People always wonder if pregnancy and motherhood is easier when you are an obstetrician. The short answer – no. Nothing about this journey was as expected, and everything about it was more challenging than I had anticipated. However, breastfeeding was by far the most unexpectedly difficult thing I encountered.

As an OB, I always counsel my patients that “breast is best.” Breastfeeding is economical and environmentally friendly and has been shown to potentially decrease your baby’s risk of infection. I’m not going to get into the detailed benefits of breastfeeding but if you are interested here are some links:

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom

La Leche League’s take on benefits of breastfeeding

Why breastfeeding is important

As a naive young doctor, I counseled my patients to feed their newborn on demand which would be approximately every two to three hours. I figured these new mothers would have two to three hours between feeds to nap, eat, shower, etc. No biggie.

I apologize to all of the postpartum breastfeeding mamas I have cared for over the past several years. I had NO FREAKING CLUE what you were going through.

My little one had difficulty latching on initially so the nurses gave me a nipple shield to use right off the bat. I was able to see a lactation consultant in the hospital, and she helped me with positioning the baby so that I wouldn’t be contorted in some weird position for hours at a time.

I saw a lactation consultant in the office three days after delivery. She watched me nurse and confirmed my son’s latch were great. He was gaining weight so clearly I was producing enough milk for him.

Although all of these objective measures were great. I was subjectively not doing well at all. My baby boy was feeding almost continuously. This meant I had pretty much NO time to myself. I would feed him, change him, rock him to sleep, he would sleep for maybe 20-40 minutes and then wake up to feed again. And we would repeat this cycle over and over again. I bought the My Brest Friend pillow which I mentioned on a previous post to help with positioning and back pain since I was sitting for long periods of time. While I was breastfeeding, I would read articles on Kellymom.com and La Leche League (great sources of information and encouragement for breastfeeding moms), and from everything that I read, feeding almost continuously was normal in the early days after delivery. So I decided that since this was probably temporary, I would just stick with it for now because I really wanted to breastfeed my baby.

But it never improved. Three weeks after delivery, I had seen two lactation consultants at two different hospitals who told me that my son was gaining weight appropriately and to continue doing what I was doing. At this point, I was trying to pump after each feed to improve my milk supply so I was essentially not sleeping because this left NO time for naps throughout the day. And honestly, I hated being a mom. I really did. I was so sleep deprived, frustrated, and hungry (my God, the hunger! Breastfeeding makes you SO hungry! And I NEVER had time to eat or drink very much  – so I was constantly STARVING!) My only interactions with my child were him screaming to be fed and me nursing him for hours on end. On top of all of this work, my little guy was rarely satisfied after feeds. After I found myself bawling my eyes out during a nursing session for the umpteenth time, I decided to try switching to exclusive pumping.

This lasted for a very brief period of time because this would involve me feeding the baby either formula or expressed milk via bottle, rocking him to sleep, and then trying to pump during the 20-40 minutes he was sleeping (I am telling you our baby NEVER slept the 18 hours a day that newborns are “supposed” to sleep).  So again, I was sleep deprived, frustrated, and hungry.  And I finally decided to switch to formula completely.

I felt horrible about it initially, like I was slowly poisoning my child by feeding him formula instead of breast milk, but I found the articles  below which really helped me feel better about it.

The Ideal and the Real of Breastfeeding

The Unapologetic Case for Formula-Feeding

Why Formula Feeding Was Right for Me

Sometimes, even now , I feel a little guilty like maybe I gave up on breastfeeding too easily or I should have tried harder. But once I made the switch to formula, I was able to sleep, eat, and enjoy my time with my new son. He seemed to be much more satisfied after feeds which made me feel better. And most importantly,  I began to love being a mother.

What have I learned from all this? While “breast may be best,” the decision of how to feed your child is a deeply personal decision and is different for every woman and every family. There is a lot of hype around breastfeeding, and all of the news articles and social media posts can feel “in your face” at times. But breastfeeding is UNBELIEVABLY difficult, and moms who are nursing need all the support they can get! If this means more breastfeeding selfies on my Instagram feed, that is totally fine by me. However, there is a lot of unnecessary guilt surrounding being unable to or choosing not to breastfeed. As a result, many articles about formula feeding can seem defensive or aggressive.

But the bottom line is, being a mom is so SO hard and as a mother, you need all the support you can get! We need to be more accepting and less judgmental of each others’ choices. We’re all just doing the best we can.

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What was your experience with breast or formula feeding? Leave your comments below!

15 thoughts on “Is Breast Best?

  1. Ankita, I love that you posted this (and yes, I know you posted it a few months ago. I am just revisiting.). I’m currently struggling with feeding issues of my own – breastfeeding is out due to a tongue-tie that has not improved post-frenectomy and exclusive pumping is horrible. Our training tells us that breast is best, but as you did, I’m struggling with feeling that pumping for 4 hours a day while my husband feeds is better than formula feeding and getting to feed and bond with my daughter. I’m going to try to pump for the first month, but I think formula is in our future and I’m trying to decrease my guilt over it. Thanks for being so open with your struggles. Also, your little man is adorable. 🙂

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    1. Hi Jan!! Congrats on your little one!! Hope you are managing to get some rest and stay sane!
      I have absolutely no regrets about formula feeding my little man. We have had no issues since transitioning him from breast milk to formula. And now we are in the midst of introducing solids – fun! Just remember happy momma = happy family.
      Congrats again! Every day is an adventure 🙂

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  2. This is an amazing article. I had a hard time with my first baby as well. The second time was much easier but I think it was because I knes the baby wouldn’t “die” if I had to formula feed.
    Thank you for a peek into your struggle and decision.

