By the time my third child was born, I felt more confident in my ability to breastfeed than I had when either of my other babies were born. I knew what my body could (and couldn't do) in terms of producing breast milk. I consulted a lactation consultant and planned to both breastfeed and supplement with formula. I joined an evidence-based support group, which included many other parents with undersupply, and (most importantly, to me) I had a really supportive partner. When things go tough he was there, saying things that really put my breastfeeding struggles into perspective.
I didn't always feel supported when I was trying, and struggling, to breastfeed. When my husband and I first talked about how we'd feed our son, I told him about my struggles with undersupply, which caused me to blame myself for my baby having to be readmitted to the NICU for jaundice and dehydration. I told him about my postpartum depression, and how I didn't really fall in love with my baby until I switched to formula. His ex-wife had endured a similar experience with their first baby, and he didn't want me to go through something like that again. "Let's just do formula," he said, "I want you to be OK." Then I told him about my amazing experience combo-feeding my second child, which was something that I never thought would be possible. He told me that he would support me no matter what I decided.
Then our son was born with low blood sugar and required formula, IV fluids, and glucose in the NICU. Once we got him home, despite both breastfeeding and supplementing with formula every 2-3 hours, he wasn't gaining any weight. He also had horrible diarrhea and gas, and cried out in pain frequently. We tried five different formulas before we found one he could eat. Then, we found out why. He was diagnosed with a cow's milk and soy protein intolerance, and my doctor told me that if I wanted to keep breastfeeding him, I needed to eliminate all dairy and soy from my diet. I am a vegetarian and cheese is life. The thought of having to give up all dairy and soy made me ugly cry. I wanted to breastfeed so badly that I actually considered altering my diet for like an hour. (shudders)
My husband was there with me every step of the way and over every hurdle. The things he said that helped me gain the most perspective might surprise you, too, because they definitely surprised me.
"Formula Is Great"
I know you might think that talking to a mom who is struggling with breastfeeding about formula might be the wrong thing to do, but I totally disagree. We, as a society, spend so much time saying "breast is best" that many moms who are struggling, and who may need or want to use formula, are totally ashamed or freaked out about it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most parents who breastfeed also use formula. A practice which, contrary to what you may have heard, may actually help you breastfeed longer. I know that was true for me and once I got past the guilt.
Bottom line being, my partner told me that formula was safe, healthy, and good and that it was OK to supplement and even switch entirely when we needed to. It really put things into perspective.
"If You Want To Give Up Dairy I'll Do It With You"
You don't know my husband or how much he loves cheese, so please trust me when I tell you that him considering giving up dairy out of solidarity with me was a huge deal.
"It's Impossible To Tell Which Of Our Kids Was Breastfed"
Please tell me which of our children got the most breast milk. You really can't. They are all healthy, strong, and growing too fast for our hearts to handle.
"This Is Small In The Grand Scheme Of Things"
Because my partner and I have both been parents for a while, it was easier to see feeding our baby as a pretty short time in the larger context of his childhood. When you consider how fast they grow up, that time period is truly tiny. Pretty soon, my baby will be throwing food on the floor and refusing to eat the very thing I was asked to prepare. As a mom, I needed to decide how I wanted to spend that time.
"I Want To Help"
My husband was there alongside me for every breastfeeding bump in the road, and while he wanted me to meet my goals, he also was honest about wanting to feed the baby, too. I don't blame him. Feeding babies is pretty freaking magical.
"You Are So Much More Than Your Ability To Lactate"
I needed my partner to tell me that I was enough just the way I am, even if I didn't produce a healthy supply of breast milk or was unable to breastfeed at all. I think after struggling to breastfeed three babies, I finally believe this is true.
"Our Baby Is Healthy"
The most important goal of feeding your baby isn't the number of ounces you produce or the number of days, weeks, or months you breastfeed, it's that your baby is fed, healthy, and growing. Babies thrive on love.
"You Are A Great Mom No Matter What"
He was right. Being a good parent has literally nothing to do with breastfeeding. Nothing.
"You Need To Take Care Of Yourself First"
I am constantly telling my friends and colleagues, "You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, if you want to help others." I totally needed someone to give me my own advice. Unless I got enough rest, nutrition, hydration, and time for self care, there was no way I would be able to care for my kids.
"I Support You"
Ultimately the most important words my partner said, and the words I needed to hear, were, "I support you." I was able to see how my struggles with breastfeeding were impacting my partner and our family. As a result, I was able to make the best choice for how to feed our baby, with his support and a healthy dose of perspective.