A big thing I’m preparing for mentally with baby #3 coming is breastfeeding. I told a couple friends yesterday that I need to take advantage of going somewhere alone for more than 2 hours while I can! Once baby comes, if I’m able to breastfeed her the way I have with my other two, than that little one and I will be attached at the hip for a long while. Which is sweet and wonderful, but a big adjustment to your life as an independent adult. With each of my other two children I had very different experiences breastfeeding them, and it was hugely emotional for me as well. I feel like a lot of women don’t talk openly about their experiences, good and bad, and I’m not really sure why when it’s a huge part of those infant days. I’ve found that talking about it with other women helps relive some of the mother’s guilt and handle struggles that come up in a more healthy way. So, today I thought it would be interesting to really dive into it all and get lots of women’s stories and perspectives on the topic of feeding their babies.
But first, my own experience feeding Henry and Edie as infants…
Thanks to Gerber feeding system, BabyNes, for sponsoring this post and celebrating women with all kinds of baby feeding experiences. Get a $50 off your BabyNes machine by using code SMARTNUTRITION at checkout on babynes.com. Valid through 6/30. They also offer 90 days money back guarantee so you can try out the feeding system risk free.
Henry was born a month early by emergency c-section (more about that here) and I really struggled nursing with him. He had to be fed by a tube for a while at the hospital and when I did eventually breastfeed him at home it would take him at least 20 minutes to latch on, which was so frustrating! I remember long hours being spent on that chair in his room struggling with him. Sometimes it felt like I was fighting with my baby! But I was really determined to make breastfeeding work and wanted to continue so I kept at it, knowing that breastmilk was the best thing I could give him, and that it was the most convenient and economical.
After a month or so, things started getting a little easier but then mastitis (which is a breast infection) started kicking in and it felt like I was constantly fighting it off. I think I had mastitis about 10 times during that year I breastfed Henry. It was so painful and incredibly frustrating. There were several moments where I almost gave up, I even bought formula knowing that I couldn’t emotionally handle another case of mastitis. But again- felt determined to make nursing work. And I did for a full year. Looking back though, I don’t know if I would have done it again that way. It took a toll on my own emotional health and part of me thinks I stuck it out just because I thought I had to. That being a mother meant sacrificing everything for your child and putting your own needs aside. I’ve realized now that it’s a little backward to think that way. If you’re not happy and healthy, you can’t give what you need to give to your child and that a mother’s emotional and physical health should be higher up on our list of priorities.
With Edie, I was bracing myself for another rough experience breastfeeding. Surprisingly though, everything went super smooth! It could have been that she was full term, and it could have been that I was a little more experienced. It was wonderful. The way I thought breastfeeding was supposed to go! The way I always imagined it would be. My body knew what to do, her’s did as well, and I had no major complaints. Sure, it was a painful for a few days as my body toughened up to her sucking but I was expecting that. I was still prone to mastitis the way I had been with Henry, but this time I knew exactly what to look for and jumped on the phone with my doctor to get a prescription before things got too painful. It was manageable and I had a wonderful year breastfeeding her. By the year mark though, I was craving a little independence and decided that we were both done.
I love hearing about other women’s experiences feeding their babies as well. Here are 5 others…
First up we have Kris of the beautiful children’s apparel company, Neve and Hawk. She had to go back to work 4 weeks after her first was born and shares how that affected feeding her baby girl:
You had to go back to work full time shortly after, tell us how that played out in how you feed your baby?
For me, breastfeeding was extremely important and something that I enjoyed very much. I had to go back to work full time after 4 weeks, which was insane on so many levels. With this, however, came massive amounts of energy and planning regarding pumping. At the time, I worked for a restaurant and managed a few locations. None of the locations had an area to pump. They had single bathrooms that I couldn’t take away from customers and not much space. I found myself pumping in my car a lot with a car adapter as well as the beer closet. I even pumped in the kitchen during service. Really, wherever I could find a spot when needed, as the restaurants were very busy and my time was very short. Luckily, my determination to feed my child the way I wanted was strong, but it was incredibly exhausting. I managed to pump for a full year though. The bonus? All of the restaurant refrigerators for storage! HA!
It’s amazing to me that you pumped for so long given the situation. Did you feel like the determination to pump was due to outside influences or was it an internal thing?
I’d say both. I was so incredibly focused on giving my child the “best” that nothing else mattered. I am a natural researcher, so I read every article on what was best for the child I could find. And all said feed by breast. Everywhere I turned I heard that. And, I loved coming home and nursing my daughter. The funny thing is, however, that no one talked about is how sometimes the stress of being able to feed this way may outweigh the benefits. I am sure some people will read this and roll their eyes. But, it was a stressful time trying to work more than full time, be a new mother and find places to pump in a quick manner on a daily basis. I was running myself ragged. This is both from myself and how our society has set it up.
