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Going into our pregnancy, my wife and I were dead set on breastfeeding. We’d heard all the benefits and platitudes from blogs, books, doctors’ office literature, and well-meaning friends and family. We’d seen the growing enthusiasm for “natural” and local products and the growing feeding challenges faced by those in the developing world. We felt all that pressure and were absolutely planning on breastfeeding our children. Until the reality of the situation changed things completely.
Once the boys arrived — yes, boys, as in 2 — we knew things would be different than we’d expected. We still intended to breastfeed, but during the hospital stay things got difficult. First, due to the surgery, my wife was confined to a bed for the first day and a half of our stay, so we couldn’t go to the breastfeeding classes they offered. A lactation consultant visited once a day, but we found this to not be very helpful. Second, the boys had arrived a month early, weighing in at about 5 pounds, and dropped a bit of weight on the first day. The doctors and nurses had them on a close watch for weight loss to ensure they were growing okay.
As is the case with many preemies, getting them to latch and work to get the breastmilk was a challenge, and pumping was a slow go. On the first night, one of the boys crossed the threshold on sugar levels and had to be taken to the NICU. Though no one directly forced us, we realized this was a good time to reassess our feeding options and add formula. We continued to pump and use what we could but began supplementing to ensure the boys were getting enough calories. Thankfully, this worked exceptionally well and after another day, he was able to rejoin us in the room.
At one point later in our hospital stay, our favorite nurse confided in us that this was a common occurrence, especially among children that arrive early. Many see a similarly rapid improvement after a night in the NICU where they decide that fed — not necessarily breast — is actually best. Our pediatrician later told us that in order to produce enough calories for the 2 boys, my wife would have to consume a Michael Phelps-ian calorie count — up to 4,000 a day! Obviously, breastfeeding alone wasn’t going to work for us. So, we began a combination of pumping and formula feeding.
After a week or so at home, I could tell this strategy was taking a toll on my wife. She still wanted to breastfeed for some meals because of the bonding benefits we had read about and the closer tie between mother and child that supposedly resulted. However, these sessions were exasperating as we struggled with getting the boys to latch and take enough before getting frustrated. We learned that “natural bonding” isn’t great if you and the baby are frustrated and upset the whole time. So we sought help.
After some research, we found several lactation groups in the area and decided to attend a meeting nearby. This meetup was immensely helpful, but not in the intended way. Instead of getting support and advice, or — what would have been best — empathy for the situation from others who’d worked through it, my wife ended up feeling criticized and judged for supplementing at all. We knew this group wasn’t right for us and decided to make our own decisions based on what we felt was best for our family going forward. It was a valuable lesson that has applied to much of how we’ve chosen to raise them since.
After a few more weeks, even the pumping was becoming too much hassle for the benefit we felt we were getting. Countless nights of pumping at 2 AM (and plans changed to accommodate pumping), combined with decreased production, led us to go exclusively with formula. Time is a luxury you don’t often get with twins, and so we gladly traded for the convenience. Eventually, we found a system that worked for us and the huge amount of formula the quickly growing boys consumed.
At first, we were worried about the implications of going all-formula. Would they grow enough? Would they develop right? Would we still be able to build a strong bond with them? All those concerns turned out to be needless. The boys grew steadily and tripled their birth weight in 6 months, a measure doctors look for in premature babies. They only got one minor cold right after starting daycare and have been the picture of perfect health since. They have stayed on track with language and motor skills development, too. Our bond with them, like any parent with their child, is incredibly strong and I can’t imagine how it could be stronger. The amount of love and time spent together matters, not the amount of skin contact.
We may not have intended to formula feed our children, but as circumstances changed, we realized adapting was more important than sticking to a plan. We discovered that we had to do what was best for our family and our circumstances, not what a book or others in different situations or with different values told us. Breast is best for some families, but fed is best for all. It’s up to you to discover what works best for you. Don’t listen to everyone else; chart your own path and find what makes you happy and healthy.
Tyler Lund is the editor of Dad on the Run.
Note: Plum Organics formula is designed for healthy, full-term infants. We recommend consulting your doctor if you have any questions about introducing formula to your child.