FFF Friday: “Formula made it possible to continue breastfeeding…”

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.


Excuses, excuses. That’s all I’m good for lately. All I can say is that I have the utmost respect for all you full-time working moms out there. Keeping it all together with freelance/part time work was no biggie, but I’m full time temporarily and it is absolutely kicking my ass and taking names. Well, one name. Mine. I’m waving the white flag, and really, really want to return to only answering to bosses who I love and whose crap I don’t mind cleaning up.

Anyway – to get us back on track, here’s an incredible FFF Friday submission from Miriam, who blogs over at mommd.com‘s “Maternity Scrubs”. What makes me smile about this story is that the author found a way of feeding her baby which worked for her family, even though it took some creativity and open-mindedness to do so. Things do not need to be black and white, and it makes me sad to think that so many more women could find a more satisfactory and rewarding feeding experience if the experts didn’t insist on seeing the world like a giant checkerboard.

I mean, come on. If you’re gonna play a giant parlour game, play Giant Connect Four. Geesh.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

The FFF

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My FFF saga, begins, like so many others, with a non-latching baby in the hospital and a milk supply that just never came in. There were many of the vaunted “booby traps” along the way- a pediatric nurse practitioner who told me I should only pump 4 times per day (with a non-latching baby?), woefully inadequate LC support in the hospital, a postpartum nurse who warned me that if I tried too hard to breastfeed, I’d just wind up with post-partum depression. The first week was serious hell. I kept waiting and waiting for my milk to come in, and pumping the tiniest drops of colostrum, which changed to milk with no appreciable increase in volume over a few days. I had the worst hospital pump in the world, the Ameda Lact-E, which looked like a refugee from 1970. The night we came home from the hospital, my mom was pushing the baby on me to latch every 3 hours while I desperately pumped and syringe-fed drops of colostrum. It wasn’t enough (is it ever?) and my son was seriously dehydrated and lethargic by the time we got him to the pediatrician the next morning. We were told to supplement, and my poor little dude could barely stay awake to finish a whole ounce from an Enfamil nursette. We had to keep waking him up during the feed by taking off his clothes and blowing on him. I felt, like so many other moms, like a complete failure, like my attempts to breastfeed were selfish.

Still, I was determined to make it work. My family was in town and everyone except me kept feeding the baby, totally ignoring my “breastfeeding friendly” bottle-feeding techniques I found on the internet and was trying to enforce. One family member even showed me how “if you poke the nipple in again, you can get him to finish the bottle!” Bottle-feeding FAIL!

Somewhere around day 11, with the help of a saintly local IBCLC, I got a nipple shield and a decent latch going on a consistent basis and thought, ok, great! I’m nursing now! No more supplementing, no more pumping, let’s just do this! And I settled in to nurse. I thought things were going great! The little dude seemed happy and satisfied, there were drops of milk in the nipple shield whenever he came off the breast, and he didn’t look dehydrated or lethargic like he was the first few days before we started supplementing. I happily and proudly bundled him up to go to lactation group on Thursday and measure his intake on the scale. I forgot the pre-feed weight that day, so I never knew what he got. Something, however, struck my IBCLC as not quite right, and she told me that she’d like me to come see her on Sunday, after a weekend of nursing on demand.

She weighed the little dude, then sat me down in her office with a feeding pillow and a comfy chair. I got out my shield and began to nurse my son. She came back 30 minutes later to re-weigh him and check his intake- the scale reading hadn’t changed. At all. He’d gotten absolutely nothing in 30 minutes of nursing. So here we were, two weeks postpartum, with no detectable milk transfer from nursing and no pumping at all for the last 6 days, during which I’d felt no engorgement or buildup of milk. I started to cry. I’d been starving my son! My feelings of guilt and remorse and shame at failing to lactate and failing to see my son’s distress overwhelmed me. I’d stopped supplementing (which, come to think of it, was pretty stupid to do without consulting a health professional), and the little dude hadn’t lost weight, but hadn’t gained anything either. My nipple shield turned out to have been too big as well, so he couldn’t pull milk out effectively. I didn’t know that there weren’t just supposed to be drops in the shield, it was supposed to be FULL of milk.

