Breast is Best, and Other Lies I Told Myself

I can still remember it now; pregnant, glowing and naive. Every time someone asked “will you be breastfeeding?” I would smile eat your ear and say “of course!” What a silly question, I would think to myself.

The truth is I had always planned on breastfeeding my future children. I had read the studies and (more often than actual studies… let’s face it) the viral Facebook posts about breast milk being the best option.

My mother exclusively breastfed all three of her children, so naturally it was just what I always thought I would do too.

I had seen all the gorgeously curated instagram photos of Insta moms lovingly snuggling their breastfeeding babies. I wanted that.

I had dreamt of the bonding it would bring me and my future children.

Also… if I’m being super honest, that stuff is free!!!! Like FREE free…. of course I’m doing it!

On February 9th, 2019 my daughter was born. Like most millennial mothers, I brought to the hospital my neatly typed out birth plan, which, like most millennial mothers birth plans are, was thrown right out the window (plan all you want future mamas your plans are probably gonna change).

Although my overall plan was scrapped, I made sure that my main wishes were met: immediate skin to skin, delayed cord cutting, and a delayed bath. Skin to skin was most important to me so I could begin what I thought would be the most beautiful part of our journey together… breastfeeding.

About 5 minutes after my daughter was born and placed on my chest, she began to nurse. She latched perfectly, all on her own, and we began this beautiful chapter together.

She only lost 1 oz, of weight going home from the hospital, and when we went for her 1 week check up the following week she had gained 4 oz! My nipples were sore, but not cracked, she was eating for 20 minutes every 3 hours on the dot, and gaining lots of weight. I remember being so proud and so happy, and thinking “wow this is so easy!”

Well fast forward a few weeks… Suddenly my happy eater was screaming, crying, and unlatching constantly at feeds. My husband would rub my shoulder and tell me it’s gonna be ok as I cried because she was crying and wouldn’t eat.

Well I talked to the lactation consultant at our pediatrician. Turns out I had a quick and heavy let down and an oversupply. This made a ton of sense to me because I would fill my breast pump bottles 2 minutes into a pump session. I remember her saying “yeah you would think that was a good thing right? Actually you’re drowning her in milk.”

I was relieved to have an answer, and she helped me work through the issue. We practiced all the tips she recommended. We continued breastfeeding.

A few months in I began having more issues. My ducts we’re constantly clogged, and I continually got milk blisters. Turns out the milk blisters were the cause of the clogged ducts. For those of you who don’t know what they are, it’s when the skin on your nipples just randomly decides to grow over your duct and cut off the flow. This causes the milk to build up and cause a very painful blister, which becomes even MORE painful as your child nurses.

I would feverishly try all the remedies to fix it, because they were so painful, and I feared mastitis. Sometimes they would last days. Still I refused to give up. I wore heating pads in my bra, dunked my boobs in and out of hot epsom salt water, massaged the crap out of my huge engorged and lumpy boobs, and pressed on! Nothing would stop me from my goal, no matter how painful!

I returned to work 4 months after my daughter was born. It was only part time, so I began pumping the 2 days I was working. This was working well for me; but, slowly my supply began to drop. It was super slow but noticeable.

I began supplementing to boost it back up. I ate pounds of oatmeal, added brewers yeast to all of my smoothies, drank lactation tea, ate lactation cookies. This had an effect for a while, but eventually it kind of plateaued.

When she started eating more and more solids around 7 months, it really started dropping. I turned down trips away, and nights out because I didn’t want to dip into my stash more than necessary. I needed that milk for work and events I had already planned on going to.

I began to get really upset about it. At first I just kept it to myself, and got nervous when I’d pump and watch my supply drop throughout the day. Eventually I started voicing my concern to my hubby.

My husband told me to stop stressing about it and just try some formula to supplement. I’m pretty sure I snapped at him. If I remember correctly the conversation went something like this:

My super supportive husband: “Honey, if it’s getting that bad why not try introducing some formula. That way you can still go places without her, and she’s getting fed. You’ve done an amazing job so far, don’t kill yourself over it.”

Crazy me: “are you freaking kidding me?! I’m not gonna give her formula unless I have to! I have enough for when I need to leave her with a babysitter, and I’ll just make it work until she’s 12 months! I can do this!”

This conversation happened a few times… basically, whenever something fun came up and I said no because my supply was starting to dwindle.

Around this same time my daughter began popping teeth left and right. The girl went from all gums to 7 teeth in about 6 weeks. My poor daughter was teething nonstop, and often using my boob for comfort and pain relief.

While nursing, every so often she would test out these new teeth. That’s right… she would chomp down…. HARD. So hard that I’d scream! She thought this was hilarious.

Once again I asked friends and the pediatrician/ lactation specialist for advice. I tried it all. I took the boob away for a few minutes every time she would bite me and tell her no biting, I would pretend to cry and get real dramatic, and I would push her face into my boob til she would un-latch.

Whatever I tried this kid thought was hilarious! I screamed, she smiled. I pretended to cry she pulled off and laughed. She started pushing her own face into my boob because she thought that was a game, and the funniest game she ever played…. oh and then she’d bite me.

