Jackie’s Journey #5: The Battle over Birth and Feeding

  • Natural versus Epidural
  • Birthing Pool versus Hospital BedMother's battling
  • Bottle versus Breast
  • Formula versus Breast Milk
  • And on and on and on…

The terror in Jaws is nothing compared to the verbal and emotional slaughter involved in fights with friends and family over how you will deliver and feed your infant. Seriously, blood in the water would be more fun than these conversations. Great armies of child raising experts seem to think that you’re out to screw up your kid before you can even push her out. (And they must be right: they’ve authored best selling books!)

However, the reality is that many of these decisions are out of your control. From how you deliver…

I wanted natural childbirth but due to preeclampsia had an emergency c-section.

I wanted an epidural but the baby came too fast.

I wanted to give birth in a birthing center but we found out we’re having multiples and no one will take us.

…to how you feed…

I was militant about breastfeeding for the entire first year. I practically had “No Bottles Allowed” tattooed across my chest. But my preemie daughter was taken directly to the NICU and needed special feedings. Once she was released from the hospital, I tried to force her to breastfeed only but found that she was much happier with a combination of breast and bottle feedings. I was disappointed at first, but splitting the time between breast and bottle feedings made the breast feedings feel more intimate and special. Plus, my husband got some quality bonding time by feeding her, too.

I was so exhausted from labor and had such terrible baby blues that each breastfeeding became more and more frustrating. He had trouble latching on and then, when he did, I felt like he was sucking the life out of me. Using the pump was no better. As I became more angry and agitated, he starting sleeping less and became increasingly fussy. I dreaded feeding him and sometimes didn’t even want to pick him up. My husband tried to console me but we would only end up fighting. The switch to formula saved our family. We were all happier and healthier for it.

I’m a working mom and decided to bottle feed formula from the beginning to make it an easier adjustment for us all when I went back to work. But when I was holding my son after birth, he just found my boob and started sucking. We both enjoyed the experience so much that I decided to breastfeed as well as pump so he could have my breast milk when I was at work.

…there’s no way to know what’s going to work for you and your family until the baby arrives.

My friend Jenn* was so upset that her little girl’s birth and first feeding didn’t go as planned that she spent the first few weeks of her baby’s life feeling guilty and angry. She had trouble seeing the baby without thinking about everything that had gone “wrong” and how her baby’s life was “ruined.”  Not only did this perspective put additional stress on her and her partner but it delayed the bonding and enjoyment she could have gotten out of the first days of her daughter’s life. Luckily, she had a great support system to help her recognize that, in reality, nothing had gone “wrong” and no one’s life was “ruined.” She and the baby were healthy and the baby, at least, was happy. Jenn’s expectations (along with some pretty strong hormones) blinded her to what was most important – that she was the healthy mom of a joyful infant. Once she let go of her guilt and anger, she began enjoying being a new mom and created a strong bond with her gorgeous daughter.

I think that we make plans regarding birth and feeding to help us feel in control of a situation that’s pretty scary and outside the realm of our control. We need The Plan. It’s our guiding light in a sea of darkness – life and death are inextricably linked so when we’re having babies, we’re fantastically close to the beauty of creating new life but also frighteningly close to death and the realization of our own mortality. In the end, you do whatever keeps you and your babies safe and healthy, and that doesn’t always follow an expected plan. Yet, because we’ve spent so much time making and honing our plans, not following them feels like a failure and can negatively impact our early interactions with our newborns.

Think about changing the words “Birth Plan” to “Birth Idea” and “breast/bottle feeding or die” to “breast/bottle feeding option” in your mind.  Consider reading about alternative ways that you don’t expect to deliver or feed, just so you are informed in case you have to change plans quickly. (The book From the Hips by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris has great, non-judgmental information on all of the options available.) That way, it might be easier to keep a more positive perspective when every expectation isn’t fulfilled, and create a healthier and happier new home for you family.

While there are a lot of ideas on what’s “best” in terms of delivery and feeding, the truth is that what works best for you and your family is what’s best. Mozart and MLK, Ghandi and Catherine the Great, Shakira and Shakespeare and Siddhārtha – all born and raised in different circumstances, all turned out just fine.

(*Name changed)

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