While I was pregnant (and even before that) I had every intention of exclusively breastfeeding my baby for the recommended time. I took a breastfeeding class and felt fairly prepared even though I didn’t know what it would be like exactly. I remember the instructor telling us that breastfeeding success was 95 percent perseverance and 5 percent technique. I wasn’t worried because I understood how important breastfeeding was for my baby, and I knew I wasn’t going to give up. I also remember getting formula samples in the mail and wanting to give them away because I wasn’t going to use them. Thank goodness I decided to keep them “just in case,” because I ended up using them all.
Two weeks after my son was born, I found out he was losing weight and that it was because I wasn’t producing enough milk. I was devastated when my pediatrician told me I would need to start supplementing so my son could gain weight. How could this be? I’d done everything right and I had been holding on through excruciating pain because I knew how important it was! The doctor told me I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and that if I wanted, I could see a lactation specialist for help.
After a couple visits with the specialist I was only able to increase my supply a small amount and my son never got good at latching or transferring milk. So I ended up pumping every drop of milk I had and supplementing the rest — not exactly the wonderful breastfeeding relationship I had envisioned.
It was hard for me to get over the fact that I couldn’t breastfeed, and I mourned that relationship for a long time. But I know there are a lot of other women out there who are unable to breastfeed for one reason or another, even though they may want to. For those moms, I want to share a few things I learned.
1. Not being able to breastfeed doesn’t make you a failure
I remember crying in my car after leaving the pediatrician’s office because I didn’t want to feel like I hadn’t given that 95 percent. I wanted to be the best mom possible, and I felt like an absolute failure because my body couldn’t give my baby what he needed. Now I realize that the other things I gave my son, like love and attention, were just as important. And even though he only breastfed for a short time, he’s just as attached to his mommy as any child I’ve seen. As long as you are taking care of your baby, you are not failing!
2. Supplementing can be a wonderful thing
I know you’ve probably heard all sorts of bad things about formula, but I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I live in a time when it’s available. It saves babies lives! Because of everything I’d heard, I really didn’t want to give my baby formula. But you know what? A couple weeks after we started supplementing, my son looked so much healthier and was gaining weight. Giving him formula at that time was the best thing for him. It was my pride that was getting in the way of him being healthy. Don’t feel bad if you have to give your baby formula, whether it’s because you don’t make enough milk, your baby has allergies or whatever the problem may be. The important thing is that your baby is getting the nutrition he or she needs.
3. Don’t worry about people judging you
I remember the first time I pulled out a bottle in public and thought that everyone around me must be judging me for not breastfeeding my baby. But I later learned that most people don’t really care how you feed your baby, and probably don’t even notice. There will be some who notice or judge, or try to tell you what you should be doing, but they aren’t worth your time — you know what is best for your own baby. Surround yourself with supportive people. Share your story if you feel comfortable, and you’ll be surprised at the support you receive from other moms (and even dads). And when you do get stares, just remember that they’re all looking to see how cute your baby is!
4. This too shall pass
I thought not being able to breastfeed was such a tragedy in my life. Then my son started getting older, and now it’s not even a part of his life anymore. He’s off to his next big adventure as a toddler, and we don’t even think about breastfeeding anymore. What may seem like your whole world right now will be over before you know it.
5. Enjoy your baby
Speaking of short times, you don’t want to miss out on your baby. I realized after a while that I was spending so much time worried about what I was putting in my baby’s belly that I wasn’t enjoying the beautiful creation I had in front of me. Babies grow up so fast, and the real tragedy is missing out on moments because you’re so worried about breastfeeding. Though it is sometimes hard, try to relax and just enjoy the time you have together.