That is what I thought as I was preparing for my oldest to arrive. My reality was going to be anything but simple. The first hurdle we had to figure out was latching! I had multiple lactation consultants and nurses stop by to offer advice, all of which told me that my son, James, was latching great and I was doing an amazing job as a new mom! As our 3rd and final day at the hospital arrived, James latched, for real, for the first time. And let me tell you, that was one of the weirdest feelings I have ever experienced, I just wanted to point that out. Though I felt some frustration at the error of the consultants, I didn’t yet know that this was the beginning of a very rough feeding journey.
The following months went by and feeding went okay, among adjusting to everything else that comes with motherhood. However, James would have bouts of nonstop crying for several hours in the day. Nothing I did would console him. When daddy came home from work, he was happy and smiling so my husband never really got to see what was happening. I’d check his diaper, I’d try nursing even if I had just finished feeding him, I tried putting him down in his usual bed, nothing worked. There were times that I would put him in his swing, where I knew he would be safe, and let him cry until he fell asleep for about 5 minutes and then repeated the cycle while I sat on the couch, in tears myself. I didn’t know what I could be doing wrong.
Fast forward a few weeks from that and we discover James is not gaining weight as much as he should be, so we did the next logical thing, we introduced baby cereal and baby food! He was 3 months old at the time and, well, it’s food so it’ll help him gain weight, right? Well, thanks to our amazing pediatrician at the time, we found out this thinking is flawed. If you look at what is in baby food, it is literally just one ingredient at the introductory level, not enough nutrients or calories to be gaining weight on, no matter how much of it you put into their diet. With this knowledge, I began to start pumping after every feeding to try and increase my supply since I was still aiming to nurse and not formula feed.
By the time he was 5 months old, I was nursing every 2 hours during the day, every 3 hours at night, and pumping for 20 minutes after every…single….time. To put it simply, I was exhausted. But there should be progress, right? All this work couldn’t be for nothing! Unfortunately, in a 2-week period, James had barely gained a few ounces. Now the pediatrician and I had to have a conversation. He told me there were 3 options with where we were at, 1. I could go to feeding him every 2 hours around the clock (which he did not recommend because I was already so exhausted), 2. I could find things to do to increase my supply, such as lactation cookies and supplements, or 3. I could start supplementing formula into his diet, starting with just a few ounces here after each nursing period just to top him off and give myself a break.
This conversation happened 3 days before my Husband had to leave for his 3rd deployment and 4 days before I was headed on a drive from Colorado Springs, CO (where we were stationed) to Watertown, NY (where my family is) with a couple members of my family who came down to help me. I struggled so much with this decision. I wanted to be that amazing mother who had no issues with doing what was “natural and simple” to so many others! But reality was, I was tired and I was stressed (which doesn’t help when you’re trying to nurse) and I was just done. I ended up deciding do supplement the formula and that was the best decision I could have made, not just for me, but for my son as well. I no longer dreaded feeding time, I wasn’t a feeding machine for 80% of my day anymore! And on top of that, his family got to have some quality time while feeding him as well!
Now, I have my second son. What did I decide to do this time you may ask? I decided to try nursing again! Every journey, every individual, and every baby is different! You will never have the same journey twice! My second son, Joshua, took to nursing much quicker than his brother, fulling latching within hours of his birth! I actually got engorged (which I didn’t realize I hadn’t before until then) and my milk came in easily! He is chunkier than his brother was and seems to be gaining weight very well! There have been a few times now that he will cry after I have nursed him and because of COVID19, it’s difficult to get in to an appointment to double check his weight. However, with my knowledge from my first experience, it was much easier to make the decision to add a little bit of formula in his day to make sure he’s getting enough nutrients. Now, I am still trying to nurse him longer than I did his brother, who was fully formula fed at 6 months old, but I am more mentally prepared this time for whatever may happen.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to share my story with you to show that you’re not alone! There are many others who have been on this journey or are currently traveling it and they understand the struggle, they understand the heartache! The biggest thing to take away from this, is you are not a bad mom. You are not a bad mom if you nurse your babies. You are not a bad mom if you decide to never nurse. You are not a bad mom if you have to supplement formula because you’re tired and stressed! Sometimes the best decision for you is the best decision for your child too.
You are an amazing mom! <3 <3
Author: Stephanie Monsen
Stephanie is a military wife of four years and a mom to two adorable children, who regularly keep her on her feet. Her 5 month old Joshua (pictured above) is just learning to crawl and discover all the new things at his level, while his big brother James (who is 2 1/2) has shown his parents just how many things are not child proof in their home! She has many talents and gifts to include crocheting, painting, and encouraging moms all over that it is okay to not be okay.