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.
When discussing breastfeeding “failure”, we hear a lot about who’s at fault. It’s the fault of the formula company for tempting women with insidious marketing. The fault of the doctors for being too quick to supplement. The fault of the mother for not doing her homework; for accepting medical interventions; for not trying hard enough.
If you read through the FFF Friday archives, however, it seems the fault lies more in seldom-mentioned places. Lactation consultants who refuse to see the mother as more than a pair of lactating (or non-lactating, as the case may be) breasts; dogmatic and often incorrect advice doled out over the internet; a disenfranchised society that makes it virtually impossible for women to have the social, emotional, and physical support necessary to overcome severe breastfeeding impediments.
In FFF Wendy’s story, she speaks of feeling guilt and anger. The guilt is understandable given the current climate of breastfeeding promotion, but she has no reason to feel guilty. She does have reason to feel angry. Stories like this exemplify the insult of superfluous studies that waste research dollars which could be better spent on finding solutions to real, physical breastfeeding problems. It’s why so many of us feel abandoned by the medical establishment which convinces us of the importance of breastfeeding and then ignores the fact that our bodies are not machines, and “natural” processes don’t always happen naturally. And as she explains below, it’s why providing parents with evidence-based, unbiased advice on the practicalities of formula feeding is essential.
Wendy’s story is why this blog needs to exist, and why all of you – as a support system – are so valuable. As long as women are falling through the cracks in the system, we need to be there to catch them; remind them that they are great mothers; and reassure them they are not alone.
Happy Friday, fearless ones.
When I was pregnant I never thought twice about NOT breastfeeding, of course I was going to breastfeed, no question. Everyone I know does. I am a stepmom to my husband’s two kids from a previous marriage and he has shared with me that their mother did not BF them, much to his disappointment, because she just simply didn’t want to. Both of my stepkids have suffered mightily with asthma and ear infections out the wazoo and my stepson at age 8 still has a speech articulation disorder that is a direct result of his many ear infections. My husband and I always kind of had this attitude that all this is pretty much their mother’s fault for being so selfish and choosing not to BF them because she didn’t feel like it. I guess the Breastfeeding Karma Bitch came to bite me in the butt over my judgment of her.
So pregnant with my son I took the classes, I bought the high end pump, I read the books, and most of all I talked to all my friends who BF. One of my best friends had a baby 10 weeks ahead of me and in talking to her about all the nitty gritty details I knew breastfeeding would not be easy. I was fully prepared it would hurt like hell after she shared with me that her sore nipples hurt worse than her labor. Minus the initial soreness, she had a relatively easy experience breastfeeding her child, no problems with supply or latching, but she was not shy about telling me the truth. I felt fully prepared and ready to do this for my kid.
I never in a million years expected or even considered it might simply not work for us. I completely fell for the line that “if you just try hard enough (and/or suffer enough) it will work! “
I had a really hard birth with my son. While his body was in the right position his head was not, it was turned, and they had a difficult time getting it in the right place. I hemorrhaged and lost a significant amount of blood–what amounts to 40%. I was on the borderline of needing a transfusion. In retrospect I wish they had gone ahead and done it as it might have made things different, although my doctor is hesitant to do transfusions unless absolutely necessary. I suffered a broken tailbone along with the expected tearing and hemorrhoids. They had to use the vacuum to get my son in the right position.
No one told me or seemingly even considered that the significant amount of blood I lost might make breastfeeding difficult. It wasn’t until day 9 when I still had only drops of milk and was having a terribly traumatic time that my dad, a retired cardiologist, consulted his medical resources and raised the possibility that I had Sheehan’s Syndrome, where the blood loss impairs the pituitary gland’s ability to produce the hormones necessary for milk production. Once that possibility was raised it all made sense— along with the nursing troubles I had classic symptomology of Sheehan’s Syndrome.
