From the moment Olivia was born she seemed like such a natural at breastfeeding. She latched immediately when we got to our recovery room and started eating like a champ. In fact, she did so great eating in the hospital that the lactation consultant didn’t even need to watch a feed. She gave us some pamphlets on breastfeeding and went on her way. I truly couldn’t believe how lucky I was with this. I thought breastfeeding would be an uphill battle, but it seemed like everything was going smoothly. Little did I know there is some baby magic in the air at hospitals because when you get home everything changes.
Once my milk started to come in Olivia really started to struggle with eating. She was gagging and choking throughout the entire feed. Not even five minutes into a feed both of us would be covered in milk. Then, more often than not at the end of a feed (sometimes in the middle) she would throw up what she had just ate. It was quite clear that neither of us were enjoying our new normal. My husband and I spent the first month of her life trying to figure out how to make feeding time a little easier. I tried multiple holds, I tried pumping for five minutes before a feeding to get through a letdown, I tried feeding her the entire time on one side, I tried switching sides ten minutes into a feeding, I tried meeting with a lactation consultant, I tired phone calls with lactation consultants, I tried meeting with her doctor, the list goes on and on.
For the first few weeks of her life I felt so compelled to breastfeed that I was making myself miserable, but I thought I was benefiting my daughter so I kept pushing through. She had a good amount of wet diapers (not great, but not low enough for me to worry) and was gaining weight so I thought everything was going well. However, one morning every one of her diapers was filled with dark urine. I began to panic as any new mother would. One of the most stressful parts of motherhood is making sure your baby is eating enough. If you are anything like me you will spend the first months of your newborns life constantly worrying if they are getting enough food. I quickly realized that my daughter wasn’t. After an appointment with her pediatrician we decided that it would be best if I started exclusively pumping and feeding her through bottles so that I could better control the speed at which she was eating.
Once I started pumping we quickly realized that a big part of the problem with breastfeeding her was how much milk I was producing. I was able to get anywhere from 8-11 oz. per pumping session. The doctor explained to me that she was overwhelmed by the amount of milk coming out and the constant choking and gagging was creating an adverse reaction to breastfeeding. She associated breastfeeding with the pain. Now that we were bottle feeding her breastmilk we started to notice some improvement. Her wet diapers began to increase and the urine returned to clear. She had stopped choking on the milk and was able to finish a bottle without too many issues. However, we still couldn’t stop the spitting up. Now some spit up is very normal and shouldn’t cause much concern. However, Olivia was spitting up as often as five times during a small 3 oz. bottle. Once she finished the bottle she would still projectile vomit up the rest.
I still felt determined to give my daughter breastmilk. I felt so much pressure from society saying breast is best that I felt ashamed to give her anything else. So we started trying some different options to help get her through the bottle. We tried the pace feeding technique – didn’t work. We tried feeding her sitting straight up – didn’t work. We tried feeding her at a 45 degree angle – didn’t work. We tried feeding her more frequently with smaller bottles – didn’t work. We tried giving her gripe water – didn’t work. We tried changing bottles – didn’t work. We tried different temperatures of the milk – didn’t work. I tried diet changes – didn’t work. Notice a pattern? Absolutely nothing I was doing was helping my poor daughter get the nutrients she needed.
I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this struggle. I was putting all of my time and energy into feeding her and began to feel like I was missing out on enjoying this time with my daughter. We decided to schedule another appointment with her pediatrician to discuss some other options. It was emotionally a very difficult appointment for me. I truly felt like I had failed my daughter. Breastfeeding your child is advertised as the most natural thing in the world yet for some reason I just couldn’t do it. I felt like less of a mother and less of a woman because of it. Her pediatrician recommended that we try formula. I was devastated. However, I followed his recommendations and started her on the formula.
The first week on the formula was very difficult. Her tummy had a very hard time adjusting to the change. However, after the initial week I started to notice a big change in my daughter. She was barely spitting up during a feeding. Sometimes we would even be able go days at a time without any spit up. She had completely stopped projectile vomiting. Once again her wet diapers increased dramatically. She started to really gain weight like a champ. Her temperament during a feeding began to improve as well. Feeding her started to be something I could look forward to again. Not only was she more happy, but I was starting to be as well.
We are now about two weeks into formula feeding our daughter and proud to report that things are still going great. She seems to be improving each day still! So I suppose that looking back on the last 7 weeks of struggles it would seem that breast isn’t always best, but fed is best. What really helped me get through my internal struggles with formula feeding was when someone encouraged me to go to the park and point out which children were breastfed and which were formula fed just by looking at them. I realized that you can’t. They are all happy, healthy children who didn’t care if they got the nutrients they need from the breast or the bottle. Of course I will always feel that breastfeeding is an excellent option, but it isn’t an option for everyone. I will continue to give 110% effort to breastfeeding all of my future children. However, if it comes time to switch to formula for them I will no longer feel ashamed.
We need to stop the divide between breastfeeding and formula feeding moms. One group is not superior to the other. We are all just women trying to do the very best for our children. To be honest what more could anyone ask?