Breastfeeding my baby boy was hard. Harder than anything I had ever expected and certainly harder than a unmedicated birth.
Baby boy was supplemented with formula for about a month, not because I didn’t make enough milk but because feeding him every time he was hungry was so excruciatingly painful.
In between feeding, sleeping, mixing formula and hand expressing I tried to find solace in other women’s stories online. Unfortunately, most of these stories would leave me even more desolate than before.
I read countless stories of women who supplemented with formula. They all spoke about their feelings of failure and desperate wish to breastfeed their children. That I could relate to. But every one of these women had a completely valid reason for not breastfeeding their babies: thyroid issues, insufficient tissue, breast surgery or even just that their baby was not getting enough milk.
And there was selfish little me, breasts bursting with milk with a baby gaining weight at record speeds and yet I was giving him formula for the simple reason that I was in pain.
I still wonder whether the formula really was necessary. Maybe I could have tried harder, just clenched my teeth a bit tighter, expressed for even more hours every day? I craved other stories like mine: how I could be producing so much milk but still be incapable of expressing enough to feed my baby? Surely there must be some other mothers out there who had gone through the same. For once the internet drew a blank, and that hurt.
The upside of my story is that baby and me made it to the other side. After a month of formula supplementing my nipples finally healed and we have been breastfeeding exclusively since.
But I worry that there are other mothers like me. Mothers who desperately want to breastfeed their child but are in pain, despite multiple lactation consultant visits. Mothers who have no “medical” reason not to breastfeed and feel even more embarrassed to tell their stories on blogs and message boards. I’m pretty certain many switch to formula to get some relief, feel like a failure and just decide to call it a day. Because I don’t think there is any support for the breastfeeding mother trying to wean her baby off formula. I got none.
Lucky for us, I’m extremely stubborn. I tracked all of baby boy’s feeds and gradually reduced the formula. We’d have a good couple of days, then one of my breasts would explode with pain again, so up the formula would go. Two steps one back. Then suddenly it was 60 ml, then 30 ml, then 0. We’d made it through.
I love breastfeeding. Despite the public change.in attitudes I still don’t think there is enough support and good information to help women breastfeed for as long as they want to. I think that the ubiquitous availability of formula might dissuade a new mother from exclusively breastfeeding her child, which I feel is a pity for both. But formula can also be a (literal) lifesaver and we should stop vilifying those who use it once, twice or all the time. Because if we do, we are removing support from exactly those women who need it the most.
It still makes me tear up when I see another mother nursing her 4-week old baby with a smile on her face. That certainly wasn’t me. I still think that I missed some piece in the puzzle, that there was something I could have done to prevent the nightmare. Maybe there was and maybe there wasn’t. At the very least I hope that my story can be comforting to someone out there.