Exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, formula. I can officially say we've done it all. And guess what? My baby is a completely different baby on formula, and we're both much happier.
Our Journey to Breastfeeding
When I first found out I was pregnant and I started thinking about things like breastfeeding, I wasn't sure how long I wanted to breastfeed for. I didn't have this strong vision of how I wanted it to go. If it didn't work out, I wasn't going to be too heartbroken. I mean, I wasn't even sure if I would be able to breastfeed. What if I didn't like it? What if it just didn't happen?
Then my daughter was born at 34 weeks. She was a preemie and spent 6 days in the NICU, and though I did exclusively pump for the first 2 1/2 months of her life, we didn't actually start breastfeeding until she was 10 weeks.
But even with being able to breastfeed, we've always fed Eliana by both breast and bottle, so that my husband or parents could help out with feedings. So she's been able to switch back and forth, and rarely showed preference for one or the other.
Our Journey to Formula
Eliana started teething around 4 months. She would get fussy when I tried to breastfeed, and I think she just liked the way the bottle's plastic nipple felt on her gums. Or maybe she went on a breastfeeding strike, apparently babies can do that? I had frozen EBM (expressed breastmilk) I could use in a pinch... but this strike also meant that I was back to pumping.
I started to loathe pumping. After all, I exclusively pumped for the first 10 weeks of her life. And she slept a lot more back then, so I could figure out a schedule that worked for us. But now, things had changed- she was older, bigger, and needed more interaction. I simply didn't have time to pump as often as she was eating. As a result, I found that my supply dropped a tad (I was making just enough for Eliana, but not an excess that I could freeze like before) but I wasn't too worried about it. I could keep enough in the fridge for the most part to keep up with her feedings. Until I wasn't. And then I was starting to use my freezer stash.
I have to note here that the only time I was nursing her during this time was in the mornings. It was the only time during the day she would do it without fussing. It was a sweet little routine we had- Theron and I would switch off feeding her in the middle of the night. When the sun came up and she needed to be fed again, Theron would get her from her crib, bring her into our bed, and I would nurse her while I slept some more. All three of us would cuddle in bed for a while, maybe get some more sleep if Eliana let us. But then we would bottle feed the rest of the day.
But here is the biggest factor of all for wanting to switch- I wanted my body back. For over a year, my body's sole purpose has been to house, grow, and nourish my beautiful daughter.
And of course, I'd do it all again for her!
But it was time for me to feel like myself again.
So once I started thinking about it... I wondered, when is a good time to stop breastfeeding/pumping? Now? 6 months? 9 months? Lord help me, I couldn't imagine going to a whole year.
For my own sanity, I needed an end date.
So when I started to feel like stopping at 4 1/2 months, I gave myself a goal of 6 months breastfeeding, because it sounded nice.
SPOILER ALERT: I didn't make it to 6 months.
But I made it a point to be present and soak up these last weeks of breastfeeding. I wouldn't try to pass the time on my phone. I just hung out with her, remembered the feelings and emotions, locked those memories safely away. I really wanted to be in the moment with this, if it was going to end soon. That was the only way I could get past my mom guilt of wanting to quit before 6 months.
Trial and Error
I wanted to start introducing formula slowly. So I went to Wal-Mart, stood in the formula aisle for probably 15 minutes reading each label, trying to figure out which one to get. It was between Sensitive and Gentle (not really sure what the difference is to this day). Eliana had shown a lactose intolerance whenever I ate too much cheese... so I picked Gentle because it sounded nice.
I was still producing milk after all, so we started doing half EMB and half formula during the day., and just EBM at night. After the first day of doing that... Eliana was so fussy. She just seemed like she was in pain. She cried and fussed and was so gassy! I could tell she was uncomfortable, and I felt like the worst mom in the world.
"How could I do this to my child? My selfishness caused my baby to be in unnecessary pain. I'm a terrible mom. That's it, I'm gonna have to breastfeed forever."
But I wanted to give it another chance. So I went and got a container of Soy Formula, and did the same thing with mixing it equal parts with EBM. The result? Eliana was a brand new baby. She was so happy, she slept better and longer at night.... But a week later, she got constipated (I was warned by some mommas that this can happen with Soy.)
So we gave her prune juice concentrate, massaged her tummy, did bicycle legs... nothing really helped. It hurt her so much to poop, her face would turn red and her hands would shake and she would cry from the pain.
Words aren't enough to express just how much I felt like a bad mom. AGAIN. That inner dialogue, "How could I do this to my child? My selfishness caused her to be in pain..." haunted me again. So after a few days of painfully hard poops (literally) Theron and I put our heads together, did some research, and decided to mix the two formulas together.
We found in our research that as long as the water to powder formula ratios are the same with both/all formulas, you can mix them. So to help her get things moving, but not completely shock her little system, we mixed Gentle with Soy.
A New Baby, A New Momma
It took a day or so, but it worked. She started pooping regulary, she was back to her happy self. We continued doing that for about a week until we ran out of Soy. So we thought, well, let's just try the Gentle again and see how she does.
She's been on just Gentle for a week now. She poops way more regularly than when she was breastfed, she sleeps better, she's just happier and less cranky. I joke a little bit that maybe I should have just done formula from the beginning. And I still have a good freezer stash of EBM, so I plan on using that in homemade baby food when the time comes for that adventure. So she'll get a second round of booby-goodness when we start solids.
Don't get me wrong- I loved breastfeeding while I got to do it. I love the bond I've been able to have with my daughter through it. But in hind sight, I only kind of miss it. When I decided to wean, I was afraid I would miss that "bond" or those moments. I was afraid I would regret it, to be honest. And I am here telling you that I don't regret switching. We are both happier because of it. My milk has almost dried up (I can't wait to be able to go bra-less again!) I can follow whatever diet plan I want to lose the baby weight. I have the FREEDOM to be away from a baby or a pump for extended periods of time. My body, for the first time in a year, is mine again.
(and I can eat all the cheese I want!)
So I made sure to soak up those last moments of nursing Eliana. I love and cherish those moments, and I am so grateful that we even were able to breastfeed, because at first I didn't think it would happen for us.
But breastfeeding doesn't define me as a mother. It doesn't define me as a woman. And how my baby is fed certainly doesn't define my baby and the person she is going to grow up to be.
Go Bravely, Mommas.