When my daughter was about 10 months old, I came down with a horrible stomach flu that tanked my milk supply one weekend. So when Monday rolled around, I had no breastmilk to send to daycare with her. None. Nada. Zip. Nothing in the freezer and my breasts were dry as a bone.
When I dropped her off, I stifled my guilt and feelings of general failure as much as possible, and told her caregivers just to give her formula.
Fast forward to that afternoon when I got a phone call from daycare asking me to come back and feed her because she hadn’t had anything to drink all day. The baby flatly refused that formula.
I cried so hard that day. I was so tired of feeling chained to my pump.
I needed to know I could take a break from it, and that my daughter would be okay. As it turned out, she wouldn’t be okay, so I had to press on. I pumped for a full year for my daughter. And I breastfed her until she was 16 months old. I actually loved nursing. But pumping was a different story.
So when I was cradling my son at his two-week well check and the sweet nurse practitioner asked me an innocent question, all I could do was blink back at her for a few moments. “So, what’s your plan for when you go back to work?” she asked.
Back to work. Oh, my word. I’m going to have to pump again. How had I blocked all of that out? Anxiety started to build up in my chest, and instead of putting on a brave face and giving a cheerful response, I was honest, “I don’t know. I really, really hate pumping.”
Her response was immediate, “Then don’t.”
Huh—what? THAT is an option?
She pointed out that my son would be starting daycare in the winter, which meant more germs, and that he’d likely benefit from as much breast milk as possible. But also, formula was totally fine.
“I’m giving you permission to give him formula. Even if you produce more than enough milk for him. You. Can. Give. Him. Formula. Give him a bottle a day starting around six weeks so he’ll get used to it.”
You know that scene in Braveheart where Mel Gibson screams, “FREEEEEEDOM”? That was basically me in all my postpartum glory. I’ll give you a moment to let this mental image sink in.
Anyway, we left that appointment, and off I went off to buy formula—and then I almost died of sticker shock.
How do formula parents do this? I thought formula feeding moms were already rock stars with all the bottles they have to make and wash times infinity, but I had no idea that they were also spending a small fortune to fill all those bottles.
I looked, and looked, and looked some more. I was sure I was missing some great formula buying secret or deal. Nope. Even with the coupons I could find, formula is just darn expensive.
And then I looked at my pump and apologized.
Poor pump, poor sweet, innocent, free-to-me-through-insurance pump. I had said so many mean things. I had begrudgingly lugged it to work every day for a year. I had groaned every time I heard that familiar whirring. I had cursed it under my breath while washing all of the parts every night.
I hadn’t realized what a gift it was. There was food—free food—for my baby. From my body. Yes, it was a lot of work getting it, and most days I felt like a cow when I was hooked up to the darn thing (see, there I go again…). But it was there. And the price was right.
I’ve never been so conflicted about something.
On one hand, I loathed the pump and my general inability to escape it once I went back to work after my babies were born. On the other hand, it’s kind of nice to be able to afford to feed the other people in my house, and I wasn’t sure how to do that and also buy formula.
So here’s where I’ve landed:
- I’m not putting any pressure on myself this time.
- I’m still pumping, for now. I was pumping three times a day at work, but that got to be too time-consuming and, frankly, annoying, so now I am only pumping two times a day.
- I’m not stressed if my son has an occasional bottle of (daycare supplied) formula if I’m short on milk for the day.
Guess what? So far my son is doing just fine.
And if I decide that pumping is too stressful or is giving me anxiety, or if I feel myself slipping back into the guilt that contributed to my PPD—I will kick that pump to the curb and not look back.
So, pump. I love/hate you. You’re a total frenemy. But you’re safe.