Embracing the bottle

12 Oct

It’s 9:30 am and my baby has been asleep for 15 minutes. She showed signs of tiredness, so I put her down in her crib. She closed her eyes and fell asleep instantly. This is revolutionary. Until now, getting her to nap has been a stop and start process, involving multiple nursing sessions and bouncing her in the baby carrier. What changed? She is no longer hungry and I am not making her cry 10-12 times a day. You know what else has changed? My pain level. My shoulder is no longer locked and I can actually turn my head to the left. How did this all happen so quickly? I made peace with the bottle and stopped forcing my baby onto the boob.

I spent much of this week in a state of acute anxiety. After three weeks of excruciating shoulder pain, I decided to pump and bottle feed a few times a day, to give my body a break and avoid the inevitable meltdowns while nursing in public. Daphne loved it. She gobbled up the milk and was suddenly able to go more than 90 minutes between feedings. My shoulder started to (finally!) feel better and I started to feel somewhat liberated. But then the inevitable happened. She went on a complete nursing strike on Tuesday night and refused to nurse at all, even with a nipple shield. This sent me in a tailspin, but it also forced me to acknowledge that my milk supply and her method of nursing were no longer efficient or sustainable. She was hungry and didn’t want to struggle so hard for every feeding. I didn’t blame her.

Still, I took the boob rejection personally and spent a couple of days grieving the fact that nursing had never proven to be easy or comfortable for either of us. I concocted a plan to pump and bottle feed her and started taking large doses of herbs. After being up all night on Tuesday with panic attacks and shortness of breath, I went to my doctor and came home with a prescription for Zoloft and for a drug to increase my milk supply.

Wednesday night was even worse. The Zoloft made me nauseous and even more panicked. I also started freaking out when I realized that there was no way that my supply would meet her demand anymore. I bit the bullet and fed her some formula, but I felt terrible about it. I got up three times in the middle of the night to pump milk, contributing to my exhaustion and hyper vigilance. But yesterday afternoon, I was an absolute wreck. I also felt like I was ignoring my baby — trying to distract her with toys and soothers, while I hooked myself up to a milking machine.

I called my Mom and my best friend. I cried and cried. And then I realized there was a solution staring me in the face. I could stop all of this foolishness, feed my baby formula and spent my days nurturing her, instead of worrying about where her next meal would come from.

I immediately felt better. I ditched the Zoloft and the herbs. And I finally got some decent sleep. And you know what’s amazing? Caitlyn was able to put Daphne to bed last night and and give her a bottle before going to work this morning. We are now equally equipped to feed her, comfort her and get her to sleep. It feels amazing and opens up so much possibility.

I have decided to pump milk when convenient. That way my milk supply will slowly taper off, and Daphne will get the benefit of some breast milk until she is six months old. But if given the choice between cuddling her or pumping more milk, I will always choose to pick her up and nurture her. She is now missing the extended cuddles that came with nursing, so I am going to hold her and wear her in the baby carrier as much as possible. She is already responding well to this. She is so much more relaxed and happy. So am I.

I also decided not to take Daphne to have her tongue tie burned off a second time. There is no medical reason to do so now and I see no reason to put her through any more pain or upset. At this point, it would have been more for me than for her.

Everyone around me has been amazingly supportive about my decision, especially Caitlyn. I feel so liberated and so much more grounded, even if I feel like I am still shouldering the guilt of not conforming to the “breast is best” ideal.

In looking for inspiring and feminist perspectives on formula feeding, I stumbled upon Jessica Valenti’s writings on this issue. I really identify with what she went through — the initial shame and devastation and then the light bulb moment, realizing that there really is another way. I am sure that there is still a lot more grief for me to process over this. I had hoped for an effortless, pain-free, extended nursing relationship with my baby. But now I can focus on parenting Daphne, instead of over-analyzing my status as an inadequate milk delivery vehicle. And to quote Valenti — if anyone has a problem with this, they can suck my left one.

I mean, does this baby look deprived to you?

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2 Responses to “Embracing the bottle”

  1. Isa October 12, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Good for you! I’m glad you’ve made peace with this decision–it sounds like it’s the best one for your family. Breastmilk is great and all, but a happy, healthy, full baby is what’s important, as is a happy, healthy mama who can take the time to enjoy family life.

  2. leanne October 15, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Hi, I meant to reply to your last post. I’m a fellow OFC IVF-er…my son is 11 weeks old today. We have had struggles with nursing too and also use the nipple shield. Our problem is a combination of him being a slow drinker, folding his lips under when latching and flat nipples. So basically he would have to nurse 24/7 and would still not get enough, all while slowly and painfully making my nipples fall off 🙂 Anyway, I nurse with a nipple shield and then give him a bottle of formula. I felt some guilt about this at first, but here’s the thing: our feeds are peaceful for both of us, he’s happy and content, and he’s growing well – 90th % for height and a bit lower for weight. I was pumping at first but I was never able to pump enough anyway and it became very difficult after my husband returned to work for the same reasons you mentioned. I know what we’re doing is the right thing for us and I specifically avoided seeing an LC outside the hospital because I didn’t want them to focus on something benign such as nipple shield use. We also do a skin on skin feed every morning at the feed when he goes from pj’s to his outfit and its the best feed of the day – he’s so happy and smiley and we end up cuddling and smiling and cooing. So congrats on doing what’s right for you and the baby and not feeling like you need to do what ‘they’ say is ‘right’. Parenting should be about our instincts and not outside pressure on how we should parent. A lot of us struggle with nursing and I have to admit, I do always feel like people look down on me when I buy his formula…but then they comment on how peaceful, cute and healthy my baby looks 🙂 Hope all continues to go well for all 3 of you.

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