Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They are also not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
I know a lot of you have “met” Lisa, the founder of “Bottle Babies”, through the FFF Facebook page – but you probably don’t know her story. Read on to discover how she evolved from feeling ashamed about her “failure” to breastfeed to being a strong, confident and supportive voice on the internet. And then go check out her “Bottle Babies” group on Facebook, because she – and it – are totally awesomesauce.
“Hi my name is Lisa and I am a formula feeder”
For long time I felt like I should be standing up and saying those words in front of a crowd like ‘Formula Feeders Anonymous’, a group of mothers who were ashamed of their burden on society for not providing what was ‘best’ for their children. My shame in not being able to breastfeed and feelings of being less of a mother came from many sources: From midwifes, lactation consultants, posters on the wall in the birthing room, strangers on the street and the whole of society who seemed to know ‘breast is best’ and had no problems in reminding me of that every time I pulled out a bottle. But the person who made me feel like a failure and who judged me the most was none other than myself.
From the time I was a little girl, I was told by my mother how she was ‘a cow’ and not only breastfed both my brother and I til we were over 12 months, but also had enough supply to contribute to the milk bank at the hospital.
When we were shopping together if she saw a sound sleeping baby in its pram she would say “that baby must be breastfeed – it is so content”
So when I feel pregnant I imagined myself sitting in my rocking chair, breastfeeding my happy, healthy and content breastfeed baby.
After 15 hours in labour and labelled as ‘Failure to Progress’ at 9cm dilated, with baby starting to go into distress, I went under the knife and my beautiful baby boy was born at 8am.
His daddy took him to meet the family while I was in recovery, but because of complications with the epidural, I was there for a really long time and by the time I came down to the ward I was exhausted. After everyone left in the late afternoon, my new little boy and I fell soundly asleep.
It wasn’t til the next morning that a midwife asked me how many feeds he had and I responded with “umm I haven’t fed him????” She of cause looked a little panicked but promptly whipped out one of my boobs, grabbed the baby and put his face next to my nipple. He looked at it and went back to sleep.
Over the next day in the hospital I was given 100 instructions on how to do it, why to do it and I had my nipples gabbed by more people then I had ever had in my life, all trying to get my little boy interested. He wasn’t. Every time they tried he would have a few sucks, scream and fall asleep, so every couple of hours I would tried putting him on for about 45 minutes until we were both exhausted, then hand expressed colostrum into a little bottle and give it to him with a syringe. Sitting in the hospital room watching all the other mothers breastfeeding while I feed my little baby with a syringe made me depressed – not only had I ‘Failed to Progress’ I had also ‘Failed to Breastfeed’
Some of the midwives were lovely but some were obviously frustrated with me, more then I was at myself and one in particular was determined to make it work. She told me to strip him down to only his nappy and ‘helped’ him stay awake by placing a cold wet cloth on him everytime he got a bit sleepy. But instead of attaching and sucking, this just made him scream. I felt like taking him, wrapping him up and running away but she stood over me for an hour doing this, with me crying while she exclaimed “he has to do this, he has to eat, everyone can do this if they try hard enough.”
After that, just two days after a dramatic birth, a c-section, baby blues and baby who wasn’t eating, I asked to be discharged and the hospital was just fine with that as they were very busy and I guess I was just taking up space.
At home I went through the motions of trying to get him on for 45 minutes, followed by hand express for 45 minutes, feed with small bottle, cry for an hour, time for another feed.
I saw lactation consultants who told me to keep trying and we would ‘get it’, I spoke on the phone to help lines who told me to keep trying and we would ‘get it’ and I spoke to doctors who told me to keep trying and we would ‘get it’.
The hand expressing lasted 1 week on my determination that one day we would ‘get it’, but with the support of my husband, who basically told me that it was unhealthy for baby and I to continue with this, I gave up on the idea that I would get him to latch on and I bought a breast pump. I expressed for the next two months, which was a little easier but still a long drawn out process. After two months my milk dried up.
In despair I stood in the formula isle of the supermarket and cried. I had no idea which formula to choose, I knew no one who formula feed and I couldn’t deal with the pressure from any health professionals if I was to call them and ask ‘which formula do I get him” I was much to embarrassed that I had failed at something that seemed so easy and natural for every mum I knew and that I hadn’t kept trying.
Through the tears I read some of the information on the tins and bought the one in the gold tin, the most expensive, to help my conscience just a little.
When I got home and made up the formula I cried again and as I feed him the tears kept falling.
He gulped down the lot and then slept for 5 hours. No tears from him at all and for the first time I saw content look on his face.
As the days past, I watched him get happier and more alert and even though I still grieved that he was not getting the ‘best’ I was starting to feel better too. My husband feed him alot and it left me free to do other things instead of spending 3 hours in a feeding process. I could brush my hair and teeth and take a shower!!!
Feeding him the formula in the privacy of our own home was fine – I only judged myself, but out in the world it seemed like everyone judged me.
When shopping, I would make up the bottle of formula around the corner before entering the mothers’ room in the hope that the other mothers’ breastfeeding their babies might think that it was expressed milk. One time in a mothers room I was sitting in a booth and a mother walked up to me and asked me to move cause she wanted to use the booth, I was only bottle feeding and I shouldn’t even be in the mother’s room. I went home and cried and didn’t go out for 2 weeks.
As my fat little health baby grew I began to realise that maybe the formula wasn’t that bad, it was keeping him alive, he was thriving, we were both happy and healthy and I was a good mum.
After doing alot of research about formula and discovering how many mums have similar feeding issues, I really started feel like I wasn’t alone.
As my confidence grew, I began to see that the way I feed my baby was my business and no one else’s. When people asked me why I wasn’t breastfeeding I told them “It wasn’t the right choice for us” I didn’t try and explain my whole story and try and excuse myself for failure…… because I didn’t feel like a failure anymore. This beautiful little boy loved me and our bond was so close – it didn’t matter how he was feed as long as he was feed.
When I had my second baby we did everything right and still he wouldn’t breastfeed, but this time at the hospital I had a midwife who wasn’t just fixated on making it work no matter what and we discovered that my milk ducts weren’t working as they should and the chance of me breastfeed was slim. I still expressed for a few weeks for my new little boy but when it was too much I had no hesitation in putting him on formula.
Every time I sit in my rocking chair, hold him close, feeding him his bottle and watch him drift off to sleep, I think to myself how grateful I am to have such a healthy, happy and content baby.
To all those mums out there who couldn’t breastfeed – remember this – no matter how you feed your baby – breast or bottle, the only persons opinion who matters is your babies, and if he or she is loved and nurtured and as long as you are doing the best you can, whatever your circumstances, then you are a perfect mother to your baby.
Have the urge to share your story? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.