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  3. Kita, I am glad that you had the courage to speak up. I tried breastfeeding for maybe 2 weeks (I am not exactly sure because sleep deprivation makes you lose track of time) and then just switched over to pumping. It worked for me and allowed me to feed my baby, lose weight and get my work done. I was still a resident and even though I was on maternity leave, I still had research projects to finish and papers to write. Pumping gave me a sense of control and it worked for me. But if it hadn’t I would have switched over to formula just as easily because I have never seen the breast feeding/breast milk thing as a black and white situation. I always felt like the breast milk proponents were too pushy on new moms even if they meant well. It’s hard. I had heard multiple moms tell me that prior to having my baby.
    As an general surgeon, I always try to take the time and understand how my patients “got to where they are” when they are having surgical problems that involve a lifestyle choice or risky behaviors or just plain bad luck. I think that it helps me empathize better with them. Being the MD is sometimes a lot easier than being the patient. I know that when I was a patient it certainly changes a lot about how I thought about pain management etc. I say all this because i have realized that there is the medical advice that we give to people and then there is reality. In a perfect world, everyone would breast feed their babies and there would be no problems with latching, feeding intervals etc. But that isn’t life. So, you do the next best thing that you can. You feed your baby and you love them and take care of them the best you can.

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    1. Mia, I totally agree with you. Being an MD is definitely easier than being the patient at times, even during pregnancy & postpartum which is overall a very happy time in women’s lives. I think this experience will definitely change the way I counsel my patients and how I support them with their struggles postpartum.

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  4. I am so sorry that you had such a bad experience with breastfeeding! I thoroughly enjoyed the experience with my four babies although I eventually supplemented with formula only because I wasn’t sure that they were getting what they needed. I didn’t bother pumping because I felt that I didn’t have enough already. Each child got a different total amount of time nursing and each child turned out just fine. Nursing should be enjoyable for both baby and mother! Don’t let this experience sway you away from trying nursing the next time around! Breast is definitely best!

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  5. I am SO glad to read about your experience! I am a PA (I actually worked with Nick for a short time) and retired Air Force. I am currently pregnant with our fifth son. A few of my birthing experiences were just like yours where I found myself formula feeding our last baby and feeling so guilty about it. But honestly, my bond with him was better, I think, then previous babies I breastfed due to lack of frustration, sleep deprivation, tears and resentment. Not to mention having to go back to work – pumping was awful, even working in a clinic! So again, I’m glad to see an article from an OB who has lived the awful, not sugar-coated experience of trying to breastfeed. Best wishes for you and your family!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jennifer! I definitely think my bond with our new baby improved tremendously after switching to formula. Sometimes, I felt like I became so focused on doing things for baby that I forgot to just be present in the moment and enjoy my precious time with the new little one. Congrats on your pregnancy!

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  6. Kita, I love this! You explained it so well, the struggle is real! I went until my daughter was 11.5 months and have no clue how I did it aside from the fact that my body was created to be a milk making machine (real shocker there! Haha). From the start I had struggles getting her to latch. Every lactacian consultant in the entire hospital, my mother-law, sister-in-law and every one else tried to help. Might I add, feeding your child is a very personal thing and if someone does not ask for help in no way is it acceptable to just dive right on in! Haha, I know this sounds like common sense but I can not tell you how many people freely fondled me with out even asking, determined to be the one that got my baby to latch. Then Billie got jaundice pretty bad which ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I needed to measure how much she was taking in which meant I had to pump and bottle feed her. It worked for me and I continued that method for the next 11 months. The crazy thing was that it still wasn’t enough for people! They still wanted her to latch, still asked if she was latching yet at every appointment and if I was still trying. Even mothers insisted she would not get the full benefits of breast feeding if she didn’t latch. It infuriated me and honestly damaged some relationships I have with those people. It’s not easy at all and with that said, it probably came easier for me than most. I was able to produce absurd amounts of milk, my daughter slept great, I got the whole summer off as a teacher after she was born plus another 12 weeks after that, financially we were able to do that and my job allowed it, after I went back to work I could go the whole stretch of the day without pumping. Even then with all of that, it was the hardest thing I’ve done so I can’t imagine being a mom without all those things in your favor. How you feed your child and choose to raise your child is a very personal and unique thing. Breast or bottle, I’ll toast a glass of wine to all you mommas out there! 😉

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jamie! It is crazy how much unsolicited advice you get as a new mom. People may have the best of intentions but it really just adds to the pressure you already feel. I’m so glad things ultimately worked out well for you and Billie! 🙂

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  7. Thanks for sharing Ankita! I think more moms have this experience than we recognize! Happy that you are getting rest and enjoying your little man- congrats 🙂

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  8. I gave up breastfeeding after 12 weeks, and I get what you mean, I felt like I was doing something so wrong by switching to formula. It’s so easy to say breast is best, but sometimes it just isn’t in everyone’s best interest! There needs to be the same amount of positivity surrounding both breast and formula feeding, people seem so quick to judge but we’re all just trying to do right by our kids.

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