Ashleigh, 32, is a California-based, stay-at-home mom and blogger. She has a son who is 3 years old and a daughter who is almost 4 months old. In the latest installment in The Breastfeeding Chronicles, Ashleigh talks about the moment she decided to start feeding her son formula, and how she's made complete peace with being a "hybrid feeder," despite the judgement she's often felt.
My son was a super healthy baby, but he lost a bit too much weight in the hospital, so they gave him formula to help perk his weight up. I was fine with it, but he did get used to the bottle.
When we got home, I was exclusively pumping, because he didn't want the breast at all. We did that for only a couple of weeks, but they were the most stressful weeks of my life. Having to try and predict when he was going to be hungry at that age, and pump enough to give him, was horrible. I felt all this pressure to have ounces and ounces stored in the freezer. I don't know where I thought I was going [laughs]. But it did seem like every time I made a little extra, he'd go through a growth spurt and it'd be gone.
Our Low Point
One night, when he was around 2 weeks old, I was putting him to bed, and I was like, No. We are going to do this. We are going to breastfeed. He would eat a little, then he'd scream, because it was harder to get milk from the breast than from the bottle, then he'd eat a little, then scream again. He wasn't getting it, and I wasn't making enough. It was late, and I was exhausted. At some point I was out milk, and just sobbing.
It was one of the worst nights of my life. I had to put him down, and almost do yoga to get calm again, because I was so worked up that I wasn't going to give him anything. I ended up being able to make a little bit of milk -- enough to get him to sleep so I could relax. In the morning I woke my husband up and said, "You have to go and get some formula, because I am never going through that again."
How We Supplement
For me, formula was this safety net. Maybe it's not the best, but it's there, and it feeds your baby, and I'm grateful for that.
That awful night started my journey of supplementing, where I'll breastfeed when I can, but if it's a crazy day, or if I just don't have a lot of milk supply, then I'll do a bottle of formula. In the beginning, with my son, it was probably 75 percent breast milk, 25 percent formula, then it was about 50-50 breast milk and formula, until he was fully weaned at 10 months old.
My daughter was way easier to breastfeed. She latched right away. But she had some weight issues, too, so my doctor had her supplement with formula. She probably gets 60 percent breast milk and 40 percent formula. If I can breastfeed her for six months, I'd be totally happy, but we'll see how it goes.
Before my children were born, I was totally convinced I was going to be breastfeeding, 100 percent. I thought, This is going to be easy! But then, it was like, oh life's here. Sorry.
Grappling With Expectations
You know, I wasn't super upset that I had to start supplementing with my son. I'm pretty easygoing, but I definitely felt pressure from other people, and I still do with my daughter sometimes. My husband, for example, wasn't totally on board with the formula -- he was breastfed for 17 months, he eats organic foods, and I think he felt, If this is the best thing for our kids, let's just do it. I don't think he meant to put pressure on me, but he's a doer, he's a fixer. He thought the solution was, just pump more milk!
And I've also felt torn. I've thought, One the one hand, I'm not breastfeeding exclusively, which was the plan, but on the other hand, this is really working for everyone. Everyone's happier. It's that battle, between doing what feels right for you and your family, and doing things because of some sense of pleasing everyone else.
I've been out in public before and had strangers come up to me and say, "Oh, what a sweet baby. Are you nursing?" And I'll say, "Oh yes, of course!" Just to please everyone. But it strikes me as such an odd, personal question. What if I said no? Would you reprimand me? Would you have a sit-down with me and tell me why breastfeeding is best? It used to make me feel horrible if I felt people staring at me while I gave my son a bottle, but now with my daughter, I'm much stronger. I just look back and think, I'm feeding my baby.
I've never been a particularly emotional breastfeeder. I love it, and I think it's such a cool thing for my body to be able to make this food for my kids, but I don't feel any different in the moment when I'm giving them formula. There's that closeness still; they look in my eyes and I look in theirs. It's just a cool time to be together.
A New Conversation
I think what's missing from the breastfeeding conversation are the words, "It's OK." If they were blasted on every bottle or breast pump, that'd be awesome.
The discussion is so black and white. You either breastfeed, or you feed your kids formula. It's this battle between the two groups, and it's just awful. You can do both! You can be a hybrid feeder! Figure out what works for you. It's OK.
Ashleigh has breastfed both of her children, and also supplemented with formula.
This account has been edited and condensed.
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