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I never really thought I would be good at breastfeeding. I’m not exactly sure why, but I guess I just had a gut feeling. You see, I spent years dreaming of the day I’d get to be called mom, but I never really thought about how I’d feed that baby until I got those two pink lines we all know and dream of and yet are terrified to see. Of course I planned on breastfeeding, although to be quite honest, I never really gave it much thought until my first daughter Isla was already here. I whole-heartedly believed that breastfeeding would be easy because it’s natural and human nature— but boy was I wrong!
With Isla, I felt the immense pressure to breastfeed that most new moms feel. I gave birth to Isla at a baby friendly hospital on the north side of Chicago on January 28, 2019. From the moment she entered this world there was a very heavy emphasis on breastfeeding. Those first few moments of feeding in a crowded room with anxious eyes peering at me really set the tone for my first journey. I had a really hard time getting the hang of breastfeeding. As a big chested woman I found it difficult to balance holding heavy breasts and a newborn baby in the football hold, safely. It just caused me to feel panic. I never felt like I could get in a truly comfortable position no matter how many lactation consultants came to see me. I was a nervous wreck.
I felt an overwhelming amount of anxiety postpartum with Isla. I had anxiety about her sleeping, about her eating, about producing enough. I was struggling to rationalize between weighted feeds, counting wet diapers, and the dark depths of hell that the internet can bring. My mental health was suffering and thankfully my partner recognized the signs and sought help for my postpartum depression and anxiety through my OBGYN. I knew I was having a hard time and I knew that was directly related to feeding anxieties, but I couldn’t quite admit it to myself.
Eventually, I got to the point where my anxiety was safely medicated and I’d say casually to my partner, “I think maybe one day next week I’ll give her some formula” and then I just wouldn’t do it. I think I was trying to build myself up to have the confidence to be able to pull the trigger. In hindsight it seems so trivial to be so attached to something that was taking over my life! One day, I realized that my happiness was just as important as the food I’d feed. Around eight months, I switched my feeding goals and began combo feeding by using formula and the stash of breastmilk I’d consumed my entire being over. I found almost instant relief. It sounds so cheesy to say that formula really did help give me a piece of myself back. Isla was happily combo fed until she was thirteen months old.
I got pregnant with my second around December of 2020 in the midst of the Delta variant of Covid-19 ripping families apart. I knew from the beginning that this time around that I would formula feed my daughter from the start and I felt confident that my experience would be very different. My partner Carter and I were so over the moon to be pregnant again but that joy felt a bit cut short with Covid running so rampantly in our city. As my belly got bigger and our baby’s due date grew closer I really started to question my feeding plans. During the course of my pregnancy I was able to get vaccinated and after pouring through all the internet research I could find and speaking with my health care provider I made the extremely difficult decision to breastfeed for immunity, at least temporarily, to give my newborn daughter antibodies against Covid-19. I really struggled with making this decision knowing full well that my mental health was about to go for another rollercoaster ride but I was prepared this time with the tools and support to help me navigate postpartum life.
On August 18, 2021 we welcomed Ivy Eilleen into our world via c-section at the wee hour of 7am in Chicago, Illinois at Prentice Women’s Hospital. Her very first sip of nourishment in this world was infant formula and not a single soul in that hospital made me feel guilty or judged about it. It was a completely different experience. A few hours after giving birth I leisurely began my attempt at breastfeeding with Ivy. She took to it right away and we were able to successfully feed breastmilk and formula in combination at the hospital with no pressure from hospital staff or family members. When the time came to go home, I changed my feeding plan once again to take even more pressure off of myself and began exclusively pumping to supplement Ivy’s formula intake. We continued on this journey happily until Ivy was four months old when we switched to formula feeding exclusively without a doubt or a worry in my mind. Today Ivy is ten months old and thriving on formula and finger food.
I’m not sure what the future holds for my little family, but I do know that with my combined experiences of failures and wins throughout my feeding journey I would one hundred percent combination feed again if we chose to have another child. In the end, combo feeding provided me with a much needed break from the pressures of being a new mom. It gave me connection with my children while allowing me to appreciate the support of a nutritionally complete formula. More importantly it allowed me to give my babies the best version of myself. As a mother, I’m constantly searching for the best options, so it’s only fair that they get the best of me, too.