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Monday, September 1, 2014

a BABYfeeding story - Francesca

Thanks to Francesca for sharing her story of breastfeeding with us. A difficult journey of pain and frustration, she ultimately pumped and then fed her baby formula bottles. She shares the best story I've read so far of the strength and courage it takes to try at something that just isn't work for your body or your baby - or your mental health. She is so honest about how this took a toll on her stability as a mom, and I admire her SO much for sharing that struggle, as I KNOW she's not alone in that, many moms experience this and are afraid to talk about it. 

I love how supportive she is of all types of feeding babies, and how much of an advocate she is for including all moms and how they feed their babes in the breastfeeding stories. 

Thank you, Francesca. This is my favorite story in this a BABYfeeding story series so far! I appreciate your honesty. 



All images from Francesca 


1. When pregnant, what was your plan for feeding your child? How did you think you would do in the hospital? How easy did you think it would be?
When I was pregnant with my first child in 2010, my plan for feeding was similar to my birth plan. No detailed plan, just take it one decision/step at a time. I am normally a rigid planner, but I had heard so much that things don’t always go the way you expect. So I just decided I would try breast feeding, but if it didn’t work, we would go to formula. I had purchased and brought the breast pump to the hospital, so they could show us how to use it, etc. My friends at work breastfed and pumped, so I was just following what they had done. I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be easy, but I definitely had no idea how emotionally and physically hard it would be- at all.

2. How did you prepare for feeding your child while pregnant? Did you read any good books, check out Web sites, take classes, take free items from your doctor's office, talk to other moms, etc.? How prepared did you feel going into the hospital for feeding your child?
I thought I prepared- I read the WTE book and talked to friends about everything to do with birth and baby- including bf. And my husband and I took the birth class, which also included a little about bf. I heard about my friend who syringe fed her son the first week or two until he got the hang of bf. So I thought we had a general primer on it all. Looking back, I realize if I wanted to really make a go of it, I should have done way more to prepare.

3. How did the first week of feeding go for your child? What did you try? What helped, what did not help? What challenges did you experience that first week feeding your child? How did you FEEL with feeding your child that first week?
In the hospital, I attempted to bf my daughter. I honestly don’t remember if it was right after birth or later in the post-partum room. In any case- in the middle of the night after a few attempts with the help of nurses and lactation consultants, my daughter bit down, full force on my nipple. And mistakenly I pulled her off immediately, which made the trauma to my nipple worse. With coaxing I immediately tried again, but that is when the tears started and I felt the first pang of defeat. I have tears in my eyes now 3 ½ years later just thinking about the physical and emotional pain I felt in that moment. So the next step was going to be using a nipple shield to hopefully make my nipple feel better. This didn’t seem to help- I think she couldn’t figure it out. The next was going to be pumping a little and syringe feeding her to give my nipple a break. I attempted bf her some more in the hospital too- but it was always painful and I would end up crying.

The moment that I think really sealed the deal for me as far as completely squashing what little confidence I had left, was when one nurse said she had twins and her nipples were cracked and bleeding but she still bf them. I felt such pressure and judgment from her in that moment. I felt like she was telling me to stop crying, stop the shield, stop pumping, and just let my baby nurse no matter how painful it was- in other words, suck it up and stop crying about it. That was the message I got from her.

So after all of that- I went to the lactation class before we were supposed to leave the hospital (too little too late at this point.) And the message during the entire thing was “It will be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt.” So, which was it- push through the pain, or it shouldn’t be painful?!?!?!?

We left the hospital with a rented hospital pump and I proceeded to pump for the next 3-4 weeks in the hopes that my nipples would toughen up and I could attempt with my daughter again at home. However, with different size flanges, nipple cream, refrigerated cooling discs, etc. pumping was becoming just as painful as my first attempts at bf. Toe curling pain as they say, and I was crying each time. Also, there was only one day I had built up the confidence to try to sit, relax, and attempt to try again and put my baby to my breast, but her immediate frustration solidified our bf fate. I gave up. Alternately, I was trying to push through exclusively pumping. I had great supply and would fill each breast milk bag during each session- we had a great stash in the freezer. However, through tears while pumping one night, I told my husband that I was still in just as much pain, if not worse. I was not enjoying my baby- I felt like I was just a milk machine. And I was definitely on my way to depression. 

