On January 15, one very significant era of my life ended: Ollie was given his last bottle of breastmilk.
I breastfed LJ for 13 months and Vi for 22 months. Neither one of them ever needed formula and they rarely had bottles since I didn’t really pump unless I was away from them. I talked about this previously, but Ollie’s needs ended up being much different. I won’t go into all the specifics, but as a newborn, he wasn’t transferring breastmilk directly very well, and after working with a lactation consultant for several weeks, I made the call to move to formula + pumped milk. Ollie was 10 weeks old. My supply has been decreasing ever since and I made peace with that, but it finally dwindled down to nothing this week. I’ve spent 40 months (over three years!!) of my life providing breastmilk for my children and now, that chapter is over.
Almost exactly four years ago, I was writing about my breastfeeding journey with LJ coming to an end. Ollie will be my last baby, and this is the definitive end of my breastfeeding era, so it only felt right to similarly process the end of this journey. Today, I’m sharing my experience with Ollie – from breastfeeding, to combination feeding, to moving to all formula. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone else is interested in reading about this, but for me it was therapeutic to process the end of this era in writing (and I know I’ll appreciate being able to look back on this in years to come) so here we go!
Things I wasn’t expecting
Not to state the obvious, but I wasn’t expecting this to be our journey at all. I had no major issues breastfeeding my first two babies and expected this time to be no different. My milk came in in full force while I was still in the hospital. I used my Haaka in the beginning and quickly amassed extra milk (I’ve always had a great supply). I thought it was going to be smooth sailing again. Then his two-week appointment came and I learned that he was still six ounces under birth weight. I was blindsided. We started doing weighted feeds and I started pumping, only to be shocked again to realize my initally-amazing supply had already adjusted to his lowered demands. That was honestly the most discouraging part for me: had I just known to pump from the beginning, my supply would have stayed up. Instead, I had to work on boosting my supply and building it back up while still breastfeeding AND pumping AND supplementing with formula. It was pretty stressful and I couldn’t keep it up very long, but I do wonder about how things would’ve been different had my supply stayed high from the start.
This experience kind of popped my newborn bubble a little sooner than I wanted. I absolutely LOVED the first two weeks of his life – snuggling just the two of us in the recliner in my bedroom, sun streaming gently through the windows, skin to skin contact, just soaking up the sweetness of his newborn-ness. It was an amazing experience and I will cherish it. After learning about his transfer issues, some of the joy got sucked out of my experience – I felt sad and guilty for not realizing he wasn’t gaining weight, and I was anxious about how to correct our course. I will say, I could feel that the joy was getting sucked out and did NOT want that to be what I remembered, so I worked hard to keep noticing and appreciating the sweet newborn moments too. I’m so glad I didn’t spiral and allow stress and anxiety to make me miss out on everything, but it still put a damper on things.
Things I’m SO glad I did
I’m so glad I worked with a lactation consultant. She was wonderful and supportive and encouraging and empowering. Working with her and doing regular weighted feeds gave me actual data on how he was doing, which in turn helped me make rational decisions about what to do. Thanks to her help, I feel like I did everything in my power to make breastfeeding work, which made it easier for me to let go of when it didn’t. I did what I could, it wasn’t what was working for him, and I feel no shame or lingering guilt over that. [Side note: I felt nothing but complete support from my entire circle. My pediatrician, my husband, my family, my friends – everyone was so supportive and I never felt one single ounce of judgement or shame from anyone about my decision. While I felt confident enough in what I was choosing, it certainly helped that I didn’t have people casting doubts or judgement over my choices and I appreciate that so much.]
I’m so glad I reflected on my experience with LJ and Vi. I think being a third-time mama made me a little calmer about the whole thing – once I got over the initial shock/disappointment/guilt, I could see that I wasn’t doing anything differently this time around. I wasn’t doing anything wrong or failing him or anything like that, he just had different needs than my first two kids, and it really helped to keep that perspective.
I’m so glad I knew my limits. I technically could have done more to try to make breastfeeding work, but it would’ve come at a cost. I have two other children, two dogs, a house to take care of, a husband to be in relationship with, and life I want to enjoy. I wasn’t going to be able to pump around the clock or power pump or completely change my diet or do more than I was already doing without it affecting other areas of my life. I was at the limit for what I could handle with all the things on my plate, and I’m glad I could recognize that and prioritize my own mental health and family life too.
I’m so glad I invested in a new pump. I’ll be honest – I’ve always thought pumping was a drag. But exclusively pumping? I had no idea how much of a drag it could actually be. While I loved my Spectra pump for the occasional pump here or there or when traveling, for day-to-day use, it was cumbersome and inconvenient. We invested in the Elvie pump and it made my life so much easier. I just tucked it in my bra (no need to change to a pumping bra like with the Spectra) and went about my day. Even though I ultimately only used it for about 3.5 months, I’m glad I got it. I’m absolutely positive I wouldn’t have lasted this long with the Spectra, so I’m glad I got to extend the time I provided breastmilk.
Things that were challenging
Did I mention pumping is a drag? Ha! While I’m still so thankful I used the Elvie, I never truly enjoyed pumping.
All. The. Dishes. Between pump parts and bottles, pumping creates a lot of extra work and it often felt like I was living in a groundhog day of constant dishes. I’m so glad someone gave me the advice to keep pump parts in the fridge in between pumps to at least eliminate some dishes during the day, but it still is a lot of work.
Using formula requires a lot more mental energy than breastfeeding did. Before leaving the house, we have to make sure we have filtered water, a container of formula, a clean bottle, etc. It’s not always easy to measure out formula and make bottles depending on where we are. It’s just – again – more work than whipping out a nursing cover and feeding him whenever and wherever he needs with no other supplies.
I never fully appreciated how breastmilk is free (I mean, there is an unpaid labor + mental load cost, but you know what I mean) until I had to start buying formula. To say I had sticker shock is an understatement, especially as time went on and I provided less and less breastmilk and we went through formula quicker.
Things I’ve enjoyed
With LJ and Vi, I was basically the sole provider of food. With the exception of a few bottles here and there, I was involved in every. single. feed. Now, Justin and I share the load equally. We can each give bottles, we can each prepare the diaper bag, we can each wash the dishes. It’s the most involved he’s been with feeding at this stage, which has been really sweet to see, and it’s nice that I can have some breaks. The kids even occasionally help give a bottle – melt my heart! It’s also been easier for grandparents to be involved and babysit.
With breastfeeding, I often had to leave to find comfortable surroundings, especially if we were away from home. This often meant leaving the table, leaving the group, leaving the conversations, and missing out on whatever was going on in order to comfortably breastfeed somewhere else. There were times it felt isolating. With bottles, I can feed wherever and don’t have to miss out on anything, which has been really great.
I’ve still enjoyed feeding and snuggles. I still get to bond with this baby. Formula and bottles hasn’t changed that.
I’m proud of the fact that I did what I could for Ollie for five months, and I’m proud of myself for recognizing that it’s time to close this door and move to exclusive formula. I’ve been breastfeeding or pregnant for the better part of SIX YEARS now and it will never cease to amaze me what bodies can do. Leaving this chapter behind is bittersweet, but I think it was always going to be that way. I leave it behind with tears in my eyes, but they aren’t tears of guilt or sorrow. They are tears of gratitude – it’s been a joyful, challenging, sweet, empowering, exhausting, and ultimately beautiful journey and I’m so extremely grateful for it. They all took different approaches to feeding, but I have three happy, healthy, thriving children and that is all that truly matters to me.