I always thought I would breastfeed my babies exclusively. I mean, everyone told me that breast was best, so I totally wanted to do it and didn't consider the possibility that I wouldn't be able to. I took classes, bought books, and set my expectations high — so high, in fact, that I actually set myself up for disappointment during breastfeeding.
When I had my baby and tried to breastfeed, I learned some harsh lessons relatively quickly. For example, breastfeeding wasn't the magical, perfect bonding experience that I thought it would be. And when things didn't go perfectly, I thought I had failed at breastfeeding and, as a result, failed at motherhood. It took a long time to get past those feelings of inadequacy and disappointment — time that I could have spent actually enjoying motherhood.
The second time around, however, I got smart. I set new, more realistic breastfeeding goals, supplemented with formula because my baby needed it to thrive, and got over my guilt. Eventually, and surprisingly, combo-feeding with formula allowed me to not just meet my breastfeeding goals, but surpass them. And when my son weaned I knew it wasn't the end of the world, and that formula was a great choice, too. Now that I have had three babies, and have breastfed them all to various degrees, I know better than to set myself up to fail. Most importantly, I know that my worth as a mother and my ability to bond with my babies has nothing to do with breastfeeding.
I Tried To Breastfeed Exclusively
When my daughter was born I planned to breastfeed her exclusively. I thought it was the "normal" way to feed babies, and was determined to never give her a drop of formula. I had no idea that most moms don't reach that goal, though. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 22 percent of moms in the U.S. breastfeed their babies exclusively for the recommended six months. By setting an unrealistic goal, I was setting myself up to fail.
I Thought It Would Be Easy
Once I tried to breastfeed my daughter, I realized why most moms don't breastfeed exclusively. In my experience, it has nothing to do with a lack of education or support, because I had both of those things in spades. Breastfeeding is just hard, I didn't make enough milk, and when you go have to go back to work before the recommend six month-mark, it can be impossible to keep up with breastfeeding, pumping, and never getting a break or a full night of sleep.
I Thought I Was Supposed To Love Every Moment
I didn't really like breastfeeding, at least not at first. The magical feeling wore off when my baby nursed every hour her second night of life. I had no idea she was hungry, and as I result I followed the nurse and lactation consultants' advice to just keep breastfeeding. It was hell.
I Refused To Supplement With Formula
Because I was stuck on the impossible (at least for me) goal of exclusive breastfeeding, I was absolutely terrified of using any formula. I had no idea that early supplementing, before your milk comes in, has actually been shown to help moms breastfeeding longer. When my daughter lost over 20 percent of her birth weight and had to be re-admitted to the hospital, I was devastated.
I Was Afraid To Use A Pacifier
My breastfeeding classes said to never use a pacifier, because it would cause your baby to get a condition called nipple confusion (which I later found out is not really a thing). So, I told the nurses at the hospital not to give us one, and became a human pacifier for my baby instead. Not only did this make my nipples hurt like hell, but it was absolutely exhausting. Breastfeeding like this was not the relaxing, bonding experience I expected.
I Thought If It Hurt I Was Doing It Wrong
I had read that breastfeeding only hurts if you were doing it wrong. So, when my nipples felt and looked like raw hamburger, I thought it was my fault. I saw three different lactation consultants who all said my baby's latch was perfect, though. Turns out, breastfeeding just hurts. I had no idea.
I can't really put into words the exhausting, overwhelming hell that was triple-feeding. Because I didn't make enough milk, I was instructed to increase my supply by nursing on both sides until I "felt empty," feed my baby small amounts of formula and breast milk with a supplemental nursing system (basically a bottle and piece of tubing that allowed me to supplement while breastfeeding), and then pump for 30 minutes. The problem with this plan was that since my baby ate every two to three hours, I literally spent half my day feeding or pumping... and never sleeping.
I Blamed Myself When Things Didn't Work Out
When nothing I did to increase my milk supply actually worked, and I had to continue to use formula, I blamed myself for not being good enough. Because I thought that breastfeeding was all or nothing, I ended up switching to formula exclusively. It was so disappointing, and made me feel like I wasn't an adequate mother.
I Thought I Could Only Bond While Breastfeeding
Before I had babies I believed that breastfeeding was important for bonding, which is ridiculous when you think about all of the adoptive and parents who can't lactate and end up bonding with their babies just fine.
Fortunately, it only took a few months of my daughter thriving on formula for me to realize that there are so many other ways to bond with an infant. While I later loved breastfeeding my oldest son, I am equally bonded with my youngest, who was only able to breastfeed for a couple of weeks. Breastfeeding can be amazing, to be sure, but it isn't everything. If you can't or don't want to breastfeed, you can still bond with your baby. I promise. And if you do decide to breastfeed, it's totally easier to bond if you don't set yourself up for disappointment... like I did.