How could this happen to me? I anguished inside my head. This is supposed to be natural. I endured a natural birth. I did prenatal yoga. I meditated to Buddhist monks for Christ’s sake.
“I know you want to breastfeed. But your baby needs to eat. Now.” she stressed the urgency of the situation.
“You can continue to pump,” she reminded me, “but right now you need to feed your baby”.
I resigned myself. Bring on the formula.
Some might hear that story and shudder. What a bully! Sometimes it takes days for your milk supply to come in! But you know what? I didn’t have days. My baby needed to eat and I thank the nurse for being frank and allowing me to realize what I had been denying: breastfeeding just isn’t for me.
Call me selfish — that’s fine. But after that first bottle, I actually enjoyed feeding my baby instead of looking down at him while gritting my teeth in pain and frustration. I may have been able to power through the pain of a medication-free birth, but I simply could not support the searing, tedious pain of breastfeeding. Add to that the fact I wasn’t even producing milk and it just made sense to stop trying altogether.
So when my second baby came, I already knew I would likely formula feed. I was able to give her the colostrum at birth and tried breastfeeding the first night. Since she was born several pounds lighter than her brother, I quickly decided that we would pass onto formula right away. Because of her small size, the nurses recommended we stay for five nights, but by day 3 she had already gained enough weight to go home, and I knew I had made the right choice.
As mothers, we’ve all heard the refrain “breast is best”, But I’m here to say screw that — FED is best. Shaming mothers who cannot physically nurse their infants, or who simply don’t want to for a myriad of reasons only adds further stress to an already stressful life event.
Breastfeeding is hard. I know that and I respect that. The every-two-hour feedings that lead to endless sleepless nights. The cracked nipples. The mastitis. The round-the-clock attachment to a needy, crying thing. Modern parenting would have you believe that whatever takes the most sacrifice must be best for our children. But we shouldn’t believe that breastfeeding is better simply because it’s harder and that anyone choosing not to breastfeed is somehow taking the easy way out.
On top of that, many women (especially in the United States where there is no paid maternity leave) are back to work well before they wean. Then what? They’re expected to sit in the bathroom and pump? Be shamed at work for taking ‘too many breaks’? Miss out on professional opportunities because they are seen as being preoccupied with motherhood? It’s absolute madness.
I have a mantra all mothers should embrace instead: “a happy mom is a happy home”. I was terribly unhappy those first few days struggling to breastfeed my son. I also suffered a bout of baby blues and would never have recovered so quickly if not for the help of my husband who dutifully woke up for night feeds while I caught up on much-needed sleep.
We’ve also heard of the bond that only develops between a mother and child while breastfeeding. I’m here to say that’s bullshit. There’s a bond that’s created when anyone feeds a child anything. Bottle-feeding has allowed both me and my husband to bond with our children, and to equally share in the many responsibilities that childcare demands. Watching my husband feed our new daughter while gently cradling her in his arms is a special moment I am honored to give him.
So breastfeeding didn’t work out for me like I’d hoped. That’s fine. Instead, I found what was best for me and my family. Bottle-feeding has become the great equalizer of parenthood in our home and I am eternally grateful for that. Besides, in the end, it’s all about giving your child a belly full of milk no matter if it comes from a breast or a bottle.
Trust me, they don’t know the difference.