"...suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other." -- Rachel Naoimi Remen

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why I'm not breastfeeding

First things first, this blog is in no way intended to be professional medical advice from a licensed physician.  

It is, as usual, my true story; the musings of a hormonal mother of three; my interpretation of my current state (either of which could change at any moment).

It may also be accurately interpreted as this: permission to not feel guilty for using formula with your newborn! 

Breast is best.  Yes, I know that.  [Got that message a few hundred articles ago.  I won't link any here, because, quite frankly, I don't want to look at or read any more of those.] 

Breast is best.  It's best for baby to get the best protection from bacteria and viruses in our community, and it might even prevent things like diabetes.  

Breast is cheaper too.  My not even one month old, who's currently taking 4 oz every 3 hours, will finish this jumbo container of formula in about 8 days, and it sells for $35!!  

Breast is natural... and breastfeeding can sometimes help mother and baby bond.  

But what you won't read, or these days even hear in public conversation... is that breastfeeding is hard work.  Breast feeding sucks... (literally; pun intended.)  The newest love of your life, who was completely dependent upon you to thrive for the first nine months of life, continues to require your service through breastfeeding.  

It's awesome, and I know many women who successfully solely nurse their children for months or years.  These women should be very proud, as I am of them, for their commitment.  They worked hard to provide for their babies and should feel great about that!  

Unfortunately for me, and many women I know, though, it's not awesome when it doesn't come easily for a woman.   And those mothers have every right to feel great too.  

When I had my first child, I was able to nurse him right away.  He was a champion sucker!  Although he loved to nurse, there was really no part of it that I enjoyed.  On my end, it did not improve our bond.  Sometimes, I dreaded feeding time (which came every other hour in the beginning!)  I was riddled with five bouts of mastitis - an inflammatory breast condition which gave me fevers of 103 on several occasions.  Nursing was painful when I had mastitis. When I didn't, it was just plain tiring.  Exclusively breast feeding leaves mom doing most of the work at night - although my husband would change diapers and soothe cries too, and he sometimes gave pumped milk bottles at night just to give me a break.  

Although nursing is lauded as natural, it didn't really feel natural to me unless I was in my bedroom.  I wasn't comfortable nursing in public without a cover.  The real challenge came when I returned to work.  I had to pump 2 or 3 times per day and my supply could not keep up.  Without the adorable baby on my lap, I just couldn't produce.  I looked at his pictures, called home to hear him cry, and drank 4 liters of water per day, but nothing helped. 

My milk supply dwindled, as did my spirits.  For the first time in my life, I felt inadequate. 

Those feelings of inadequacy were foreign to me and I kept them secret for a few weeks until I finally was brave enough to share them with my husband.  I had no reason to, but felt ashamed.  I was disappointed in myself and didn't understand why I couldn't do better.  The stress was terrible, and it made me resent work.  

Ultimately, with a lot of empathy from my husband, I gave up nursing as my breast milk supply declined to nothing, around his fifth month.  

For my second son, who was a domestic newborn adoption - breast milk was not an option.  (Yes, there are breast milk donors but we were not interested in that option.)  So, formula it was.  Our second son has done excellent on formula since birth.  

...and bottle feeding formula was so much easier!!

With this, our third son, I am technically able to nurse.  However, I knew I wanted to resume my rheumatoid arthritis medication which is toxic in the breast milk, so I elected to not nurse.  

I elected to put myself first!  Much about mothering is sacrificial and most of those sacrifices have been made pretty willingly by me.  But this one, I just couldn't do it again.

The thing is, a lot of things are best for baby.  As I've said before on this blog, knowledge is power - powerful.  These days, it seems, parents are inundated with information.  The internet can be our enemy in this way.  We're bombarded with guidelines which stack up like a tall order of impossible expectations for high achieving women and men everywhere. 

As Melanie Haney, blogger at thefrozenmoon.com, eloquently puts it,
"...sometimes, life in this generation of motherhood can feel like martyrdom.  And it shouldn’t.  I gave birth four times, with an epidural, and I formula fed four babies – which is to say, I chose my own sanity over what society expects from me.... I chose to let my husband share in the intimacy of feeding our children, while I shared in some of the sleep that we were both so lacking.  There’s about as much shame in those choices for me, as there are special awards or trophies for women who deliver naturally and choose to exclusively breastfeed until they’re good and done. Which is to say – there’s none."

We must be thoughtful and purposeful about our choices for our family.  There will be some recommendations which we cannot or chose not to follow.  There will be others that we embrace. 

Here are some less popular "bests:"

It's best for baby to not watch any TV.  I'm proud to say that neither of our children have sat and watched a full TV show before the age of 1.  For both my boys, I think they were about 15 months before they had that pleasure.  Limiting screen time is something my husband and I feel really strongly about.

Back is best.... and an empty crib is best.  Our 19 month old is still sleeping in an empty crib.  I imagine this might seem excessive to some, just like breastfeeding at 19 months might seem excessive to some.  But I say both are great, if you can make it work. 

Along the lines of feeding, I happen to believe that fresh food is best.  I really don't like the idea that produce with a shelf life of three years being my baby's first food.  So for both my babies, I've made almost all of their food.  It might seem like a lot of work to some people (like breastfeeding does to me), but I actually find making baby food quite rewarding, and easy.  I've used a "baby bullet" and pureed and froze most of my boys' food from age 4-12 months.  I am very proud of this and think it's "best," but I also completely understand that it isn't for everyone.  I certainly don't judge my jar-feeding friends.  Nor do I think they have anything to feel guilty about. 

There are countless accurate reasons to tout the slogan, "breast is best," and I really don't mean to detract from that. 

If you aren't sure what's right for you and your baby, I encourage you to do your research.  I encourage you to try to nurse.  But I also beg you to not lose sleep, to not feel guilty, and to not be ashamed if you cannot or chose not to breastfeed.  Motherhood is hard work - be thoughtful, but don't beat yourself up!  And don't let anyone else (or any silly blog) beat you up either!!

Baby P number 3 is strictly formula fed.  So far he's healthy, and I pray he stays that way.  Technically I have a "good excuse" to not breastfeed, but even if I didn't, I'm not ashamed to say or to share:

I simply did not want to nurse.