One of the biggest questions soon-to-be moms are always asked is whether they’re going to breastfeed or bottle-feed.
That’s it. Two choices.
“I plan to feed him,” should be an adequate answer, but parenting options are anything but clear-cut.
While I was pregnant, I figured I’d at least attempt breastfeeding, though I didn’t have super-strong feelings about it other than it seeming more affordable.
I had a vague sense of how it was all supposed to work. I read books, watched videos and talked about it with my doctors, who all stressed the benefits of breast milk. Every pregnant woman or mom I spoke to was sure of what they wanted to do. I felt bad for not automatically knowing, assuming this answer should be more innate.
My pre-natal care was through a health center, so I didn’t have a designated OB-GYN. Instead, I was seen by a rotation of women, one of whom stressed that the baby not have a bottle — at all — in the beginning to ensure he would take to my breast.
When my son was born, I had an unexpected C-section. We were immediately separated and I sat in my hospital room waiting three hours before I could hold him while he was in observation. When the nurse asked my boyfriend, who had been to all of my appointments, if she could give him a bottle. He said “no,” per the instructions given to us by that particular doctor.
When they finally brought me my baby, I immediately tried to breastfeed, and it seemed to take. He latched on and appeared to be swallowing. The nurse commended me and I felt reassured. I fed him often, though it started to hurt when he latched. I thought this was normal, so I didn’t say anything.
He lost a bit of weight, but the nurses and doctors kept checking up on him. The one thing they were nervous about was a blood test that had something to do with his liver. They eventually said we could leave the hospital, but had to bring him back in the next day for another blood test.
When we went in for the checkup, he failed the test and had lost a pound. I broke down while talking to the lactation specialist, who said that of course he could have a bottle — whatever it would take for him to gain weight and get back on track.
The doctor looked at his mouth and realized he had a tongue-tie, which was the reason he couldn’t latch properly. He hadn’t been able to open his mouth wide enough, and was instead chewing on my nipple, hence the pain. They set up an appointment to have it snipped and explained that once this was done, he would probably latch better. They also noted it was possible my milk hadn’t let down yet.
We opted not snip my son’s tied tongue. I’m not sure if I regret it, but asking two people who haven’t slept in almost a week, one who is hormonal and not thinking straight, to make a decision like this is not ideal.
The lactation specialist asked if I had tried using my breast pump. She suggested I go home and see what happened.
I managed to get about an ounce out of each breast and was elated that I was actually making milk.
That’s when I got the “brilliant” idea of pumping all of my son’s milk and feeding him out of a bottle. I figured this was also a great way for other people to feed him.
It wasn’t easy. I was pumping every few hours just like someone who was breastfeeding would be, except now I had to have my pumping stuff with me if I left the house for awhile. I relied on a Facebook group for exclusive pumpers for support since I’d never heard of anyone doing this.
There’s a lot of cleaning and sanitizing with this choice. My pump was super-loud. I went to an overnight bachelorette party and shared a room with someone. I felt terrible having to pump in the middle of the night. Another time I had to pump in the car. While driving. On the expressway.
I got multiple clogged ducts, which were extremely painful and scary. No one wants to wake up with a lump in her breast. Every time I got one, I wanted to quit pumping. But throwing in the towel felt like I was failing at new motherhood.
Eventually, I got a full-time job and decided this was the time to stop.
All told, I made it 10 months exclusively pumping and was pretty proud of myself. Even though I had sacrificed a lot during pregnancy, as all of us do, this was a very tangible choice I made, one that felt like my first true act of unselfishness as a mother.
Ultimately, I really wish someone had told me about this option before I began feeding my son. All around you, the “experts” are telling you that “breast is best.” But there are many women out there who are unable to breastfeed or just don’t want to. Whatever your reasons, none of that has to do with your connection to your child or your worth as a mother. This is just another option for someone who is interested in giving their baby breast milk if that’s something that is important to them.
It’s not convenient or easy, but none of it is.
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