Breastfeeding: All or Nothing?
“Exclusively breastfeeding”, “Breast is best,” “Exclusively pumping”, “Fed is best”, “bottle feeding”, “formula fed”. “Breastfeeding is HARD.” “Breastfeeding is natural”. Whew.
There are so many terms and opinions surrounding breastfeeding and feeding your baby in general, sometimes the pressure to do it “right” is so high. What’s a new mom to do? Especially when the delivery of your baby or breastfeeding gets off to a rocky start.
When I was pregnant with my first, I took the childbirth class that my hospital offered and it covered some basics of nursing a baby, but beyond positioning, it was minimal. When my son was born, we started nursing right away. I was convinced that breastfeeding was the best way to feed him. The nurse gave me a nipple shield for some reason I didn’t really understand, something about the shape of my nipple made it hard for him to eat was what I was told. So, I went home, nervous about how feeding was going to go, but ready to give it my all. The early days were hard, he cried a lot. When he was one week old, I went to a lactation support group and discovered he had a tongue tie and could barely transfer milk out of my breasts, he was hungry.
Over the next several weeks we worked so hard to get him nursing. Numerous appointments, and providers. A feeding plan that involved nursing him with the nipple shield and a little tube that we pushed milk through a syringe into his mouth, which was followed by a bottle and then I would pump. I was determined to continue breastfeeding, but I was exhausted, stressed to the max and never sure what the right thing to do was. Finally, I saw an amazing Lactation consultant who listened empathetically to what we were doing at home for feeding and she said, “you can’t keep doing that, you’ll go crazy!” I felt so validated.
Once I was given the permission to use the tools I had, and not feel bad for bottle feeding, things improved so much. And I eventually did get to the point where we only nursed at the breast. Then I went back to work and starting pumping again and my supply dropped, and we were back to a combination of formula and breastmilk, which was just fine. After many weeks of pumping at work, I decided to wean him to where we were nursing twice a day: before bed and first thing in the morning. He drank formula during the day. We did this until he was one year old.
All this to say, that I learned a very valuable lesson: breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing. It’s a journey and what that journey looks like should be about what you and your family decide is best for your family, not what anyone tells you it should be. Bottles and formula sometimes get a bad reputation, but they allow us to feed our babies, and can be tools that help us achieve our breastfeeding goals. I am thankful for the tools and great lactation support that helped me nurse my son until he was one year.
Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will be different, what work for us may not work for others, but I feel like the best advice I could give new moms is: Take a breastfeeding class before your baby comes and find out who your lactation resources are and don’t hesitate to use them if something doesn’t seem right with your baby.
- Mandi RN, BSN, CLE
Some tools to help continue breastfeeding when you use bottles and pacifiers. A slow flow nipple will help baby transition between bottle and breast, and some pacifiers help babies strengthen muscles used in breastfeeding.