We both agreed- I gave her a great amount of bm, we still had the freezer stash to continue for a good amount of time, and with my previous history of depression in my teens and twenties, my mental health was more important.




4. What surprised you about how hard/easy it was to feed your child at first?

It was a surprise that it was hard at all- physically and mentally. I am a perfectionist and if I don’t do well right away, I tend to give up pretty easily. So looking back, I know this was what put me on a bad foot to start in the hospital. But the mixed messages I was given at the hospital and lack of researching ahead of time for information and outside support, was where it also went awry.

5. What do you wish people had told you about how hard/easy it would be to feed your child in the beginning?
I wish I was told that it will be painful- no matter what. It will be painful at some point, either due to latch, infections, abundant supply, sore nipples, engorgement, etc. And all of this will make it a struggle for the first days/weeks/months of bf. 

I wish I was told that at 9 months, it is not over. If you intend to bf, your body is still not your own- it still is there to nourish the baby. He/she may be outside your body, but they will be depending on you still. 

And I wish I was told to take a breast feeding class, and go to a lactation group beforehand to start those relationships. I might have been more apt to seek these outside resources when I got home from the hospital, if I had done so when I was pregnant.




6. After that first week, what was your experience feeding your child? What was your routine?
While we were pumping, my husband would feed our baby while I pumped for every feeding. After we switched to formula, we would do shifts. I stayed awake to do the first half of the night until I was too exhausted (around 4 am if I recall). Then I would wake up my husband and he would take over for the early morning. That way we each would get a solid block of sleep. With our second child, we are more relaxed- you don’t have to be awake at all hours watching them breath. So we have both been trying to sleep and just whoever can muster the energy to get up for each feeding, does. I tend to do the first couple late night feedings, and he does the early am ones.

7. What tips do you have for either breastfeeding or formula feeding, or exclusively pumping or some combo in between? What specific things helped you to feed your child the first few months? (Drink more water, bring baby to you when nursing, try 2 oz of formula at first, try different bottles, etc.)
When pumping- renting the hospital pump was only $70-80 for the month. So it was a good way to see if we would need our own pump in the long run. Unfortunately, we didn’t know not to open the pump we bought at the store- they won’t take it back once opened. So don’t open your pump until you know bf is going well and pumping will be a definite. Get a hands-free pumping bra- extremely helpful to pump both at once! And have lots of easy/healthy snacks available. I was starving all of the time! 

For formula feeding moms- sign up on the formula websites- they send tons of great coupons and samples. I just got $40+ in gift checks from Similac! And we forget since we don’t have to do so, but switch sides! Your neck, shoulders, back, and arms will get overly strained on one side if you don’t. And keep up your water intake! I have been dehydrated with major headaches this time because I forgot- I still have to drink even though I am not carrying a baby anymore nor breastfeeding. 




8. What is your advice to moms who are experiencing pressure, expectations, judgment, or otherwise unwanted comments about how they are feeding their child?

Breast may be best for the physical health of the baby, but formula may be equally best for the mental health of the mom. Breast feeding is hard! 

I didn’t even get to the hurdles of infections, cracked nipples, elimination diets, etc. and I was overwhelmed from the beginning. 

Don’t be afraid to switch if you feel like the hurdles are too much. I tell people that if the titanic is going down, I can’t sacrifice myself to save it. Formula was my life boat, I couldn’t go back to the ship of breast feeding or it would have pulled me down with it. I know that is not the case for everyone, and I am not saying everyone should give up breast feeding at the first sign of difficulty or that breast feeding is always a sinking ship. But for me it was- and that should be ok. I think women need to know their own threshold and other women need to respect that. 

An equal amount of work needs to be done to support those willing to push through the hurdles of breast feeding as those who are switching/supplementing/choosing formula from the start, and that support for formula feeding should be given regardless of the reason. Unfortunately I think there is more lip service telling women “don’t feel guilty” but in reality, formula feeding moms are made to feel guilty for not trying “hard enough,” as I was by the nurse in the hospital.

