August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week and we have a special extended line up for you! Our writers will share their triumphs and tears through their personal recollections of making sure their babies are fed, be it through breastfeeding or supplementation. We hope you connect with these experiences by picking up a few tips or gaining the confidence to do what is best for your situation. Enjoy!
Supplementing breastmilk is a difficult decision for many mothers. Some women have a choice and others do not. This hot topic in today’s society tends to instill guilt where it is unnecessary. It is often forced upon mothers for one reason or another. Supply issues, return to work, and difficulty nursing are the common reasons for supplementing. In my case, it was a series of life-changing events.
For 15 months, my oldest son nursed almost exclusively. There was an evening bottle of breastmilk by Daddy or when Grandma came. I would pump extra breastmilk for those bottles after breakfast. I always had a can of formula in case of emergencies, but those cans were eventually donated.
My youngest son nursed exclusively for three months. He hated anyone else feeding him, even his daddy. One afternoon after a Target run, I came home to a screaming infant. My husband, calm as always, “He just won’t eat, he is waiting for you.”
I tried to make time every day to pump milk to freeze. It was so hard to find the time and energy while caring for my infant, toddler and ill husband, especially when my baby hated the bottle.
Then on a Friday afternoon before the 4th of July holiday, we decided to pack our bags for New York. My husband had become a surgery candidate to remove all visible colon cancer and abdomen metastasis at one of the top oncology hospitals in the world. I had five days to pump as much extra milk as possible and research what formula I preferred in case we ran out of my “liquid gold.”
At three months old, my youngest had to take a bottle. He wasn’t forced to because my supply was low. Rather, I had an abundance of milk. So much, that for both sons I often collected up to 12 ounces a day using the Milkies Milk-Saver until my supply regulated itself after a few months. Most of the milk saved in the early months with my youngest was from the milk-saver.
After our first appointment in New York, we were to told to come back seven days later. One week to pump extra milk this time. This trip was a two-night stay and included a laparoscopic procedure to determine if surgeons felt they could safely operate. They were optimistic, and surgery was scheduled for two weeks later.
I had to decide between my infant and terminally ill husband. I chose time with my husband and to support him 1200 miles away from home. It was our last real shot for a miracle so my sons could have years instead of months with their daddy.
We planned for me to be away from home for a week while he recovered. I quickly did the math: seven days times at least 25 ounces of bottles a day meant I would need to supplement. There was no option.
I reached out to my doula and girlfriends who had babies the same age. I chose to seek out breastmilk donations to supplement for our son. Supply was not the issue, which made this decision harder for me. Time was the issue. I needed time to pump extra breastmilk for my son so I could be with my husband during this major surgery.
My doula had a mom who graciously donated and fed my son for the equivalent of almost four weeks. Friends from my new mama groups donated milk. Friends of friends who had extra breastmilk in their freezer would pass the milk along to be delivered to us.
I wish I would have recorded how many ounces these mothers had donated to feed my son. I had bigger fish to fry at the time, but I will never forget the diaper boxes full of breastmilk to feed my baby.
When my son was six months old, the donations and friends still able to pump fresh milk diminished. I was exhausted and coming to realize formula wasn’t the enemy. The stress of my husband’s fate and quick decline to hospice led to less and less time dedicated to nursing, pumping, and searching online for donated milk.
The formula I had spent hours researching was well received by my son. We mixed it half and half to start. I was nursing when my son was brought to me at the hospital or hospice home, pumping at odd hours of the day. The fact was, the lack of sleep and nutrition simply meant my supply wasn’t there anymore.
The last time my son nursed was the day after his daddy died. The next time I went to nurse my baby, he turned my breast down. It was his gift to me, weaning himself as if to say: “Mommy it is okay, you rest now.”
What I can tell you from my experience, is your baby will be okay. In fact, your baby will be more than okay. He will grow and reach milestones. He will even thrive when you need to supplement breastmilk.
When your baby is fed with love, it doesn’t matter if it is breast or bottle. It won’t matter if it is liquid gold or formula. In the end, all that really matters is that love and nurturing are present when your baby is fed.