Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Why I turned to Formula or...Why Breastfeeding Wasn't the Answer for Us

This has been sitting in my drafts for well over a year!   Time flies when you have a baby and now a toddler :)

This is a controversial topic so I want to first say that there is no right or wrong here. I know passions run deep in each camp and I want to be clear that I am not here to make judgments or say that one is so much better than the other.  I think everyone has to do what is best for their families and trust that everyone makes decisions coming from the best possible place.  I'm just documenting what I went through and why we chose to go the way we did in case it is helpful to others. 

Being as how I am somewhat of a crunchy granola person in many ways, I went into this whole baby thing thinking I would be breastfeeding for up to a year.  Minimum.  I still told myself that there was nothing wrong if I had to use formula (and even bought a brand I felt comfortable enough with to keep on hand...separate post coming on that) but to me, my mind was made up: I'd be a breastfeeding mama!

I knew breastfeeding wasn't necessarily easy and I knew that I'd need to see how my health was after he was born (I have autoimmune issues in addition to some other things I won't go into now). So I told myself that no matter what, if I had to use formula it would be fine.  Truth be told,  I went into this feeling like I had already peeked into a crystal ball and knew how it would all play out.  Breast is best, right? And only the best would do for my baby so obviously he'd be breastfed.  I did give myself an out, but really there was no question how this was gonna go..

Welp, I am sure you saw this coming - Joke's on me! And I was completely floored by how upset I was when breastfeeding didn't work for us.

Let me back up....As soon as Finley was born, I was shocked by how pushy the hospital was in regards to breastfeeding and I say that as someone who is pro-breastfeeding.  Immediately, we had latching issues and I never felt like he was getting enough to eat. He was a sleepy baby and pretty much fell asleep as soon as he made contact.  When he tried to eat, I could tell he wasn't getting anything. It was stressful knowing that in order to be discharged he needed to regain his birth weight yet he wasn't really eating.  Despite the fact that I was having so many issues, no one offered supplementation. Lactation consultants stopped by, but were largely unhelpful.  Nurses contradicted each other (one immediately handed me a nipple shield, the other acted like that was a horrible thing to use).  Still, we kept trying! Throughout all of this, I was never offered formula despite the fact that he didn't seem to be eating very much.  It didn't even feel like an option.

The first night home was a disaster. By this time, my milk had come in and I became painfully engorged making the latching almost impossible.  Having not slept at.all. in the hospital and with frayed postpartum nerves, I was a mess.

I was getting up every 2 hours to feed him and it took almost the full 2 hours just to get him to eat anything.  I'll never forget one early morning session where he was starving and looking up at me with big sad eyes, crying, and I couldn't give him what he needed.   I felt like the worst mom ever and like I was completely incompetent.  Desperate to feed him, I remembered that I had a breast pump stashed in the closet and so broke it out.  Sitting on the couch feeling like a failure, hooked up to the machine, and sobbing is a sad memory from those first few days.  In the end, I was just thankful that I was able to give him a few ounces so he could sleep.   That I wasn't able to see this as a victory - I was able to feed him! - is a testament to how much pressure I was putting on myself to make this whole breastfeeding thing work.

The next day I decided to hire a private lactation consultant and was told that pumping was less than ideal (not a fan of how judgy even attempting to give breast milk can be whether its via pumping or the breast but that's a post for another day).  I was then given a very complicated regime that involved cabbage leaves, hot showers and timing his feedings in between those two events among other things all within the 2 hour feeding window.  It felt very much like an insane choreography and after several rounds of this with no luck, and no break, I finally broke down and pumped to help lessen the pain.  Somehow even then, I felt like a failure. At this point, I was going on several days without sleep (that's not an exaggeration and I quickly realized why sleep deprivation is considered a torture tactic) and felt certifiably crazy. I was not enjoying the first precious days with my baby and I was holed up in the back bedroom trying to keep up with the breastfeeding tips and feeling isolated.  It just plain wasn't healthy for me or my family.  The anxiety I was experiencing was growing by the second and I honestly wondered if I was going insane at times.

