Breast is Best but Don't Forget the Rest
Today's post is brought to you by the wisdom of Teresa Fleishmann, board member of the Alabama chapter of Postpartum Support International . She brings you her personal experience with nourishing her babies in a variety of ways and the importance of maternal mental health. Enjoy!!
In preparation for my first baby, I did what many Type A personality women do. I read books, researched, planned. One particular area of passion for me was breastfeeding. My stepmother was a Le Leche League Leader, my mother in Law breastfed all five of her children, and most of my friends were exclusive breastfeeding moms. I soaked in all the articles about liquid gold, and was determined to give the precious gift of breastmilk to my baby. I was gifted “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”. I scoured the pages, even tabbing some for future reference. I obtained a breast pump to be sure I could pump once I returned to work.
Following seven weeks of bedrest, my son was delivered via induced vaginal delivery at thirty seven weeks gestation as a result of preeclampsia. His arrival did not go as expected. Despite a traumatic delivery, which is an entirely different post of it’s own, we headed home with our sweet baby boy roughly 48 hours after delivery. I remember feeling lost, like, what are we supposed to do with this baby? Shouldn’t a nurse be going home with us? Like many first time parents, we loaded up our little man’s car seat, completely clueless, and set off for home as a freshly minted family of three.
It took a bit longer than anticipated for my milk to come in. My son was a lazy nurser, requiring fully naked skin to skin contact, and ice rubbed feet to stay awake. His bilirubin levels were high, and as a result, we attempted nursing sessions every two hours, and weight checks every 2 days. The constant trips to the pediatrician were starting to wear on me. I had physical trauma to heal from, and there just didn’t seem time to take care of myself. I became hyperfocused on feeding my baby. I contacted a local lactation consultant and rented a scale. I weighed him before and after each feeding. If I didn’t feel he’d gotten enough, I’d pump and give him a bottle. My milk was plentiful, almost too much so, I was always engorged, my breasts heavy and hot.
Feeding him became my obsession. “How much was he getting? How much does he weigh? My milk seems low in fat. Why is he still asleep? I’m going to wake him and feed him. There’s no time for me to eat. No time for me to sleep. Are his diapers wet enough? Why hasn’t he pooped?” I began calling as many people as I could think of to get breastfeeding advice. I felt inadequate, on edge, spiraling.
It didn’t take long for the obsessive thoughts to turn into intrusive thoughts. For the worry to become full blown panic attacks. For sleeplessness to become insomnia. By the time he was 2 weeks old, we knew something was not right. I ended up seeking professional medical attention, and at the advice of a team of doctors, traded breastfeeding for wellness. My pump became the tool used to wean my baby from the breast, and a bottle filled with formula became the source of his nourishment. I remember feeling equally disappointed and relieved. Breastfeeding had become a major source of my postpartum OCD, and formula became part of my treatment plan.
To this day I will never forget the first time I gave my baby a bottle in public. I was at a Wendy’s with a group of women, when one of them approached me and mentioned how breastfeeding would be so much easier than having to deal with those “pesky bottles.” It hurt, I felt shame. It took a long time for me to be comfortable with my decision, but I knew it was the right one. I kindly put her in her place, as I would have to do continuously over the next year. Why, oh, why do we judge and jump to conclusions?
My story doesn’t end there. I went on to have 2 more children. My second, was exclusively breastfeed, thanks to that same great team, who helped me tackle OCD and anxiety before it struck. My third, I call my combo baby. He was nourished with my milk, donor milk, and formula. All 3 of my children are amazing, smart, witty, and of course cute! I guarantee if I lined them up, you’d never guess who was fed how. Nor would you probably care.
I share this not to bash or shame anyone. I read the books, I did my homework. I think we can all agree that breastmilk is absolutely incredible. I share for the sole purpose of encouraging other women. While the tagline “Breast is Best” might ring true, my mental health is more important than how my baby is fed. Please put yourself first. Mom is the most important part of this equation. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, consult a certified lactation professional. If you end up in my shoes, and find yourself transitioning to the bottle, know that there is a fantastic network of women willing to share breastmilk. If you end up using formula, be proud that you made the decision that’s best for you and your family. Your value is not measured in ounces. Never be afraid to reach out for help.
Teresa Fleischmann is State Coordinator and Board Member of Postpartum Support International Alabama. They provide resources and support for women and their families who are experiencing a pregnancy related mood disorder. If you or someone you know needs support please contact them at https://psichapters.com/al/ Remember, you are not alone. You are not to blame. With help, you will be well.