FFF Friday: “I didn’t feel guilty about her being on formula- more that I couldn’t be there for her…”

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.
Dana’s story is refreshing in that from the very start, she had a guilt-free approach to infant feeding. I see this less and less these days, and I think that’s a shame – because the physical discomfort Dana went through would have been compounded by emotional duress if she hadn’t had such a good outlook – and no new mom should be suffering like that. Of course a mother should feel more concerned about not being able to be with her child than she should about not feeding him her milk – but so many of us are brainwashed into not seeing things this way. (Not that we should feel “guilty” about being sick, or much of anything for that matter, but you get my point.)
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I didn’t really pay attention to all the “breast is best” hype while I was pregnant – I figured I would try breastfeeding and if it didn’t work, formula is also great.  My doctor never really pushed breastfeeding on me during my pregnancy visits – she mentioned a few times that whatever breastmilk I could give the baby would be great, but that’s about it.  And the pediatrician I chose for my baby was also supportive in my decision to just see what worked best.  It wasn’t until I was in the hospital that I saw a preference for breastfeeding in that the nurses and lactation consultants really tried to push it on me.  From the beginning my daughter couldn’t latch on – my biggest concern was that I was already large-breasted and every time my baby was shoved on to my breast by the nurses, I felt like she couldn’t breathe since her nose was covered.  And I had flat nipples, which was also making it difficult for her to latch.  The nurses tried to get me use a nipple shield, but I really hated it.  Towards the end of that first day of her life, it was obvious my baby was hungry and wasn’t getting the nutrition she needed, so I strongly suggested it was time for formula – luckily, my hospital didn’t push back on me too much.  However, I was still willing to try breastfeeding, so the lactation consultant taught me how to pump and the feeding plan we came up with was that I would supplement with formula until my milk came in, then I would exclusively breastfeed through pumping and bottles.  My plan was to try this for at least a month, but no longer than 3 months since I had made the decision already to not pump when I went back to work.
The lacation consultant had my husband and I rent a hospital-grade pump for a month – she said my milk wouldn’t come in properly using a regular one.  It wasn’t that expensive so we had no problem with this.  She also told me I would have to pump about every 2 hours or my milk wouldn’t come in properly.  Again, I was OK with this – pumping didn’t seem that bad to me since I could catch up on my TV shows while doing it.  At first things were going well – my milk came in that first night I was home from the hospital, so right away we were able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter through bottles.  We had a good system going and I came to actually prefer feeding my daughter through the bottle as I could see what she was consuming and put her on a feeding schedule right away – she was sleeping 5-hour stretches at night within 2 weeks of her life!  However, since I was told in the hospital that pumping is not the same as the baby feeding directly from the breast, I should still pump every 3 hours or my milk production would suffer – so even though my baby was sleeping, I still had to get up to pump. 
During week 2 things started to go wrong – my right breast started to feel very sore one night after pumping, but I thought it was because my milk was fully in now and I just needed to pump a little longer than I had been to completely drain it.  Later that night I woke up in a huge amount of pain – both my breasts were extremely hot and engorged and the rest of my body was very achy.  I took my temperatue and it was 103 degrees.  I went to see my Dr. first thing the next morning and it was discovered I had mastitis in both breasts.  When you read the literature about breastfeeding it mentions that you could develop mastitis, but that’s pretty much all it says – what it doesn’t say is that mastitis makes you feel like you have the most awful flu imaginable and that you will be completely useless.  I was put on antibiotics right away, but was told I had to continue to pump in order to get the infection out.  It took every ounce of my will to get myself out of bed every few hours to pump.  My husband and sister were amazing – they took over my baby’s feedings and all her other needs, but I felt so useless that I couldn’t be there for her.  The Dr. said she could continue to have my breastmilk even on my meds, but she developed diarrhea so we quickly switched her back to formula until I was over my illness.  I didn’t feel guilty about her being on formula – more that I couldn’t be there for her at all.
After 2 days of being on my meds I still felt awful, so I went back to the Dr. and she helped my to drain my breasts through massage – something that I would have to continue doing before and after pumping to really move the infection out.  I started to feel better after that so I thought I was on the mend, until 2 days later my fever and body achiness came back with a vengeance – I had constant chills and could barely move, I’ve never felt so sick in my life.  I ended up in the hospital about 5 days after I first got sick – I’m so grateful that I did, or I’m not sure when I would have gotten better.  The nurses in the emergency room asked what I prefered to do regarding breastfeeding – something I was never asked by the nurses in the maternity ward – and I said I just wanted to get better so I thought it’d be best to stop altogether.  This decision was never questioned by either of the nurses I saw – in fact, one of them had worked in OB/GYN for 10 years prior to emergency medicine and she taught me the best way to dry up my milk fast.  I was given a very powerful antiobiotic intravenously that almost immediately knocked out the infection and I was given fluids for a couple of hours until my fever finally dipped below 100.  Within two days I felt 100% better and was able to bond with my baby again.
After speaking with the nurses in the hospital about what could have caused all this, they thought it was because I was over-producing, which caused a back-up, and I was never going to be able to pump all the milk out in each pumping session.  While many women’s breastfeeding issues have to do with underproducing, I discovered there are also issues with producing too much! 
Maybe for a short while I felt guilty that breastfeeding didn’t work out, but I quickly got over that when I saw how well my baby was thriving – her pediatrician was so pleased with her weight gain, she started sleeping through the night at 8 weeks, she has met all of her developmental milestones so far, and she is so happy and well-adjusted.  Plus formula-feeding gives both my husband and I a chance to bond with her over feeding, and I had more time to be with her and play with her when I no longer had to pump.
I’m happy to share my story and I hope it helps with other new moms who may have struggled with breastfeeding – no one should feel guilty for feeding their baby formula.  I believe that what’s best for the baby when it comes to feeding is what the parent decides.
FFF is a big supporter of PDE – Public Displays of Emotion. Purge your soul to an intimate audience of random strangers on the Internet by sending your infant feeding story over to formulafeeders@gmail.com. It’s more cathartic than it sounds. I promise.

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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5 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I didn’t feel guilty about her being on formula- more that I couldn’t be there for her…”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    “I believe that what's best for the baby when it comes to feeding is what the parent decides.”

    I pink puffy heart this line. <3

  2. Thanks for sharing. I think mastitis was one of the biggest fears I had about breastfeeding…

    I often wonder what women did before the invention of formula and antibiotics when they got that infection…so thankful we live in a time where we have so many options available to us!

  3. Its often recommended for breastfeeding women to NOT take decongestants like Sudafed and mucinex, so… i'm assuming that's part of the protocol. Also, birth control pills with estrogen affect supply.

    I'm not a dr or anything, just going on what i've been told NOT to take.

  4. I never knew mastitis could be that severe! Yikes. Sounds like you have made the best decisions for your family to thrive. Thanks for sharing!

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