Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing.
I’m nearly six months pregnant with my second child, but this time around, I might as well be a lost balloon, winding its bewildered way up around some telephone line or high-rise balcony. The first time I was pregnant, I had not only a birth plan, but a breastfeeding plan too, and I was freakishly and fortunately able to adhere to both. I nursed my son for 19 months (even longer than my careful plan entailed), at which point he could only be pried from my breast by a two-day trip to California, the longest we’d ever been apart, during which he forgot to care where his bread was buttered, so to speak, as long as someone gave him bread (milk in a bottle). My breastfeeding plan really consisted of one thing, and one thing only: no formula. This time around, formula doesn’t sound so bad.
Before this second pregnancy and before I weaned my first kid, the idea of buying and using formula was of zero interest to me. In fact, during my son’s second year on the boob, I found myself constantly, albeit silently, defending what some would call “extended breastfeeding” since it had gone on for longer than the anecdotally expected year. I would read articles by profoundly intelligent feminist writers about how breastfeeding wasn’t even that great; that formula-fed kids were just as capable and smart; that the champions of breastfeeding were in fact bullies, not advocates.
Their understandable defensiveness and anger steamed off the screen, but I had trouble then summoning much sympathy. Why did the affirmation of one woman’s choice require the diminishment of another’s, I wondered? Who had shamed them for using formula? Certainly not me, I told myself! I was just a fellow new mother, marching anxiously along the same paths, trying to keep my own breastfeeding discreet, both physically and psychologically – no bragging, no boobs falling out, promise!
But that wasn’t the whole truth. There was something I kept mostly to myself: I really didn’t want to use formula. Sure, I might not have been side-eyeing bottle feeders while boastfully providing my own toddler an ample supply of supposedly-IQ-building liquid gold, but I was harboring some major wariness. I worried formula would constipate him or would make his sweet poop smell terribly un-baby like (like REAL poop); I worried that I’d have to start shelling out extra money I wasn’t sure we had for noursishment that I could have provided for free the whole time; and, scariest of all, I worried he would love it, and it would mean the end of our fairly easy nursing relationship, prompting my brave and tireless milk ducts to abandon ship. My unspoken reluctance to even try formula on my kid was, I see now, a tacit rejection.
Now, over three years later, I’m too distracted by a toddler and a career transition to spend time making baby plans, beyond figuring out where the hell my son will end up when I have to head to the hospital. (There are really fun and distracting vending machines in Labor & Delivery, right?) As I approach having a second child, I aspire to totally different things, like maintaining my sanity, keeping both my children alive and reasonably content, and remembering to feed myself breakfast (or asking my husband to run – not walk – to the bagel store as soon as it opens at 6 am). Most importantly, I want to give myself, and all the formula-users with whom I once refused to join ranks, a freaking break.
I’ve spent the past year watching friends of mine, my own sister included, nurse and use formula, without fanfare and with great ease. And, it turns out formula isn’t even that expensive, particularly if you aren’t using it exclusively. It might even match the cost of the numerous postnatal massages I needed to sort out my hunched-over-the-pump shoulder knots!
Speaking of pumping, it also turns out the thought of doing that the way I did my first go-around sounds more nauseating than my first trimester (which was a puking wonderland). When my son was around five months old and home with a babysitter, I remember tapping my foot against the leather banquette of an audition waiting room (I’m an actor) as I made a mental tally of how long I’d been away from home and how much freezer milk might get used or, worse, wasted by my extended absence and whether that would mean I’d have to pump extra, given the fact that I might have a callback later in the week. It was stupidly stressful.
This time around, I’m lucky to have the kind of work schedule that will mostly allow me to pop in and out of our apartment to nurse. But when it’s time for me to audition again or take a night out, I now know what I can do, without adverse affects, and what I want to do: tell the babysitter to fill the bottle with some Earth’s Best and think only of how much ice cream is left for me in the freezer when I get back.