Friday, August 10, 2007

The F word

Dear Sammy,

You are going to be 5 weeks old tomorrow and you are growing to be a beauty already. Your cheeks are starting to look like little peaches and your eye lashes are getting long. Just want you to know that you've been the most amazing baby. You eat really well, you make lovely big poops, and you even sleep at night for 4-5 hours straight! You and I have been chatting a lot about the whole feeding thing while sitting there on the blue couch trying to work things out. But I figure you probably won't remember any of our chats. That's why I am writing you this letter. One day, you'll be old enough to read it.

There is this altar we call motherhood. I think women's brains are hard-wired to bring sacrifices on it to ensure their babies grow up to be healthy, happy, and successful. We try to give you the best food, send you to the best school, make sure you end up going to Harvard, and settle for nothing but the best flower arrangements for your wedding. We obsess about these things as if they make all the difference, and if we settle for less than perfection, we think we've ruined your whole life and failed as mothers. The very first of these tests comes in the form of milk and the most important decision of our parenting career so far has been whether to breastfeed you or give you formula.

Yes, breastfeeding is the gold standard for baby nutrition. It's the most perfect food. Unfortunately, life is not always perfect and there is no such thing as a free lunch even when it's baby's lunch. The question we have to answer now is whether this perfection is worth the lofty price. Up until now, I was afraid to even pronounce the F word. I was determined to breastfeed you. When I heard that both of your grandmothers had a hard time with this oh-so-natural task, I decided to get as much education and help as necessary to make it happen. I took a breastfeeding class a few weeks before you were born, I saw 3 lactation consultants in the hospital during your first 2 days of life. I've joined a lactation support group for Moms like me who just weren't getting it right, and when all else failed I've seen one of the best lactation consultants in Boston from 3 private sessions. The most important thing everyone tried to teach me is that you absolutely must breastfeed even if your breasts fall off. The first thing they told us in the breastfeeding class is that you can't go into it with an attitude that you'll *try* to breastfeed. You have to think that you *will* breastfeed. Trust me, I really was going to breastfeed you until you were 1 years old. But after trying the ice, the heat, the tea bags, lanolin, nipple butter, prescription nipple ointment, and pumping, my breasts are still in bad shape. At first, we used to think it's the latch. We've made great progress on that since the beginning -- the left breast is doing pretty well, and the right breast is at least a little better now that I started using the prescription ointment. But the plugged ducts and pores aren't getting better no matter what. We also have the problem of the right breast squirting straight into your little mouth, which I am sure is not much fun. You usually start frowning and squirming whenever I give you that breast. The good news is that you are doing well and gaining weight, though Dr. Kerbel thinks you could be gaining a little more. Seems like I just barely have enough milk and it always makes me panic that you'll be hungry and I'll have nothing to give you.

The worst part of all this is that I've been hanging in there between the states of slight discomfort (on really good days) and pretty strong pain. As much as I try to handle all this gracefully, I've been one very stressed Mommy lately, and this has been hard on everyone. You get edgy when you feel that I am stressed, and Daddy found us both in tears a number of times when he got home from work. So the bottom line is that as wonderful as breastfeeding can be, it's making the mental health of our whole family go down the toilet. So for the first time, we are considering gradually switching you to formula. Whether we'll do it or not, I just want you to know that you are the most important person in our life and we only want what's best for you. We just figured that having a sane and cheerful Mommy is more important than a few more antibodies you could get from my milk.

I am starting to come to terms with the fact that I will not be a perfect parent. And that's ok. Your Dad always told me that no parents are perfect, and somehow kids turn out just fine. He is really wise your Dad. One day, you'll be able to talk to him, and you'll find out that he is the coolest guy ever! But this parenting imperfection is hard for me to accept. I am a perfectionist. I know that this is not the first decision I'll struggle with. I'll probably drive us all nuts about what school you should go to and which AP classes you should take. That's why kids get 2 parents -- to keep things balanced. I'll finish up now because you are about to wake up, and I'll get to hold you, cuddle you, and feed you.

With all my love, hugs, and kisses,

-Your Mommy


Anonymous said...

Hi from a total stranger - your blog came up as I get google alerts for 'breastfeeding' topics.

I'm a breastfeeding mother also - had a hard time at first (with both children), but kept on and at it and am SO glad I did.

Giving your baby those few antibodies WILL make you a sane and happy mommy in the long run!
Particularly when your baby either doesn't fall ill or gets better quicker than if you were to go the f-route.
Hang in there! You're doing such a great job. The whole boob thing tends to settle down around the 8 week mark and its easy going from there. See if you can make it to there and then re-assess.

Here's a great site:

Also worth a peek:

Good luck in whatever you decide.

Anonymous said...

One more link!

Anonymous said...

Hi Helen -

I completely understand where you are. I have 2 kids (now 19 and 17!). With the first, I really did intend to breastfeed for some time but after 2.5 weeks I was in such pain at each feeding and my nipples were a mess (the nurse I saw was surprised I was still at it) so I switched my daughter to formula. What a relief! She's 19 now - very healthy.

With my son I tried again - took a breastfeeding class, saw a lactation consultant when he was 3 days old and she helped with positioning. So my nipples did better but I still had pain; between feedings that time. Somehow I did stick it out and at around 8 weeks the pain finally ended and I breastfed him for about a year. The biggest difference the second time around was that I had more support - I had joined a new moms group when my daughter was around 6 weeks old and those moms (who mostly did breastfeed) were a great encouragement to me in breastfeeding my son and sticking it out through the pain.

If you haven't joined a new moms group, please go find one! And if you do decide to switch to formula, it IS okay and Sammy will do just fine.

Best of luck from someone who lives in your town and has taken 2 of the fish classes from you at CCAE.

-- Gail

Helen said...

Hi Gail,

Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. We have joined a new Mom's group :) 2 actually -- a regular playgroup (more of a Mom's networking group) and a lactation support group, both at Isis Maternity in Arlington. The lactation support group has been very helpful. I am getting a lot of encouragement from people which is great, but also a lot of pressure, which is not so great.

I think people have decided that this is somehow the most important decision of your child's life. In reality, it's only one of many many factors that impact their health. In fact, I bet healthy food and active life style throughout their life will make a bigger difference than breast feeding.

But we are sticking with it for now and it's going better :) I don't know how long I'll be able to breast feed Sammy, but I'll do it for as long as it seems reasonable.

Hope you are having a wonderful summer.


Heather Bucell said...

Hi Helen!

This whole breastfeeding thing-have you found anyone yet who is "pro formula"? lol~
Think of all the benefits- no more leaky breasts, baby who stays satiated, longer....

Most of the people I know (myself and my husband included) were formula fed from day 1 w/out any ill effects.

I am "lucky" to be breasfeeding my 1-month-old successfully but look at it more as a convenience and money factor. I want to pump but I am on the fence about spending all that $ for an occasional bottle.

I think after the fact, you'll be rejoicing if you can get her to take formula!

Helen said...

Hi Heather,

So good to hear from you! Congrats on your little one :) Is it a boy or a girl? If you want to pump, ask your insurance company if they'll cover an electric pump. Most of them do. I use Medela Pump in Style and it's great.

Best wishes to you and your family :)


leen said...

I had troubles breastfeeding my son when he was born. He just cannot latch to my nipples correctly. something about my nipples being too small. (I was 26!)*grin*....I also tried breast pumping....sadly I only got to breastfeed my son for a month before I switched to formula.

my doctor even suggested that I have my hubby suck on my nips to bring them out. (I was blushing the whole time we were talking.)

either way, a healthy baby is what we want =)