Holy shit, you guys. This stuff is fraught.
I never understood when women would talk about feeling guilty for feeding their babies formula if breastfeeding didn't work out. They were doing what was best for their babies. The babies were getting fed nutritious food and would never know the difference. Sure, it would be disappointing if you really wanted to breastfeed and couldn't, but you shouldn't feel bad about it.
Right. Then I had a baby. Suddenly every decision to do with the baby felt super crucial and whatever I did felt like it was probably wrong. Everything to do with feeding most of all.
When they brought Josephine to me in the delivery room, she immediately latched like a tiny expert. During the whole hospital stay, we did great. We got home and I fed her, then we both took a nap. When we woke up, my milk had come in. Really, really come in. I was engorged to the point that Josephine couldn't latch. This is where the problems started. Raj bought some formula for the immediate need to feed our daughter and I started pumping. Thankfully, Jo didn't have any trouble taking a bottle.
We saw a lactation consultant the next day who gave me a nipple shield which she said would make nursing less efficient, but I didn't mind since it made it possible. It turned out that the combination of the nipple shield, low supply, and Jo's inability to stay awake for more than a couple of minutes while nursing (likely related to the first two factors) made it take over an hour to nurse her each time, sometimes almost two hours and even after all of that we often had to supplement because she still wasn't satisfied. I was pumping at least three times a day on top of all of that feeding to attempt to improve my supply, so we were mostly supplementing with what I'd pumped, but sometimes we also had to give her formula. Usually just an ounce or two, but it still bothered me every time. Why? Well, I was sleep deprived and hormonal and it felt like a very big deal.
I was constantly feeling like I was failing my daughter. I couldn't produce enough milk, I couldn't keep her awake, and I was spending some of those many nursing hours fantasizing about how much more time I'd have and sleep I'd get if I just quit and gave her formula. And then I felt really, really selfish for even thinking about it.
After waffling back and forth for a bit, I've ended up switching to exclusively pumping. I do nurse now and again, partly so she won't lose the skill in case I'd need to feed her sometime when I didn't have a bottle or pump and partly because sometimes when I'm home alone with her, she doesn't give me the chance to pump. Mostly though, she gets bottles of my milk, plus usually a few ounces a day of formula to make up for my shortfall.
She's getting fed. It's tricky sometimes figuring out how much to give her, but she doesn't go hungry and is gaining weight. Raj can feed her, as could his parents when they were here and my mom can now that she's here. I can go to bed early while Raj does the last feeding of the night and puts her down so I can get a little more sleep. And even though I have to pump after feeding Josephine and getting her back to sleep in the middle of the night, it's still faster than breastfeeding her, especially since that often involved a bottle as well. Overall, it feels like the best decision, given what we were up against.
You guys, I still feel guilty. Shouldn't I be fighting as hard as I can to make breastfeeding work?
I don't know. Why? My daughter is getting the benefits of breast milk and also a mother who is slightly less sleep deprived and crazy. So those are good things. I'm sure she has more gas this way, drinking from a bottle, so that's a downside. And maybe if I really did keep working at it, I'd improve my supply and Josephine would be able to stay awake longer while feeding. I know some people would say that we'd bond better if I breastfed her, but we still do snuggle very frequently. And this way she gets more bonding time with her dad too.
Just after talking with a few people about it, I've found out that friends have also struggled, both with feeding and with the bizarrely strong feelings it produces. I was hoping more of you might share your experiences so we all might feel a little bit less alone with this stuff. Or so I might, anyway.