Recently, I wrestled with deciding to switch to formula or not to feed my second baby, and I had to remind myself of a lesson I often teach. I have trained many corporate leaders in the art of decision-making. A lesson I try to hammer home is this: making the decision is more valuable than the decision being right. No decision will ever be 100% “right.” There will always be tradeoffs. Some benefits will be sacrificed and some costs absorbed.
There will inevitably be at least one person who says “I told you so” when something doesn’t go perfectly. But you, and those you serve, will be better off because you will have taken a step forward and opened the door to learn something. The alternative is staying stuck, feeling overwhelmed, and learning nothing.
My First Round of Breastfeeding
With our first son I intended to breastfeed exclusively for the first year. I lasted three days before I lost it. I felt trapped in my house. Like I couldn’t go anywhere without the baby or else he would go hungry. I couldn’t nap when visitors offered to hold the baby because I was worried I would miss early feeding cues and get a bad latch. I was aware of every minute that passed, becoming impatient when my husband would take too long to cook dinner, thinking I might miss my window to eat in peace.
The Noisiness of Others’ Advice
Breastfeeding Instagram accounts and well-meaning friends sent me tips, and I tried all of them. Every position, every latch hack, every lactation cookie. They sent words of encouragement, reminding me how magical breastmilk is, that my body is designed for this and that I could do it. All around me, I heard different versions of “You should do it” and “You can do it”, while I paid no attention to the small voice inside me asking “Do you want to do it?”
Permission to Quit
Late one night, I was texting with a friend about how hard breastfeeding was. She told me what a game-changer switching to formula was for her. She started with a little supplement here and there but noticed such a dramatic shift in her mood and life that by three months her baby was exclusively formula-fed. The unmistakable happiness and relief that my friend radiated in that text conversation was the permission I needed to give myself in deciding to switch to formula.
I started supplementing regularly, and by four months, my son was exclusively formula fed. My husband started taking the 1 AM feeding shift, and by 5 months our son was sleeping through the night. I was able to get back into running, starting every morning with 30 minutes to myself, outside, doing what I love. On our first international flight, I was relieved to not have to google strategies for storing breastmilk on planes. My son turned out to be a healthy baby and he was happy. I was happy.
Second Round of Breastfeeding
Though I had first-hand evidence that feeding babies formula is not the end of the world, I nonetheless put a healthy dose of pressure on myself to breastfeed our daughter. I’m a person who wants to achieve anything achievable. I was determined that with a few tweaks to my strategy, I could be more successful this time. I again ignored the more important question: “Do I want to?”
Deciding to Switch to Formula
The same patterns started repeating themselves. I noticed how consistently on edge I was, and how short I got with my husband at times. I couldn’t enjoy visits from friends because my mind was always wondering if it was feeding time. When it was sunny during feeding and raining in a free window I made because it was preventing me from getting time outside.
I held out until day five this time before I cracked. As an achiever, deciding to switch to formula was a harder decision than it needed to be. I dreaded reactions from others to my plan to stop breastfeeding entirely at four months. But letting go of others’ perceptions of me and my decisions is a lesson I have to continually learn in motherhood and all aspects of my life. But for now, I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned through this journey. From the first time I made this decision, and for all, I will continue to learn from having made it again.