Lessons Learned From Feeding a Baby
Updated: Feb 23
By: Anna Collins Maling, MA, LGPC, NCC
Breastfeeding. Where to even begin.
Breastfeeding is really, really hard. And, like many things in parenting, there is this idea that it is natural, that your maternal instincts will kick in once your baby is born. I envisioned myself breastfeeding calmly, knowingly, wisely being the source of nutrients for my child.
Instead, the first time my baby was given to me post c-section, I was barely able to understand what everyone around me was saying. I nodded to the nurse explaining things while giving my husband panicked glances. I was thinking, “He better be paying attention, we are missing the instructions on how to be good parents!” Immediately, I felt shame and a deep sense of inadequacy.
The nurses kept saying that Baby M was a “unicorn” because he was latching so quickly and sucking so well. I felt embarrassed because I was still confused and in a lot of pain each time he nursed. How could my baby be getting it right, but I couldn’t?!
Flash forwards a few months, it was still very painful to breastfeed. But Baby M was gaining weight and seemed very content. I dreaded nursing because of the pain but couldn’t even think about transitioning to formula. This changed after my husband waking up to me sobbing during a middle of the night feeding. I said to him, “It doesn’t matter that I am in pain if it’s best for the baby.” My logic was that I would do anything for my kid, so of course I would just be in pain all the time if that meant he was getting breastmilk.
After long conversations with friends, family, pediatrician, lactation consultants, random moms at the library, and a general practitioner I accidentally started crying in front of, I decided to transition to pumping exclusively and formula. And then I quickly went to feeding all formula.
I was so scared feeding my baby the first bottle of formula. And, like many things in parenting, the change happened with little to no fanfare. No stomach issues, no resentful 4-month-old who was wondering why I didn’t care enough to sacrifice my nipples, no illness happening because the lack of antibodies. You know what did change? I started to enjoy the times I fed my baby. I got to look at him adoringly, smile at his milk drunk expression pain free. My husband and I could alternate feeding and he felt more able to connect. I could leave the house without feeling like I was on a timer to get my boobs back.
Here are the things I want to tell any parent out there feeding their baby.
1. Good job!! It’s hard freaking work.
2. When you are thinking about what is best for your family, remember to weigh both the benefits AND the costs. Breastmilk is awesome. Formula is awesome. You need to feel balanced, fulfilled, and stable. Your baby needs to be fed, loved, and cared for. All those boxes need to be checked. Read that again. ALL (that means the ones that pertain to you)
3. Regardless of what happens, you won’t always feel the same feelings or intensity that you during this moment. For example, you likely won’t be blaming a bad grade or a toddler meltdown on whether you breastfed or formula fed.
4. Find the resources that help and support you. Any information that makes you feel shame or guilt doesn’t belong to take up space.
Sending love to all those who are navigating this part of parenting. You are unique, strong and an awesome parent.