Then, after months of her sleeping through the night, she started waking multiple times. A thought popped into my head a few weeks in…. maybe she’s not getting enough to eat before bed? This would kind of make sense because when I would pump after 2 pm I would get about 2 oz total…. not exactly enough to keep my ravenous 10 month old full through the night.

Finally, faced with sore nipples, low supply and now lack of sleep I was ready to listen to suggestions, and admit that it may be time to supplement some formula.

I texted one of my best friends who had been supplementing her own baby with formula for a few months. I asked which brand she used, and asked how to do it etc.. I researched, asked a few other friends and finally, I ordered my daughter a formula I felt comfortable giving her.

Still I felt resistance to giving up on my goal and giving my daughter the formula. Not because I think formula is bad, just because I’d be admitting defeat…. yes I know that’s crazy. Mom brains are not always sane brains.

I gave her the first bottle a few weeks ago during the afternoon so I could see how she would react to it. She took that bottle down like it was the best thing she had ever tasted!

I sat there in awe watching my daughter chug a bottle of formula, and had so many thoughts and feelings flood through my brain.

I thought I was going to cry, I thought I would be so sad to watch her enjoy anything but nursing. I didn’t. I felt joy. I felt freedom.

Mostly though, I felt so relieved. The pressure was off! Pressure I felt from media with the constant “breast is best” campaigns, pressure from society, from well meaning friends, but mostly pressure from myself.

I had set this goal for myself to breastfeed until 12 months, and I was so set on meeting it. I was so focused on doing it perfectly. Why?! For myself? What was I winning? What was I gaining?

I felt so much happier the second I watched my daughter take that bottle, so much lighter. I realized I had been making myself miserable for the last few months from sheer stubbornness. I set a goal and I was gonna meet it.

It never occurred to me that I could keep breastfeeding, and supplement a bottle of formula here and there. No, I had to do it perfectly, as if there was even a perfect way to feed my daughter.

Here’s the real kicker; I have always encouraged others to feed there babies however they had to. Several friends of mine couldn’t breastfeed, or had to supplement with formula, or just chose not to and I was always there cheering them on.

I truly believe that fed is best, period. If you don’t want to, or can’t breastfeed for any reason, I completely support you feeding your baby any which way you have to. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how your baby got their nutrition, it just matters that they’re fed.

However, when it came to myself I couldn’t give myself that same support.

I realize just how insane that is. Even as I would hear myself get defensive when my husband was trying to help me, I knew how crazy and hypocritical I was.

I knew that formula wasn’t bad and wasn’t going to harm my child, in fact it was going to help her get the nutrients she needed… but it felt like I was failing her to admit that I may need to supplement.

I’m not alone in this. Almost every mother I know who wanted to breastfeed and had to come to terms with stopping or supplementing has felt this way.

It’s crazy! Why do we do it?!

Part of me thinks it’s because we are so bombarded by Facebook articles and Instagram posts about how important breastfeeding is. We are told by media that anyone can do it, and that you should not give up no matter how hard it is or how much you have to work at it.

We have literature shoved in our face at the hospital, and by pediatricians telling us never give up! Nurse through the pain! You can do it!

There’s a damn poster in my pump room at work that makes me so angry every time I pump my sad supply. It says: “of course your body can produce enough milk, it just made a baby!” It is so triggering! It’s also NOT true, but a struggling mama may take it on and feel so bad that she’s not able to.

Well here is the facts, your child benefits from any amount of breast milk they receive. If they breastfed once, they got amazing benefits from it. As long as they are given love, shelter and food, your baby will grow up and thrive whether they are breastfed or not. Most of our generation, and our parents entire generation were formula fed. Seriously! I’m pretty sure most of them turned out perfectly fine!

My daughter looks at me the same way now as she did when she was exclusively breastfed. She knows she is so loved, and she is getting all the nutrients she needs to grow and be a healthy child. That is all that matters.

I fully encourage all mamas to breastfeed if that’s what they choose, and are able to do. I also encourage you all to know that you are NOT a failure if it doesn’t work out, or if that’s not what you choose to do.

Let’s stop pressuring ourselves, and other mamas so much. Unfollow that “breast is best” Instagram if it’s making you feel awful. Follow uplifting mama pages instead! You know the ones that support any and all kinds of mamas.

Stop asking mothers “are you breastfeeding?” I know you mean well, but maybe they aren’t able to. Maybe they tried everything to make it work and it just didn’t. Maybe they couldn’t handle the mental and emotional strain it was putting on them. Maybe they just didn’t want to! Know that it is none of your business to know how a baby is fed, as long as they are being fed.

The fact is that your child will grow up, and nobody will be able to tell if they were formula fed or breastfed. They won’t know if that child’s mama tried for months to breastfeed and failed. They won’t know if that baby started on formula the second they were born.

What people will be able to tell is how loved your child was, how nurtured, what kind of morals they were taught, and how well adjusted they are. We are all raising our babies in hopes that they’ll be productive, happy, kind members of society; none of that can be caused by how they are fed.

So let’s focus on the time we spend with them, and the love we share with them. The fact that you worry about any of this at all means you’re doing a great job mama.

If you have felt any shame or failure around feeding your baby please know you aren’t alone. If you know someone feeling this way, be supportive, share this story with them, and know that we are all trying our best.

Fed is best, and you are the best mama your child could ever hope for. Trust me.