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When my oldest son was born, I was determined to make breastfeeding work. The science says there are all kinds of benefits, like nutrients for brain growth, immunity from germs via the mother’s antibodies, mother-baby bonding, and all that. Sounded pretty important, and I’m the type of person that tries to follow evidence- based practices.
At first, I had oversupply so I thought I had it made. Tons and tons of milk, so much that my baby was overwhelmed by it all! But then it was Yom Kippur and I had to fast. I stayed in bed and rested all day but by the end of the fast, my supply had definitely dwindled and I’m not sure it ever fully came back to what it had been.
A few weeks after that, I went back to work. Slowly my supply started to dwindle even more. I went from 4 ounces per session to 3.75, then 3.5….
My baby cried a lot and nursed for a long time when I was home, but I don’t know how much he was getting. Finally, I took him for his 4 month checkup and the doctor said he wasn’t gaining enough and handed me a sample of formula. I was ready to cry. I thought I was going to be a breastfeeding mom and I’d so wanted to make it work.
As soon as he started getting bottles of formula, he started to thrive and grow and was noticeably happier. I was glad about that, yet I was still determined to keep pumping as much as I could.
At home, my baby lost interest in nursing. I suspected he was impatient with the reduced flow and lower quantity. He only wanted bottles, except once a day, first thing in the morning. I continued nursing him every morning until he was 13 months, when he suddenly decided he was done and never nursed again.
When my second, a girl, was born, I was determined to do better. I had learned my lesson- fed is best! I bought formula early to have as a backup option if I ever needed it, something I’d refused to do the first time around.
I nursed her exclusively until 2.5 months, and then one evening, she was crying and crying and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I had nursed her, but I had a feeling that it hadn’t been enough.
I decided, let me make her two ounces of formula and see what would happen. She figured out the bottle instantly, gulped it down completely— and then looked up and gave me a huge smile.
Before I went back to work, I bought the Milkies Milksaver, a genius way to catch leaked milk, that enabled me to stock the freezer without having to pump! Seriously, this simple device is the best mom invention ever.
I was able to send her off to day care with a big stash of my own frozen milk. But I still sent formula as backup on the first day, telling them to use it only in case she really needs it.
At first pumping went great- I got tons per session- 6 ounces! I hadn’t known that was possible! I never got more than 4 ounces with my first. But the space I had to pump was a coworker’s private office and I felt bad kicking him out of his office every time, even though he was nice about it. So I often ended up pumping only once a day, which wasn’t enough to keep up my supply.
A few months into it, a coworker came back from her maternity leave and showed me an unused closet space, perfect for pumping without disturbing anyone, but it was too late. I wasn’t able to get my supply back up.
The thought of the amount of increased pumping I would have to do if I wanted to try to increase my milk was incredibly stressful.
I thought about trying to add a session at night when she was sleeping but the idea made me want to cry with exhaustion. It was too much for me.
I decided to stick with once a day and not drive myself crazy anymore. I chose to stop feeling stressed out when I didn’t get enough milk, and not to force myself to pump more often when I felt it would be too difficult for me.
It was better for my mental health and career success to let it go, and accept that she would be just fine.
And just like the first time, my baby lost interest in nursing in the evenings, but she still likes nursing in the morning. She gets some of the protective antibodies and all those benefits from mama’s milk, and she gets the nutrients she needs to grow and thrive from formula. She’s happy! And I’m happy too.
I think back sometimes to the difference between my kids at the age of 2-4 months; how my son would cry and fuss so often, and how happy my daughter was. I’m sure some of it is just temperament, but I wonder how many babies that are considered colicky or fussy, are really just hungry. A great topic for someone to do a study!
I guess the message I took away from all this is that really and truly, “Fed is best”. Your kid will turn out okay either way, and the culture wars and mom shaming on this topic are unnecessary and harmful. Do your research and make the best choice for you and your family.