Mommy Chronicles: Formula Feeding vs Breastfeeding

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I am a mother of two. When I had my first daughter, Little A,  at the age of 22, she was born via c-section at a whopping 10 pounds. I always thought that I would jump right into breastfeeding her, as my milk came in early, and I was all ready to go. She wasn’t. At the hospital, the lactation consultant came and showed me all of the different positions to nurse her, but she still wasn’t latching properly. I felt like a failure. A failure that was in excruciating pain from the improper latching. I wasn’t the only one. Little A was also very frustrated. She had already gotten a taste of formula when she was born because I had to be sedated in the operating room and hadn’t woken up yet. She was starting to have a preference. While we were trying to get into our nursing rhythm, I would supplement with the abundance of Similac bottles that the nurses kept bringing me. In my mind, I justified supplementing with formula because I felt that at her size she wasn’t getting enough milk. The frustration lasted throughout my 3 day hospital stay and then my husband and I were off to go at this by ourselves.

At home, it was pretty much more of the same thing; I would try nursing, she would latch improperly, my breasts would crack and bleed, she would cry from frustration and hunger. I would cry from frustration and sleep deprivation, and I would give in and give her formula. I also had a breast pump that I used and managed to keep about 3 bottles in refrigerator at a time. That was, until about 2 months later on my birthday. I was feeling better and had healed so I wanted to enjoy a few drinks. I needed AND deserved it. I figured that I would just “pump and dump” as was recommended by all of my “breastfeeding expert” friends. So that’s what I did. My milk reserve suffered tremendously and it was at that point that I decided to stop breastfeeding and exclusively formula feed. Little A wasn’t ever negatively impacted by this decision, but I still felt horrible about it. I vowed that for the next baby I would try harder to breastfeed longer.

Six years later I finally got my chance. I was pregnant with another fairly large baby girl and got everything prepared so that I could have the best chance at succeeding with breastfeeding. My beautiful baby girl, Mini A, was born 8lbs 3oz and eager to nurse. She latched on with ease and I breathed a deep sigh of relief. This time, I was more determined, more patient and more prepared to make this a positive and successful breastfeeding experience. My milk came in completely on the third day in the hospital and she was nursing like a champ. While we were alone in the hospital so many emotions went through me. I finally forgave myself for not sticking to it with Little A and allowed myself to take in the moment.

Once we got home from the hospital, Mini A and I quickly got into our little routine. Whenever she whimpered, she got the boob. Sleepy? How about some boob. Headed out to visit family? More boob. I felt so connected to her. I was solely responsible for providing her with the nutrients that she needed to survive, and that made me feel amazing. I would live for her little faces of content after she stuffed herself with milk. She would make the cutest little gurgling sounds and I just knew she was saying “I love you, Mommy. Thanks for lunch.”

when baby stops nursing to smile at you

After 12 weeks of maternity leave, I had to return to work. (Sidenote: the US really needs to do something about our maternity leave policies!) My employer had a mother’s room, complete with a chair, table, and outlet. The room couldn’t have been any bigger than 5′ x 7′ but I made it work. I knew that it was better than most employer provided mother’s rooms and I was grateful for the time that I could spend to pump comfortably and privately. I pumped about three 8 oz bottles a day at work. If I became really engorged I could make five 8 oz bottles. I was so proud of myself. They were my bags of honor. Worth more than gold. They were liquid gold.

As soon as I walked in the door from work Mini A squeal and giggle when she saw me because she knew it was feeding time. I needed that. After a long day of work, I needed my family to help me to release it all. I was also very engorged when I made it home, so I physically needed Mini A to nurse.

before and after nursing image

I would often show my husband my liquid gold filled bags and he would smile and congratulate me on the day’s haul. He knew just how bad I felt about not being able to nurse Little A, so he was super supportive during this entire process. Little A, now 6 years old, was unbothered by all of the fuss over breastmilk. She did know, however, that if her baby sister so much as made a peep, “She needed some boob.”

As the months came and went, Mini A and I continued nursing without any issues. After her first birthday, however, came the unsolicited advice and questions from my “breastfeeding expert” friends who wanted to know why I hadn’t instantly stopped nursing as soon as she turned 1. Since I had spent a lot of time researching all things breastfeeding while I was pregnant, I was not only prepared but confident in my responses to them. I was going to nurse as long as Mini A wanted to nurse. She would decide when she wanted to stop and no one, not even me, would make that decision for her. She was such a happy and easy going baby. She hadn’t had so much as a cough since she was born, and I think it all had to do with nursing and my breastmilk.

Around 17 months, Mini A started to slow down on how many times she wanted to nurse. She had been introduced to so many new foods that breastmilk was only used to wash it all down. She still nursed when she was scared, had hurt herself, or couldn’t sleep, but had pretty much stopped nursing during the day. About a week later, she stopped wanting to breastfeed altogether. She was sleeping through the night and now wanted cuddles, instead of the boob, when she hurt herself. I was devastated. I was proud of her for expressing her newfound independence, but I missed the times that we spent, just her and I, bonding and cuddling. I missed her depending on only me for everything.

When I tell people, mainly friends and family, how long I nursed, I still get awkward looks. It doesn’t bother me. It never has. I knew that it was the best choice that I could have ever made for myself and for Mini A. I’ve also read all of the misinformed comments from those who think extended breastfeeding is perverted and only serves to sexually stimulate the mothers. Those comments come mostly from men, and also from those whom have never breastfed. There is nothing sexual about breastfeeding, AT ALL. It can be extremely painful and frustrating.

breastfeeding pain

It is made sexual by those that think breasts are for pleasure, instead of for their natural purpose, which is feeding and nurturing children. Honestly, the last thing I wanted for my breasts was pleasure. These were Mini A’s boobs and were off limits to Hubby. Let’s just say my husband fully supported Mini A’s decision to stop breastfeeding. LOL

Since my amazing experience with extended breastfeeding, I can say that I do understand why other mothers continue breastfeeding until their child is 5 or 6 years old. I could understand best friends nursing each other’s children, although that is not something I could ever do. Milk siblings is what they call them, I believe. I understand the practice of using wet nurses as far back as ancient times. Salma Hayek was my she-ro. I must admit that while I was nursing Mini A, I did have an urge to nurse screaming babies that I saw in the store. As weird as that may sound to some people, as a nursing mother, I felt like it was my job to feed hungry babies.

Looking back, I am glad that I was able to experience both sides of baby feeding. I can sympathize with the mothers who are shamed for formula feeding by those that feel that breastmilk is the best milk. While I also feel that breastmilk was better for my baby, I do know that formula is also rich in nutrients and babies can thrive with it as well. Little A was formula fed and is a happy and healthy straight A student.

The decision on how to best feed a baby should be that baby’s parents. No one’s opinions, beliefs or experiences should influence your decisions for feeding your baby. Just know that formula fed and breastfed babies both can grow up to be healthy, happy, and smart children.

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