My IBCLC brought out a Symphony pump, which managed to extract 10 ml of milk total. I cried again. I knew I had to keep feeding my little dude by any means necessary, but I was also determined to keep nursing going as long as possibly could. I bought fancy bottles that were supposed to eliminate nipple confusion. I changed my status with WIC to “partially breastfed” and stocked up the kitchen with formula. (The breastfeeding advocates at WIC, for what its worth, were incredibly supportive of my mixed feeding and continued, throughout the year, to supply lavish support and praise and help along with cans of formula and breastfeeding advice.) I rented a Symphony and pumped 8 times per day. That next week was my last week of maternity leave before I had to return to medical school with a 3-week old baby, but I devoted the whole week to getting my milk supply off the ground in any way I could. I ordered domperidone and fenugreek and blessed thistle and goats rue and did breast compressions during pumping and nursing. And it even worked a little! I was up to 15 ml, then 20 ml, then a full ounce, once I increased my pumping sessions from 15 to 20 minutes. My son was getting plenty of formula but still seemed interested in nursing whenever we had time, and I tried to nurse as often as I’d pump.

I LOVED nursing my son. His latch issues were resolved and I even stopped having to use a nipple shield. I’d come home from school and we’d cuddle up and nurse for a good hour or more and I felt like I finally got what all the cozy bonding stuff people talk about nursing was all about.

Formula gave me a very special gift- being able to nurse my son without worrying about being his only source of food. And every day, I got to feed him a bottle of breast milk that I’d made! Still, I think about those early days and I just feel exhausted. I blogged elsewhere about the craziness of taking an eating-every-two-hours infant to a medical school library. I’d nurse him, then pump while I mixed up and fed him a bottle of formula, then change him and put him to sleep, then study for an hour while he slept, then he’d wake up and we’d do it all over again. I couldn’t go anywhere without my Symphony pump, lanolin, breastmilk bags, cleaning wipes, and a cooler. I had a special rabbinical dispensation to turn my pump on on Shabbat. I pumped everywhere and all the time- in class, in lab, while studying at Starbucks, (always under a flowered nursing cover). I was bound and determined to keep it going, because I loved nursing, and whatever benefits there were to breastmilk and to nursing, I wanted my son to have them as long as I could do it, even though I never made more than ⅓ of his caloric needs per day.

Around 6 months, when the little dude started solids, I gradually cut back on pumping. I wanted to be able to go out for an afternoon without strapping a 7-pound pump to my back. I had a new goal now- I wasn’t even trying to produce any significant proportion of my son’s nutrition, I just wanted to keep nursing, at some level. And I knew, because my son was mostly bottle-fed, that I had to keep pumping to do it. I cut back to 3 or 4 pumping sessions per day, so I was making a 6 oz bottle every other day, which still felt significant to me. Meanwhile my son was thriving. He was growing into a curious, active, crawly, reachy, grabby litte guy who only had the patience to nurse in the early morning and at night, when he was sure not to miss anything exciting. We did baby-led solids and he fed himself every variety of yummy healthy food like a champ. At 9 months, when I dropped to two pumpings per day, the pumped milk collected to about two bottles per week. At 11 months, I gradually stopped pumping altogether. We still nurse early morning and at night, but not every day, and I’ll keep it up as long as he’s still interested.

As we transition from bottles of formula to cow’s milk in a sippy cup, I guess I will no longer qualify as an FFF, but my experiences with being a fearless formula feeding mom, exclusive pumping mom, and nursing mom, all at once, have given me insight into the worlds of all three modalities of babyfeeding. Formula made my baby grow healthy and strong and always have enough to eat. Formula also made it possible to continue breastfeeding, with the help of a pump and meds.

***

Ready to take the leap and share your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. I’ll be your best friend. For realz.

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 made it possible to continue breastfeeding…”

  1. This is fantastic and illustrates exactly why there needs to be more info, help and advice on mixed feeding as opposed to the all-or-nothing option we currently seem to be presented with.

  2. Great story. When we work with low-supply moms in our LC office, and the pre-post nursing weights (and then the pump) confirm the low supply, there are sometimes tears. While there may be gratitude for the availability of formula for their baby, there is often grief over the loss of “normal” breastfeeding. They just simply wanted it to work.
    We know that not every mom would be capable (emotionally or practically) of what this writer did – and not every baby is willing to continue to nurse with low supply – but some moms can and some babies will. It's nice to be able to offer options and sharing stories like this can very encouraging.

