Changing the way we
think about feeding babies.
Let's move beyond "best" together.
Feeding your baby is no longer a clear cut choice of breastfeeding or bottle feeding. 82% of birthing people start out breastfeeding. Many of them had to supplement in the hospital for medical reasons. We pump, we work, we have complex lives. We deserve a complex approach to infant feeding.
I am the lactation consultant who couldn’t feed her kid.
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but this felt true to me once. I was a lactation consultant long before I was a mother. I was a postpartum doula before that, and a nanny before that. I had probably assisted in feeding over a hundred babies in the decade before I made and met my own. My daughter is bright, hilarious, beautiful and driven as hell. She was also born not breathing, and as a result has cerebral palsy (a motor disability) and that impacts how she eats. No amount of training, experience or will power on my end was going to change that.
This kind of birth event is rare, but as I had learned in the previous decade, feeding challenges are not. Despite spending my days with people crying over every possible feeding complication, I expected my experience to be different. I had the know-how to do it right. I knew how to prevent early engorgement, how to hand-express colostrum, I had AFFIRMATIONS, for goodness’ sake. I was prepared. I could latch a piranha on a watermelon, I’m that good at my job.
There I was with two doulas, a midwife, an OBGYN and an awesome partner at my side and I still had no control of where I ended up. Which for me, was the NICU and unable to feed my baby. My head was swimming with hormones and confusion as my daughter’s neonatologist discussed feeding tubes and outcomes. I just stared at the TPN—weird and miraculous complete nutrition that looks like flubber—- Total Perenteral Nutrition, A personalized blend of water, energy, fat vitamins and minerals that is made to go directly into the veins rather than being digested. It is a miracle of science that I was blissfully unaware of until that moment. that was injected into my daughter’s blood stream via her heart. I turned to my sister , who had boarded a plane hours after my daughter was born and said, “I am supposed to be a feeding expert, and I can’t feed her.”
Of course, I did feed her. I fed her via a feeding tube, and then via bottles. I fed her expressed breastmilk for 9 months and formula after that. I nursed her at the breast successfully exactly once. It was a tiny miracle that I will hold onto forever. It wasn’t a miracle because it was breastfeeding. It was a miracle because it was one tiny slice of the imagined reality I thought I would get.
I worked very hard on breastfeeding with some of the most amazing body workers, speech therapists, doctors and lactation consultants I know. We revised her tongue tie, used a supplementary nursing system, tried shields, tried everything. She was genuinely only able to drink bottle. Finally I let breastfeeding go. I let it go. In the spirit of doing everything I could for her health, I pumped like every good NICU parent is told to. I, the formula positive, choice focused lactation consultant, forgot everything I believed about family well being and risk benefits. I was so focused on doing anything I could for her health that I did what I had never imagined I would do and exclusively pumped for nine months. I pumped through a suicidal mood disorder, through a colonoscopy, through a grueling schedule of my kid’s appointments. I pumped and pumped and pumped until I was so sick from mastitis and colitis from treating the mastitis that I was in a diaper due to a torn rectum from her birth and excruciating pain. Then I let the pumping go, too.
Letting go was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am so proud. I am also proud that I tried. I am proud that I pumped for so long. I am proud that I survived PTSD, a suicidal thoughts postpartum mood disorder, and all my grief to become a badass queer Latina mom with a badass family and a badass disabled kid.
Excerpt from Victoria’s upcoming book:
Feed The Baby: an inclusive guide to
nursing, bottle feeding and everything in between.