Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Didn't Want to Breastfeed. And I Didn't.

I didn't want to breast feed.

I had heard stories about it.

I am related to women who had had significant struggles with it and, while they never told me I shouldn't attempt it myself, I was filled with terror at the prospect.

No one actually told me any "good" stories. I became a mommy before most of my friends. The one "mommy friend" I had who had breastfed told me bluntly, "I'm not so sure I'd do it again..."

I was convinced that my husband would never bond with the baby and that I would get no sleep should I choose to breastfeed. The "What to Expect..." Book advised me to get up every two hours and never, ever, even for a moment consider giving the baby anything from a bottle- even expressed breast milk- for a minimum of three weeks. Oh, dear.

I had modesty issues. To be truthful, I was horribly, miserably uncomfortable around women who were breastfeeding their babies, even when they were discreet. I had no problem with it- I would, even then, have defended a woman's right to nurse her baby any and everywhere. But it made me feel awkward. The thought of ever having to *gulp* feed my baby in front of anyone other than my husband made me feel sick and nervous.

I did NOT want to breast feed.

And I didn't.

When nightmares plagued me and I honestly lost sleep over how much I feared breastfeeding, I finally confessed to my obstetrician what I was feeling. She said to me, "Perhaps it's time to forgive yourself and just bottle feed your baby."

It was all I needed to hear.

Bottle-feed I did. I fed my baby boy formula for the first year of his life. He never had a drop of my milk.

And, oh, do I regret it...

What is important, however, is why I regret it.

I do not think my son suffered any ill-effects because of the formula. He was a healthy, thriving baby who was very rarely ill and bonded gloriously with both mommy and daddy. He is incredibly bright and, while exceptionally tall, right where he needs to be on the growth charts.

I regret my reasons for not nursing. I regret that I wasn't better-informed. I wish that I'd done more research and found more people with positive stories to talk to...

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me...

  • ...that nursing is easy for some women? When I decided to nurse my second child, a preemie born at 24 wks, I didn't know what to expect. I was prepared for great challenges. Imagine my surprise when my milk came in fully and plentifully within 24 hours. The same thing happened when my third child was born and I decided to breastfeed exclusively.
  • ...that pumping breast milk and feeding it through a bottle can be an option? For my 4-month early baby, it was critical that she be able to get my milk through alternative means (a tube, in the beginning), but even full-term babies can (if so desired) get their breast milk from a bottle. In addition, there is not a good consensus on how much of an issue "nipple confusion" can be. I will say this much... my preemie daughter- who was tube fed for two months and then bottle fed for a month- successfully latched on and nursed at the breast. (We later had to stop because of micro-aspiration issues, but that had nothing to do with nipple confusion.) Some experts insist you must avoid anything but the breast for at least three weeks. Others are more lenient. Like so many things in life, there is no perfect answer. I will only say that I don't believe anyone should let fear of "nipple confusion" prevent them from breastfeeding.
  • ...that breastfed babies can be good sleepers? My preemie baby had to be tube-fed every four hours, so I can't accurately gauge what kind of sleeper she was. But my third baby? She slept 5- and 6-hour stretches from the get-go and, since she was growing and thriving, that was considered just fine. By twelve weeks, she consistently slept through the night.
  • ...that Daddy can still bond with baby? I will not lie to you all. My husband will tell you that he felt like he missed out a bit with our (breastfed) daughters vs. our (bottle-fed) son. He enjoyed doing all those late-night feedings and snuggling with his boy. BUT... he still cuddled our girls. He still got up and changed their diapers in the night while I used the bathroom and got some water. He was still vitally important and incredibly supportive. He even got up with me when I had to pump through the night in those early preemie days. Trust me... your husband has a vital role even if you choose to breastfeed!
  • ...that I would find my own "comfort level" modesty-wise? I have nursed my daughter in public. I don't do it often... not because anyone has told me not to, but because I still feel a little uneasy with it. In the end, though, I've found that- if the need arose- people were amazingly supportive of me feeding my child. Or at least they pretended to be.
  • ...that breastfeeding can be infinitely easier? It seems like a no-brainer, but I never considered how much time I was "wasting" stumbling down to the kitchen and preparing a bottle for a hungry-in-the-night infant. Simply sitting up in bed and nursing her was so very sweet and simple. Neither one of us had to be "fully" wake.
  • ...that just because others had very real, very legitimate struggles with breastfeeding that didn't mean I would? When you haven't heard the "good side", it's hard to feel encouraged. I wish I had spoken more to my sisters-in-law who had successfully breastfed. I may have felt more confident about giving it a shot then.
  • ...that, quite simply, breastfeeding can be the easy choice for some moms and babies.

I have exclusively formula-fed a baby. I have exclusively pumped for a baby. I have exclusively breastfed a baby. I feel like I can pretty confidently discuss feeding options with a decent bit of experience. I do not, in any way, feel that women who feed their babies formula are bad mommies. How we feed our babies is just one of many, many choices we need to make and there is not one perfect answer for every circumstance. That being said, I want to encourage any of you women who have yet to have a baby to not be scared to try. I want to encourage those of you who have only formula fed to give breastfeeding a try (or another try) should you have another baby. Surround yourself with positive influences and supportive people. Realize that those people won't necessarily be the most vocal breastfeeding advocates... sometimes "lactivists" can be a little too intimidating for people who are scared or struggling. I love women who are passionate about nursing... but I have now successfully nursed and my story "meets their approval"- that makes it easier for me.

It is my wish that you find the perfect feeding situation for you and your baby... I truly believe that, for most (but not all), that can be a happy, nursing relationship.

Most of all, I want you to know all the things that I, in my ignorance, did not.

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