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I have been struggling as of late and this is difficult for me to write. Here we go….

I have written previously about my nursing experience with my son and my goals with my daughter. As mothers, we have so many expectations that first time around. Any difficulties make us feel like lesser women. Women are hard on themselves, no question about it.

Having subsequent children is so much different than your first time. There is a new confidence in your capabilities and ability to take on parenting challenges. With the second also come your own expectations that certain things will be easier, and they are usually. My big second chance was going to be breastfeeding. I nursed my son for seven months before he went to full time formula. There were a few reasons for the switch: diet eliminations not working, a dwindling milk supply, misinformation and assumptions, a chomping baby with six teeth who drew blood….

But this time, this time would be different. This time I was making it a year and beyond. This time I would be the breastfeeding queen. A serene Earth mother swaying through a flowered field, arms akimbo, rejoicing in her awesome milk supply and satisfied child. Um, yeah. Turns out we can be just as delusional the second time around.

Actually, nursing was easier the second time around. At first. Wyn latched on, albeit rather weakly, and nursed immediately. There were none of the tongue issues or chomping I dealt with last time. None. Nursing was just so easy. In fact it was too easy. My nipples were not sore. I stuffed prefolds into my sleep bra in preparation for the outrageous milk supply that showed up when my son was a week old. The outrageous supply never came. Instead something far more manageable showed up. Again, everything was far too easy. It was a little frustrating nursing Wyn since she hated my fierce letdown and even after the initial letdown, she would pop off about every 10 seconds. Her latch was weak. Her appetite varied, but mostly she wanted one ounce at a time about every 30 minutes. The time in between those feedings she screamed bloody murder and often vomited. Often times she screamed during a nursing session. She popped off the breast and screamed and I would spend a large amount of time trying to get her to nurse again. She screamed from hunger and then immediately screamed in pain from my milk. Her diapers contained quite a bit of mucous.

I eliminated dairy. I eliminated my beloved spicy foods. I stopped my much needed coffee infusion. And still, my milk shredded her. The poor girl screamed all night and all day. She never slept and neither did I. I was growing very concerned about the lack of sleep affecting her development. But, that concern was quickly replaced by another. Wyn wasn’t gaining weight. She dropped from the 90th percentile to the 5th. I rationalized it away with the knowledge she likely lost water weight after birth. She severely fell off her grow curve. I rationalized that breastfed babies often gain differently. My son’s growth pattern bounced at over the charts after all. She stopped having bowel movements. I rationalized that away with the knowledge breastfed babies could go up to 12 days without pooping and be fine. Then she stopped wetting diapers. She should have been wetting through a minimum of eight diapers a day. Instead everything was bone dry except one or two slightly damp prefolds. Her screams quieted while she became dehydrated and rather listless. I couldn’t rationalize this. My girl was starving despite nursing all day. I supplemented with some formula and quickly ordered a manual breast pump. I find a manual to be far more efficient. I pumped six times a day to boost my supply. I could barely get two ounces over the course of a whole day versus the 36 ounces I could pump a day with my son. After a few days I managed to up the pumping output to 12 ounces a day. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

During this time I kept Wyn on formula while I lived on chicken, rice, and green beans to create very mild flavored milk. I attempted to reestablish nursing and once again, the screaming started. What was wrong? She loved the formula! I put my pumped milk into a bottle for her in case she just didn’t like the fast flow from me. Screaming ensues. I was bewildered. The bags of milk in my freezer made me sad. And despite attempted nursing and all of the pumping, my supply was shrinking again. The days she nursed without hating it were days I fasted. The sleepless nights and fasting were not helping my supply or emotional fortitude, and Wyn was still not sleeping. I finally just started giving her as much formula as she wanted. Within a day she was an entirely different baby. I tried sneaking in fresh or frozen breast milk in between formula. Sometimes she screamed during and after with acid spit up and sometimes not. I wish I had kept a better food journal for those frozen milk bags so I could deduce her preference. The formula was milk based, so a dairy issue didn’t make sense. I was already gluten free at the time and dying for caffeine. Besides, food sensitivities in breast milk are not as prolific as many people would believe. I was at a loss. And my supply was losing too.

