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‘Breast Not the Best?’: A Mom’s Nursing Journey From Breastfeeding to Formula

Breastfeeding Week: This is a story of a mom who wanted to breastfeed a lot longer than she could.

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In my early days of pregnancy, I signed up for an intense breastfeeding class online. I researched all the best ways to ensure my milk supply would come in quickly after delivery.

I equipped myself with nursing bras, bought nipple butter for the early days of soreness, and even splurged on a fancy imported feeding pillow.

In the third trimester, my husband and I went 'paed-dating' — my term for doing test consultations with different paediatricians nearby to ensure they matched our needs and parenting goals.

The top one on this list? They had to be breastfeeding-friendly.
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And just like a fairytale, our first date was the only one we needed.

Like any good Indian male paediatrician, this one is married to a gynaecologist, so of course, when we walked into their quintessential mom & pop clinic, the staff assumed I was there to see her.

They looked at me as if I had forgotten my baby was still on the inside (‘mom brain’ you see?), but people working in a gynaecologist’s clinic know better than to argue with a woman in her third trimester.

This clinic seemed promising with its 'breast is best' posters, WHO endorsements for exclusive breastfeeding and informative handouts on breastfeeding guidelines.

The doctor passed our interview, and my husband and I walked out knowing we had found 'The One'.
Breastfeeding Week: This is a story of a mom who wanted to breastfeed a lot longer than she could.

Our hunt for the perfect paediatrician for our child began even before she was born.

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

I Stopped Breastfeeding...

Fast-forward to a year later. Soon after getting back to work from an extended maternity leave, I stopped breastfeeding.

This, despite an employer who allowed me to work from home for however long I needed to, and if I did need to go into the office, there was a clean and quiet lactation room I could use.

Now, this isn’t a story about a working mom who had liberated herself from the ‘breast is best’ ideology. This is, unfortunately, the story of a mom who wanted to breastfeed a lot longer than she could.

I didn’t stop because breastfeeding is too hard (which, don’t get me wrong, it is). I breastfed my daughter despite being diagnosed with COVID when she was two weeks old.

This was April 2021— the peak of the wave that brought news of death to your literal doorstep. Two weeks after a C-section, in the throes of post-partum that is isolating enough without being trapped in a room with a presumably sick premature infant, despite a sickness that left me literally breathless (as if sleepless wasn’t enough).

But this is not the story of a heroic breastfeeding journey.

So what made me stop when I was back at work? Simple. My milk supply dried up.

Thanks to a philosophy I learned the hard way — Breast is not best. Hell, even fed is not best.

What is best for a mom to continue to feed her child however she wants, is support.

And if the support wavers, so does your ability to persist through the opaque and intangible process that breastfeeding can be, especially when external stressors of work pressure, mom guilt, and the balancing act all start attacking your supply.

My supply didn’t dry up overnight. It started to reduce slowly when I switched to the bottle.

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Pumping Was Not for Me...

Pumping breast milk is great, it just wasn’t for me. I had found comfort in the rhythm of feeding on demand, the convenience of the side-lying position, and not having to sterilize bottles and fret over how much she fed.

In contrast, pumping felt too rigorous.

Pump when the baby feeds to maintain supply. Baby sleeping through the night? It’s a phase! You can’t stop the night pumps.

No matter what the pumping blogs said, alarms on my phone just didn’t wake me up as well as my daughter’s sweet cry for milk used to.

And what they say is true — the more you pump, the more milk you make. You reduce the pumping, and 'Mother Dairy' shuts her shop.

You must wonder why I switched to the bottle when I already knew most of this before. Remember the paediatrician story? Like every fairytale, this one, too, was too good to be true.

It all boils down to regular consultation with him when my baby was 3 months and 9 days old. Malhaar, my baby, was experiencing reflux. The doctor's findings: Failure to thrive.

You don’t need to research that term to understand what it means. He didn’t mince his words:

"She isn’t gaining weight like she should. It’s most likely a milk supply issue. This is serious. Start formula."
Breastfeeding Week: This is a story of a mom who wanted to breastfeed a lot longer than she could.

'My milk supply dried up. I missed nursing my baby.'

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

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He wasn’t very receptive to a counter-argument.

In theory, what he was saying couldn’t be true. At 4.7 kg, Malhaar had more than quadrupled her birth weight at 3 months old (she was born at 1.09 kg), and she was meeting all the other indicators of good health.

And yet, all my research at this point was worthless. A doctor had just told a mom she had failed at helping her child thrive. My husband and I left that day split in our minds.

We had strongly believed my milk supply was enough.

Yet, how do you measure what you cannot see? How do you convince yourself that it must be enough, when “thriving” is the thing at stake? How do you put instinct over medical opinion?

And so, I started pumping. She was still being fed my milk, but now we could see exactly how much she was drinking. We had been right all along: my milk was enough. In fact, it was more than enough.

I now had a freezer stash of breastmilk bags. But the pumping life wasn’t for me.

To me, nursing had felt like a warm hug from my favourite person at 3 am on a lonely night. In comparison, pumping felt sterile and mechanical.

I remember falling asleep mid-session on a very hot night and standing over the sink the next morning, pouring the bottle’s contents down the drain. Standing there, crying over spilled milk.

I missed nursing my baby. And soon, I began to skip pumping sessions. Before I knew it, the freezer stash had depleted, and our formula bills were on the rise.
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It Is All About Embracing the Nursing Journey

Malhaar thrived anyway. Formula is a great alternative to breastmilk, as most mothers already know.

But, this was never about the breastmilk. It was about a nursing journey I was prepared for and cherished.

This was never about the breastmilk, the doctor echoed months later, when he casually admitted he had missed adjusting Malhaar’s age for prematurity in his logs, which were then wrongly comparing her with someone who had five extra weeks of growing inside the womb.

That reflux? Developmental. Stayed on for more than a year until it went away on its own.

Sitting behind that wall of pro-breastfeeding posters was, to my surprise, an imposter.
Breastfeeding Week: This is a story of a mom who wanted to breastfeed a lot longer than she could.

'What is best for a mom to continue to feed her child however she wants, is support.'

(Photo: Vibhushita Singh/The Quint)

It’s true that breast is not best or that Fed is better. What is best, really, is support.

That mom who couldn’t breastfeed her infant, or that mom who didn’t want to.

That mom who cried in pain due to engorgement, or the one who took every galactagogue she could.

That mom embarrassed at her leaking breasts, and the one who watches the drops collect in her pump bottles.

The mom who just wanted to drink one night, or the one who needed to take her meds.

That mom who loves to breastfeed her toddler but society has decided it’s time to stop.

That mom who rubbed neem paste on her breasts because people told her it was “high time."

They didn’t need a table comparing pros and cons of formula and breast milk. What they need is support. And not the kind a fancy nursing bra provides.

(Akanksha Kapoor is a mom on a mission to build a parent-child attunement program, currently in stealth mode. Previously, she has worked as a journalist and a public health professional. You can find her on Instagram @akkapoor26 and on Twitter @akankshakapoor.)

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