Ahhh… breastfeeding. Natural, certainly, but not obvious. At least, that’s my personal opinion, and the opinion of many other moms, I know this from having read a lot about it. So yes, we, human women (and many other species) have been breastfeeding our children since the dawn of time… I’ll give you that. But, frankly, once you get into it, it’s not a piece of cake. When I was pregnant, I enjoyed reading about breastfeeding experiences, listening to podcasts, and learning about breastfeeding in general. I learned a lot of things, but I also got a little scared, and after a while I just boycotted all sources of information and thought, “Well, I’ll see what happens in due time.” Because – and if you “recognize” yourself in this category, don’t take it (too) wrong – I find that the Internet and breastfeeding information in general are full of “life stressors”, giving out worrying advice, all black and white ideas, all fixed concepts. “Never give a bottle, it will induce unwanted weaning”, “Never give a pacifier, it will create breast / pacifier confusion”, etc. etc. The truth is that every baby, every mom is unique. And that the mother-child couple together multiplies these conditions of uniqueness even more. We can’t compare one another. What works for us may not work at all for others, and vice versa. It is for all these reasons that I wanted to write this article, and tell you about my very open, very personal mixed breastfeeding situation, which did not follow the advice of the guides, but which nevertheless worked for me. And also, to remind you that nothing is ever final and that everything can be corrected.
Above all, breastfeeding or not breastfeeding does not make you a good or bad mother.
Breastfeeding is ideal, guaranteed and scientifically proven. Breast milk is full of good things for your baby, helping him/her develop properly and boosting his/her immune system. The closeness between you and him/her during feedings secretes hormones that are beneficial to both of you. But breastfeeding isn’t the ONLY way to release these hormones, which also occur during cuddling, soothing moments and playtime with baby.
Breastfeeding or not breastfeeding does not make you a bad mother. And how long you breastfeed is not a measure of your ability to be a mother. If for any reason you cannot or do not wish to breastfeed, it is your right. And it is better to give your child a bottle of formula and be well, serene, happy, and share sweet moments with your baby… than to breastfeed while feeling forced, stressed, sore, exhausted, etc. Same for your baby who loves a happy and serene mommy and to share happy and sweet moments during his/her meals. So, first of all, let’s get rid of the guilt! So everything that follows in this article is intended – I hope – to inspire and reassure moms who want to give their milk to their baby. But if you don’t want to or cannot, that’s okay <3.
My mixed breastfeeding: the very beginning in the maternity ward
I gave birth on December 7, 2020, by scheduled Caesarean section. If you would like to know more (about how it happened, or why a caesarean section, etc.), I invite you to read my birthing story. I had, in my birth plan for the maternity ward, asked that if everything went well at the birth, that I be given the opportunity to try to put the baby to the breast as soon as she came out, during the procedure. Indeed, after the caesarean section, I knew that because of the Covid I would be separated from my baby and my partner for 2 hours. So I didn’t want to miss the first moments of awakening for skin-to-skin contact, a good dose of oxytocin between my baby and me, and ideally, a first breastfeeding to get my breastfeeding off to a good start.
This is one of the results of my research during my pregnancy. I had read that to start breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact was mandatory, otherwise it was “fucked” (basically). As if you missed stepping into the stirrup. The reality is that it’s not all black and white. It can be in between. I only had my baby for a few minutes during the C-section (maybe 3 minutes) for reasons you can read about in my birthing story. Then we were separated for 3 hours.
However, she managed to take the breast as soon as we were reunited without any problem. She had also taken it a little bit during the caesarean section, but only for a few seconds. This did not affect the start of breastfeeding. First preconceived idea denied. And when you dig a little deeper, you realize that stories of mothers separated from their babies at birth for X or Y reasons (need for baby care in neonatology for example) and for whom breastfeeding went very well are common. So, NO STRESS! This is what I would have liked to have been told before giving birth.
Another thing I had been told was “if you have a C-section, you might not get any milk”. Again, wrong. So, yes, a C-section can delay the milk supply a little bit. However, here again, my milk arrived at the end of the 4th postnatal day. Which is only one more day VS a vaginal birth.
But indeed, we don’t have a lot of milk at the beginning, I can tell you that. But that, once again, is everyone. Cesareanized mothers and those who give birth vaginally. And at first, babies tend to be ALL-TIME at the breast. Even if there’s not much coming out of it. In fact, I’ve been told, it’s a natural reflex of the baby to initiate breastfeeding: he or she ” places an order for milk”. The first days after birth, we “only” have colostrum (I put it in quotation marks, because this milk is even nicknamed the “golden liquid” since it is so RICH for our baby). The colostrum is an ultra concentrated milk, ultra thick, a little yellowish and there is very little, just a few drops … Don’t worry, it’s enough for your baby who has a stomach the size of a pea at birth. But what is baby doing, eating like this for several hours in a row, if there are only a few drops of colostrum? He or she places his or her order. He or she is sending a message to your brain, “Here, Mommy, here’s how much milk you have to produce to feed me.”
I must confess that I was exhausted during this milk order. Baby sucked, then cried, because no milk, then sucked again, then cried. In the meantime, I had to change a million diapers, etc., and I had all the fatigue of birth and sleepless nights behind me… hard. On top of that, I was starting to develop serious cracks in my nipples. Ahhh… the famous ones I had heard so much about. I can confirm it to you, they quickly point the tip of their nose. But it’s NORMAL, especially for a first baby, you don’t know which position is the right one, you learn… and it hurts quickly.
