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?

Nursing, round two

I’ve never judged mothers for their choice to breastfeed or not. It’s a personal decision — and one that isn’t always a “choice.” I’ve always felt like an outlier in the breastfeeding community because although I did a combo of nursing, pumping and supplementing formula, I was never in one “camp.” I just “was.” And for the nine months I nursed Maya, I didn’t really enjoy it (which I’m sure isn’t what some women want to hear, especially lactivists!).

I was stressed out because my supply wasn’t great.

I was a new mom who “thought” she needed to go/go/go 24/7, so the idea of sitting still for 20-30 minutes seemed like torture.

And I just didn’t love the act of breastfeeding. I knew it was good for her and that’s why I did it, but for the most part, aside from a few fleeting special moments with her, it wasn’t what I felt connected us — which was confirmed when I stopped nursing at nine months and our snuggle sessions at night were just as intimate — if not better — than they had been while nursing. Continue reading “Nursing, round two”

Easier Second Time Around?

I never thought I would a mom who breastfed. My mom didn’t breastfeed me and the idea grossed me out for a very long time. Of course, as I got older I came to know/understand the whole “breast is best” philosophy spewed by everyone and their mom … and figured if/when the time came, I’d give it the old college try.

I just never expected myself to last as long as I did. Continue reading “Easier Second Time Around?”

On Nine Months

The gestational period for a human being is nine months. If you think about it, it’s a LONG frickin’ time, especially compared to the gestational age of animals.

But when you take into account the fact that I didn’t even know I was pregnant til I was almost nine weeks along and the fact that, at ten weeks, we found out there was quite possible something very wrong with the baby … I never experienced the full impact of pregnancy — least of all its full duration.

My experience was tainted with agony and anxiety … anxiety that wasn’t really allayed until Maya–sweet and healthy as could be–was placed into my arms at 9:02 AM on Saturday, December 18, 2010.

And now, today, our little Maya hit the nine month mark. She’s been out of the womb as long as she has been in and, frankly, that milestone is mind-blowing to me. It hasn’t felt like it’s been nine months … yet at the same time, it’s hard to remember life before her; it feels like we have known her forever — and we have a lifetime ahead. Continue reading “On Nine Months”

Pumpless @ Work

Yesterday was my first day not lugging my black pump bag to work. It was liberating, that’s quite sure! … But also a bit strange to not see my calendar blocked out four times a day; not to pack up all my laptop, etc, and bring it into the mother’s room; not to schedule meetings around said blocked-off time slots … and it was also more emotional than I expected it to be.

I immediately walked into the office and went to drop my bag off in the mama’s room, which I’ve done every day since coming back to work March 14.

But there was no need … so I turned on my heel and strode the other way to my cufice.

This really is the end of an era for Maya and I … one of many to come. And this is why I heart my mom. Continue reading “Pumpless @ Work”

What I’ll Miss … and What I Won’t! (Part Deux)

When I was anticipating Maya’s arrival last winter, I wrote this post, What I’ll Miss and What I Won’t, about being pregnant.

Today, while discussing weaning with a friend who is pregnant with her second baby, I got to thinking about these same notions with respect to nursing and pumping and thought I’d share them here on the blog — if for nothing else than to memorialize how I’m feeling at this very moment.

Because in the next few weeks, if not days, my pumping and nursing days will be done. I’m down to just five pumps a day plus one nursing session at night and at this point, I don’t think that I will be dealing with any engorgement issues that so many nursing moms deal with (as my supply is so low to begin with) when I do stop.

Continue reading “What I’ll Miss … and What I Won’t! (Part Deux)”

It’s My Party and I’ll Wean When I Want to …

The decision to wean is a very personal and very complicated decision and it’s not one you can (painlessly) make overnight.

Let me state up front I have a loving and supportive husband. I wouldn’t trade him for anyone (OK, anyone except maybe Ryan Reynolds 😉 and only for a night…!).

We’ve been together through thick and thin over the past 10+ years. We are opposites in some ways, but we usually complement one another … or butt heads entirely because we’re both pretty headstrong! Continue reading “It’s My Party and I’ll Wean When I Want to …”