Have you felt judged by others in how you feed your child? If so, how did you handle those judgements?
Oh yes. I feel like new mothers, regardless of how you feed your child, feel this. In every aspect of parenting. But, I probably experienced it mostly from those I worked with who were not parents. They had no idea why I cared so much. And, many times, my sneaking away to pump in odd places became problematic for the staff. They couldn’t understand my strong desire, no NEED, to fight for what I wanted in terms of food for her.
Any advice you’d give to women going back to work shortly after, and dealing with a inconvenient pumping situation like you had?
Yes. Do what is best for you. Are you having too much anxiety over it all? Then stop. Do you feel great and find it easy and enjoyable? Then keep it up. Listen to YOU, no one else. And, take a deep breath and hope for better understanding in the future of motherhood and the complicated relationship mothers have with the workplace.
Next up we have Kendra who was determined to breastfeed but struggled with supply issues and the added challenge of traveling for work:
It sounds like you had three different experiences feeding with your three babies, can you tell us a bit about that?
Stella, my oldest daughter seemed like she breastfed just fine, but after she didn’t gain her hospital weight back my doctor was very concerned and wanted me to supplement right away. I was determined to make breastfeeding work, so I eventually found a doctor who was more supportive of my goal. She thought it might be a supply issue, so I ended up taking a lot of herbs and pumping after breastfeeding. I celebrated every drop of breast milk that I could produce. She was very colicky and very skinny. When she was 4 months old I got a stomach bug and couldn’t drag myself off the bathroom floor to nurse her so we started giving her formula and things got a lot easier after that.
For my second daughter Imogen, I was again really determined to breastfeed so I saw a lactation specialist and everything went well. So well in fact that she wouldn’t take a bottle which was really stressful when I wanted to start taking work around 5 months. I breastfed her exclusively until she was a year old.
My third child, Truman, was full-term but still pretty tiny at 5 lb 12 oz. My doctor was super aware of his size and although he was breastfeeding well he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough. I was devastated when she wanted me to start supplementing him with formula. I kind of felt like I had finally figured it out but it was like a replay of when I had Stella. I met with a lactation consultant again who gave me some excellent tips and again, recommended herbs and pumping. I followed that advice but still wasn’t able to produce enough so I started giving him a bottle a day. I was really reluctant, in fact I remember putting off a doctors appointment just so he wouldn’t be weighed and when I eventually did buy the formula I waited days or even a week to give it to him. My girlfriend knew that I was feeling awful about it and even brought over some of her frozen breast milk which is possibly the sweetest thing anyone’s ever done for me.
Once I started giving him formula it was not as big of a deal as I was making it. All of my fears- that he would refuse to breastfeed, or that he would have a hard time digesting the formula, didn’t end up coming true. And in hindsight I’m happy he did. At around 7 months I took an exciting job where I was gone and my husband was with the kids for two weeks. It was great not stressing about how Truman would be fed. I pumped while I was gone and he took back to breastfeeding when I was home, though at 9 months he was so distracted nursing that he weaned off the breast.
Has your attitude about feeding your babies changed from before you had children to now? If so, how?
I love how normal breastfeeding is now. 9 years ago when I had my first child it was expected but I feel like women went to great lengths to hide breastfeeding in public with blankets or hooter-hiders. It was that or sometimes the extreme opposite of making some big statement by not covering up. I personally am a fan about being discreet, I’m more comfortable being a little bit covered up. My preferred method is to wear a looser top and a tank top that I can pull down so that I’m covered but am comfortable doing it anywhere.
Also my perception of breastfeeding was that EVERYONE should be able to do it, and if there was a supply issue I was doing something wrong. Now that I’ve had that issue with 2/3 kids and have seen my sister go through the same thing I really believe that we physically just might not be able to produce as much breastmilk as our babies need.
What advice would you give a new mother who needs to travel for work, like yourself, about feeding their baby?
I’d recommend getting into the rhythm of bottle feeding and pumping early on, so that’s not an additional stress for when you want to go back to work. Airports have come a long way in supporting pumping or nursing mothers and there’s usually a lounge or these jetblue pods that will accommodate. I’ve never tried pumping on the plane, but this was an interesting story of a mother who needed to
Did you feel like mothers guilt played any role in the decisions you made around how you fed your baby?
I feel like I put a LOT of pressure on myself to breastfeed. It just seemed so wonderful and easy for the baby and for me. I didn’t really feel any external pressure from family or friends or other moms. Even now, I live in a very hippy part of Marin and I thought moms would want to talk more about breastfeeding- I guess I’ve been bracing myself for a conversation of surprise or judgment that I’m no longer nursing my almost 1 year old. But there’s been none of that, it’s been wonderful. I think what I’ve come away with is that we are all doing the best that we can!
