There I was, less than 24 hours after giving birth, breaking down in tears in my tiny hospital room bathroom. I wasn’t crying because I was in pain from childbirth, or even because of postpartum hormones. I was crying because breastfeeding wasn’t working. And I know, I know, it hadn’t even been a single day, and I shouldn’t give up that quickly, but at the time, that’s precisely what I felt like doing. Every time that I needed to feed my baby — approximately every two to three hours — I had to call the lactation consultant to come latch the baby for me. Not only did this make me feel very exposed physically, but I also felt exposed emotionally. I couldn’t feed my own baby. If he happened to unlatch after the lactation consultant left, I had to call again, and start the process all over.
It wasn’t working. He was hungry. I was drained.
My sister, who happened to visit me at the hospital during this time, saw me struggling. She knew that I wasn’t opposed to using formula — my first baby was formula fed, successfully — so she stepped in to help me. I needed her to tell me what no one else would.
“You don’t have to breastfeed.”
She went into the hallway to find a nurse and explain my situation. The nurse brought me some formula, and for the first time in 24 hours, I could breathe. I could feed my baby without having to call a nurse and wait for assistance. I felt like I knew what I was doing.
For the rest of my hospital stay, I supplemented with formula while also continuing to try breastfeeding. When I got home, I decided to pump and bottle feed. I still couldn’t get my baby to latch correctly without help from a professional, so I figured that this would be the best compromise. I felt more comfortable, and my baby was getting what he needed.
I continued to pump for a couple of more weeks, and with the help of my sister’s donated milk, we made it to one month with breast milk. At that time, I decided to quit. Pumping around the clock while also entertaining, and being rested for, my 2-year-old was difficult, and so we made the switch.
I’d like to say that I made the switch to formula easily and with no guilt, but this isn’t true. I felt guilty everyday for not trying a little bit harder. I felt guilty when the pediatrician asked why my baby was no longer breastfed, I felt guilty when the lactation consultant told me, “This is motherhood, it [in this case, breastfeeding] is hard,” and I felt guilty when friends asked how breastfeeding was going, and I wasn’t doing it. But I also knew that if I did continue on, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons. I’d be doing it for someone other than myself and the baby. I’d be doing it to please others.
My baby is a two-year-old toddler now, and he’s thriving. No one asks me if he was breast or formula-fed, just as no one asks me if he was swaddled or in a sleep sack, if he slept in our room or his own, or if he ate purees or table food.
The truth is, we have a lot of choices in motherhood, and what’s best for one person is not great for another. In my case, I was a better mom when I used bottles.
Will I try it again with a future baby? Probably. Another experience could be completely different. But if it’s not working and I’m a worse mom because of it, I will remind myself the same thing that my sister reminded me two years ago.
“You don’t have to breastfeed.”