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There is no more personal decision to make as a mother than how to feed your baby. Breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or combo-feeding — only you can decide what is right for you and your family. And yet, it seems that everyone has an opinion.
Our opinion? You’re doing great. And we’re proud of you, no matter how you choose to feed your baby. But in case you need a little more inspiration, we’ve partnered with Enfamil to share the very diverse feeding journeys of some very diverse parents, from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, and the very blurred lines in between.
Alexandra Ng’s feeding journey followed one of those blurred lines. As the owner of NYC’s famed baby boutique, Piccolini, Alex spent years meeting mamas and planning for her own motherhood experience. And that motherhood experience was absolutely going to include breastfeeding. Below she talks about the obsession, the guilt, and ultimately the empowerment of changing her feeding course.
What did you envision your feeding experience to be like when you were pregnant?
Ali Wong, in her latest comedy special put it best: she had a vision she would be this crowned goddess on a lily pad, breastfeeding her child, while the fat Hawaiian guy sang his version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I thought that too. But breastfeeding was exactly NONE OF THAT.
Breastfeeding was very painful and frustrating process. I had an emergency C-section and my son was born with an upper and lower lip tie. He couldn't latch properly and we were losing a lot of that liquid gold. With each suckle my uterus contacted, and it felt as if someone was cutting my nipples with glass. Even with the protection of a nipple guard. Even with ice before and after feeding. Even with a heating pad. I had to mentally prepare myself for each feeding. And I felt like I didn't get to have that bond of nursing him, which was the most painful of all.
Tell us about those first few weeks breastfeeding.
I tried breastfeeding for about 4 weeks and decided to exclusively pump, though we began supplementing at about 3 weeks. Those first few weeks were a total fog. I had an amazing support system between my husband and family. My husband was game with me either breastfeeding or formula-feeding, though at first, I was all about breastfeeding. It became obsessive, but I think it's a natural as a new mom to want the absolute best for your newborn.
But as I was adjusting to this new life with minimal sleep, I recognized that I was missing out on certain bonding aspects with my son. I was pumping round the clock. I felt like a 24-hour diner. My husband was doing most of the feedings while I was just miserable and moody.
How did you cope during that time?
One thing that really helped me was being a part of a Facebook groups for moms. I'm usually a voyeur, but would sometimes confide in the group and spoke about "the darkness" I was feeling when I started to wean off breastfeeding. Postpartum hits you like a ton of bricks and you need to hear from others that what you're feeling is normal. That it is temporary and you will get through this.
It was also helpful for me to remember that this period is meant to be a bonding session. If it's not enjoyable for both mom and baby, then you should not continue. I was missing the big picture.
When I was deciding whether to stop breastfeeding or continue trudging along, my mother told me to look at the children at the park and point out the children who were formula-fed or breastfed. The point is, you can't. All you see are the new moms and the happy and healthy children.
How did you feel when you made the decision to transition to formula?
Oh man, LOADS OF GUILT, followed by feelings of empowerment. It was so liberating when I finally packed up all my breast pump parts in a bag and offered it to another expecting mom. The turning point for me was when I realized I was missing out on bonding with my son. I helped myself by keeping other like-minded moms in my circle. It's very easy to be swayed when you're in such a fragile, guilt-driven state. I had made two pretty solid new-mom friends and I'm grateful for this new friendship and shared experience.
Tell us about your feeding rituals.
My husband is the MVP. He does the late night shifts. Often times, Sonny wakes up between 4am and 6am for a feeding. Tyler is always there for those shifts because he knows that I need the sleep to function. I make sure I have a bottle measured out for him as I did when those bottles were full of breast milk. They usually snuggle and have a bottle in Sonny's nursery, eventually making it back to bed for another hour or two of sleep before work.
What's the best aspects of using a bottle?
With a bottle, everyone can pitch in. From my sister to our parents and aunts, the family had ample opportunity to bond and love him up. When I was exclusively breastfeeding, it's solely my responsibility. Coming home from the hospital was especially trying, with a healing C-section scar and a active, hangry little boy. He kicked my incision many times, while trying to get him in the football position to feed. He will hear about all of this when he's old enough.
How has bottle-feeding continued be a positive, empowering feeding experience?
Oh my gosh. The way his little finger grips onto mine when I finally get the bottle into his mouth is the best feeling in the world for me. We lock eyes and I'll throw on Rockabye Baby lullabies, sing some Adele to him, or tell him a silly story. I think the feeding experience is what you make it.
What kind of encouragement or advice would you give to a new mom struggling to figure out how to feed her baby?
Time is so precious. So go with your mama gut. If that baby is hungry, feed that baby! If you're nursing, maybe consider supplementing. Don't feel like you're not doing enough if your body isn't producing enough milk. And don't ever blame yourself! If you're tired and at wit’s end, ask for help. The saying, "it takes a village" can be used in so many ways, but especially when it comes to feeding your child. It's not just the mama's job.
Photography by Belle Savransky of Augusta Belle for Well Rounded.