At first, when I began to write about my experience with feeding my baby, I thought there wasn’t much to say.
I had an easy breastfeeding experience. I continue to find nursing to be the simplest option for me, and my son is seven months old. Besides for a few ounces a day of formula to fill in what I can’t pump, my baby is breastfed. But then I actually thought back to the first days after my son was born. Nursing was not remotely easy.
The reason I recall my transition to nursing as being “easy” is that my mother-in-law (whom I love and get along with) is a lactation consultant. She came to Israel to help with the baby. From giving birth until four weeks postpartum, I had 24/7 lactation help for free.
Some people reading this will have no idea why that’s a huge deal. I certainly didn’t until I tried nursing. When I first heard that Ofra was a lactation consultant, to be honest, it sounded like a cute hobby. I figured she explained to new mothers what nursing should be like, how to know if your baby is hungry, how often to nurse… I wasn’t exactly sure. I imagined the service she provided as an hour phone call plus being available for questions later.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once I was in the thick of trying to nurse, not being able to get my baby to latch, and enduring the challenge of sitting up exhausted out of my mind while my baby didn’t seem to get satiated even after an hour, I realized I needed hours of help. Each feed was a different story; each issue was specific to my body and my baby.
I knew that formula was an option, and I wasn’t exactly opposed to it. It’s just that I wanted the option to breastfeed. And I didn’t totally understand until after giving birth that in order to keep that option open, I had to put in a ton of work. Introducing a bottle right away could cause nipple confusion; skipping a feed to sleep would hurt my supply. Meanwhile, my baby had an issue with his sucking reflex that was likely related to his vacuum birth, and he wasn’t getting much from me. It was hard.
But I had Ofra. She saw right away what was going on and knew what to do to solve it. For me, the part of early motherhood I feared most was making decisions that had major consequences while I was exhausted and unable to sift through research. So I delegated. I told my mother-in-law to just tell me what to do, and I’d do it. At first, she said a lot of things like “you do not have to do anything, it is whatever you want.” I appreciated her not pressuring me, but I explained that I did want to breastfeed, and I did not want to think about one more decision than that.
It was definitely hard when her instructions involved waking up every two to three hours, sitting up straight, and using both hands for proper positioning. It was even harder when we had to maneuver a tube with formula into my baby’s mouth while he nursed so that he could get nourished while stimulating my production and learning to nurse properly. But it wasn’t stressful, because I didn’t have to think about it.
With a few weeks of the supplemental nursing system and the help of a cranial sacral therapist, my baby was able to nurse normally. Once he got the hang of that, we introduced a bottle, and my husband gave him one bottle of formula each night for me to get a longer stretch of sleep.
Nursing gradually became routine. Yes, it has sometimes been annoying to have to stop what I’m doing every couple hours to feed my baby. But babies have to get fed frequently either way, and formula actually stresses me out more. I hate worrying about preboiling water, finding a bottle, measuring it out, getting it to the right temperature, and washing the bottle later. It’s way easier for me to whip out my boob. I’m sure it would’ve been helpful at times for my husband to share the feedings, but usually, I get to nurse on the couch watching Netflix while my husband cooks, cleans, and does laundry.
But looking back, nursing in the beginning was an all-consuming challenge. I am so grateful that I had an expert by my side to help me through it, or else I really doubt my son and I would’ve figured it out and gotten through the stress of it.
I’m also grateful for campaigns like #fedisbest that made me feel more secure that whatever choice I made would have been okay. I pushed through a tough start with breastfeeding because I wanted to. I made the choice that when I went back to work, I would not pump at home, because I knew that would be too much for me. I feel confident about my choice to accept the amount I can pump and make up the rest of my son’s meals at daycare with formula. The #fedisbest movement isn’t about a defense of formula feeding.
It is about reducing social pressure, giving mothers the space to listen to our own instincts.
I am so glad I have the space to decide when to push myself and when to cut myself slack.