Our Breastfeeding and Formula Journey
Written by Kaci Smith
I breastfed Shepard for exactly one year. He was not exclusively breastfed that entire time, but definitely primarily. In all honesty, I probably would’ve gone longer, but I had gotten a new job and my start date was the day after his first birthday – and I had to report to Tempe, AZ for two weeks of training. (Leaving my one year old for two weeks even though I got to see him on the weekend in between was really hard, but that’s a story for another time.) My hand was forced to stop nursing on his exact birthday, and I cried that morning during his last nursing session while we sat in bed like we did almost every day for that entire year. It was a mixed range of emotions – I was proud of myself, sad that it was over, relieved that it was over, and looking forward to having my body back to myself. I was surprised at how sad I felt when it was coming to an end – because it wasn’t an easy road by any means. It was certainly challenging in the very beginning and I remember sobbing to my mom and husband on day 4 or 5 saying I wanted to quit and that I couldn’t do it anymore. It hurt like hell — but more than that, the pressure of nourishing another human and literally keeping them alive with what I produced every couple of hours was insanely stressful. I felt so much anxiety wondering if he was getting enough, worrying about his latch, wondering if what I was eating was causing him stomach pain, and I rarely wanted to leave the house because it was too much to think about trying to nurse him outside of our home. Eventually, we fell into a groove. It got easier, and I grew to enjoy the special time together.
There were many times I wanted to quit in that year, but I felt this pressure to be able to do it successfully and for as long as possible. My girlfriends were so supportive and never made me feel like it mattered to them, but for some reason in the back of my mind I thought – if they can do it, so can I. So *should* I. I didn’t want to be the only one that voluntarily quit. Even though I knew they weren’t judging me, I was judging me – which seems so silly now but it’s the truth. I felt guilty that I wanted to stop, and because it was more challenging emotionally than physically – for some reason, that wasn’t a good enough reason enough for me, and so I just kept going.
I am proud that I accomplished that, but was it all worth it?…Yes…no…maybe?! Probably?! I guess I’ll never know. But when asked about the breastfeeding plan for Scottie and if I had the same intention of trying to make it all year, I would’ve given you a resounding NO before she was born.
Even before I became pregnant with her, I thought a lot about how I would handle breastfeeding with another baby – because that was such a big part of postpartum life that I wasn’t prepared for. I felt that even if all went well again (from a capability standpoint) I probably wouldn’t nurse for an entire year. It’s a lot to be pregnant, postpartum, and/or nursing from a physical standpoint, and I never felt like my body was mine until I was completely done breastfeeding. I also had a lot of PPA (you can read about that here) that I’m not sure if it was tied to breastfeeding – but it surely didn’t help matters – and so I wanted to prioritize my mental health the second time around.
Enter pandemic (that’s important for later).
Fast forward, Scottie was born in November, and my game plan was basically to take it one day at a time and to not put so much pressure on myself. I committed to try and breastfeed, but to also be willing to supplement with formula if and when needed. A healthier mindset (for me) was that it did not have to be all or nothing, exclusive BF was not my goal, and that hopefully coming at it from that standpoint would actually allow me to nurse longer than I planned in my mind because I wouldn’t be as stressed out or feel so much pressure.
I was tested to put this new mindset into practice pretty early on with Scottie. She was born ten pounds and instantly had an appetite. She was one of those babies that literally came out, was placed on my chest, and started rooting around, found my breast, and latched. It was actually pretty incredible. (This did NOT happen with my first AT ALL, and it took weeks and weeks and weeks to get him to latch consistently).
Within the first two weeks, she went through typical growth spurts, and was on marathon nursing sessions. It’s pretty blurry now, but I remember a few cluster feeds that almost put me over the edge emotionally. The one that stands out the most was the first time I popped open the container of formula – she was approximately three weeks old. She fed at least every hour for 6 or 7 hours straight. I wanted to take 15 minutes to put my toddler down for bed and have a little bit of 1:1 time with him – but she wouldn’t stop screaming for more milk. I was totally depleted physically and emotionally. I told myself that it was okay to give her a little bit of formula – that was my game plan, right?! But then the postpartum hormones really kicked into high gear and my brave new plan started to become a dark cloud in my brain. How could I be thinking about doing this when she was so young? Why couldn’t my body sustain her like it did with Shepard? I should just suck it up like I did with Shep and keep trying. What if she hated formula? What if she loved it and wanted to stop nursing? What if I ruined my supply? The questions just went on and on in my downward spiral. I remember silently crying while I was laying in the dark with my toddler at all the self-hatred and doubt I felt toward myself. It was such a juxtaposition – I felt so angry with myself by also desperate to have a break.
(The actual crazy part was one of my friends was texting me about wanting to stop nursing her baby and I was her telling her not to be so hard on herself and to do what felt right for her – but somehow I couldn’t even take my own advice.)
Another blood curdling scream for milk that wasn’t producing. I texted my husband from Shep’s bed, and told him to try and give her a little formula. He wasn’t phased for even a second. “Great! I’ll give her some now,” He said. He was excited for the opportunity to feed her himself and give her a bottle.
She sucked that bottle down so fast. My self-loathing quickly turned into pure relief. I had to cry it out, but after that first time I felt completely better and 1,000% less stressed out on the feeding front. I kept nursing 90% of the time, but if she ever needed more or if my supply had run out during cluster feeds, we’d simply give her a bottle of formula or pumped milk and all was well in the world.
It was honestly so helpful to me – and I have enjoyed this postpartum period 100x more. A lot of that is due to not experiencing as much PPA this time around, but there’s a whole lot less stress when you’re not all consumed with exclusively breastfeeding (at least for me).
Now, we’re getting to a new phase – where I notice my supply has been dropping pretty significantly. We’re having to supplement many of her feeds – and I’m trying to come up with a game plan moving forward. Do I start to wean or keep trying? Should I be researching lactation cookies, power pumping, and trying my damnedest to get my supply back up? We’re in a pandemic – so maybe? But if I’m being really honest, I don’t want to. At least I don’t think I do. Sigh. I don’t know. None of it is easy, and most of it is all in my head.
I am going to share more about our current situation and the range of emotions I’ve been feeling lately next week in part two of this piece. Come back next Monday to read it, or join our email list to get notified once it posts. UPDATE – Part Two is here!
Let me know in the comments below if any of this resonates with you. As always, I’m here to share my personal experience. What works for some, doesn’t work for others, and my goal in sharing this is to help other moms who may have felt or feel the same way on their journeys.
Photo of when she latched on for the first time (as referenced in the post)
one of the good days
one of the hard days
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Our Breastfeeding and Formula Journey