When DJ was born, he spent the first six days of his life in the NICU. Being separated from him had a devastating impact on my milk supply. I told myself I would be fine if we needed to formula feed, though I was eventually able to get to a place where my supply was great. In fact, I was able to freeze something like 120 oz. of additional breast milk while keeping DJ fed and happy.
Then my supply started to dip and I had to start pulling from the frozen milk supplies. I pulled out all the stops: lactation herbs and teas, gluten-free brewer's yeast to make snack bites and cookies, increasing my hydration through both water and Body Armor, supply-enhancing drink mix added to milk at night, warm showers, massaging my breasts, skin-to-skin with DJ, power pumping sessions. Truly, I did it all and it paid off. I was able to increase my supply enough to get through each day, but never had any milk leftover to re-stock my freezer supply.
Then my supply dipped again. I tried all the old tricks again. It wasn't working. Then the formula shortage started and my frozen milk supply kept getting smaller and smaller. Then DJ started refusing to drink the previously-frozen milk, making that supply all but useless.
Last night, after putting feeding DJ and putting him to bed, I pumped and got less than a bottle's worth. Shortly afterward, DJ started fussing in his sleep and I started to panic because I knew if he woke up hungry I didn't have enough milk for a bottle and my breasts were empty. My anxiety got so bad that I suddenly felt nauseated and had to vomit. That's when I knew I had to do something.
When my supply was even lower today, I started to really grapple with the reality that I was going to need to supplement with hard-to-find formula. Upon accepting that, I felt a mixture of emotions. I started to feel all sorts of guilt that I couldn't breastfeed DJ for his first full year, but I also felt proud that I made it almost five months after such a rocky start. I felt relieved that I would know he was getting enough to eat, but also increasingly nervous that we wouldn't be able to find formula.
Luckily, we had three small sample containers of Enfamil formula that we'd held onto just in case we needed it. I made DJ his first formula bottle and was feeling pretty okay about it—until Kevin started to actually feed DJ.
It was clear that DJ was not happy with the formula. He turned his head, whined, and resisted taking it entirely. I felt awful. I felt like I had failed my baby. I cried, then I cried some more. DJ had a clear preference for the taste of my breastmilk and I was failing him by giving him formula, or so I thought. Then I posted in my bumper group (people who all had babies due around the same time DJ was due). I got lots of reassurance from other parents and started to feel a little better. I kept repeating "fed is best" to myself.
Finally, DJ took almost the entire bottle of formula. I breathed a sigh of relief. I reminded myself again that fed is best. I pumped some breastmilk to use later tonight (along with what I had pumped earlier in the day) and pre-made two more bottles of formula for later.
I won't try to pretend that I'm suddenly feeling great about supplementing with formula after all that. It's so much easier to tell another mom that she's doing the absolute right thing by making sure her baby is fed and happy, but it's another thing entirely to feel like you're failing your own baby.
I'd carried such high hopes that I would be able to exclusively breastfeed DJ for at least a year. I wanted to continue that bond with him for as long as possible. Accepting that we're going to join the ranks of other parents desperately searching for formula while I continue to pump for as long as I can is sobering. But then I'm able to snuggle this sweet baby and I'm reminded that my bond with him doesn't require breastfeeding. Neither does his health and happiness.
Fed is truly best and I'm working to remind myself of that at every feeding moving forward. Whether it's breastmilk, formula, or some combination, the most important thing is that DJ is happy and healthy.
If you're going through a similar struggle, know you aren't alone. We receive so many conflicting messages about caring for our babies that it sometimes feels like we can't do it right no matter what. Part of the reason I was so determined to breastfeed is that I was pushed so hard to by the hospital where I delivered and the lactation consultants I saw afterward. While I know they were trying to be helpful, they made me feel like I absolutely had to figure out how to breastfeed effectively and it was more stressful than anything.
We've all heard it before, but we really are all doing our best. That looks different for everyone, but that doesn't make it any less valid.