9. If you felt Mama Guilt over how you fed or did not feed your child, what was that like for you? What's your advice to other moms who experience that guilt?
I absolutely felt guilty when I stopped pumping with my daughter. I still feel like, “If my daughter ends up with some issue/illness that my bm antibodies could have protected her from, I am a horrible mother!” I feel this guilt even though my beliefs have changed on whether bm really is best over formula. So I am not sure I have advice for others not to feel this guilt. But I do know that you will feel guilty multiple times as a mother- if not over feeding your child, over multiple other things. So I guess my advice is get used to it.  We want to be perfect, but we aren’t, so we all feel guilty at some point. 




10. What are you most PROUD of about how you've fed your child?
I am proud that I have at least considered everything. While pregnant with my son, and since he was born 7 weeks ago- I have read countless articles, websites, and message boards about everyone’s experiences with bf and ff. Like I said, I probably should have taken a class and connected with a LC and group ahead of time to really set myself up with more support this time. But I am proud that I tried to be open to the possibility of bf again and I did attempt. Others may disagree with my level of attempt, but for me, it was good enough.

11. If you have more than one child, was your experience feeding your children the same or different? In which ways? What's your advice to a mom who did not get the experience she wanted with one kid, could it be different with feeding another one?
I did attempt to bf again in the hospital with my second child- he and I had 30 minutes to share right after he was born. It was uncomfortable, but not toe curling like last time. But I think I just already knew that the mental struggle of pushing through the physical hurdles was just too much for me. So after his blood sugar dropped in the delivery room and they requested to give him formula, I took that option pretty quickly and quit before we even left the hospital. 

I still feel guilt, but not nearly as much as I did the first time. I believe after the physical anguish of many months of nausea, constipation, pubic bone pain, back pain, hemorrhoids, and an unexpected induction for pre-eclempsia- formula feeding is just better for my own physical and mental health and healing. And this in turn makes me be the best mom I can be to both of my children. 

Each time I feed him his bottle, I know more and more that the physical and mental stamina it takes to succeed at breast feeding is more than I have to spare right now. 

I know it would have been a struggle, based on my oversupply when my milk did come in, his addiction to his pacifier (I would have been his pacifier?!?!?) and especially when it can take 5 minutes for him to stop sucking his tongue to the roof of his mouth before I can even get him to take his bottle correctly- that all would have been compounded if I was bf. So I guess my advice to other moms is, yes it could be different with subsequent children, so definitely try. However, it could also be the same. 

Know your limits of what you can handle, physically and mentally. And be ok with letting go of expectations- if it keeps you and your baby healthy and happy, then that is the best decision you can make.

12. What have you learned about yourself as a mother through the process of feeding your child?
Every second, every decision, every day is hard- it is all hard to varying degrees, it is just plain hard being a mom. Figuring out what and how to feed is one of those many hard decisions. And even after making that decision, it is still hard… my 3 ½ year old still fights us to eat every meal and is one of the picky eaters. I have learned that I have to and can trust in my decisions about feeding my children. 

Being a parent, making the tough decisions every day, makes me stronger. And overall, those hard decisions make me a better mom.

13. Anything else you'd like to add?

Those of us who can’t or just choose not to breast feed may be defensive. We may be sensitive when those who are breast feeding, celebrate their success. It is not because we don’t agree that breast feeding is beneficial for women and their children, but with the “Breast is Best” campaign, it leaves little room for formula feeding moms to celebrate their success at feeding their children too. Like many other debates, it creates an “Us versus Them” mentality, when really we are all just moms- together. I hope that the “Breast is Best” slogan and the strong movement behind it, will evolve someday to be more embracing to all mothers, no matter how they feed their children. That way hopefully we all lose our defensiveness and guilt over formula and/or breast feeding alike, and just simply enjoy our children and fellow moms.

14 - What supplies, equipment, brands, accessories, etc. were your favorite as far as feeding your baby? (bottles, formula brand, nursing or pumping equipment, etc.)

We have used Tommee Tippee bottles and Similac formula with both of our children. We have had no digestive, allergy, or colic issues with either child, so we have been very lucky. And as I mentioned, those who choose or need to pump, renting from the hospital was good to try it out before buying from the store.

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