Breast milk versus formula. Even if you start one way, it turns out the decision isn’t always as clear cut. Sometimes, as Katie recently discovered, things can get a bit complicated.

I just had one of the most stressful weeks of my life!

If you’re a man, please don’t read this. This would fall into the category of ‘too much information’ and you wouldn’t want to know, anyway. If you’re a nursing mama of a baby, I hope that you feel encouraged to know that you’re not alone in your breastfeeding tribulations. If you’re a nursing mama without any trials, consider yourself a lucky ducky!

The decision to breastfeed your baby or not is a personal choice that each mother makes. There’s not a right or wrong choice, it’s completely your decision. And after my eight days of total stress, I cannot blame anyone who decides to just go with formula.

From the beginning, I desired to breastfeed my baby. The early issues such as positioning baby and latching on were not problems for us. It really became comical, especially when my husband looked at me during dinner one night in shock to see two huge wet spots on my shirt! I learned how to deal with that.

But when our baby, Nolan, got to be about two months old, he seemed to want more food than what was there.  (By the way, I’ve always thought it was strange when people say that it’s time for the baby to eat. The babies are drinking! And can it really be considered a “meal” when it’s just liquid? Well, I’m one of those people now, and it seems normal to refer to him as “eating his meal”.) Anyway, after talking with a nurse and a lactation consultant, I found out that it would help to increase my milk supply if I pumped often. At that point it was still taking my baby 30+ minutes to “eat”. And so I had limited time in between “meals” to do everything else.  Adding pump-time during that precious period was not exciting, especially since I was using a manual hand pump – ouch!  Also I had to pump in the middle of the night while baby was sleeping. I thought that I was supposed to get rest when he was sleeping through the night! But I’d do all that I could to insure that he would be fed well, and it was working.

When my sweet Nolan was about three months old, his appetite seemed to increase. Since it lasted longer than a week’s growing spurt, I knew that we had to do something else. It took me about two days to realize that it’s more important for him to get plenty of calories and fluids than to make sure that he was exclusively eating breast milk. As simple as that sounds, there were a lot of tough emotions to push through to get there, such as feeling like I failed by not providing enough. At that point I would give him a small bottle of pumped milk or formula after feeding him.

A couple weeks later, it got worse. After latching on for a few seconds, he would turn his head and begin crying. So we began this routine:  attempt breastfeeding for about 20 minutes although he cried most of the time, give him a bottle to ensure that he was fed well, then pump for 20 minutes. I thought that was a tough routine, but after talking with a lactation consultant I found out about a couple changes to make it all more efficient. The new routine became even more stressful. I had to pump right after attempting to feed him, so I felt terrible making him wait for the bottle while he was hungry! Also, I had to pump for 15-20 minutes… on both sides! After giving him a bottle, I would wash the pump pieces and bottles.Whew! Then not much time before it all started again! Thankfully I had my mom to help give him a bottle while I pumped for a couple of days.

After a week of this wear and tear on my emotions and body, I met with a lactation consultant. Our new plan allowed Nolan to have what he needed from the bottle while nursing. I would strap a bottle to my bra strap, and tape a tube to my skin that ran from the bottle to Nolan’s mouth. Then he would be motivated to keep nursing while receiving extra milk from the bottle at the same time. And again, I would pump afterward. Ouch!

When I found out that it could take a month of this routine before possibly nursing normally, I felt like it was time to reconsider my decision. With that routine, I would barely have time to run to the store and run back home in between meals, let alone meet a friend for a leisurely afternoon. My baby’s health is my top priority right now, but is it worth losing my sanity for? Maybe it would be healthier for my baby to have a mama who’s stress-free and sane. The worst part of this whole routine is that I barely have time to just play with him!  And how could I deal with being practically home-bound if I couldn’t even enjoy my baby because I’m pumping milk out of myself so often?

On the eighth day of my pumping marathon, the temporary tubing system expired (you know, that thing that fed him from the bottle while I nursed him). So it was time for me to decide if I was going to buy a more permanent one that day. Perhaps my weariness exaggerated the situation. I felt that I had to decide between two unattractive choices:  (a) stay practically home-bound for at least a month, pumping and nursing almost constantly, for a possibility of producing enough milk or (b) completely switch to formula. I was really hoping to nurse my child for his first 12 months, but was it really that important to sacrifice my sanity? While struggling to make that decision, I left a regrettable message on our pediatrician’s voicemail while fighting back tears crying, “I’m having some trouble producing enough milk… and I wanted to ask you… how important breast milk is… because I could do things.. .and make sacrifices… if I really need to.”  (I definitely regretted that message the next day!)

So many emotions were swirling through my mind and I was just completely exhausted! I decided that it would be more important for my Nolan to have a peaceful, energetic mother than to be fed milk instead of formula so I called the consultant back to let her know that I wouldn’t be coming for the tubing system after all. When she asked why, I responded, unable to hide my emotions, “I’m quitting”. She understood what I was going through but encouraged me to try the hospital-grade pump over the weekend and decide if I wanted to rent it by Monday. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I went to borrow it for the weekend, although I doubted that it would make a difference. I’d begun to be okay with the choice to feed my son formula.

I didn’t realize how truly annoying my manual hand pump was until I used the automatic one! I’m discovering that I can store plenty of milk to feed him in bottles, nurse him more easily now, and I’m okay if I need to give him formula when necessary. All of these things give me so much peace compared to how I felt last week! (Releasing that stress probably allows me to produce more milk, too!)

I never had to make a black and white decision between milk and formula, I can give him both. I’m feeling 100% better now – feeling confident that I’m able to feed sweet Nolan well, without the pressure of pumping four hours a day!

Being only three and a half months into motherhood, I’ve experienced so much distress over the perfect ways to take care of my baby. I can only imagine all the issues present in a lifetime of mothering if I don’t take a chill-pill. There are no “perfect” decisions, and the best choices will be different for each child.

This is tough stuff. If you’re going through feeding issues with your baby, know that you’re not alone!