  3. Your saintly IBCLC sure seems aptly described!! What a difference from the IBCLCs I encountered, who not only treated combo-feeding with formula as the biggest booby trap you could fall into, but also treated pumping in any capacity as a booby trap itself, one that would make nursing impossible. I really wonder sometimes if the real issue with them was just women who work, because there is no way to avoid pumping if you work.
    (I totally get what you're saying, FFF, about the ebb and flow of being an independent contractor!)

    Had I not had the subsequent medical problems I did that killed nursing entirely, I might have eventually stumbled upon the truths you have discovered–that breastfeeding need not be an all-or-nothing thing. But I was made out as a 100% failure, when I was for weeks providing 100% breastmilk (just mostly via bottles, as my baby refused to nurse from birth onward). If that's not a booby trap, I don't know what is. I might have been able to do what you've done–I would have liked it, I think–but it was not to be.

    It's not all breastfeed or booby trap. Just as there are so many ways to raise a child, there are so many ways to feed one. And that is not just okay, it's powerful. It means women are not some faceless, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all subset of the population. It means that we MUST be respected as individuals–our diversity celebrated, not denigrated. It reflects our intelligence, our common sense, our creativity, our adaptability, and our resourcefulness.

    Great job, Miriam, for figuring out what worked best for you. We can all see it took a tremendous amount of time, effort, patience, and grit to do what it took to find the solutions that worked best for you. You are such a success story, and I hope that your story gets circulated around to as many lactation consultants and health care professionals as possible.

  4. Your saintly IBCLC sure seems aptly described!! What a difference from the IBCLCs I encountered, who not only treated combo-feeding with formula as the biggest booby trap you could fall into, but also treated pumping in any capacity as a booby trap itself, one that would make nursing impossible. I really wonder sometimes if the real issue with them was just women who work, because there is no way to avoid pumping if you work.
    (I totally get what you're saying, FFF, about the ebb and flow of being an independent contractor!)

    Had I not had the subsequent medical problems I did that killed nursing entirely, I might have eventually stumbled upon the truths you have discovered–that breastfeeding need not be an all-or-nothing thing. But I was made out as a 100% failure, when I was for weeks providing 100% breastmilk (just mostly via bottles, as my baby refused to nurse from birth onward). If that's not a booby trap, I don't know what is. I might have been able to do what you've done–I would have liked it, I think–but it was not to be.

    It's not all breastfeed or booby trap. Just as there are so many ways to raise a child, there are so many ways to feed one. And that is not just okay, it's powerful. It means women are not some faceless, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all subset of the population. It means that we MUST be respected as individuals–our diversity celebrated, not denigrated. It reflects our intelligence, our common sense, our creativity, our adaptability, and our resourcefulness.

    Great job, Miriam, for figuring out what worked best for you. We can all see it took a tremendous amount of time, effort, patience, and grit to do what it took to find the solutions that worked best for you. You are such a success story, and I hope that your story gets circulated around to as many lactation consultants and health care professionals as possible.

  5. I love this story – it actually gives me hope, as someone with low supply for a number of reasons, that I could do something like this with the next baby. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. So glad to see this blog! Wish I'd heard this when my kids were babies. I had breast reduction surgery about 4 years prior to having my first (who is now 9). I was told I'd have a 50-50 shot at being able to breast feed. Well, I couldn't. The milk was there (OMG the engorging!!!) but it wouldn't come out. I'd pump for an hour and get a mere couple of ounces. I cried constantly the first couple of weeks. Wracked with guilt, it didn't help that my sister in law was part Holstein and could have fed a small city with her breast milk. Finally my mom and my pediatrician convinced me that I wasn't ruining my baby's chance of college by using formula. We had an issue with asthma (genetic on both sides, though I can guarantee my MIL and my grandfather were breast fed themselves), but a tonsillectomy fixed those (haven't had an asthma attack in 7 years). I see my happy, healthy, intelligent, fit 9 year old (who reads on an 8th grade level, btw) and wish I could go back to reassure the new-mom me that all the pressure I felt was a load of crap.

    I KNOW I'm a great mom. My kids tell me that all the time. New moms – if you're reading this, you're probably in my situation 9 years ago. There are a lot of things to worry about with a new baby. Don't let this be one of them. I'm telling you from experience that your baby will be every bit as healthy and happy on formula.

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