Breast or bottle, milk or formula … after all giving birth to baby boys within six months of each other, four New Jersey moms quickly found that there’s plenty of room at the table for everyone to belly up.
“Having such close friends go through feeding issues at the same time really opened my eyes to all the ways to get the job done,” says Jessica Brohm, mom of 19-month-old Wesley. Let’s kick off this toast to nourishment nirvana with her story …
While Brohm was expecting, she was determined to do everything she could to breastfeed her baby. She researched common nursing challenges and chatted with fellow mamas about low milk supply and latching. “My plan of attack was to learn everything that other mothers had faced, so that when the time came, I would have the knowledge to know what to do,” she says.
Despite all she did to prepare, Brohm faced one hurdle she didn’t expect: flat nipples. Her son, Wesley, latched immediately after he was born but struggled to latch again. “As soon as anyone from the hospital tried to help, they would say, ‘Oh, you have flat nipples,’ with a tone like ‘this isn’t going to work out for you,’” Brohm recalls.
The nurses tried every tool in their bag of tricks—a pump to get the colostrum flowing, applying ice to get her nipples to protrude. After hours of poking and prodding, Brohm was nearly in tears. “I think I got through it because I mentally told myself … ‘This is how you be a mother; sometimes it’s gonna suck,’” she says. As long as the doctors thought her son was getting enough to eat, she refused to try formula.
The nipple shield was a constant at her feeding sessions with Wesley for almost two months. By then, his mouth muscles had developed more (and she admits her nipples had probably stretched a bit), so he could latch on his own. “That was a beautiful day,” she shares. “Nursing has been a breeze since then.”
Originally, Brohm had planned to breastfeed for six months (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics), but she’s still going strong more than a year later. “My motivation was simple: It became so easy, why would I stop?” These days, Wesley is munching on solid foods, too, but the duo still makes time to nurse at least twice a day.
After reading countless books and taking every class the hospital had to offer, first-time mama Courtney Fox clearly understood the benefits of breast milk. But she told herself repeatedly: If it doesn’t work out, I won’t make myself feel bad about it.
Fortunately, her son, Anderson (or Anders, as she calls him), latched straight away. “Once I discovered it was fully within my control to provide him with only breast milk, nothing was going to stop me,” she says. “What I didn’t expect was how scary breastfeeding would be. … I was solely responsible for providing my son with all of his nutrition—which suddenly felt much different from pregnancy, even though it was exactly the same thing.”
The first week at home was rough. Anders cried—a lot—and Fox was sure it was because of hunger. She confirmed her suspicions one night when, after a long nursing session, she offered him a bottle with a couple ounces of expressed milk. He gulped it down and fell asleep content.
“I wasn’t sure if I was having supply issues or if his small tongue-tie was preventing him from successfully getting enough,” says Fox. Whatever the reason, her solution was to exclusively pump.
Looking back, she admits she became a bit too fixated on the numbers, tracking how much she expressed and how much her son ate. She kept to a strict schedule.
When Anders was sleeping through the night at 6 weeks old, she was still waking up at 2 a.m. to pump. Some days she’d pump as much as 60 ounces. When she headed back to work, she had to cut down the hours she spent hooked up to a breast pump, but she still managed to stock the freezer with enough milk to last until Anders’s first birthday (even after she stopped pumping when he was 10 months old).
Lori Battaglia, mom of one, knew from the get-go that she’d be relying on infant formula to feed her baby boy. The decision wasn’t one that was up for much discussion because it came down to a simple fact: A medication she was taking could affect the composition of her milk and, as a result, her newborn’s health.
It was clear the best choice for her baby, Patrick, was formula, an excellent alternative to mama-made sustenance, packed with everything his growing body needed. So that’s what he ate from day one.
“We have full trust in our doctor, so as long as she continued to tell us our son was doing well, we didn’t listen to strangers’ comments,” says Battaglia.
But even ignoring the naysayers didn’t make their feeding journey an entirely smooth ride. There were still unexpected bumps along the way. “It took a lot longer to feed and burp him,” she explains. As Patrick’s feedings stretched, taking up more and more time, Battaglia began to feel like his meals were running together, leaving the pair little time to catch any shuteye in between.
Through it all, she still tries to savor these memorable mealtimes. “I enjoy holding him and feeding him his bottle because someday soon he will be too big to want me to do it.”
For mom of two, Rae Quinones, both breast milk and formula came with benefits worth reaping. With breast milk, she could give her son, Jack, tailor-made meals to boost his immunity and development. On the other hand, formula allowed her husband and mother to feed and bond with the baby—something they all wanted.
“I formula-fed my first son, Ian, [who’s] 9 years old now. I was a young mom then and honestly hadn’t done much research on the benefits of breast milk,” she admits. Ian never got a drop of breast milk, but Quinones wanted things to be different for Jack.
She planned on returning to work and felt self-conscious about her breasts, so she resolved to pump instead. She planned to supplement with formula only until her milk supply came in—but then, it never quite did.
“Here I was trying my hardest to give him breast milk, and I was barely getting any,” she shares. Quinones tried every tactic she could. She pumped every two to three hours for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. She took goat’s rue and brewer’s yeast. She ate a lot of oatmeal. She tried “power pumping” (pumping 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off over the course of an hour), changing the size of the flanges, taking hot showers and snuggling with Jack prior to pumping. But nothing worked. Her supply dwindled to a few drops.
“I would just sit and cry. I mean, I knew that he wasn’t going hungry because I was supplementing, but I really wanted the breast milk to outweigh—and eventually replace—the amount of formula he was getting,” she says.
Soon Jack was on a formula-only diet, but Quinones is proud of the breast milk she was able to produce. “Even when we had to switch to formula exclusively, I loved holding him and cuddling with him. It was a time that we could just sit and relax together.”
Although the members of this fabulous foursome have a lot in common—that’s what made them friends in the first place—they all had to settle on an approach to feeding their babes that worked for them, their families and their lifestyles.
“We’re all different people, so it came as no surprise to me that our experiences would be different,” says Fox. “Now, to look at our sons and watch them grow up together reminds me of how far we’ve all come.”
Battaglia, the only one in the group to forgo breast milk entirely, says it’s the contrast in their stories that she found most valuable. “It made me trust my instincts more because everyone’s experiences were so different that it was hard to compare them.”
These sisters in motherhood supported one another’s decisions, offered advice when asked and comfort when needed.“At the end of the day, we were all successful,” says Quinones. “We all have happy, healthy baby boys.”And there’s simply nothing to debate about that.