Motherhood, Parenting

When Breastfeeding Keeps Asking More… Do Less?

When Natalie McKee emailed us her story, it was a very welcome breath of fresh air to read.

The bottle/nipple confusion mantra hurled at mothers who are considering combo feeding is described as an insurmountable problem to stop women from trying. In reality, many mums are discovering that combination feeding is working well for their family lifestyle. Whether the decision stemmed from breastfeeding issues, the need to return to work, to enable family members to have a role in feeding, or simply because combination feeding is desired; mothers are frequently reporting that combination feeding is allowing them to continue breastfeeding for longer. Over to Natalie...

“This weekend, I went away for 24 hours with just my husband, and left my 6-month-old in the loving care of my in-laws.

It was magical. Restful. Peaceful. Restorative.

Formula made it possible.

We had planned this trip months ago as my chance to finally get a full night’s rest. At the time, I was exclusively breastfeeding, but I wasn’t worried — I had 80 oz. stored up and my daughter had been taking the occasional bottle since she was born. We’d be good.

Then it happened: One day, I tried feeding her some frozen milk in a bottle and she wouldn’t eat it. She was screaming and clearly hungry, but as soon as the milk hit her tongue she turned away. What was wrong? In a last-ditch effort, I tasted the milk only to discover it was disgusting — high lipase had ruined all 80 of those ounces I’d saved for our special night away. I tried vanilla, I tried mixing it with freshly expressed milk — but it was too late. By that point in time my milk had regulated so much that pumping would suck me dry and frustrate my baby, meaning I often ended up feeding her the pumped milk. There was no way I was going to pump enough to cover our 24 hours away, unless I got serious about boosting my supply.

At the same time, we were hitting a late 4 month sleep regression, both baby and I got head colds, and my sleep was almost non-existent. I was exhausted. Desperate for rest. I felt like I was back in the newborn stage all over again — the stage I almost didn’t survive.

And then it looked like my restorative night away wasn’t going to happen, and the bad sleep meant I was ready to try anything. Formula looked like the magic bullet: She might sleep better and I wouldn’t need to worry about boosting my supply and scalding my milk to get it to taste better.

Tucked away in a pile of boxes in our apartment were a few cans of sample formula I’d held onto “just in case.” About three weeks before our trip, I made her a bottle (and snuck in a drop of vanilla to mask the foreign taste) and she happily drank the whole thing.

And the guilty murmurs in my head started, “Why would you give her formula? You don’t have a supply issue. You’re not taking medication. You don’t need to do this…” and on, and on, and on.

I started getting flashbacks to all those lactation meetings I attended and began seeing Facebook comments pop up over her bottle: “Mama, you could do MORE.”

Every time a mom in-person or online would express her frustration with thrush, mastitis, poor latch, milk supply issues, and her desperate need for some real, quality rest, the answers were always the same: Do MORE.

Get rid of the pacifier. Nurse around the clock. Take supplements. Drink this tea. Probiotics. Essential oils. Set a timer. Get the tongue tie snipped. Try this. Try that. Buy this. Buy that. And worst of all: “Get over it. If you wanted to sleep, you shouldn’t have become a mother.”

Breastfeeding Culture Asks Too Much.

Early on in my breastfeeding journey, I started to realize I was not as “breast is best” as I’d thought I’d be during my pregnancy. Even with a very supportive partner who always does his “fair share,” breastfeeding put an extra burden on me.

And it was making motherhood much harder than it needed to be.

I remember holding my five-day-old infant and mentioning in a breastfeeding support group that I wanted to pump once a day so my husband could give a middle of the night bottle and I could rest a little more.

“Oh you can’t do that. You’d have to pump then in order to keep your supply up, so you wouldn’t get any more sleep,” the lactation consultant told me.

Defeated, I accepted that as truth and “sucked it up” — even as the weeks went by and I struggled more intensely with postpartum depression. At every turn, I felt like the resounding theme of the breastfeeding movement was to do more.

There was never a chance to take a break, because the fear of losing ones supply was reiterated over and over again. That refrain left me thinking that breastfeeding was all or nothing: Middle ground didn’t exist.

As I became aware of how dangerous the breastfeeding culture could be to moms, I became more and more certain that I didn’t want to be another voice telling moms, “You can do it. You NEED to do it.” Instead, I started encouraging internet moms to offer formula if it meant saving their sanity.

But I couldn’t take my own advice.

Why? Because I was afraid of judgement.

I kept thinking about the mom who congratulated me on my baby, and in the same sentence asked if I was breastfeeding. “You go mama! Good for you!” she exclaimed when I said I was. But my heart sank… what if I wasn’t? What would she have said?

So I kept going. Even through bouts of thrush. Even though I was so tired one day I almost fell over. Even though my mother, my husband and my therapist all told me they’d support me if I made the switch.

I 100% want to support moms who want to breastfeed. I want there to be resources available for her to succeed. But the problem with the breastfeeding culture is that it’s gone from “Formula is best. Breastfeeding is gross.” to the other. Now formula-feeding mamas have little to no support, which forces mothers to keep up breastfeeding even when it’s dangerously compromising their mental and physical wellbeing.

The Best Thing I’ve Done: Doing Less

Yes, that day when I fed my daughter a bottle of formula, I felt guilt. But you know what I felt more? Relief. Peace. A long-deserved deep breath.

Since that day my husband has given our daughter her first middle of the night feeding every night. I joined a 3-hour-long painting class and my husband confidently puts the baby to sleep while I’m away. We went away on our 24 hour vacation. I went shopping — alone — while my husband enjoyed a football game and baby duty. I can finally feel free to indulge in a little self care because I’m not attached to a pump or a baby.

And guess what? It’s been almost a month and I am still breastfeeding minus her bedtime bottle and first middle of the night feed. My supply, for now, is keeping up. For me it’s easier to breastfeed while working at home than it is to make and clean bottles. But those formula bottles at night means she goes to bed full and sleeps so much more than she used to sleep.

How long will this last? I don’t know. Maybe another month. Maybe until her first birthday. Maybe longer. But I’m not freaking out about losing my supply. I’m not buying up special teas and locking myself away with a pump. If my mom asks to babysit, I can hand her some formula and let her enjoy time with her granddaughter without stressing about my stash.

I feel a new kind of freedom that is making me a better mother. One who isn’t endlessly anxious or overwhelmingly exhausted.

Moms — whether they buy formula or lactation cookies — do so much to sacrifice for their babies day in and day out. Deciding to bottle feed doesn’t make you lazy. It doesn’t mean you are hurting your child. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have become a mother. It simply means that, in the words of my dear mom, “You are only one woman.” Sometimes that woman needs to tap out. Sometimes she needs to hand her partner a bottle and walk away.

Sometimes she needs to do just a little bit less.”

This reminds us of another phrase: “Sometimes less is more.”

Less pressure, more enjoyment. Less stressed, more relaxed. Less judgement towards infant feeding, more happy mothers.

We love that Natalie is an example of a mother who experienced extreme pressures, ended up using formula, but still continues to breastfeed her beautiful baby in harmony with bottlefeeding. Proof it isn’t all or nothing. It’s individual to every mother and baby.

Natalie McKee is a work at home mom of a 6-month-old girl. You can see some of her work at Nursing Shoe Heaven.

Thank you for allowing us to share your story Natalie. Love and best wishes to your family. x