The ROI of Breastfeeding

Disclaimer: This post is part of the Honest feeding stories project. It is not a paid or sponsored post — it’s a reflection of my own feelings on feeding during the early years, and the wisdom I’ve gained since.

If my breasts had been a business, any financial analyst would have recommended I closed shop months before I actually did with my daughter, Maya. My ROI (return on investment) was awful.

Though I nursed her in the morning and evening, I pumped all day long – four agonizing sessions at work – only yielding 10-12 oz. of milk. Basically, that amounted to two bottles of the five she drank in a day, which meant I still had to supplement formula for her other bottles.

And it was exhausting.

While our munchkin had been sleeping through the night since she was eleven weeks old, I was still waking up to pump most mornings around 2 or 3 AM. I desperately wanted to just skip that pump, but it was the issue of supply and demand: my supply was terrible as it was, and I didn’t want to make it any worse by not pumping. It was making my anxiety go into overdrive.

On top of that nightly annoyance, I was sick of lugging my Medela Pump in Style Advanced bag and gear to work with me every day, sick of leaving my desk four times a day to pump at the office, and sick of being tethered to tubes while my husband and I watched TV or I blogged at night.

Yet I kept on keeping on, because while one little angel on my shoulder whispered, “Breast is best” and encouraged me that any little bit I can give her is better than none and reminded me of all the health benefits of breast milk … the other little angel on my shoulder said, “You’ve given it your all. She has gotten such  a great start. Be kind to yourself; it’s OK to stop.”

What I came to realize is that there was no “right” and “wrong” here, only what was “right” for me  — which seemed to change by the day. And therein lied the problem.

Though I never had any grandiose ideas about breastfeeding, at the very least, I had hoped to try. After taking a Breastfeeding Basics class at my local hospital while I was pregnant, I decided not to set any expectations or define any timelines but, rather, see what happened once Maya was born. I didn’t want to put any added pressure on myself and worried I wouldn’t be able to do it, period.

Early on, we realized I had supply issues when, at two weeks of age, Maya was still losing weight instead of gaining. Our pediatrician gently recommended supplementing formula in addition to nursing and pumping. I hated the idea not because I was against formula, but because I knew the problem wasn’t Maya; it was me. I wasn’t making enough to meet her demand, and when you have a small baby to begin with, you need to do what you need to do to make her gain weight, which meant I needed to supplement.

I still loved nursing more than pumping; it was much easier than pumping and loved how close it made me feel to her. I loved knowing I could soothe her and nourish her with a simple suck. Breastfeeding was so primal and beautiful … but for as lovely as it was, the bottom line was that I wasn’t able to fully sustain her on my own, and it was time to accept this fact.

The ROI for breastfeeding, for me, was no longer found in how many ounces of milk I produced each day but rather in how I *felt* about what I was doing. And most days, it didn’t feel so good. I knew this meant it was time to call it quits.

I had given her a great start, and I’d given breastfeeding my all. And so sometime during month nine, she was completely weaned. I missed the closeness of nursing, but we created new special rituals for bedtime: we didn’t rush through baths, we spent more time reading books, and that’s when we started “Eskimo kisses,” something we still do now (she’s six).

By the time I had my son Ben, I was no longer a newbie mom and had nearly three years of parenting wisdom behind me. He was much bigger than his sister and demanded more milk, and I simply couldn’t keep up with his hearty appetite. So once again, we supplemented nursing and pumping with formula — and by the time he hit seven months, we weaned. This time I felt no guilt whatsoever. I knew he needed more than I could provide—and I saw my daughter thriving and growing and knew my son would, too.

Though I didn’t think I’d need to supplement as much as I did with each child, I don’t regret my decision to stop nursing and exclusively formula-feed for the remainder of their first year; it was the right choice for our family. If you’re in a similar situation and you’re wondering which formula to choose for your baby, there are some wonderful, healthy options on the market today, such as Honest’s healthy feeding options. Today’s formulas are modeled after breast milk —  and we moms should feel comfort in that.

Time gives us perspective, and looking back on my own struggles, I wish all moms could get to the place I got; where they realize that whatever they did or tried was enough and will be enough. The sad truth is we live in an uber-judgmental society where women are criticized for their decisions: to work or stay at home; to breastfeed or formula feed; daycare or a nanny; to vaccinate or not to vaccinate; sleep train or go with the (potentially sleepless) flow. It’s unfortunate and all of these issues are so highly emotionally-charged. If we could just be a little gentler on ourselves, maybe motherhood would be a little less daunting.

Though my breastfeeding ROI each time may not have been something to write home about, I learned to trust myself – and my own judgment. And I learned this: as mothers, we have our children’s best interests at heart, but ultimately we need to remember that the only person we truly answer to is ourselves. Our children will be better off when we, moms, are comfortable in our decisions. They will thrive.

How about you? How did you decide to start or stop breastfeeding? Did you feel guilty about your decision either way?

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2 thoughts on “The ROI of Breastfeeding

  1. You were able to pump 10-12 ounces during the work day? Yeah, I was lucky to pump 2 ounces. So my breasts made the decision for me.

    Like you, I loved nursing (once we got over the initial hump) and hated pumping. I’d gotten into a groove of nursing my boy and then topping him off with a bottle of formula or precious pumped milk. Then, at about 4 months, whenever I tried to nurse him, he’d latch only to stop and cry until he got a bottle—he was too frustrated by my lack.

    I fought against throwing in the towel. I did go into motherhood assuming I’d nurse for at least a full year, and I’ll admit, I was judgmental against women who didn’t nurse. So when I was slapped with a lack of milk, I took it hard. In my life, I’ve overcome obesity (as of now, I’ve maintained a 140-pound loss for over 7 years) and infertility, but neither of those had the effect on my body image that my inability to breastfeed did. Maybe I was giving him piddly amounts of breast milk, but I *was* giving him breast milk, and giving that up meant giving up my precious identity as a nursing mother.

    Eventually, though, I read something that resonated. My child needs me. He needs food. He doesn’t necessarily need food from me. And shifting to exclusive pumping would mean taking precious time away from my child. So, in the early hours of Easter morning right after he turned 5 months old, I nursed him for the last time.

    Now, my son is four years old. He is bright, curious, and verbal. He enjoys a variety of foods—not all vegetables, but many of them, and just about any fruit you put in front of him. His favorite food is sushi. And even though he goes to day care, he’s seldom sick and has never had an ear infection. Not one.

    I support women who breastfeed, but even after so many years, I still struggle with being jealous of them.

  2. Hi Laura, I know what you mean about being frustrated with your own body when it isn’t doing something it “should” be able to. It sounds like your son is doing amazing and you — like me — gave him your all. I love this: “Eventually, though, I read something that resonated. My child needs me. He needs food. He doesn’t necessarily need food from me.” — THAT is beautiful and so very true.

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