By Kimmie Fink
In the motherhood of my dreams, I imagined that I would breastfeed for at least 12 months. I knew all the benefits of breastmilk: higher IQ, infection prevention, bonding, convenience, economy, losing the baby weight. I didn’t even bother to read the sections on formula feeding in my baby books. I had, if you will, drunk the breastfeeding Kool-Aid.
Imagine my surprise when something that was supposed to be so natural didn’t come naturally. In the hospital, my newborn daughter wouldn’t latch on. The nurse took to squeezing the shit out of my breast and spooning milk into my baby. Fun. We then resorted to a nipple shield, which is a plastic device that draws your nipple out, giving baby more to work with. That’s a good thing, but once she is used to that, she is reluctant to latch on to your actual nipple. It is also obnoxious because it has to be constantly cleaned and sanitized, carried around in a little container in the diaper bag, and fiddled around with under a nursing cover.
At her two-day checkup, our little girl had dropped below her birth weight. I was prepared for this; I knew it happened to most babies. But apparently she had lost too much. The nurse asked me how I felt about formula on a scale of 1-10. My answer: negative 3. She responded, “What if it is in the best interest of your child’s health?” Well played, Nurse Master of Emotional Manipulation of New Mothers. Not two minutes later, my daughter was sucking down that delicious sugar water.
Before we took her home, we stopped at Target to stock up on formula. That shit is expensive. We followed the nurse’s suggestion and supplemented with formula after each breastfeeding session until my milk came in. On day three, my breasts filled with what I can only assume were giant milk rocks (I’m going with a 7 on Mohs Hardness Scale). I was full of milk, but baby was still clamoring for formula after a feed, so we kept giving her the bottle (now affectionately referred to as Daddy’s Boob). My husband thought it was really funny to tell her, “Now it’s time for the good stuff.” He was very nearly a victim of spouse-icide when he gave her a bottle while I was napping instead of waking me up to breastfeed her first. The nerve.
Next stop: pumping. I just knew it had to increase my supply. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My husband, sister, and I sat around the dining room table with a manual and more parts than an IKEA bookshelf.
I was eventually able to hook myself up, and I followed the directions to turn it as high as I could stand during the let-down phase. When that ended and the pump kicked into hyper drive, I thought I was going to die as my tiny boobs were pulled from my body. I lasted exactly one minute. I eventually discovered that turning the pump up higher wasn’t necessary, but pumping was never easy.
I watched lots of Ted Talks to drown out the sound of my pump saying what sounded like “rat poop” on repeat. I sent excited texts to my husband when I got more than an ounce and wept when I inevitably spilled some of that liquid gold.
I saw three different lactation consultants and followed all their advice. I breastfed my baby every two hours around the clock. I took a plant-based supplement designed to increase milk production. My mom made me breastfeeding cookies and I drank dark beer. (Go ahead and judge me, Judgy McJudgerson.)
One LC set me up with a supplemental nursing system (SNS). This is as a medieval torture device in which mom wears a jug of formula around her neck and sticks a tiny tube in her infant’s mouth with what I can only assume is her third hand while she breastfeeds in order to stimulate more milk production. That went into the trash after about an hour of hysterical crying (on my part). The only person who was actually helpful was a male pediatrician and certified LC who helped wean my daughter off the nipple shield. Who knew it was as simple as trying a U instead of a C-shape?
Over the next few months, we continued our battle-rhythm. I breastfed baby on demand and followed up with a bottle of formula mixed with whatever pumped milk I had managed to store. I was gradually able to reduce the amount of formula I was giving her to two ounces a day, and I was thrilled.
Unfortunately, at her six-month appointment, my sweet baby wasn’t exactly thriving. Baby girl was in the sixth percentile for weight. The doctor suggested upping the amount of formula…and I did. At that point, I realized that a new mom has limited fucks to give and I wasn’t going to waste one on this anymore. Baby was starting solid foods anyway. I was tired of pumping for a mere quarter ounce, so I gave that up. After a few weeks, I was only breastfeeding first thing in the morning for bonding. A month later, I came down with stomach flu and sequestered myself in the guest room so as not to infect my family (my dear husband dubbed this time period the Post-Mommy Apocalypse).
And that was the end of breastfeeding for me.
My daughter is now a healthy, happy 15-month-old. I wish I’d been able to breastfeed longer, and I definitely give props to moms who do (and I will defend your right to nurse in public). But I now understand why so many new mothers choose formula.
We need more education and support and less shaming and judgment. I feel like I could do so much better given another chance. With the next baby, I’ll be damned if I let breastfeeding break me.
About the Author
Kimmie Fink is a stay-at-home mom to a one year-old, a former teacher, and an education consultant. When she’s not changing poopy diapers, she blogs on issues of diversity and equity for elementary educators and parents of young children. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.