Yes, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to after struggling to breastfeed my firstborn and successfully breastfeeding my second one for 15 months.
And I’ve found that the secret to breastfeeding success has a great deal to do with your mental state and your support system (nope, not so much on breast size).
We’ve often heard the phrase “breast is best”. And that breastfeeding is providing the best for your baby. It is, to a certain extent if the mom’s wellbeing is being taken care of. WHO and AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants up till 6 months of age and then encouraged till at least 1 year old. But, the fact is that breastfeeding may not be possible for everyone.
When I had my son 6 years ago, I was a first time mom struggling to care for a tiny, oh-so-fragile newborn. Contrary to popular belief, being a doctor does not automatically make you a pro mom. I was a paeds doctor but that did not make me a pro in feeding, bathing, holding a newborn. You need to BE a mom to know how to do all that stuff! Anyway, I was naturally going to breastfeed my baby since we advocate breastfeeding in hospital all the time. I thought it was going to come to me naturally, like latch the baby on the nipple and baby suck and milk is supposed to come out. Oh boy, was I wrong!
Maybe for some moms, breastfeeding for the first time felt natural and was the easiest thing to do. But I struggled. I struggled with latching, how to position or hold the baby during latching (football hold, cradle etc appeared on Google – thank goodness for Google!), the correct latching technique, low milk supply and painful nipple (probably due to wrong latching technique). I was so stressed out! On top of learning to care for a newborn (and googling why does baby make a stretching/constipated sound during night sleep – if you know, you know), sleep deprivation and your body being just not your body anymore, I expected (and society expects) myself to just breastfeed my baby like any other mom out there. So as you can imagine and many of you can relate I’m sure, my mental state was poor – stressed, lost and frustrated.
It certainly didn’t help that there were people standing outside my door whenever baby cries, asking if baby is hungry or if he has not been well fed. “Why don’t you just give formula?” – frequently heard question. “You all grew up with formula milk, nothing wrong also, you turned out fine”. And I would then also cave in and started topping up with formula milk, the amount increasing each time as I found that it was the easier and faster way to stop the crying and back to sleep. Oh but then the mom guilt! Guilty for “taking the easier way out”, “being lazy”, “not providing the best for your baby”. We mothers tend to be so harsh on ourselves, don’t we?
And then I tried pumping, expressing breastmilk. I thought maybe that’s the least I can do since I wasn’t very successful in the whole latching thing. But then I found that I was a low supply mom, so I tried taking milk booster supplements and drinking gallons of water boiled with red dates and eating lactation cookies, hoping to increase my milk supply. It did go up but not as much as I expected it to be. After a while, between the less than satisfactory yield and the amount of time and effort spent, I decided to put my baby entirely on formula milk at 3 months old. So if this sounds familiar to you, know that you’re not alone and it happens to a lot more mums out there than you think.
My second child, I was in a confinement centre with nurses who were so helpful. Also, I was more relaxed this time and I think I put less pressure on myself to just breastfeed. Because I was more relaxed and supported, I felt like I could do it and my milk supply was more this time around (but still wasn’t at the level of dozen EBM packs in freezer kind). The human mind is a powerful tool. Partly also because I already knew how to handle a newborn, was less anxious and more focused on bonding with my baby, whether I breastfeed her or not. So I ended up breastfeeding her till 15 months of age, amidst the busy working hours in hospital and multiple oncalls. I consider it a success! Though the nights were long with frequent feedings and the days were filled with regular pumping at work, it was an emotionally rewarding journey and I would do it again despite knowing all the challenges.
But here’s what I found from not being able to breastfeed my first child vs breastfeeding my second child. Formula feeding your child will NOT make you any less of a mother and it will NOT affect how your child bonds with you. My son is as close and clingy to me as my daughter is. You are NOT guilty of not providing your best for your child just because he/she is formula fed as there are many many other ways and aspects that a child needs to be fulfilled, other than nutritionally.
Of course, wherever possible, we advocate breastfeeding your baby. Successful breastfeeding is multi factorial – it’s not just your milk supply or how much breast tissue you have, it’s the environment, your mental health, your support system (stress will quickly dwindle your milk supply). But if for whatever reason you’re not able to breastfeed, remember it’s not the most terrible thing in the world. A healthy baby is one that’s fed and your baby needs a healthy and happy mom. You’re more than enough.
As always, I hope you, especially new or expecting moms out there, found this useful. Do read more on our Instagram post where we weigh the pros and cons of breastfeeding vs formula feeding. We also have an upcoming IG live session on 28.6.2023 from 8 to 9pm with a board certified lactation consultant to help with your lactation woes if you have any. So stay tuned to our IG! Feel free to leave any questions you have about breastfeeding in the comment section down below 🙂