So very quickly I couldn’t leave my little one at the breast anymore. And here too, if I had followed what I had read, it was not good. “Don’t stop putting baby to the breast or else breastfeeding won’t start well,” blah blah blah blah blah. However, on the advice of the maternity staff, I did stop. Or almost. They suggested that I give her a little bit of formula ” by the cup “, that is to say, in a tiny glass, so that she can calm down and sleep a little (so that I can also rest). Whoa, magic! Indeed, my little marvel filled with food and satisfied slept well. And so, we continued this for a few days, maybe 4 or 5 days, giving her very small doses of formula, and I, at the same time, put her to the breast as long as possible. But not much, though… because I was in a lot of pain. Maybe I put her on for a total of 30 minutes a day, in small feeds. The most important thing was that she would eat well at the end of the day, not the survival of my breastfeeding. AND FOR ALL… I did get my milk supply, 4 days later :).
Coming home and continuing my mixed breastfeeding
So we continued with this formula cup / very little at the breast for me to heal for a few days. After 6 days, the pediatrician came at home to make an assessment of our first days together 3. Everything was going great. Élise was gaining weight well and we were all happy and soothed. We explained to her that I would like to breastfeed but that I needed to heal. We also asked her if it was still possible.
I thank her for her kindness and her open-mindedness, she’ s a great pediatrician. She told me that “OF COURSE” it is always possible, and to continue as we did and to breastfeed as much as possible, but without it hurting me. I had already bought a breast pump before the birth, so I could pump the milk that she wouldn’t drink at the breast. And she made me feel completely guilt-free about supplementing with formula, and told me that the most important thing was to feel good. And that already, if she drank some of my milk, it was great and better than not at all.
Another piece of advice she gave us was to switch… to the bottle. Oh my God, it scared me, even though I trusted her. I had heard and read so many discouraging things about the bottle. “NEVER give a bottle, it will cause the end of your breastfeeding”. Yet, she, however, supported me to the contrary. She explained to me that a baby, once the first few days had passed and who takes the breast well (which was my case), would probably know the difference between a bottle and the breast and would be able to master both techniques. She just advised me to try to breastfeed first, even 1min per breast, and then bottle-feed afterwards. That way I would be able to express my milk and then bottle-feed it. And daddy too. And thus, started my mixed breastfeeding.
Setting the pace of mixed breastfeeding
Then indeed, not without apprehension, we started to give small bottles to Élise. So, first the breast, then the bottle. I would pump all my milk and give it to her (or Dad, who loved to have a role in her breastfeeding and so did I!). Day by day I was able to breastfeed more and more because I was healing quite nicely. Thank you lanolin cream, to be put on before and after each feeding.
I must admit that at the beginning I didn’t have the necessary quantities for Élise, so I supplemented with formula milk. But, so what? Maybe she had 50% my milk, 50% formula. Better than nothing. And then, many babies are even fed only with formula and are doing very well. What else did I do? I stimulated to the maximum, that is to say: I put Élise to the breast as much as possible, and I pumped my milk after each feeding to stimulate my lactation to the maximum. About 8 times a day (every 3 hours during the day and then every 4 hours at night). Soon I had more milk (maybe after 2 weeks, it was a lot of work, but it was worth it).
And proof that everything is always reversible: for the sake of “speed” sometimes, I tended not to give her the breast at all. Because it was faster, especially at night, to give just a bottle (since I also had to pump, the sessions became super long…). After a few days, and weeks, doing that… I confess that I had a little confusion. Élise was getting more and more used to the bottle, and was taking the breast with increasing difficulty. She was getting angry at the breast and was crying…
So I quickly understood that I had to stop being lazy and put her to the breast as much as possible. I also consulted a lactation consultant at the hospital in Malmö to check my baby’s position and ask her a few questions. She confirmed to me (thanks again to an OPEN person, thanks Sweden) that anything was possible, and that there were no “rules”. And that everything was always recoverable.
So I regained my self-confidence, I took a deep breath before each feeding, I spoke to my little Élise gently and kindly and I put her back to the breast before each bottle. Well, I can tell you, she understood very well and started suckling again as if we had never stopped!
Where I’m at right now
My mixed breastfeeding is going really well. Now, especially in the morning, after a good (not always, haha) night’s sleep, I have plenty of milk and Élise, at night and in the morning, is exclusively breastfed. I love it! Then, after each feeding, I pump the rest of my milk, so I “store” bottles for the rest of the day. When, during a feeding, she doesn’t get enough at the breast (often the case after the first 2 feedings of the day), I supplement with bottles of my milk (or daddy does).
We hardly need to supplement with formula any more. Maybe once in a while when I decide to drink a little glass or two, and then I pump my milk and throw it away. #coolmom YOLO!
So I replace this milk with formula. Or if some days she is hungrier than others, I sometimes make her a bottle of formula at the end of the day when my stocks are dry, but otherwise, I would say that she drinks more than 90% of my milk.
It’s a situation that certainly takes time, but it suits me very well on maternity leave. In addition, you should know that even if you are working, the law in some countries allows you to take breaks to express your milk at work. Then after a while you become a pro at pumping, believe me! There are special bras to keep your hands free, and everything! In 15 minutes it’s done! #superwomen
What I would like for the future
I would like to hold this situation for 6 months. Then after that, we’ll see. Afterwards, it’s true that this is still demanding, because mixed breastfeeding, when you express your milk, it’s a bit of a double work: at the breast, then you express, then at the bottle. Instead of giving the breast and then that’s it.
But for us, and for Élise, it works well. She always has enough to eat, she sleeps well, and she’s a happy and fulfilled baby (and so am I!).
I hope this article has helped and reassured you about breastfeeding. The final word? Listen to yourself and don’t stress yourself too much. Every person is different, every mother-child couple is different. Find YOUR own way to feed your baby, and don’t ever tell yourself that things are irreversible. You can test things, set a pace, change it, and take time to tune in with your little one. Good luck! And I wish you lots of great milk moments (whether it’s your milk or the milk from the carton)!