I always planned on breastfeeding my babies. After all, everyone said "breast was best." So when my daughter was born, and I didn't make enough breast milk, my mental health was impacted. The pressure to make breastfeeding work was intense. And when I couldn't make nursing work, I switched to formula, believing that was my only option. It was devastating. Then my son was born, and my lactation consultant recommended combo-feeding — using breast milk and formula. Thankfully, combo-feeding saved my mental health in so many ways.
When I look back, my experience as a new combo-feeding mom was completely different from my experience as a mom who was struggling to breastfeed. The first time around, I strongly associated my ability to be a "good mom" with my ability to breastfeed. So when I couldn't breastfeed, I started to think I couldn't be a good mom, either. To make matters worse, so many people echoed that sentiment — congratulating moms who breastfed, like they were goddesses of motherhood, while telling me I could "try again next time," like my baby was broken or something. I experienced people shaming me in the formula aisle and assuming I didn't "try hard enough," and in the end it was my mental health that took the hardest hit.
The second time around, I was able to ditch exclusive breastfeeding as a goal and re-define what "breastfeeding success" meant for me and my baby. I figured out that combo-feeding was right for us, and could feel my stress level drop. I realized that how you end up feeding your babies is such a small part of motherhood. Perhaps the most important take-away from my infant-feeding experiences, though, is that when we set our expectations too high, we are bound to get hurt. Most breastfeeding moms use formula to some degree for a variety of reasons — medical, mental health, work, social, or just because they want to — and it doesn't make them less goddess-like than the exclusive breastfeeding crowd.
Combo-feeding seriously saved my mental health, and I want to tell every pregnant person I know about it. It just might do the same for them, too.
After my first baby was born, I felt so much pressure to breastfeed exclusively. When it didn't work out, I felt so much guilt, became suicidal, and thought that failing to breastfeed meant I had failed as a mother. Of course, that wasn't true, but rationality takes a back seat when you're sleep deprived, hormonal, and feeling judged by so many people. After my second child was born, I learned that I could combo-feed and experience the best of both worlds. My baby thrived, and I thrived along with him.
For me, being a new mom felt so isolating, especially when I was trying (and failing) to exclusively breastfeed. I couldn't go anywhere without the baby or a breast pump. Then I started combo-feeding and learned that I could drop certain feedings and have the freedom to think about something other than lactation. People like to say that breastfeeding is free, but it's actually not. When you value a person's time, energy, and mental health, the cost is actually incredibly high.
When you are a new mom, you learn that sleep is life. Yes, literally life itself. But when you're a new mom you also learn that sleep can be pretty impossible to come by. So, what if I told you that you could replace a middle-of-the-night breastfeed session with a bottle of formula or pumped milk, given by your partner or spouse? Yeah, I did just that for eight months after my second child was born, and got way more sleep than I did when I tried to breastfeed exclusively.
When I had my first baby and didn't make enough breast milk, I blamed myself. I struggled with depression and self-hatred. In my role as an exclusively breastfeeding mom, I felt like I only had one job — feed the baby — and I totally sucked at it. Once I started combo-feeding my son, though, I was able to redefine what success meant, and adjust along the way. I didn't have to meet some mythical, unachievable breastfeeding goal to be a good mom.
Imagine being able to breastfeed your baby, because you want to and enjoy it, but not having to worry about what is or is not coming out of your boobs. That's what combo-feeding was like for me. I pumped at work for a while, but was able to add formula when I didn't make enough milk to meet the needs of my baby. And when I wanted to stop pumping, because it literally sucked? Yeah, I just dropped those sessions and had my day care provider give my baby formula during the day. I was still able to nurse nights, mornings, and weekends, too. It was a great balance for me and my babies.
For me, exclusive breastfeeding made me feel like who I was, as a human being, was reduced to my ability to feed my baby. While breastfeeding moms were treated like Facebook mommy group royalty, posting breastfeeding achievement badges and "brealfies" to celebrate their accomplishments, I was ashamed to post a single picture of me bottle-feeding my youngest. Combo-feeding made me realize that there's so much more to being a mom than my ability to lactate. I also felt like my body was my own again, and that was amazing for my mental health.
As a new mom, I thought that supplementing with formula meant I couldn't continue breastfeeding. Now I know that's definitely not the case. I am so glad I learned that combo-feeding was a thing, and that it would give me and my family some of the best parts of formula and breastfeeding, with a little less guilt and stress.
I learned that when I set the bar at "exclusive breastfeeding," I fell short .But when I decided to give combo-feeding a try, I felt like a breastfeeding success. That was amazing for my mental health, and made me feel much more confident as a mom.
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