Thursday, March 17, 2011

When breast isn't best

This is a topic that's very near and dear to my heart, however, I know that not everyone will agree with my opinion.  That's okay - we can agree to disagree and still respect each other's opinions.  I'd like to share my opinion, and my story, though...

I don't believe that "the breast is best" when it comes to feeding a baby.  At least not in all circumstances.  I had incredible difficulties breastfeeding both of my children, and I am so thankful that I live in a time and place where there is a safe and nutritious alternative to breastmilk.  To some people "formula" is a dirty word, but to me, it is a gift that allowed me to feed my children without pain or stress. 

I experienced almost every problem in the book when it came to breastfeeding (except lack of milk - that was one thing I had in abundance!).  I had sore nipples, yeast infections and mastitis.  Often it seemed that one problem would almost be gone, and then another would crop up.  I couldn't win for trying (and oh, did I try).  With Annika, I met with 8 (yes, EIGHT) different feeding consultants, and still I could not resolve the problems.  I got to the point where I would cry (either from pain or from frustration) during or after every feeding.  I dreaded feedings.  However, I felt like I couldn't give up nursing, because it seemed almost every healthcare professional told me, "breast is best, breast is best."  I felt like a failure as a mother.  It was my family doctor, and a very dear friend (she will always hold a special place in my heart for the support she gave me during this time) who finally helped me get through my feelings of guilt.  My doctor told me, "my mother bottle-fed me and look, I turned out to be a doctor", and my friend told me that a bottle-fed baby is just as loved as a breast-fed baby and that's all that really matters.  By 3 months, Annika was weaned (after a very long and frustrating process - she wasn't thrilled about the bottle at first) and I could finally enjoy feeding my baby.  I've never regretted my decision, and Annika is now a healthy, happy and extremely bright almost-3 year old.

When I was pregnant with Emmett, I was a little worried about how breastfeeding would go this time around, but I didn't have the same anxiety as with Annika, because I knew that I could switch to formula if needed (and not feel guilty about it).  Breastfeeding didn't happen initially with Emmett, as he was a bit premature, and didn't even latch on for the first 2 days in the hospital.  He finally got the hang of it, and for the first while it seemed to be going not too bad (not great, but not bad).  I was determined that he would also take a bottle, even if he was breastfed, so we started giving him one bottle of formula a day when he was one week old.  He didn't seem to have any trouble adjusting to the bottle, or to the formula (I hate pumping, and didn't have time for it, so he just got formula in the bottle). 

Things seemed to be going well, until all the old problems started coming back again.  This time I met with 2 different consultants - no time for endless appointments when you've also got a toddler running around!  They both told me the same thing, and it frustrated me to no end -- "you're doing everything right".  That's right, there was nothing wrong with his latch, my positioning, nothing!!  Nothing I could change, and yet, I was still having all these problems.  I was almost ready to give up nursing when Emmett was 1 month, but I stuck in there a little longer, determined to give it a fair fight.  I knew that I could switch, and everything would be fine, but I really wanted to have a good experience with breastfeeding.  Emmett is (hopefully) my last child, so this was it. 

Then came the mastitis.  It knocked me down, physically and emotionally.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I had nothing left in me to fight.  I knew that for me to be the best mother (for both Annika and Emmett), I needed to switch to formula.  The stress and pain of breastfeeding was not only affecting me and Emmett, but it was also affecting the rest of the family.  It was time, and I was okay with that.  Weaning Emmett was much easier than Annika, as he was already used to having formula and bottles.  He was about 2 and a half months when I nursed him for the last time.  Now feedings are a happy time for all of us, and that's what's really important.  When I feed Emmett, when I hold him close and he looks up at me with those big blue eyes, I know that I'm doing what's best for him.

So that's my story.  When I see other moms having troubles with breastfeeding, I want to let them know that it's okay to switch.  Yes, breastfeeding is great, and it has its benefits, but ultimately, it may not be what's best for your family.  I think a lot of healthcare professionals stress breastfeeding (and exclusive breastfeeding at that) so much that it creates a lot of unnecessary stress and guilt in mothers.  Do I wish that I could've had a better experience with breastfeeding?  Yes, I do.  I'll admit, I'm a bit envious of women who are able to nurse with no problems.  But do I regret the decisions I've made or feel guilty about them?  Not for a minute.  I know that I've done what's best for my children and my family, and that's what really matters.


Andrea said...

Preach it, sista'! :)

K said...

Although I'm not a mother, I appreciate your perspective on this, and I can't understand why people get so upset on one side or the other. A healthy, happy baby is paramount; why sacrifice that for the stress, pain, and difficulty of problematic breastfeeding? I mean, if it happens, great. If not, seeking alternatives would seem to be the best option for the baby.
If I have kids and have the same difficulties, I think I'll take a page from your book and alternate between the two so that weaning is faster. Good call.

LaughingLady said...

I felt terribly guilty when I switched over to formula, but with both girls, there was no other way to feed them ~ I'm simply not a good milker!!!

I struggled with it for 6 weeks with the first one, but honestly, it wasn't until that struggle was over that I actually started WANTING her in my life and loving her. I can probably blame the weeks she was still in the hospital while I was at home after her birth for some of the problems ~ only being allowed to see her for half an hour three times a day is not conducive to breast-feeding and bonding, but I think it would have been an issue anyway since I just didn't produce.

Our second one got even less of "the good stuff" ~ only 8 days' worth ~ before I switched to formula in order to make sure she got enough to eat. I think they've both turned out well and I'm pretty sure your kids will, too!!

I am so thankful, too, that my girls were born in an age when there WAS a healthy alternative to breastmilk. I can't really imagine how it would have worked without it.

Melissa said...

You know my heart on this, I felt very passionate about breastfeeding Sydney till she was 2 years old, and I surpassed that goal but not without hardships along the way. I do however agree that it's not for every mother and I have always tried to respect others opinions, in hopes that they would respect mine.

You did what was best for you and your family, and that is something to be proud of:)

Rachel said...

I nursed for 8 months even after going back to work and pumping every couple hours. My trouble was I couldn't store much without discomfort and leaking. Jacob ate every 2 hours! What struck me about your post was the eye contact and bond you felt, which is what I loved about nursing. So you're right, what you feed doesn't matter so much as what you and that babe feel for each other.

pam said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! It's neat to hear the different perspectives and experiences.

Nancy said...

I am so glad I read this today. I have had a very similar expereince breastfeeding my kids. My feeding problems with Timothy are starting to get worse instead of better. It's been over 8 weeks and I have never once fed him without pain. I decided to give it one more week before I throw in the towel. I am seeing a lactation consultant on Sunday and if there are still no answers I have to switch to the bottle. I switched with Lillian at 3 months and I never regretted that decision but for some reason I cannot get over the guilt this time. Everyone I talk to has breastfed longer than me and for some reason that makes me feel like less of a mother. Thank you so much for everything you said in this post because it makes me feel much less guilty when I think about switching.