Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Breastfeeding: The Rest of the Story

I've been done breastfeeding for a little over three weeks now.  I must say, it's been different than I envisioned.  In a good way, I guess, but different.  We've spent a lot of time and energy trying to find the large cans of formula in the store, and it hurt a little bit to charge $143 worth on my credit card to buy a four-pack online, but Carter is certainly a happier baby because of it.  That fact, above all else, is what is important, so it's hard to argue anything else.

Part of me certainly misses the bonding of breastfeeding, and the satisfaction of being the one to fully sustain human life.  There was always something magical about watching a baby, even an older baby, latch on and go from fussy or wild to totally peaceful.  I loved the excited look on Jacob's face when it was time to eat, and I liked knowing I was giving him the best possible thing I could.  I miss the extra calorie burn, too!

But you know, I don't think I miss it as much as I thought I would.  I miss the idea of it, but in practical terms I think the way things are now is much easier.  I don't think I would have thought that last time, but right now I feel like this fits our lifestyle a little better.  With Jacob I hardly left the house for the first couple months of his life.  This time we were out and about very early because of Jacob's goings-on.  Breastfeeding, though handy, can be a little awkward in public.  I always knew I could do it, but in the end, if the timing was close I'd rather race home with a screaming baby than do it in public.  Part of it was general comfort for the baby and me--finding a good spot with enough space that was slightly private--and the rest was my concern over potentially flashing someone (be it boobs or a belly fat roll) or making someone else uncomfortable.  Not that I exactly cared about those people, but I wanted to at least look like I cared, you know?  Now I just pull out a bottle and get to it, not having to worry as much if Jacob needs something or the baby's squirmy.  I just put the bottle down and do what I have to do. 

In addition, I think using formula gave us a little more flexibility, time-wise.  Before, Carter was eating every two hours all day, and sometimes more in the evening, followed by every three hours at night.  I'm sure some of the shift had to do with age, as well, but once he went on formula, we were able to eek out more three or four hour gaps during the day (though he's usually got a two-hour one in the evening), and now he's sleeping through the night--a good eight-hour stretch.  It's miraculous compared to the endless hours spent on the couch initially.  And for the reasons above, having that flexibility is hugely helpful. 

One of my big fears about bottlefeeding was the stress of putting together bottles in the middle of the night with a screaming baby.  A little planning has helped that immensely.  One good thing is that the type of formula we use is not supposed to be heated.  So, room temperature is the best we can do.  I have a giant Brita tank that we got when we got married, I think, that we hadn't used for anything except parties once we moved into this house, since our refrigerator has a water dispenser.  That tank now sits out on the counter with room temperature water.  Every night before bed, I fill a bottle to the right amount, and fill our sectioned formula container with the right amount of powder (it's got three sections to pre-portion formula for being out on the go), and leave it all in Carter's room.  The second I walk in his room at feeding time, I pop open the bottle, dump the formula in, and shake it up.  The bottles I use mix it up better than the drop-ins I send to daycare that need the help of a battery-operated mixer and a baby spoon to break up the lumps, so for the most part mixing isn't a big deal.  I can be sitting down and feeding him within a minute of walking in.  Half the time it took me that long to get in position and comfortable enough to breastfeed, so shockingly, that's far less of an issue than I would have thought.

It is a bit of a pain to travel, however.  Whereas before I just needed me and maybe the Boppy pillow, now I need a full set of bottles, a supply of formula, liners if I'm using certain bottles, and ideally my brush and drying rack.  That is a lot to cart anywhere, and given that our formula is expensive and somewhat hard to find at times, it involves some planning ahead.  Even going out involves making sure I have a bottle or two filled with water, and the formula portioned out.  Unlike with breastfeeding, there's no backup plan.  And the likelihood of finding the formula we'd need if we ran out (and finding it with the best value pricing) is less than it would be with more mainstream formula.  I'm also not a fan of the constant bottle washing, but I'd be doing some of that anyway, and adding breast pump parts into the mix, which are an even bigger pain. 

I think the biggest surprises for me are that I don't feel any less bonded to Carter without it, and that even though I'm probably spending a similar amount of time feeding him (admittedly, some bottle feedings are quite a bit shorter), I feel less encumbered by the process.  It's almost like I used to take it personally if they didn't eat, or if the feeding wasn't comfortable.  Perhaps I resented it a bit because it was always my job to feed the baby if he was crying.  I don't know.  Whatever the emotions were, I must have suppressed them enough last time that I really took the experience as a positive.  Still, now that I'm not doing it this time, I just feel like I have a renewed energy for feedings.  Maybe it's the knowledge that I can pass it off if necessary.  Maybe it's less pressure because I don't have to pump all day at work to make enough for tomorrow.  Maybe it's because I'm not pumping, so I really do get a break from all things baby while I'm at work.  It's nice not to be working against the ticking time bomb that was my chest when it would tell me, in no uncertain terms, when it was time to eat.  It's been a relief to have my chest back down to size, and not have to plan my schedule around it at all times. 

Whatever the reason, it feels a lot different this time around, and it's not nearly as sad as I thought.  I'm very much at peace with the decision.  Perhaps the fact that I'm less physically invested in Carter means that it's easier to be more emotionally invested because there's plenty of energy left to give.  Breastfeeding isn't the most comfortable thing, and it's hard sometimes to deal with change, discomfort, exhaustion, and anxiety, all at the same time.  But it was worth every bit last time, and I'm grateful for the six weeks I had this time.  I'd be fine giving up the good stuff if it meant I could still be breastfeeding, since it would be the best thing for him.  I did it last time, I could have done it this time, and if we somehow end up doing this again, I'll give it a shot that time, too.  I think every mom owes it to her child to give it a shot.  But mom's sanity is important, too, and the dairy-free diet put me over my breaking point.  It might be something else for another mom, but that was it for me this time.  I wouldn't have appreciated the experience within that reality this time, so I'm happy with where we are right now.  I have a happy, smiley baby who brings me such joy, and I can't argue with that.

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