Thursday, September 25, 2014
The right formula
I've debated for a long time about sharing this, but I've decided that it might help people who are in my situation.
Like most moms, I had a plan for how I would feed my babies. I had always heard that breastfeeding was best for the baby and helped the mom lose the weight quicker. I knew how expensive formula was from my years working in a grocery store, and I figured I'd probably have to supplement with twins — but I planned to breastfeed them as long as possible.
And then life happened. Henry and Norah came more than two months early, way before we expected them, and my body was completely out of whack. Not only was I recovering from the HELLP syndrome and trying to keep food down, I was an emotional wreck. I felt guilty about not being able to carry my babies longer, I worried about them in the NICU, and I was terrified about going home from the hospital and not being right there to see them.
When the lactation nurse came in a couple days after they were born and explained how to use the breast pump and told me I needed to pump every three hours to get used to nursing (once it was safe for them to be out of their incubators long enough), I was overwhelmed.
I pumped every three hours except for a few hours a night and visited the NICU at least twice a day, taking the tiny bit of milk I was getting each time so the nurses could feed it to Henry and Norah via a tube. The nurses were reassuring at first, telling me that I'd be getting more milk soon, and it was fine because my babies were only eating about 10 ml every three hours.
Of course, they got bigger and needed much more than 10 ml each feeding, but my body simply wasn't producing that. I still pumped every three hours, juggling NICU visits and then work — and I got more and more anxious and depressed that I couldn't feed my babies and wasn't producing any more than before.
I tried holding Henry and Norah skin to skin and getting them to latch, but they were so tiny and still weren't developed enough to know how to suck. While I loved feeling them snuggled against me, they hardly got any milk and ended up frustrated and hungry — which made me frustrated and miserable.
We worried about them getting too agitated and spitting up their food. Fortunately, they were learning to suck formula from a bottle and growing quickly on that, and we were feeding them the tiny bit of breast milk I pumped from bottles as well.
Everyone has a solution when you mention that you're not able to breastfeed. Nurses recommended without recommending (because they're not allowed to recommend vitamins and supplements that are not regulated by the FDA) fenugreek, and I drank cups and cups of mother's milk herbal tea. I was trying to drink plenty of fluids and eat well. Nothing was working.
When we finally brought Henry and Norah home from the NICU, we were overwhelmed with taking care of two tiny babies and worried that they would stop breathing or have other problems now that the monitors were gone. Neither Andrew nor I was sleeping much, and when I did have a break when Henry and Norah were sleeping, the last thing I wanted to do was pump and get less than an ounce of milk.
A few days after they came home, I sat down with my mom (who was there to help) and Andrew, feeling horrible that I couldn't get any milk and that I'd basically given up on pumping. Instead of making me feel even more guilty or telling me to keep trying, they told me it was OK to feed Henry and Norah formula.
My mom reminded me that I'd given them breast milk, even a tiny amount, for five weeks, and that it was incredibly helpful to building their immune systems with antibodies. Andrew told me that I'd done the best I could and that there was nothing wrong with giving them formula — especially since they were healthy and were growing so well on it.
When I decided to stop pumping and trying to get them to latch, I felt like an anvil had been lifted off my chest. The stress of trying to feed my babies when I simply wasn't producing enough milk was crippling, and I felt so much relief.
Unfortunately, one of the first questions women seem to ask new mothers is how breastfeeding is going. When I told them I wasn't able to breastfeed, I felt like they instantly had tons of questions. Why not? Did you try fenugreek? Are you pumping?
When they weren't asking questions, I felt (and I know that some of this was in my head) like they were silently judging me. Women are constantly told that breastfeeding is best for the baby and the mom, since it helps you lose the baby weight faster and bond with your newborn. I had heard all of it, too, and I understood why they might look down on me for feeding my babies formula.
Except that it really hurt. I was finally feeling relief about not breastfeeding, and all the questions about it made me feel worse. I was doing what was best for my family and my kids, and I knew my babies were getting the nutrition they needed from the formula.
One of my neighbors came over a month or so after we brought Henry and Norah home, and I discovered that she had decided to exclusively feed her daughter formula and never even tried to breastfeed. She simply knew that it wasn't for her, and she was OK with it.
Talking to her made me realize that breastfeeding is absolutely a choice — and just like how I've decided to continue working full time, I can choose to feed my babies formula and shouldn't be judged harshly for that.
Do I think breastfeeding is a good thing? Absolutely. I think it's amazing that your body is supposed to produce milk that's customized for your baby and protects him.
Do I think formula is a good thing? Of course! Formula has been an incredible blessing in our lives. Though it's expensive and can be inconvenient to have to constantly run to the store, it allows Andrew and I both to feed them and makes it much easier to take Henry and Norah to daycare. It also allows us to see exactly how much they are eating and protects them from the daily medication I have to take that could be transferred through breast milk.
There is no reason to "mommy shame" or ask a new mother personal questions about breastfeeding, and there's definitely no reason to feel guilty about feeding your baby formula. Every situation is different, and you shouldn't have to defend yourself to anyone.
I am so glad to see how quickly Henry and Norah are growing, and I'm not going to let myself feel bad for doing things a bit differently. Don't let yourself feel that way, either.