My relationship with breastfeeding definitely falls into “it’s complicated” territory. I found it uncomfortable, and even painful to start with both of my babies. I was able to get early support from a lactation consultant in Chicago to help me troubleshoot and get the reassurance that my kids were latching well and taking in enough milk. That didn’t make the pain of sore nipples go away, but it did reassure me that every “if it hurts you’re doing it wrong” post on the Internet wasn’t true for me.
But still, it was a chore. Pumping after I returned to work was also a slog, and I found the combination of feeding and pumping, sometimes while traveling for client work, to be tricky. This ultimately led to even more pumping. Being tied physically to the 3-4 hour cycles of feeding times was a mental challenge for me, too. I craved the chance to wander aimlessly through the aisles of Target without a biological timer of full breasts telling me I had to check out and rush home (or risk another pump session!).
With my firstborn, Owen, I had to cut out dairy and soy which was difficult at first, but worth it given the hugely positive impact on his mood. It took feedings from semi traumatic (a lot of fussing and crying during and after every feed) to tolerable. I know plenty of friends who told me they loved the snuggle time, the bonding and the convenience of feeding their babies whenever and wherever. I felt happy for them. But it wasn’t my reality. I was just as happy holding my babies on my chest once we started formula as I was snuggling them after I snapped that breastfeeding tank top back in place. Perhaps it was even better because I was relaxed.
Around the 7 to 8 month mark, I started introducing formula with both my kids. It was a relief to me, and in retrospect I think combination feeding earlier may have helped me with the general stress of mothering, especially after returning to work. I was always a “just enough” pumper so I feared that it would tank my supply so I waited until I was ready. And though I may not have been ready to say it out loud, the vague messaging of “breast is best” sat somewhere in my subconscious, reverberating just loud enough to keep me pumping and feeding longer than I had planned.
Why do I share this? It’s so important to arm parents with the knowledge that how they feed their babies is a choice, that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and that they can change their preference. That it’s ok not to love breastfeeding and decide to do it anyway (as I did). That it’s ok to love it and stick with it for as long as you like. That it’s ok to prioritize your mental health ahead of the messaging that breastfeeding is best for mom and baby and start with formula feeding from the start. Any of those options in any combination is fine. You have to do what works for you and your family.
It’s important to acknowledge how difficult breastfeeding can be. It’s equally important that we make it easy for families to find support early and that health insurance companies improve coverage for these services, particularly in-home visits with lactation consultants. No more “in network” coverage at 100% with no in-network providers.
Interested in joining Partum Health on a mission to make care for growing families, including lactation and infant feeding support, expected, ubiquitous and accessible? Join our community here.