Carol is next! She’s had three children, loved breastfeeding, but struggled nursing with her first:
What was it you loved so much about breastfeeding your three children?
There are a lot of perks when it comes to breastfeeding. I loved that I got one on one time with with my babies, especially when I had older kids. I love the bonding that comes with breastfeeding. And It is super convenient! You can always feed them!
You had a hard experience breastfeeding your first baby. Can you tell us a bit about that and how that might have changed your attitude about breastfeeding your other two?
Yes! My first baby was tongue tied and he couldn’t nurse effectively. Consequently, my milk didn’t come in very well. He lost a lot of weight the first month and it was a huge headache trying to build my milk supply. I fed, I pumped, I downed Fenugreek and ate so much oatmeal that I can’t touch the stuff now. Before having my first, I just thought everyone nursed and that it was easy and didn’t realize it was a struggle for some women. When it wasn’t going well the first time around, I thought there was something wrong with me. I felt like a failure. After talking to other moms and lactation consultants, I realized I wasn’t alone, that there are many women who have a hard time breastfeeding. So, when I had my other two I was just happy to be able to nurse them for as long as I could. I didn’t feel the pressure of “having” to nurse them. The experience nursing my other two was actually far more pleasant, because I took the pressure off myself.
What advice would you give a new mother about feeding who also struggles with feeling like they aren’t producing enough milk (or barely enough)?
Don’t Stress!! Whatever you can give your baby is wonderful, for however long!!!
I did do everything I could, pumped between feedings to help produce more milk, took fenugreek, drank mother’s milk tea, got as much sleep as possible, etc. But, I was a formula fed baby, and I am just fine! My mom had similar problems and wasn’t able to nurse me. I really think the most important thing is to try and enjoy this time and not stress!
At any point during your struggles with low supply/tongue tied did you consider other methods of feeding your baby like formula or pumping? Why or why not?
Yes! I had to. I was so stressed and my baby wasn’t gaining weight and that was stressing me even more. I ended up giving him half formula and half breast milk. After 4 months, I stopped nursing all together and just pumped and bottle fed him until he was 10 months. It was really hard to not nurse him anymore, but I was able to bond with him with the bottle and it allowed my husband to bond with him more too! It also made returning back to work a lot easier.
Did you feel mothers guilt and pressure to breastfeed at any point during your experience?
Yes! And I think in the beginning it made it harder for me to nurse. I felt stress and guilt that I couldn’t feed my baby. I have friends who produce so much milk, and I don’t, even with my other two babies I produced barely enough for them. And I felt so depressed that I couldn’t. It was a crazy emotional roller coaster for me. I had a dear friend tell me that no matter how much milk I was able to give my baby, it was making a difference, even if I was giving half formula. That helped me so much. I was able to relax and funny enough, able to produce more milk. But, we should never feel guilt for not being able to nurse. What is most important is that we love and cuddle that baby as much as possible. The first year goes by way too fast!
Next up we have Margaret! She had breast surgery a few years before having her daughter and relied on formula to feed her sweet baby.
With breast surgery a few years before your daughter was born, what were your expectations before having your baby about how feeding would work?
I knew that breast feeding might not be a possibility for me and felt unattached before she was born. I was a fully formula-fed baby and have never had any issues with it, so wasn’t put off by the idea for my own child. I didn’t take classes and trusted that the hospital support would be the right thing for me. Once I actually started breastfeeding when my daughter was born, however, it was such a powerful connection that I very much wanted to continue.
What was it like making the decision to wean your daughter when things became too difficult to breastfeed?
Even though I had been prepared that it might not work out, I was devastated when it didn’t. Suddenly, all the messages about how much better it is to breast feed loomed large in my head. i became incredibly anxious that I was somehow failing my daughter. The options I was given were really limited and it was very hard to get help, especially because my daughter was born in late December, so all the support systems that might have been in place were unavailable due to the holidays.
I found out later that if I’d worked with someone else, I could have kept feeding just for the connection. I wish that option had been presented to me when it was still an option.
What was your experience formula feeding your daughter?
Terrific, actually. Formula has some serious advantages. My husband and I shared feeding duties equally, my daughter started sleeping through the night at 7 weeks, and, when I went back to work, I never had to deal with pumping. We had no issues introducing solid foods and my daughter is smart, robustly healthy and a very adventurous eater who is game to try almost any food.
It sounds like you had some regret and disappointment through this whole process. How did you deal with that, do you have advice for other women who might be feeling the same?
It was really sad for me to lose that connection so early. And it was hard to be the only mama that I met who was using formula. Even though no one ever said anything negative to me, I felt embarrassed to break out a formula packet in public when others were breastfeeding. Which is ironic, since I know so many women who have felt the same while breastfeeding in public.
