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How I Learned to Love the Bottle

Evan was a planned and very uneventful first pregnancy, with the exception of some hyperemesis gravidarum. Thank the Lord for Zofran. In what has proved to be his typical fashion, Evan arrived 5 days late. We had a rough delivery - the kind where you spend the first 60 seconds praying that you’ll hear him cry. And then, I was handed this little bundle of human. I fully expected to be overcome with a wave of love and adoration for this tiny human I had made. But truthfully, I didn’t. He was cute enough and he was mine. But no hearts and sparkles for sure.

Like a good pediatrician, I was going to breastfeed and I was going to be great at it. The best breastfeeding mom ever. While Evan latched okay in the delivery room, by feeding #3 or so, I was already in pain. A kind of pain I’ve never felt in my life. Fun fact: humans do a funny thing when they anticipate pain. They tense up in preparation. It hurt so much that I dreaded every feeding and my shoulders immediately froze when I tried to latch him on. I was scolded repeatedly by my nurse, who told me that Evan’s poor latch was because I was tense. His feeding problems were my fault. Incidentally, this did not help make me less tense.

When he was 24 hours old, I broke and asked for formula, feeling like a terrible mother. And they sent one of my junior residents in to counsel me before I could get a bottle for my baby. Truthfully, I knew this was hospital policy (it was my hospital, after all), but until that moment I hadn’t considered how it felt to be educated about how to feed my baby by a resident who had never experienced parenthood. She very sweetly assured me that I didn’t need formula, and though it wasn’t her intent, made me feel like the worst mother in the world . But my fatigue overcame me, so I insisted and got what I wanted. (In hindsight, Evan was actually a pretty crappy bottle feeder as well, which should have been a sign to the clinicians around me. But we’ll get back to that.)

I left the hospital feeling broken, guilty, and angry at this little person who was causing me so much pain. I was supposed to be good at this. I knew more about babies than 90% of new moms. And still, I had failed. That one bottle had removed the coveted “exclusively breastfed” status from my baby. I had a follow-up with my lactation consultant a few days later, who hugged me and told me that Evan wasn’t latching very well. But no advice on fixing it. And still no hearts and sparkles for this tiny person who caused me physical pain 8 times a day. I was convinced that I was a terrible mother who was incapable of loving and caring for her baby.

I fought the breastfeeding battle and won for a while. But Evan was ridiculously fussy and had severe reflux. Several medications and thickened formula got it under control within a couple of months. But by then, I had become really resentful of my experience on labor and delivery and even resentful of my son. I hated pumping, hated thickening feedings, hated calls from the daycare saying that he was out of milk and could I bring them more? Eventually, he ended up on formula entirely. Strangely, I kind of missed breastfeeding after that. Which just proves that feelings around babies and feeding can get really mixed up, and that’s okay.

As time passed, the reflux improved, and I had more fun times than stressful times with Evan, the bonding stuff resolved. I’ve had 2 more kids since then, each with their own feeding journey. Judy was a breastfeeding champ. Eli was born at 37 weeks and spent 4 days in the NICU, so he was a little slow on the uptake but got it by day 4. Oh, and my postpartum depression was diagnosed after Judy was born, which meant I was much better off with Eli. It also turned out that I didn’t feel hearts and sparkles immediately for any of my kids. That’s just my way of bonding. I need to get to know them first. And I’m okay with that. As an aside, Evan apparently has a tongue and lip tie. I learned that when he was 11. 11 years old. Simultaneously, I felt vindicated and stupid. Again, motherhood is complicated.

But in the time between Kid #1 and Kid #3, I met thousands of mothers who felt like I did. They felt enormous pressure to breastfeed, and felt unsupported when family members suggested they give formula because it would destroy the coveted “exclusively breastfed” label. They believed in this all-or-nothing approach to feeding, in which you either breastfeed exclusively or you fail. They felt that they had to do it all perfectly or their child would be forever damaged. And in all of that, they lost sight of what was really important.

You're the parent. You get to choose what's right for you and your baby. And you're both equally important in this equation. Do what's right for you. And if someone questions why you're feeding your baby that way, send them to me. I'll straighten them out.

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