“How long did she breastfeed?”
“About 2 years,” I say, sensing mom-approval rising. “But I supplemented with formula.”
Suddenly, my #goodmom points are somewhat diminished in the eyes of those who would prefer that babies never have a drop of anything but breastmilk. Exclusive breastfeeding was my goal when I was pregnant. The reasons for doing so were plentiful. Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same about my supply.
I tried to avoid having to supplement by drinking lactation teas (which tasted awful!) and lactation cookies (which weren't that bad.) The baby nursed frequently. She nursed on both sides, though in short intervals. Getting a good latch is important and, admittedly, this was sometimes a struggle for us. I counted her diapers like we'd be instructed and, for a while, we were doing OK. Of course, I could hardly go anywhere because my daughter nursed all day and all night. I started pumping in between with the hope that it that would signal to my body that I had to produce more.
It was a draining experience, but I persisted.
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I remember feeling so envious of moms who shared photos of their milk reserve—freezers stuffed with milky bags. Meanwhile, the few I could make sat tucked in a corner of the fridge. It was really only enough for a few feedings.
My baby was right in the middle of the height and weight charts, and her appetite seemed normal. But then we had one visit where her weight gain had dipped a bit below expected. In retrospect, I think we never fully recovered from our latch issues, but back then you couldn't tell me otherwise: it was me who wasn't producing enough for my baby. The feeling that your baby might be hungry without you knowing is the worst.
[E]ven if it was a heartbreaking decision for me, it was still the right decision for her.
I remember the day I asked my husband to buy our first can of formula—a fancy organic brand that was hard to find. Admittedly, I was trying to give her the best alternative to breastmilk, which I knew deep down wasn't the same.
And yes, my heart broke as we prepared the first batch. My illusions of what the first two years of her life would be like evaporated. But I also remember my baby drinking her first bottle's worth of formula and the long nap she took after. I knew she was full. That's how we started supplementing—which is exactly what you're told not to do when you're trying to increase low milk supply.
But at some point I had to decide what was more important: my commitment to exclusive breastfeeding or her continued, healthy growth.
By the next doctor's visit, her stats were back on track. She was growing and thriving. And that's when I knew: even if it was a heartbreaking decision for me, it was still the right decision for her.
I continued to breastfeed my baby. And, in a big way, mom life got easier. I was no longer stressed by my breastfeeding routine. She still got breastmilk every day and night. But now my husband could handle feeding her. I was able to leave our house without worrying (as much.) Over time, my supply diminished as she got a bit more formula during the day, even though I'd continue to pump to try to keep what supply I had. The night feedings were the last to go. When that ended, I felt the same sadness that I imagine any first-time mom feels when her baby weans—the realization that this part of her babyhood was over.
But I was happy we'd made it that far, low supply and all. Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing—some of us find a happy middle.