Low on Milk, High on Guilt

[W]hen it comes to parenting, is there really any such thing as the “easy way?” Or, is there just the way that works . . .

This week, Oliver started receiving one bottle (5 ounces) of formula a day while I am at work. I was (and am) wracked with guilt over this perceived failure on my part, which the (ever-shrinking) rational part of my brain can see is completely ridiculous. I mean, so what if he gets 20% of his calories from formula (organic formula, no less). Is it really that big of a deal?!? Who cares?!? Well, unfortunately, I do.

Let me be clear: I see absolutely nothing questionable in, or wrong with, another mother’s choice to formula-feed her infant. However, I so badly wanted to exclusively breastfeed Oliver for one year. I made that committment to myself and to him before he was even born, and after a somewhat bumpy start, I really thought we would make it.

Getting to our current point, where breastfeeding is a mostly enjoyable experience, was no easy feat. Oliver and I battled oversupply, flow, and temperament issues. For a period of four months, one or both of us cried at almost every feeding, until, magically, everything fell into place and breastfeeding became something resembling the loving, bonding experience La Leche League proclaims it to be.

That it was so difficult in the beginning makes my body’s current shortcomings all the more disappointing.

About a month ago, I began to develop pump resistance. I would pump for 10, 20, 30 minutes and my milk would just refuse to let down. I would massage, look at photos and videos of Oliver, do deep-breathing exercises, and seclude myself in the nursing mothers’ room to read fashion magazines while pumping. Nothing worked.

I spoke to my lactation consultant, who loaned me a hospital grade pump and wished me luck. That produced moderate success, and I started getting milk again. But, I have yet to get back to the point where I can produce enough to meet my very active baby’s daytime needs.

I encouraged the nanny to give Oliver less milk during the day in the hope that he would make up the difference at night. She ended up dealing with a hungry, grumpy baby, and I ended up more sleep-deprived than ever. It was not a workable solution.

Finally accepting defeat, this past Saturday morning I got up, drove to Whole Foods, and bought a can of formula. Oliver took it happily and greedily–the poor little guy was hungry!

I feel like I *should* be at peace with my decision, that I tried my best and, due to circumstances beyond my control, exclusive breastfeeding for one year just isn’t possible. In reality, I feel guilty, like giving that one bottle of formula is taking the easy way out — like there just has to be some other way to bridge the gap between what Oliver needs and what I can produce.

I guess I just need to ease up on myself a little. After all, when it comes to parenting, is there really any such thing as the “easy way?” Or, is there just the way that works — the way that keeps everyone (reasonably) happy and healthy, or, at least alive, at the end of each day? And, well, if I have stumbled upon the “easy way,” then maybe I should allow myself to feel grateful that for once, something about this whole parenting gig is.

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2 Responses to Low on Milk, High on Guilt

  1. man says:

    i hope you do figure out how to ease up on yourself. i, too, had hoped to make it a year with exclusively feeding our son breastmilk, but my body didn’t agree with my idea. i made it almost 6 months, the last two of those i spent agonizing and trying so hard to keep up my milk supply, but i just wasn’t able to do it. after beating myself up emotionally, i had to just agree to live with the situation as it was, so that i could survive, mentally anyway.

    but even as a total stranger who loves reading your blog for your insight, i’m super proud of you and what you’ve done thus far. keep up the good work. {just remember to be nice to you!}

  2. Laura P. says:

    I’m sorry you’re feeling guilty and emotional. Know that you’re in good company (not just me). I really wanted breastfeeding to work with Shelby. When it didn’t, I vowed to pump exclusively for her as long as I could. I had to start supplementing with formula early on (my supply sucked) and the balance slowly tipped to where she was getting more formula than breast milk. Even so I had a REALLY hard time cutting the cord with the pump. Once I finally did, though, I have to say I actually felt liberated. It’s not what I expected, but it was a welcome surprise! Good luck as you journey forward with Oliver. You’re doing a great job with him, and he’s happy and healthy. That’s really what matters in the end.

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