In addition, it became clear that I needed to get back on an antibiotic and another medication that wasn't breastfeeding friendly.  I tried my best to keep going, but it was finally my wonderful husband who held me as I was crying and reminded me that I wasn't a bad mom if I decided to use formula.  As soon as he said that, a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders and I sobbed in relief.  I didn't realize until then that I just needed someone to say that for me.  Supposedly I knew that going in, but hearing someone I love and respected - especially one who is as devoted to Finley's wellbeing as I am -  say that was powerful.  I knew my breastfeeding journey was over...

We had an appointment at his pediatrician's office and because it was only 15 minutes, my main question was regarding the best way to transition to formula.  That's when the judgment started: "Despite your health reasons, can't you breastfeed for at least one more month? It really would be best."  "What kind of health issues do you have that you can't breastfeed?!" At this point, I pretty much put a stop to the line of questions because I found them insulting, largely unhelpful and intrusive. I reminded her that we only had 15 minutes and I wanted to use those precious minutes to focus on my son and that was not enough time for me to go through my complete medical history anyway.  I'm relieved that at this point, I had completely made peace with my decision as moving to formula was not something I took lightly.  Otherwise, I probably would have been racked by guilt. Instead, I was pissed.   

Because what I read online is mostly in regards to breast-shaming or formula pushers, I was frankly shocked at how anti-formula TO A FAULT every professional I came into contact with was.  I felt largely unsupported by these people who were supposed to be helping. It was like the underlying message was "breastfeeding is the ONLY option a GOOD mom goes with".  That's just not the case...as with most things in life, it's just not that black and white.

Whenever I confided into mothers that I moved to formula, I was pleasantly surprised by how supportive even breastfeeding moms were with my decision.  Several actually confided to me that they were envious I was able to come to that decision when I did.  One wished they had moved to formula sooner, another wished their husband would have been more vocal in saying that they should try formula instead when breastfeeding was such a struggle.  I think no matter what, every mom is just doing the best they can and feels guilty when what they think is best doesn't work out. Sometimes it really is so helpful for the partner to ease the guilt and encourage them to try something else when it's just not working.  Until Tom said what he did, I realized I thought he was thinking breastfeeding was something I needed to make work no matter what (because breast is best of course) and that just wasn't the case. 

Once we switched, I never looked back and still believe it was the best decision for us.  There are obvious advantages - babies sleep through the night faster, the partner is able to split the feedings and most importantly:  Finley thrived with no issues.   He is a happy, healthy baby and I believe he is because of the formula, not despite it.  

I also think it has a lot to do with what you personally think you can handle.  My best friend has overcome a lot in order to make breastfeeding work and I've been so impressed with her dedication and resilience through it.  Her kids had reactions through the milk from foods she was eating and she ended up basically eliminating every allergen you can think of from her diet.  Had I been in the same position, I know I would not have handled that well. I would have been a mess, blaming myself for accidentally eating dairy or feeling horrible as I watched Finley react to it.  I think Tom could see me going down that road as well which is why he decided to speak up.  In comparison, my friend took it in stride and steadily made changes.  She is different though - this was do-oable for her.  So again, we all have to figure out what makes sense and what doesn't for our personalities and lifestyles.   

My autoimmune issues also react badly to stress. One of my greatest fears when we became pregnant was that I would be sick after he was born and unable to care for him. Stress triggers flares and for all of the reasons above, I am thankful we moved away from the breast, because Finn has a healthy and happy mom caring for him...I do not think I would be either of these things if I had been breastfeeding.    That being said, if we are lucky enough to have another baby I will still give breastfeeding another shot - I just will be easier on myself if it doesn't work out.

So moms, do what you have to in order to ensure everyone thrives.  If you want to breastfeed then go on with your bad self.  I think that's pretty awesome.  If you need or -gasp! - WANT to formula feed?  I think it's great you are able to make that decision!  Everyone should do what work's for them.


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