Putting down the bottleLos Angeles Post-Examiner

When to Put Down the Bottle

A few weeks ago, when Dante and I were playing at the park, I noticed a young woman peacefully breastfeeding her infant under the modesty of a blanket. The wriggling bundle of pink suggested a female presence. She nursed calmly, bonding with her baby. As I shooed Dante away from getting inappropriately involved, I felt a small twinge of bittersweet. I never got to nurse my baby.

Every now and then, a conversation comes up where I must explain why I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son. There are two reasons, both of which are far more common than one would expect. The first reason is rather simple: after giving birth, my milk didn’t come in as expected. We were told it would take a few days for Dante and I to get the hang of nursing. We were barely home one day when I realized that Dante hadn’t urinated for twenty-four hours. I called our pediatrician, who we hadn’t even met yet, and he told us to go right back to the hospital and check in at the E.R.

I really didn’t need to be pummeled with any more stress. After a four day opera of early labor, childbirth, mounting post-partum anxiety and depression, and scrambling around to get everything ready before our almost-premature baby was brought home, the last thing I wanted to do was go back to the hospital.

At four days old, Dante had to have an I.V. drip so he wouldn’t become dangerously dehydrated. After feeding him formula, he seemed to perk up, and whatever levels they were testing for showed improvement. Nevertheless, they admitted both of us overnight again, and had a staff breastfeeding expert consult with me to find out what was going on.

I was told that my milk hadn’t fully come in, which is normal but still needed to happen soon. We were sent home with lots of formula, which was to be supplemented until I could breastfeed. We also picked up a breast pump in hopes that that would help things move along. Sadly, no.

Nothing worked. It was recommended that I go see lactation specialists near me (there are none near me, and I sure as hell wasn’t driving anywhere that wasn’t absolutely necessary). There are all kinds of FDA unfriendly herbs that one can take, which also seemed absurd considering that they would end up in my son’s system, not just mine.

So I pumped. I ended up being slightly successful, but the amount of time it took detracted from my precious opportunities to sleep, and it was only enough for one bottle every other day. Eventually, I gave up, because after two visits to our pediatrician it was clear that Dante was thriving.

Dante: “That’s one way to do it” (Photo by Virginia Petrucci)

Dante: “That’s one way to do it”
(Photo by Virginia Petrucci)

After about a month, when Dante could claim some kind of real age, my post-partum anxiety had mounted so aggressively that I knew I needed help. I called my psychiatrist and was put on the same medication I had been on before I was pregnant. It took a while, but my mind eventually returned to what I have known as normal.

Even if I had been able to successfully breastfeed for those first few weeks, I would’ve had to stop because of the medication I needed to take. That would’ve been much harder: breaking a budding bond and habit so soon could’ve been disastrous for both Dante and I. The way I saw it, it was more important to be mentally and emotionally sound while I was home alone taking care of my infant son than it was to feed him “correctly.” He has been on formula ever since and has always been well within the range of healthy for weight and height.

Sure, there’s a host of unsavory material to be found in infant formula. But there is also a sturdy helping of vitamins. His not having the natural immunity boosters found in breast milk really hasn’t detracted from his development. And the bonus of being on the bottle? He’s already on the bottle. Many moms have trouble transitioning from breast to bottle-feeding. His eating habits have made it more convenient for others to feed him, which was a tremendous help during those early months.

The only thing I regret — well, I suppose I don’t regret it, because everything happened due to no fault of my own — is that I never knew the primal magic of breastfeeding. Nevertheless, my son and I are joined at the hip, and nothing has gotten in the way of our bonding.

So to those who propagate the ignorant idea that only selfish and uninformed mothers feed their babies formula, I have only this to say: good luck with teething!

About the author

Virginia Petrucci

Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor's degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante. Contact the author.

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