By this point, we all know about the benefits of breastfeeding for both moms and babies. I’ve been a proponent of breastfeeding since long before I had children. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized what my stance really is when I saw the phrase circulating social media: “Fed is best.”
When I was pregnant with Lily, I planned to breastfeed. I also planned to do so only to the extent that it didn’t negatively impact my quality of life, her health and happiness, or my relationship with my husband, friends, and/or family. I read so many stories about women who were staunch breastfeeding supporters and wouldn’t feed their babies formula even though they were struggling to maintain weight. They went so far as to tape little tubes to their breasts, and pumped around the clock. It angered me how these women felt that they should be praised for these efforts, all the while they also expressed how exhausted they were and how going to these extents meant that spent less time with their babies, older children, spouses, family members, and friends.
I knew I was incredibly lucky when Lily latched on within a few minutes, and I had an oversupply of milk. After she nursed for the last time in January 2016, I threw out my extensive freezer stash. When Maggie was born, I immediately knew something was different. I produced just enough milk to keep her fed. She was an incredibly fussy eater, and in the evenings during her witching hour(s) often couldn’t latch. There were a number of times I gave her bottles of expressed milk, but I had such a small amount saved up that I considered supplementing with formula very early on. Evenings were incredibly stressful, with her screaming inconsolably from as early as 6pm to as late as 11:30pm. It was impacting my life, and taking away from time spent with Lily and Ryan. There were endless nights of bringing her into our room at 7pm, and eventually passing her off to Ryan a few hours later when I couldn’t take it anymore. Every night I struggled with whether or not to give her a bottle and then pump, which I dreaded. Then suddenly at 7 weeks, things got better. She started latching more effectively and was much less fussy. But when I went back to work at 13 weeks postpartum, I was barely producing enough milk. I depleted my freezer stash, and could only pump enough for the next day. I often had to pump in the morning and evening as well. When we had a 3-night trip away from the girls looming when Maggie would be 5 months old, I knew we’d have to supplement.
Preparing that first bottle of formula was strangely liberating. With Lily, I think I may have cried if I was forced to give her formula. With Maggie, it was like this huge weight was lifted off of me. Here I was with an alternative for when she struggled to nurse because there just wasn’t much there for her, for those evenings when she bit me because nothing was coming out. She had formula for 1 1/5 days of our trip, and of course was completely fine. These days, she ends up getting one formula bottle about half the time when I’m at work. Probably 2 days a week, I end up giving her formula before bed because I just don’t have enough left in my boobs (this is usually toward the end of the week). And then of course she nurses 3 times a night at 8 months which is a nightmare, but part of me is okay with it because I do want her to get that little bit more of breastmilk.
While my supply is definitely lower this time around, being at work full time has absolutely made pumping more difficult. With Lily, I only worked full time for about a month before going to 2 days a week. Pumping 3 times a day, 2 days a week is nothing. Pumping 3 times a day, 5 days a week and not producing enough is exhausting. I get so anxious looking at the timer on my pump, and sometimes I’ll get to 14:45 and just rip the thing off (I try to pump for 15 minutes). I also have to work through pumping sessions, because otherwise I’d have to take 45 minutes worth of unpaid breaks during the day. This means my back is completely wrecked from sitting hunched over, typing one-handed while trying to push every last drop out. It’s complete crap that we’re expected to exclusively breast feed for 6 months, but we have to go back to work after only a few weeks and don’t get paid for pumping breaks.
I reached out to a lactation consultant when I was considering stopping pumping because of my low supply. I wanted her to say that it was okay to supplement with formula. Instead, she suggested I add a pumping session in the morning and/or the evening, and that I try relaxing while pumping at work. If she had said this to me in person, I may have bitten her head off. There is no way I would pump in the morning or evening and take away from time spent doing chores that enable me to be more present with my girls when they’re awake. And relaxing at work? I don’t think an extra ounce of milk is worth 45 less minutes with my family. She also suggested that I ask my childcare providers to offer her fewer bottles, and more solid food and water during the day. Why wouldn’t I just send her with an extra bottle of formula then? I’m all for lactation consultants, but that last suggestion really put me off.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. I think. I stopped pumping with Lily at 10 months, because she stopped taking bottles. But I was also home with her the other 5 days of the week, and she would nurse those days. With Maggie, I think I’ll stop when she’s 12 months old, but what if she wants bottles during the day? Do I just send formula? Or do I keep pumping? What did you do?
PS: I switched to the Spectra S2 pump after my Medela Symphony just wasn’t cutting it. This pump is such an improvement! It’s so quiet, and much more efficient. It came highly recommended by a lactation consultant, who said she didn’t know why people would choose the Medela over it. Plus, it’s kind of cute. Spectra S2 Plus