FFF Friday: “Formula saved my baby’s life.”

This week’s FFF Friday comes from Rhonda, who struggled with supply issues, and later on, a health emergency that complicated her feeding choices. I sincerely hope that after such a rough start, it will be smooth sailing for Rhonda and her son from here on out.

I know that all the latest studies say that breastfeeding saves infant lives and that breastfeeding is the only way to go, but in my personal experience, formula saved my baby’s life.

My little boy was born in May 2010, and I had entered into the birth with the intention of giving breastfeeding a good try at the very least. I had felt the usual pressure from the lactavists to breastfeed, and I discussed my feelings about it with my doctor around 34 weeks; we came to the agreement that I would give it a try for a few weeks even and if it just wasn’t working out, then I’d switch to formula. I felt good about the agreement, I felt good about my doctor being behind my decision, and my fears about my lack of colostrum production prior to my son’s birth were calmed by my friends and prenatal instructor insisting that my lack of leakage meant nothing in the grand scheme of things and that after delivery production would increase.

He was born in the wee hours of the morning via c-section, as his shoulders were way too wide for my pelvis; I knew this would delay the milk production a little bit but I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t going to be producing nearly enough to even begin to satisfy his hungry little tummy. Born at 9lbs 1oz he is a big boy and eats like a horse.

Less than 48 hours later he had lost over a pound, and developed what would be later diagnosed as dehydration, even though every time he started mouthing or rooting I would put him to nurse, and we were on our way to the nearest Intensive Care Nursery 2 hours away because our little town doesn’t have a pediatrician or an ICN unit. The first thing the ICN nurse asked me was if it was alright to give him formula. Through my tears from the sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t producing enough for him, I said of course it was alright. The little guy ate 48oz of formula in the space of four hours! My poor little baby was starving and it took me a lot of tears and a lot of days to stop blaming myself for that.

Over the course of the next week, through a combo of IV fluids, breastfeeding what little I was producing, pumping, and topping up with formula, we were able to get him back to health; he’s approaching two weeks old at the time of writing this, although I’m still not producing enough milk to only feed him myself and am going to give Domperidone a try for a month. If it doesn’t do the trick then I’m just going to switch to formula. If that happens I will miss nursing him, but I refuse to let myself feel guilty anymore for something that my body is just not up to doing. My mother and sister both had supply issues with breastfeeding; I don’t know if these things run in the family but in my case it seems to have done so.

During the week we spent at the hospital, his great latch went downhill and I finally brought it up with the lactation consultant I had been working with and she suggested that all the interventions and suggestions that I had been trying affected his latch. I didn’t see hide nor hair of her or any of the nurses who were trying to help us out with the latch over the last few days of our stay, and his latch went back to being great. After being home it’s now better than ever, I’m just not producing enough. Hopefully the Domperidone will help my production.

With the next baby I intend to give breastfeeding another try. Hopefully it’ll be a smaller baby with a less ravenous tummy, but regardless I will try it again. We will continue to supplement until I feel comfortable with my production, and I will feel no shame in making sure that my baby is getting the nutrition that he needs, be it from me, formula, or a combination of both.

Rhonda recently sent me an update to her story:

I ended up developing a massive DVT (deep vein thrombosis) blood clot in my leg that went from my groin down past my knee. I’m on a massive amount of Warfarin to thin my blood; most people need under 10 mg to get things normalized… I’m on 14mg. Needless to say I’ve stopped breastfeeding, and am exclusively formula feeding; and I have a happy baby. At his 6 week appointment, he had climbed back up from his lowest weight of 7.5lbs to 11lbs, 2oz. That was two weeks ago; he’s two months old in a few days and he’s already wearing size 6 month sleepers because he’s so long. Sometimes as I’m holding him and feeding him I still miss breastfeeding him, but at his size and the amount he eats, there is no way I would have been able to produce enough for him, even being on meds to get production up. After I stopped nursing him I had one day where my breasts were tender and I needed to pump to relive the pressure. One day. That’s it; and then I dried up. I cried a little bit, even though I knew I wasn’t going to be able to nurse him while being on my medication, but as my husband, and mom, and doctor have told me over and over again, maybe the next baby won’t be so big and won’t have such a huge appetite, and I can try it again. If it doesn’t work better for the next baby, if he or she still is hungry after nursing for 40 minutes, then I will know to give a formula supplement. The next time though, I will do it without any guilt at all.


Have a story about breastfeeding, formula feeding, or some combination of both that you want to get off your chest? (Get it? Off your chest? Ha.) Send it my way – formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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9 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “Formula saved my baby’s life.”

  1. FFF, I'm wondering if you've noticed this too: it seems to me that a pretty large majority of the stories where breastfeeding wasn't satisfying a hungry baby involve baby boys in particular. I have a son also, and I feel like he too was simply ravenous as a newborn. At 15 months old, he's still ravenous. I feel like I spend most of each day giving him snacks. He wants to eat all the time, even if I try feeding him high-calorie, high-protein snacks and meals. I think he was just a big eater from the start, and still is– that's just how his little body works. Anyway, it seems to me that I hear a LOT of stories of newborn boys (but almost never girls) who are also huge eaters from the start. It doesn't match with what we're always told about how supply will meet demand. Honestly, my son would have needed to be on the boob 24 hours a day when he was tiny in order to be satisfied (sure, we also had poor flow and inverted/flat nipples to contend with also), and even then I doubt he would have been. Anyway, I know you won't have answers for this, exactly, but I was just wondering if you had also noticed that troubles with breastfeeding seem to possibly affect boy babies more than girl babies.

