By: Jessica Aldred
I just finished breastfeeding my newborn son. It’s such an intimate experience that can only be explained by woman blessed with the opportunity to do so. Shortly after I finished feeding him, my husband handed me a 3-ounce bottle of milk-free formula to complete the feeding. You see, I’m lucky if my little man gets an ounce per feeding from me. This is my third attempt to take advantage of the health and financial benefits of breastfeeding my children. While the reality that I can’t do something that comes so naturally to so many moms, and critics, was easier to handle this time, it was by no means easy.
Please know this, I did not choose for this happen. I did not set out to fail. I am just a mother trying all I can to keep my children healthy and happy, which means having a healthy and happy mother as well. In hindsight, I realized that while I did have a maternal need to feed my children, I also felt pressured to do so, like I was less of a woman and less of a mom because I couldn’t do it. I’d read articles about it in which they made it seem like breastfeeding was a decision, like you were selfish if you chose not to, or perhaps lazy if you opted for formula. Not once in any of the articles did they address those of us who didn’t have a choice, and that hurt me. I just wanted to scream, “Don’t you think I want to do this? Don’t you think I want to do it the way nature intended?” In the years that would follow my first delivery I constantly ran into woman just like me! They gave breastfeeding a whole-hearted attempt and when they realized it wasn’t working out, they either supplemented or moved on. Time after time I sat with or talked to another mom with tears in her eyes as she realized she wasn’t alone, that she wasn’t some freak of nature that couldn’t provide for her child. I remember how much it meant to each of them to find a kindred mother who she could vent her frustration to who would not only listen but could also empathize with her experience.
I found out within the first week after I delivered my eldest son via scheduled c-section that I wasn’t providing what he needed in the food department. I found a great support group and an amazing lactation consultant. I also tried all sorts of supplements, vitamins and even some prescription medications that were known to enhance milk supply. Despite my best efforts, I just couldn’t provide more than a few ounces a day for my son. In my lowest postpartum moments I felt like such a failure, like perhaps I wasn’t meant to be a mother if I couldn’t provide for such a basic need of my child. I felt so much pressure to fix my problem and create milk, but at the end of the day I just needed to feed my healthy, happy little boy. We supplemented with formula and were very quickly dealt another blow in the feeding department. My son had a pretty bad milk allergy and had to switch to a milk-free formula, which costs twice what normal formula does. Because our insurance did not cover it, we had to deal with an unexpected financial blow on top of the emotional roller coaster that came with not being able to breastfeed.
With my second son, I felt like I knew what I was up against and I had a realistic expectation. I’d attempt to feed him and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. I’d go right with the milk-free formula and that would be it. Again, I gave it a shot and gave him all I could produce but, alas, it was not meant to be. As I approached my due date with #3 I figured this was my last shot to do this and gave it my all. I visited my lactation consultant weeks prior, saved what I could produce prior to delivery and froze it, and did all I could to prepare my body to produce as much milk as possible.
My beautiful little man was delivered healthy and perfect! I breastfed the second I was able to hold him and every time he made a peep for the next three days. I recollect a moment where my husband expressed frustration that he couldn’t help me feed him as I sobbed through my exhaustion. But he knew that this was what I wanted, that I had to give this all I had before I could go the formula route. I still remember standing next to the scale each night as they weighed him, praying we could stay above the 10% weight loss limit. If he lost more than 10% of his weight, they would make me supplement and I was working so hard to not let that happen. Luckily, because I had some frozen from prior to delivery I was able to supplement with my own milk stores. However, the fear that I was heading down that all too familiar road set in. But this time was different. I was mentally prepared for this and to date, I have followed through with my plan. I’ll do whatever I can naturally to enhance my milk supply and I’ll get him whatever I can for as long as I can. I’ll pay for the doubly priced milk-free formula that my insurance won’t cover, and I’ll supplement as much as I need to in order to fill his cute little tummy. And I won’t feel guilty about it.
My amazing husband often reminds me that I have two perfectly healthy older sons who were ultimately formula fed and if this one needs to follow suit then so be it. As my baby approaches 6 weeks of age I’m happy to say that I’ve stuck to my plan. We enjoy the time we’re able to spend quietly breastfeeding, but I certainly don’t feel guilty when I’m running out the door to karate leaving my husband to finish up a feeding. My boys are healthy and perfect regardless of what they were fed as infants and I’m finally able to say I’m okay with that.