What I Learned From Breastfeeding: Lessons from a Former Formula Feeding Mom

2 years, 2 months, and 31 days. That’s how long I breastfed my daughter.

I’ve known this day was coming. Once she turned 2, I knew that my time breastfeeding was likely coming to a close. For the past year, breastfeeding had become less about nutrition and more about a comfort. From 12 months to 24 months, she went from breastfeeding 4-6 times a day to primarily breastfeeding at night or when she was upset or anxious during the day. Since she turned 2, she has only been interested in breastfeeding before bed, and in the past month she has chosen to read books before bed rather than nurse. This week, after we went 5 days in a row without nursing, I knew she had made the decision for me: she was done.

And it’s hard. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be. If you would have asked me about this day when she was a newborn, when I had cracked nipples and she was cluster feeding, I would have said that I looked forward to this day with reckless abandon.

But I’m not happy. I’m sad.

I’m sad because it’s over. It’s the end of a era that signifies a great many things to me: that my baby is growing up. She’s a toddler now and not a baby. That she no longer really relies on me to meet her every need. That the special time that we had, each and every night before bed, a time when she would sit still and allow me to hold her and rock her, is over. And it means that I’m done with breastfeeding. Forever. I’m done with babies. I will never get this precious experience back again, and it’s one I never knew I would miss.

3 years ago I would have told you that breastfeeding was awful. It was painful, and inconvenient, and potentially embarrassing. I would have said that extended breastfeeding was weird and gross, and that if a baby was old enough to ask for milk, he or she was old enough to be weaned.

Today I know just how wrong and judgmental I was.

I wasn’t able to breastfeed my boys. For each of their first years, they were fed with formula. I did attempt to nurse both of them, but I wasn’t successful. With Cooper, I didn’t produce enough milk (or so I thought). I let his endless cries convince me that he wasn’t getting enough nutrition from me and I needed to supplement. Supplementing quickly turned into fully formula feeding. With my second child, I experienced two bouts of mastitis in the first 6 weeks, and after the second I gave up and switched to formula.

I went into my third pregnancy wanting to try to breastfeed, but I have to confess that in the back of my mind I had this thought that if it didn’t work out, I could always switch to formula. I did WANT it to work out. I knew this was my last pregnancy and my last chance to breastfeed. There was also the financial benefit of breastfeeding. But in the back of my mind I always knew there was a Plan B.

But it did work out. I went into breastfeeding thinking to myself “OK, Andrea, just make it to 6 weeks.” Breastfeeding was hard and painful and terrible and I just kept telling myself “6 weeks! You can do 6 weeks!” 6 weeks came and went and then I said “OK, Andrea, make it to 3 months.” 3 months came and at that point it was natural and easy and I said “we can do this for one year!” One year came and my husband said “when are you going to stop nursing?” All of a sudden, numbers and dates just didn’t matter to me anymore. She wanted to nurse and I was happy to have the ability to provide nutrition and comfort for her. I said that I would stop when I felt like stopping. She began to eat full meals. She began to drink cow’s milk. And still we nursed on demand, primarily when she was upset during the day and always at night before bed.

I’ve had people say to me “you aren’t still nursing, are you?” and I always say “Yes! I sure am.” Because somewhere on this journey I realized how beautiful and special breastfeeding truly is, how much of a privilege it is to be able to provide for my child in that way, and I had no desire to stop before she was ready. I told myself I would let her set the pace, and I have.

Until this past week. Our breastfeeding journey has drawn to a close, and I want to share what I learned with you.

What I Learned From Breastfeeding: Lessons from a Former Formula Feeding Mom

#1. Fed is best. Seriously. I truly, 100% do not care how you fed your child. You are a great breastfeeding mom. You are a great formula feeding mom. You are a great mom, period. You meet your child’s needs either way. Motherhood is hard – we certainly don’t need judgment on how we choose to feed our children.

#2. A lactation consultant is your best friend. Your hospital should have one on staff. Get to know her, and call her often. Ask her to come and watch you nurse. Follow up with her after you leave the hospital. I 100% credit my success with breastfeeding, after 2 babies where I was not successful, to my hospital’s lactation consultant. She taught me the proper latch. She reassured me my baby was getting enough milk at each feeding. She was so incredibly helpful to me that I confess I had fantasies of her becoming my breast friend best friend. Sigh. It wasn’t to be. Apparently that is stalking. Whatever. She’s on Facebook.