  2. Actually I had a baby girl with a ravenous appetite. She still does at 2 years old and had always been at the 25-50 percentile in weight regardless of how much she eats. When she was born she was 8 lbs. 14 oz. I breastfed her one hour after she was born and even then she was very hungry. I kept telling the nurses and LC's and they insisted she would not be hungry for 2 days. Nope, this kid was hungry and I didn't have the milk to sustain her. I gave her formula and breastmilk and after 5 days she still dropped about 12% of her weight.
    Your story sounds a bit like mine in the beginning. I have a combo of medical problems that gives me low supply one is my thyroid. I hope your medication works out and I wish you the best. All I can say to a new mother is keep up the good work and trust your instincts.

  3. I was wondering the same thing Kathleen. My son has and always has had a huge appetite. But I'm sure there are girls like Michelle's daughter. I was also wondering if it's easier to breastfeed girls. Most mothers that I've talked to had a harder time breastfeeding boys and an easier time with girls.

    Thanks for sharing your story! Health problems can really complicate breastfeeding. I have hypothyroid and even though it was under control before I had him, after it went out of control causing milk supply problems. I missed not being able to BF, but I refuse to feel guilt anymore and the next time if it happens. Always trust your instincts and good luck!

  4. I hope things have cleared up in the thrombosis department. That is so scary.

    The “end” of my supply was just like yours–hardly noticeable. That helped me to realize how low my supply really was; it was as if my body didn't know it was supposed to be making milk to begin with.

  5. It's good for me to read stories about others with low supply to see that those things that didn't feel right really weren't even though I was reading everywhere that it was ok and true low supply was so rare. I have said since the article came out on BF saving lives that I wonder how many lives formula has saved. I imagine far more than the hypothetical 900 (or whatever the number is- since I'm sure that will be what my post gets jumped on for).

  6. I don't know if gender is a factor, but my daughter was a terrible breast-feeder! She never opened her mouth wide enough to get a good latch and she sucked on her own tongue instead of on me.
    Combine that with an UTI and a nursing strike (both at 2.5 months old!!), and the plain fact that she hated being cradled, nursing was a nightmare. I'm not sure you'd be able to tell if boys are generally worse at nursing than girls because there are so many other factors at play. Boys do tend to be a bit larger, on average, so maybe that gives them the bigger appetite and more chance that Mom won't have enough milk?

    Rhonda, you are an great Mom! I hope your medical issues get resolved soon. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  7. FFF – Love your blog! Great writing! I am one of the lucky ones where breastfeeding worked out but your blog has helped me to be more sensitive to friends that struggled with FF guilt – thankyou for that!

    Rhonda – So so sorry about the blood clot! I've had several DVT's myself and now have to take warafin/coumadin for life. After 14yrs, I finally have a home testing kit.

    I wanted to mention that warafin/coumadin is safe to take while breastfeeding. This medication interacts with the body's ability to absorb and use vitamin K and (according to my doctors) the molecules are too big to pass into breastmilk. I have breastfed 3 kids (over the last 10 years) and have had no problems….with the exception that my kids are not quite as smart as Alan's (his didn't have coumadin)…..just kidding :).

    Like you, I have also had to take very high doses at times.
    ** Note: Warafin/coumadin is NOT safe during pregnancy.** (I had to use injectable Lovenox or heparin during all 3 pregnancies.)

    NO pressure, Rhonda! I only wanted to point this out because FFF's intro says: “medication which was incompatible with breastfeeding.” You should NOT feel guilty for switching to formula; you have been through a lot and it sounds like supply is the main problem. However, if relactation is something you are considering, then I wanted to assure you that taking warafin/coumadin while breastfeeding should not be a problem.
    Best of Luck!

  8. @Emily,

    Thanks for clarifying. I apologize for using the word “incompatible” – you are correct that it wasn't appropriate. I did find plenty of research endorsing your point, that warfarin is safe up to 12mg – but as Rhona was on 14mg, I wonder if her physicians advised against it? There is some controversy in the pediatric community over Hale's and other's studies of medication coming through breastmilk, as there haven't been as many widespread, long-term studies as they would like to feel safe telling patients there's no risk involved. It's a tricky thing (post coming soon about this actually), but as some people feel strongly about following medical advice, I try not to question anyone's decisions unless they ask me directly.

    I'm going to change the intro though, b/c I wouldn't want to propagate false info, and as you say, these drugs are deemed “compatible” with breastfeeding. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! 🙂

    That said – while 'incompatible' was a stupid word choice, I still think that in the end, the result was the same – Rhonda's medications/experience made breastfeeding something she saw as contradictory to her and her child's health. Not that you're saying that or trying to make her doubt her choice – I seriously appreciate your sharing this info and the sensitive way you did it – but I just want to clarify for other readers that this is where I stand on the issue.

  9. Thanks FFF!
    Yes, following your doctor's advice on this issue is certainly advisable. I only wanted to mention my experience if it would be helpful to Rhonda (or others taking warafin for that matter). I have no 'lactavist' agenda.
    As far as your stance on this, I completely agree!

    …and Rhonda, I failed to mention that you are one tough woman! When I had my first blood clot (pre-children), I cried daily, sometimes hourly, because I was sure I was dying. I can't imagine throwing in the emotional rollercoaster that is new mommy-hood! I admire you! Hang in there!

    …and Rhonda (and other moms for that matter), I, in no way, want to downplay your personal experience and grief associated with FF/BF. However, in the grand scheme of things, the most important thing we can do is connect with our children. When they are grown, all we can hope for is that we have made enough of a connection that our kids will want to come home for the holidays or week-ends. I haven't seen any research on the subject, but I'm certain FF/BF has NOTHING to do with this. 🙂

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