This is a post I think needs to be written to all you moms out there with infants.
Within mom groups, I see so often the struggle many of us share with breastfeeding. While many of us envisioned it would be this beautiful bonding experience with our baby, we have found ourselves struggling with something that was supposed to be so “natural.”
We talk rather openly about the struggle of low milk supply, infants who won’t latch despite lactation help, challenges with tongue and lip ties, the agony of bleeding nipples, the stress of exclusive pumping, and how to make breastfeeding a manageable part of life for both the stay-at-home or work-away-from-home mom.
This support and the ideas generated always inspires me to the power of community, especially among moms.
I love how much these online mom threads often give moms a second wind to keep at it with breastfeeding. The conversations are so honest and encouraging, helping others to consider attempting new approaches and renew hope in something they maybe haven't tried yet.
What concerns me however, is what is left unspoken: the topic of introducing formula when your breastmilk just isn’t enough.
Rarely do I ever see moms openly ask about what formula to use in such forums. While I would like to think it is because everyone exclusively breastfeeds for their infant’s first year, I know better.
I know because I have been in those shoes, twice now.
No mom wants to admit that they aren't giving their baby the best, as in "breast is best." Even those unable to nurse may have exhausted all options of exclusive pumping, only to still realize their dream of this nourishing, natural experience with their infant to be totally unrealistic and inadequate.
I can relate.
With our first daughter, I wound up with reoccurring high-grade fevers turned mastitis turned antibiotic-resistant abscess turned I&D surgery turned toting around a wound vac with breastmilk oozing out of the wound while chasing a newly mobile 10 month old. When my breast specialist doctor told me it was either put myself at risk for reoccuring staph infections or no longer proceed with breast-feeding, yes - it was a no brainer. I had to quit.
With our second daughter, I faced a hormonal roller coaster postpartum that made me reconsider what was truly healthier: a sane, stable mom or an extra month of breastmilk. After trying to pray my way out of it for months, hoping the anxiety would get better versus worse, and eventually visiting with my OB about it all, I knew what my answer again needed to be: I had to quit.
That meant with both daughters, I fell short though.
Despite exclusively pumping and a deep freezer full of breast milk, I didn’t have enough to carry us until one year with either child. Realizing that and calculating the quantity of breastmilk stored oh SO many times, I had been deeply hopeful. But I knew we would still. be. short.
And that feeling sucks.
As an advocate for breastfeeding, I so wanted for my girls to be breastfed, and if unable to breastfeed (i.e. nurse, which neither of my girls could do successfully), I was still committed to giving them breastmilk no matter the cost to me.
But as life happened and my health took very different turns for the worse after each pregnancy, I too faced the dilemma that many moms face:
Do I keep breastfeeding? Or do I quit?
So around nine months with each girl, I quit.
Thankfully, we had about 2-3 months of frozen breastmilk stored up for each daughter. But even still, the decision was hard. It felt like failure. And most of all, it made my pride face it's greatest fear:
That I would still be a good mom even if I came up short.
Y'all, even typing that now with the time that has passed for me to process this still feels hard. Admitting, "I quit" and putting that period at the end of the sentence hurts. Remembering that range of emotions was rough. I wanted to be proud of myself for how long we had made it exclusively pumping. Yet, it was my pride that just couldn't fathom using formula in public.
So I remained largely quiet and private about it. I didn't ask my own questions. I didn't vocalize my own concerns. I didn't publicize my own choice.
In the shadows of every "breast is best" advocate out there, I sat in the shame that I had quit.
What I would assume is, so have some of you.
So instead of sharing all the "natural," "beautiful," or "bonding" aspects of breastfeeding when formula enters your reality, let's create a forum of support rather than shame.
For whatever reason you fell short, it is okay.
For whatever reason you quit, you are still more than enough.
For whatever questions you are keeping in the shadows, let them be brought to light.
I want to be a pediatric dietitian that encourages each family to consider breastmilk first and foremost. I want to be both a health practitioner and parent that provides families with the right tools and personally-tried tricks to help you breastfeed as long as it is mutually beneficial to you and your baby to do so.
However as a mom of two who knows firsthand how real that struggle to breastfeed can be, I too want to address the topic of infant formula in a shame-free and supportive way. That's why this post on What is the Best Infant Formula? will help get you thinking a bit about your options.