But, as time went by, I realized that the important thing was that I was taking care of my daughter, who was clearly thriving. My sister was particularly helpful in getting me to that place. She was a champion breastfeeder who fed both of her kids till they were three, but was incredibly good at listening, letting me be sad and reminding me that no one remembers who was breast or bottle fed once kids are in kindergarten. It’s good perspective and absolutely true.
Finally, there are a few great resources for formula feeding that were helpful for me as well, particularly a site called Fearless Formula Feeders
, where women share their stories, an older Hanna Rosin article in the Atlantic called the Case Against Breast-Feeding
, and a book called Bottled U
p, which takes a critical look on the research supporting breastfeeding.
Last but not least! We have Kristin who gave birth to twins and talks about how that affected how she fed her babies.
You had a unique experience in feeding twins, can you tell us a little bit about that?
I delivered our twins via cesarean at 39 weeks and our son was very small (4 lbs 11oz). We allowed the nurses to supplement with formula for him at the hospital and I had to wake him up every 2 hours to feed for the first 4 weeks b/c he was still very under weight. I tandem breastfed the first 4-6 weeks but it was exhausting and was a two person effort every time. In between feedings I would still have to pump to keep my supply up. Our son wasn’t as efficient an eater as our daughter was, so I gradually started nursingher more and mostly bottle fed him pumped breastmilk. I was affected by post-partum depression and the constant demand was wearing on me. This lasted for 3 months, when I decided that I was overwhelming myself and my husband to keep up and it was more important for our family to transition to formula.
Can you tell us a bit more about what tandem breastfeeding is?
Tandem breastfeeding means that both babies nurse at the same time. There are a variety of ways people hold their babies to do this; I primarily used the “football hold.” I relied on my husband very heavily those first few weeks since newborns are so fragile and constantly fall asleep while eating. He’d have to be there to help me position and reposition them, burp the first one to finish eating, and bring me water to sip through straw since I didn’t have a free hand to spare!
You mentioned that after 3 months you transitioned to formula for your babies. Can you tell us a bit about what that decision was like and any emotional implications? Did you feel guilty at all giving up breastfeeding?
Ironically, I felt more disconnected from the twins when I was breastfeeding versus when they were formula fed. I was so overwhelmed by our experience as first time parents to twins; Pausing to enjoy them without the pressures and complexities of breastfeeding was actually a relief. In the first couple months after transitioning to formula, I was more calm and in-tune with my babies. However, I definitely had a delayed sense of guilt 3 months later about no longer breastfeeding. Every time I would see a mother breastfeeding (in public or in the media) or was around my friends that were still nursing, I felt like an outcast. I still have moments of regret and mourn the time I had with each baby when I was nursing since it was short lived. In the end, it was still the best decision for our situation because it allowed me to be present and to embrace the experience with our babies in those early months.
Have you felt judged by other women in how you fed your babies? If so, how did you handle those judgements?
We had a night nurse help us on occasion during the first 6 weeks and the only time I felt slightly judged was when I asked her to add a small scoop of formula to my bottle of breastmilk for our son per our pediatrician’s orders. She was a member of the La Leche League and was very pro-breast feeding regardless of circumstance. As I mentioned, our son was under weight and there was some concern he wasn’t gaining enough. My priority at the time was his health and well being, not whether or not he was exclusively breastfed, so I tried to be as objective about the situation as possible to avoid confrontation. Mostly, I’ve imposed judgement on myself because of the messages our society sends about breastfeeding vs. formula; I direct my focus to the fact that our kids are excelling in all facets of development, and are ridiculously happy and healthy.
Any advice to share with other mothers of twins or multiplies in deciding what infant feeding method is best for their family?
Having twins or multiples is an intense but incredible experience. Do what’s right for you and your family when it comes to feeding and be open to adjusting your plans as you go. Someone once gave me the advice that a happy and healthy mom is more important than a breastfed baby. There is so much chatter about breastfeeding and doing “the right thing” for babies; It’s difficult to ignore what you see and hear. Try and focus on the fact that you grew and gave birth to these babies! That in itself is something to be extremely proud of.
What was feeding your baby like? Would love to hear your experience as well! Thank you to all the amazing women who contributed and opened up about their baby feeding journeys!
Thanks again to Gerber feeding system, BabyNes, for sponsoring this post. Gerber agrees that breastfeeding is the very best for baby. But sometimes it’s not a viable option and the BabyNes is the most advanced alternative with six different stages of formula for each stage of development. You can get $50 off your BabyNes machine by using code SMARTNUTRITION at checkout on babynes.com. Valid through 6/30. They also offer 90 days money back guarantee so you can try out the feeding system risk free.