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?

questions i can’t answer

Like many 5-year olds, Maya is a really, really inquisitive kid. Like me, she’s also very sensitive and in tune to how others around her are feeling.

And she asks about Rachel a lot.

Sometimes I stumble because I don’t want her to have anxiety about or fear “going to the hospital” simply because she knows that is where Rachel died.

But the questions come — sometimes out of nowhere, sometimes when approaching school (Rachel’s son — who she was in the process of adopting at the time of her death and has since been adopted by her husband–attends the same school as my kids), and every time  she’s been with my mom. In fact, she even told my mom at Thanksgiving that the reason she talks to her about it or asks her questions sometimes is she doesn’t like to make Mommy sad and knows talking about Rachel makes Mommy sad.

Heart. Is. Breaking. Continue reading “questions i can’t answer”

Trusting their guts when I don’t trust my own

For as tiny and petite as Maya is (still only in 25th percentile for height and weight–as she has been all her life), she has always been a good eater: very in tune with her body, hunger levels, and even thirst.  I’ve often been impressed by how intuitively she eats — telling me she isn’t hungry “yet” for snack at snack-time  …  or asking for more at dinner because she isn’t satiated.  She constantly refills her own water glass and will often choose fruit before any other option.

She amazes me, day in and day out and I pray she’s always this good an eater.

I, on the other hand, have absolutely never, ever, ever been an intuitive eater.  Never.

Oh, sure, I’ve tried … many times. And have consistently failed. Continue reading “Trusting their guts when I don’t trust my own”

Circadian Rhythms

Happy New Year!! I hope you had a wonderful time last night and look forward to posting regularly here at least three times a week … starting … now!

When I lived in El Salvador, I had the world’s best work schedule.

I had just finished grad school at my alma mater (American University) and I didn’t have a job lined up. Luis and I had been dating long-distance international for over a year and wanted to experience living together for a bit, so I moved to El Salvador for eight months and taught English at a private language academy where I made $3/hour and was worked to.the.core.

That said, the schedule — while grueling — was the best because it gave me a ton of freedom and let me capitalize on my own energy levels … something I find myself longing for a lot these days. Continue reading “Circadian Rhythms”

The Last Bottle

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my sweet benny. photo courtesy of staci ainsworth

Ben turned one a month ago and I had fully intended to begin to pull the bottle plug at the one-year mark, as we did with Maya. With her, it was a slow transition to the sippy cup that probably started a tad too late. I ended up ditching the paci first because that had been her crutch, and then working on the sippy cup transition once she had that down. The whole transition took about six weeks and it was not easy; in retrospect I probably should have just cut her off cold turkey from her bottles, too.

Oh well, no harm, no foul: lesson learned for baby #2!

Ben never really took to his pacifier … and by the time he came along, our pediatrician was now recommending water in a sippy from six months on — and so he was acclimated  to it somewhat. He didn’t have a problem drinking water, and when I introduced milk at dinner over the past two months, he would take a couple sips before whacking it to the floor in true baby fashion. I didn’t think the change would be as dramatic for him as it was Maya — even though I was going with a cold turkey approach to weaning, and I was right — but we had a bit of a set-back earlier this month. Continue reading “The Last Bottle”

Precious Jewels

Motherhood can be messy. Frightening. Demoralizing. Stressful. Challenging. Complicated.

Sometimes you wonder (or maybe it’s just me?), how can you love someone soooo much and yet at the same time, find yourself screaming like a totally irrational tot at her (the actual tot) … only to cry after she’s asleep because you realize that showing your true colors to a 3-year-old is as useless as wearing snow pants in July and really, at the heart of it, you were just PMSing and “fwus-ta-wated” [frustrated in toddler-speak] at the pile of dishes in the sink from the night before that neither of you could get to, the work project still on hold for the third day in a row with the unmoving deadline, the jeans that aren’t fitting as well as you’d like (because you’ve been avoiding the gym like the plague) … and she just happened to push your buttons on a day when you were already late for a morning meeting.

You snapped. And it isn’t right … but it happens.

Yea. Sometimes motherhood is really, really hard. Continue reading “Precious Jewels”

Evening Potty-Training in One Simple Step

Maya had never, ever, ever been dry at night. She’s been dry at naps for well over a year (since about 2 1/2), but never once at night.

So when I told Luis it was time for her to get night-time potty-trained this summer, he thought I was nuts. “She isn’t ready,” he protested. “She’s never even been dry!”

“I know,” I said, evenly. “But she has to learn. She’s 3 1/2. It’s time.” I shocked myself at how sure I was that this methodology I’d heard of from a friend was going to work. I just knew it in my bones. Call it “mommy intuition,” I just knew.

I also knew we would surely have many nights of wet sheets and jammies ahead … but I had faith in my kiddo.

And I was right on both accounts: she would have accidents, and she would “get it” quickly. Continue reading “Evening Potty-Training in One Simple Step”