Sometimes, breast isn’t always best


August 1 to 7 is National Breastfeeding Week.

I wish it wasn’t.

I said it. I’m a family medicine physician with experience in working with moms and newborns in their feeding journeys. I don’t support a breastfeeding week.

I wish it was something else like “Moms/Dads/grandparents/caregivers Newborn Feeding Week.”

When my daughter, Wendy, was born during my fellowship, I was geared up to breastfeed during maternity leave and then pump/breastfeed after returning to work. I had watched fellow medical trainees do the same. They were all women I looked up to and admired for their dedication to breastfeeding. I read up on breastfeeding, pumping, etc. I purchased the “Cadillac” of breast pumps and the best ergonomic tools for breastfeeding. I was ready.

Within an hour of delivery, Wendy latched, and I thought we were doing well. Quickly, though, the nurses and lactation consultants insisted that I use a shield to aid with breastfeeding. I was hesitant, because I was going to do this on my own. After their multiple pleas, I did. Through hours of magnesium infusions, two units of blood, extra IV insertions, and 8+ liters of extra fluid on my body, I used that shield and tried to breastfeed.

Over the next two weeks at home, I struggled. The shield popped off all the time. I worried about how much weight Wendy was gaining. I never felt my milk “come in.” I made myself sick several times over the whole thing.

So, I tried pumping. I made an abysmal amount of pumped milk. I tried every trick and still made 8oz in a day. I didn’t sleep as I was trying to coordinate pumping with feeding. I spent hours on the phone with friends, colleagues, and family trying to figure it out.

I was defeated. Breastfeeding wasn’t working. We needed to do something different. But I’m a doctor, and “breast is best.” Formula was full of corn starch and chemicals. It was marketed to be the “scientific way” to feed your baby. It wasn’t natural. I worried what my colleagues at work would say if we used formula. I worried what my family would say if we used formula.

Finally, a friend reminded me that Wendy would still be an amazing person even if she had formula. My amazing mother told me to do what was best for our family and not everyone else.

In my desperation at 3 a.m., I made a bottle of formula for Wendy from the samples we had received several months prior in the mail. I’ll never forget the feeling I had while feeding her that early morning. Peace. Quiet. Overwhelming joy with this beautiful little girl in my arms.

My anatomy and Wendy’s tiny body were not meant to handle breastfeeding.

Sometimes formula is best.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we should support all women who breastfeed. We should equally support all women who feed their babies with formula. Or whoever else if taking care of our most precious little ones.

So Happy Newborn Feeding Week! Find a mom with a new baby and tell her she’s doing a fantastic job. It’ll mean more to her than you will ever know.

Jennifer Ward is a family physician.

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