My first daughter was a late term preemie, born just shy of 36 weeks, eager to meet the world and then sleep for the first month of her life. I wrote candidly about our experience with breastfeeding, combo feeding, and ultimately formula feeding when all of those thoughts and raw feelings were still fresh on my mind. The first month of her life was one of the hardest in my own as I grappled with the reality that I wasn’t going to be able to exclusively breastfeed because my body was not going to produce the amount of milk necessary to do so. Underlying issues of IGT (insufficient glandular tissue) and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) combined with her sleepy preemie habits threw up roadblocks that were impossible to surmount without supplementing.
As we prepared for the birth of our second daughter and I considered how I would approach feeding her, I realized that I had the knowledge and fortitude to tackle the feeding challenges thrown my way. I reflected on my experience with my first daughter and made a mental checklist of what I was willing to do the second time around: take herbal supplements, feed on demand, lots of skin to skin and supplement with formula as soon as necessary. I knew what I would not put myself through again: pumping eight times a day only to yield an ounce of milk or push myself to the brink of sanity in pursuit of exclusive breastfeeding. Ultimately, I knew I was prepared to do what would work for my unique baby and our unique family, and that we would all be happy and bond as a family of four by embracing the mentality that “fed is best.”
The Fearless Formula Feeder and her book Bottled Up were my lifeline back in 2012/2013. I didn’t know where to go with my questions and my feelings and eventually I wrote this guide for other combo and formula feeding moms to try to share some of what I’d learned. The resources and support I desperately needed as a first time mom are easier to find now. The tide has definitely turned in the infant feeding world and more doctors, lactation consultants and voices in the world of motherhood are leaving the often polarizing phrase “breast is best” behind. You can find support from breastfeeding advocates like Jessica at The Leaky Boob. The Fed is Best Foundation and The Momivist are publishing powerful stories and important research regarding infant feeding practices.
When Cora Ann made her speedy appearance (full term unlike her sister), I came to the hospital prepared. I brought my brest-friend pillow, nursing tanks and a bottle of Motherlove Special Blend supplements. And a pacifier, because I now know how rare nipple confusion is and that a pacifier can be your best friend! Cora latched and ate every 3 hours on the dot.
When her blood sugar levels were dropping and she was losing a bit of weight, we reached for the formula and supplemented without any doubt or shame. We were so happy to find out that the lactation consultant at our hospital was not the same one that had been rude and unsupportive four years ago. This LC listened to my story, respected my decision not to pump and affirmed our feeding decisions. There was no pressure to exclusively breastfeed, and she encouraged us as we embraced combo-feeding.
On the day we were discharged from the hospital, we realized that my milk had already come in! At home we quickly settled into our combo-feeding routine: breastfeed for as long as baby liked, then supplement with formula. There was no dramatic weight loss, no jaundice, no struggle to get her back up to her birthweight by the 2-week mark, and only minor frustrations regarding keeping the baby fed and happy. Weighed feedings showed that Cora was getting more than her sister got from the breast, but still nowhere near enough to stop supplementing. This time I didn’t leave the breastfeeding support groups with angry tears streaming down my face. I celebrated the milk she was getting and shunned any negative self-talk.
When our friend and photographer Darbi came to our home to do newborn photos, I asked her to capture pictures of me feeding Cora, both by breast and by bottle. I treasure these photos as well as the numerous candid pictures we took during the weeks she was breastfed. Because of my experience with my first daughter I knew the signs that combo-feeding was coming to an end. Refusing the breast at several feedings in row, a big growth spurt and screaming at the boob because the milk just wasn’t enough to satisfy (a phase I like to call “screamy boob”). So after a few days, I sat down with the baby, handed my husband the phone, and asked him to take this picture. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed her. This time it was mostly sweet though, because I knew for 9 weeks and 6 days we’d fed our baby the best way we could, and that be it breastmilk or formula, we’d fed her with love and could continue to do so. She is loved, nourished, and cared for, and that is the best any parent can do.