I was not the earth mother or breastfeeding queen. Just a mom who needed sleep with a baby who needed food. My daughter is now getting the majority of her nourishment from formula. I have struggled internally about this and I’m tired. Wyn still nurses, but my chest is quite deflated and she gets angry if she is actually hungry when I nurse her. I doubt I am making more than an ounce a day, but I figure even a tiny bit of those immunity boosting antibodies is better than nothing. I let her basically use me as a pacifier in the hopes it will stimulate more production, but sadly it does not do much.

I am, of course, still dealing with the mommy guilt. Guilt that I didn’t provide. Guilt that I hurt my baby by starving her for the sake of my ideals. I have waved the white flag and called a truce with my stubborn pride. It’s not that I have a problem with formula. There are many reasons to use formula to feed your child and EVERY SINGLE ONE IS LEGITIMATE. But once again I am overwhelmed with a feeling of Less Than. I can make peace with my lacking milk all I want, but it won’t stop me from feeling like a bit of a failure. I figured the body=failure thing would end when I had Lucky after spending the better part of a decade fighting infertility. But if there is one thing I have learned as a mother, it is that mommy guilt and the expectations are even more intense than the general pressure placed on women.

I’m still emotionally struggling with our outcome and choices. But it doesn’t hinder my joy at seeing other women feeding their babies, regardless of the source. As far as I am concerned, all women deserve a fist pump in the air and a hearty  “You Go Girl!” whether they are nursing in public without apologies or rockin’ a bottle of formula. Lets face it, being a good mom isn’t easy and sometimes things don’t work out the way we hoped. It doesn’t mean we need to punish ourselves and each other. My new goal now, is to reach a point where I can feel that benevolent toward myself.

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5 Responses to “Breastfeeding, Formula, and Mommy Guilt”

  1. Don’t beat yourself up, you did what you had to do to help your baby, and that’s what makes a good mother.

  2. Sounds very similar. I switched to formula around month 6 and I’ve had a much happier baby ever since. In the end, you do what’s best for the child and for you and that’s all you can do. You tried it all- pat on the back!

  3. First I will say you have tried everything and you do whatever makes baby happy and healthy!!! I went through this and cried and got mad and cried some more. I have boy/girl twins born 7 weeks premature. Spent 5 weeks in the NICU and did not even try to nurse till 2 weeks before they came home. I pumped like a crazy person every 2-3 hrs. It was killer trying to keep up with the demand. My daughter nursed much better and liked it and was satisfied. My son NOT the same. He would try and try and couldn’t latch well even with a shield, popped on and off was never happy until I gave him a bottle. But he ended being lactose intolerant and allergic to soy…….I am lactose intolerant so I never had diary anyways. He did best on breastmilk but I didn’t have enough to nurse one and then pump for the other. But he wouldn’t nurse and be satisfied and she would. I was TORN!!!!! How can I give breastmilk to one while nursing and not the other cause I didn’t have enough…..AGAIN the crying. I was home alone trying to nurse 2 babies, pump and stay sane all while suffering from PPD….Here is how it ended up. My son gets bottles with hypoallergenic formula. I gave him all the stored milk I had till it was gone. I breastfeed my daughter who will no longer even take a bottle and I nurse both during the night. Him mainly for comfort. It’s what works and keeps everyone happy. It’s HARD being a mom and trying to do everything that’s best sometimes isn’t what we WANT…..Keep up the great work and I say THANK GOD there is formula for when we need it!!!!

    • Aubree, that sounds like quite the ordeal! I’m glad you seem to have a solution now that satisfies everyone.

  4. I can totally relate! My son wouldn’t nurse either, he has a feeding tube and just when he was doing well and I was hopeful the nutritionst (curse her!) increased his tube feeds and all was lost. He’d scream and cry, I’d scream and cry. He seemed like a natural when I was first allowed to nurse him. I felt like and still feel like a not of a failure. I was able to pump for 10 months bit when I didn’t make it to a year I felt like a failure again. You’re not alone and you’ve reminded me that even if my next child is completely healthy (1st born with a heart defect) nursing still may not work out. A cross I have to face but I want to stay in my denial box.

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