When I was pregnant, I surprised myself by enthusiastically planning to breastfeed.
I say surprised because I had always assumed that I would bottle feed, and had no personal experience with breastfeeding.
I was excited to breastfeed and approached my decision in my typical fashion. I researched as much as I could about breastfeeding, took all the classes, and bought all the gadgets. I had a breastfeeding station, a nursing chair and a feeding pillow. In the United States, where I lived at the time, most insurers will give you a free breast pump - it's the US way of making up for their shamefully short maternity leave policy. I received mine, and naively tucked it away for "when I go back to work". I was all set.
My son was born a healthy 7lbs 9oz, a perfect little boy. We started breastfeeding straight away, and everything seemed to be going great. We had plenty of skin-to-skin, and I was besotted with my little man. The next day, the nurses weighed him and noted he had dropped 7% of his birth weight. Totally normal, they said, it'll go back up when your milk comes in. I met with a lactation consultant (normal practice in my hospital), and she was thrilled with my efforts. I felt great and I was proud of myself.
On Day 2, his weight had dropped another 2%, and it became clear that the doctors were becoming concerned. The lactation consultant spent hours with me, showing me different latching techniques, holds, and setting me up with a pump.
I was freaked out but determined to continue.
By Day 3, his weight had dropped by 11% in total, and I was told to start supplementing with formula. I was devastated. I cried on and off all day and felt like I had failed my baby.
I was convinced that he was starving and that it was all my fault.
The nurses gave me premixed bottles of formula, and I started bottle feeding. I still tried to breastfeed between bottles and pumped after every feed. The next day, exhausted and after hardly sleeping, I decided to give up and just feed my baby formula. His weight had crept back up, and he was more content.
I tearfully informed the lactation consultant of my decision when she came around, she was disappointed but applauded my efforts.
We brought our sweet little boy home after 4 days in hospital.
At this point, I was a little calmer and decided to continue to feed my son a combination of formula and breast milk. I was completely unprepared for bottle feeding, and had to rush order supplies online. I was traumatised by our breastfeeding experience, and still paranoid that my baby wasn't getting enough calories. Because of this, I decided to pump instead of breastfeed, so I could track how many ounces he was drinking. I was obsessed with his intake and was waking him every 3 hours and documenting every feed in a notebook. Our doctor was still concerned about his weight, and we had three weigh-ins in those first two weeks, with the goal that he would creep back up to his birth weight. I was so stressed about his weight gain, but our little rock star blew through his weight goal and was over 8lbs by his 2 week birthday.
I pumped 4-5 times a day for a month.
My supply was pretty poor, but my baby typically had two bottles of breast milk per day. Pumping was brutal, but I'm so glad that I made the effort to give him some of the immunities and nutrition that breast milk provides. When he was 4 weeks old, I decided to give up pumping and exclusively formula feed because my supply dwindled, and honestly, because pumping is time-consuming and exhausting.
My little boy is now a healthy, thriving seven month old. He has a ferocious appetite and guzzles bottles like they're going out of fashion. I'm happy that I tried to breastfeed, but I'm not sure I would try it again.
The support I received from the doctors and lactation consultant in the hospital was excellent. The emotional support from my husband, family and friends was amazing. However, the psychological scars from feeling like I was starving my child will take a very long time to heal. Breastfeeding your child is an amazing gift to give to them, and I applaud and support all mammas who try it for any period of time. It is also incredibly hard, exhausting and frustrating. For me, fed is best, and a happy baby equals a happy mammy.