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Ode to Formula

February 9, 2009

I’m proud to say that my baby is 95% breastfed.  It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with that other 5%, though.

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I can’t remember ever seeing a bottle in our house when I was little.  I remember my mom breastfeeding my younger siblings, and I remember her continuing to volunteer as a leader for La Leche League, answering questions about sore nipples and breast pumps over the phone while the rest of us ate dinner.  And while online pregnancy and parenting bulletin boards, and the advice of many strangers while pregnant, suggests that there is an activist bent to lactating proudly, I never really even thought of breastfeeding as a choice, it was just what mom’s did.

I read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and attended LLL meetings while I was pregnant.  I didn’t register for bottles because I figured we wouldn’t be needing them for several months anyway, and I only ended up getting a pump as a gift.

And then, when the Turtle came, we had all sorts of problems getting the breastfeeding going.  Maybe I’ll go through them all in another post–but for now, let’s just say that I was disgusted that on Turtle’s third day in this world he was happily sucking on a bottle full of formula, and piddling around without success when given a chance at my breast.  I dealt with it pretty well while we were still in the hospital–but a few days later my hormones and emotions went haywire (baby blues? such a flippant term for the most anxious and scary weeks of my life), we were still having trouble with breastfeeding, and I would find myself sobbing while Christer fed Turtle formula from a bottle.

Slowly we got things together.  First through pumping and bottle feeding, then using a nipple shield (a little piece of silicone that turns me into a bottle), and finally getting the Turtle comfortable getting his meals straight from the source.  We’ve still got a few hiccups to work through, but we’re doing pretty well with breastfeeding now.  And now that things are going okay, that my emotions are back in check, and–most importantly–that we have a healthy, happy, growing boy, I can look back on those first few days as a blessing in disguise.

Turtle now happily drinks from a bottle–which meant that Christer and my mother-in-law could take over some nighttime feedings, giving me a chance to get some sleep.  I can leave Turtle with Christer or friends without worrying about getting back before he gets hungry.  And while most of his bottles are filled with pumped milk, last week I broke out the formula once again.

See, to get me more comfortable leaving the house with Turtle, we stuck a bottle of pre-mixed formula in the diaper bag.  Wha’d’ya know, they make little sealed bottles that you don’t have to refrigerate, and one’s just been sitting and waiting in the bag for over a month.

Now, I’m not opposed to breastfeeding in public in principle, and someday I might be coordinated enough to pull it off.  But for now Turtle and I are still learning, and we tend to show a lot of skin, so I try to keep it private.   So when I went out to lunch with a friend, and the service was slow, I didn’t have to panic, or pull out the boob in a crowded restaurant, or run out to the cold car to feed the baby.  I just pulled out the emergency bottle, and I was even able to let me friend give him the bottle.  Not because I was horrified and had to look away like in those first few days.  But because watching a baby coo as he sucks away is one of the most rewarding parts of this babycare business, and I enjoyed getting to share that experience with my friend.

At a breastfeeding support group another mother who had to supplement with formula complained that she felt that formula wasn’t natural.  To which the lactation consultant patiently reminded her baby’s birth, two month’s early, wasn’t natural either.  But thank goodness for the interventions that kept him alive and healthy.  My C-section, the formula, heck, even the pump and the nipple shield–all of these are unnatural interventions that have kept my son healthy and happy, and I have made my peace with them.  They were a part of the frustraiting process of integrating a new little boy and his hunger into my life–and so for a time I was frustrated with the tools instead of the process.  But looking back I’m glad we made it through those first few weeks, I’m glad my baby didn’t have to suffer as we stumbled along, and I’m glad those tools are still available to us as we continue to work out a crazy little breastfeeding relationship.

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