I hear it all the time. One of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it’s easier than formula. Definitely some aspects of breastfeeding are easier, but as a whole, the process is not easier. Sure you don’t have to wash bottles, or cart around powder and water while you’re out and about with your little one. Sure, you just whip out a boob in the middle of the night as opposed to getting up to mix up or heat up a bottle. Breast milk is always the right temp and readily available. And certainly the benefits your child gets from breastfeeding are reward enough, but if one more person tells me how easy their breastfeeding journey was, I think I’m going to scream.
I’ve been a formula feeding mom. Sarah and James both thrived on formula and though I do regret not having the knowledge that I do now, then, I don’t kick myself over it. I mean, come on. It was 1988 and 1991. There was no internet to get the support I now have.
My breastfeeding journey with Daniel and Keelan were anything but easy and problem free. My first problems started minutes after Daniel was born and I didn’t know how to get him latch. Add to that that he was born on a Saturday and there was no lactation consultant on duty (staffed Monday to Friday) and by the time one finally visited my room on Monday shortly before I was being discharged, I had already caved and given him formula. When my milk came in I did purchase a pump and he was bottled fed breast milk. I kept offering him the breast and at 3 or 4 weeks I was finally able to get him to latch and we were able to ditch the formula. However, when he was 8 months old I was going through a touched out phase. I didn’t know it was a phase at the time and that it would pass if I persevered, so I weaned him and he continued on formula till one. Daniel has eczema and a peanut allergy and I have to wonder if I didn’t contribute to that with the formula he consumed. Again, although I regret my decision, I don’t kick myself over it.
When you know better, you do better. I knew better with Keelan and I was determined to breastfeed him. While I was pregnant I read everything I could about breastfeeding. I reached out to support groups, lactation consultants and friends who had successfully breast fed. I wouldn’t sign up for free samples of formula and wouldn’t let my OB office staff give me freebies either. I didn’t want formula in the house. At all. Keelan too had some difficult latching, but this time I knew what to do. Feeding him in those early days was difficult. Getting him latched sometimes took five to ten minutes. We trudged along, though and eventually things got easier. We had a rhythm and a routine. Then I developed mastitis. Twice. We resolved that by doing lots of nursing (and Keelan was all too happy to comply), lots of warm baths together, nursing in the tub, pumping and hand expressing. Again we had some time where things went along smoothly with both of us enjoying our nursing time.
In March when Keelan was about 8 months old and had two top teeth and two bottom teeth, I developed two small cuts or cracks or sores on both of my nipples. His little teeth would settle into the cracks while he nursed and the pain was excruciating. I was able to change his latch initially and could nurse without pain, but the sores took till August to heal completely. Nursing was not enjoyable. Thoughts of weaning were ever present, but again we persevered. It wasn’t easy or fun and I think I cried through more than half of our feedings. I ended up on antibiotics at one point because one of the sores got infected. And of course, the course of antibiotics led to thrush for both of us. Again, I had daily battles with myself over weaning and when I reached out for support I was faced with people saying to “just give up” because I had done enough and “he would be fine” and sometimes “you have to do what’s best for you”. What was best for me was what was best for my son and that wasn’t giving in or giving up.
Finally the sores healed and breastfeeding was enjoyable for both of us again. It was August and Keelan was 13 months old and I had made it to my minimum goal. I had always said I would nurse him till he weaned, but in my head I was thinking I would just be happy to get him to a year old and take formula out of the equation. In November I noticed some pain in one breast when Keelan latched and I examined my nipples to find to my dismay more sores. I cried. I cried from the pain, from the injustice of it all. I asked “why me?” and contemplated weaning yet again. I managed to get one nipple healed right away and we spent a lot of time nursing on that side to give the other side a chance to heal. I adjusted his latch over and over and I cried. Over and over.
But here we are in February and Keelan is nearly 19 months old and we’re still going strong. My nipples are healed, though they have scars. He loves his “bwee bwees” so much and barring something catastrophic we’ll keep trudging along. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, or convenient or socially acceptable but it is what’s best for him and that makes it what’s best for me.