#3. Try not to supplement. Listen – I’m all about your making your own choices about how you feed your child. I’ve done formula – I’ve supplemented! There is not one single thing wrong with however you choose to feed your child. However, if you truly want to breastfeed, I would advise you to be cautious about supplementing. It’s a slippery slope. It makes it easy to give up and just fully switch to formula. (I say that because I did that!) Your pediatrician will often tell you to supplement if he/she thinks your baby isn’t gaining enough weight. THIS is when you talk to a lactation consultant! My LC had me come in and weighed my daughter prior to the feed, allowed me to nurse, weighed her again – the subtracted weight will tell you exactly how much milk your child is receiving from a feeding. That visit right there is what assured me that I did not need to supplement and it also reassured my pediatrician, who was supportive of my decision to continue to breastfeed and allow her to gain weight at her own pace.

#4. Find a pediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding. I’m so lucky to have found our pediatrician, who is supportive of all of our parenting decisions, even when they aren’t always what he would choose or recommend. I had military doctors with my boys who insisted that I formula feed because I was starving my child and he wasn’t gaining the weight he needed as quickly as he needed to gain. Our current pediatrician did suggest supplementing when my daughter did not return to her birth weight in the recommended amount of time, but when I explained my desire to continue to breastfeed he was supportive – even if he did make me come in weekly to weight until she was where she needed to be weight wise.

#5. There are times when it will be difficult and painful and you WILL want to quit. Push past that. The first 8 weeks of nursing were terrible. I couldn’t figure out her latch. My nipples were cracked and would bleed as I fed her. It all seemed very hard and difficult and I was TIRED and I really just wanted to quit. A friend told me — give it 6-8 weeks. You will reach this magical point where something clicks and it becomes natural and easy. I held on, and she was so right – around week 8 my daughter just magically caught on and it stopped being painful and difficult. I figured out the perfect hold. I perfected my nursing uniform. It became like second nature, and suddenly it was less of a “grit your teeth and bare it” nursing session and more of a “this is a sweet and special bonding experience” nursing session.

#6. You’ll probably have an embarrassing nursing moment at some point. The primary thing I worried about, as a new nursing mother, was exposing myself as I nursed in public. I have large breasts, and the juggling of the baby and nursing bra and cover was always an ordeal. I eventually got the point where I would nurse her in the car, because I could just pull my breast out and not really worry about someone seeing me or offending someone. One night we were scheduled to have dinner with my extended family at Outback. My family arrived early, so that I could feed my daughter in the car before we went into the restaurant. I pulled my breast out, as I always did, and began to nurse, not worrying about who might see me because the two cars alongside us were parked and unoccupied. At some point, the car next to me must have left, and I looked up to see my brother had pulled up in the parking space beside me and was looking in the car to see why we were just sitting there. We never talk about that day. Ha!

#7. Tank tops will be your best friend. My friend Dana taught me this trick – as a well endowed woman, for modesty I would always layer a tank top beneath whatever shirt I was wearing. I could pull my shirt up, my tank top down, and my stomach would be covered without worrying about using a nursing cover (which I always found more of a pain that a help).

#8. You may not need a pump. My cousin gave me her breast pump, and I could have received a new pump through my insurance, but I wound up never really using it. I figured out early on that I just didn’t have the energy to pump and breastfeed. A lot of people do – a lot of moms need to pump so they can return to work or have time away from their child. I think, once again, either way is fine. I am a stay at home mom, and I learned quickly how to juggle errands and date nights so that I could nurse her and do what I needed to do before I returned home. I know some moms DO need to pump, and others prefer to pump to establish a supply just in case – again, you should do what works for your family. Just don’t feel like you HAVE to pump as a breastfeeding mom.

#9. Breastfeeding babies can still bond with dad. This is one argument I hear a lot in support of bottle feeding. I completely understand that some dads want to have the opportunity to feed their children. That would be a good case for pumping and using bottles. But the bond between dad and baby will not suffer because of the time that moms spends nursing. Your child will develop their own bond and special time with their father in their own way.

#10. Breastfeeding truly is a special, wondrous, beautiful experience. There is this sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that I was able to supply my child’s nutrition from my own body. I have a sense of pride knowing that I was able to do something I had previously been unsuccessful with. I will never take for granted all the special time spent nursing my daughter – and it is truly bittersweet that the time has ended.

Once again, moms, FED IS BEST. I support you no matter how you choose to feed your child. I hope you support me as well!

Speak Your Mind

*