By this time I was already in what I call the third realm of hell–Unsuccessful Breastfeeding. Backtracking a bit: My son had colostrum in the hospital and while they told me my nipples were “short”, his latch seemed okay and we didn’t really have any problems. We had several sessions with hospital lactation consultants while still in the hospital and things were going okay. The first two nights we had him home he was fussy and didn’t sleep much, and I had trouble getting him latched. I never thought to put two and two together to realize that the colostrum was gone but there was no milk. By the third day we were home he was refusing to latch at all, he would just scream and rage. I would sit there sobbing uncontrollably with a very pissed off infant trying to get him latched while my husband looked on helplessly, or tried to give him what little milk I could express in a syringe like they had shown us in the hospital. In retrospect I can understand why my baby was so angry, I would be angry too if I was hungry and someone was shoving an empty boobie in my mouth. My breasts were still flaccid and when I pumped (after every nursing attempt) I barely got anything–usually nothing more than 1/2 an ounce if that.
Then my son began having bright orange streaks in his diaper, and an anxiety and tear-ridden visit to the pediatrician on day 5 of his life revealed he was very dehydrated. I was horrified. We were very close to a re-admission to the hospital. We immediately began supplementing with formula (while being told I could work on my supply and get back to EBF). The change in my son after receiving formula was dramatic and immediate–suddenly he seemed content, stopped fussing, slept soundly (if not for very long!). Every time I think about how simply hungry he must have been I feel terrible.
We continued the cycle the LC’s had recommended to us: try to get him latched for at least 15 minutes on each side, then give him supplemental formula, then 15 minutes pumping. It would take so long to get him latched (IF we could) that often the attempted nursing sessions alone ran 45 minutes to an hour, then add on the pumping (my husband would feed him the bottles while I pumped) and the cleanup of the pumping materials and I would have about 15-20 minutes to snooze before starting all over again. I didn’t mind the sleep deprivation as I was just so highly anxious and upset about the feeding process and working so hard to get a milk supply. I was actually pretty wound up most of the time. I was already taking all the herbs, drinking the tea, staying hydrated, had rented the hospital grade pump, etc and was considering the prescription drug Reglan.
On the 3rd post-discharge visit with the hospital LC I mentioned my dad’s suspicions about me having Sheehan’s Syndrome. She seemed surprised at my history of blood loss and said that she wished she had known that but admitted she had not read my chart. She told me based on that information she wasn’t sure I’d be able to get milk at all but that I should do everything in my power and give it my best shot, which of course I fully intended to do.
We continued the hellish cycle for as long as we could. I ran intermittent fevers during this time and was still just in general very weak due to the blood loss. We considered Reglan as advised and decided against it after learning it can exacerbate anxiety and depression. I have no history of depression but am a highly anxious, high strung individual to begin with, and my anxiety over all this was already through the roof. My husband in particular was adamant about not potentially making it worse with the drugs.
Nearly three weeks into my son’s life I was still just getting laughably miniscule amounts of milk on the pump, and he simply wouldn’t latch at all. After many tears we finally decided we had given it our very best effort and it was time to stop beating our heads against the wall. The LC’s were somewhat disapproving but not unkind, and they gave me instructions on how to “dry up” my milk supply. In retrospect that still makes me laugh because I guess they failed to understand the entire problem was I never really got a milk supply to begin with. My breasts remained flaccid and it was only a matter of about a day and a half before I had nothing left in them at all. Not even a few drops I could rub on his baby acne.
I grieved, and still do grieve, terribly that I couldn’t breastfeed my baby. Every time I look at my breasts I am filled with regret and disgust at my own body’s inability to do what comes so naturally, what should be so normal. I feel like my body betrayed me. Every time I glance at the pump still sitting in the nursery I am filled with a mix of emotions: anger, guilt, shame, and terrible grief. More than anything I am just SAD that nothing about my son’s delivery, his eating, or first few weeks went as expected. I am envious of my friends who breastfeed with seemingly no problems, even after a few initial bumps. I despise envy in myself but I feel it, strongly.
Prior to all this, I never really had a problem with formula or those who use it, it was simply just a non-issue to me. To be honest I didn’t think much about it at all. I know that while I was pregnant there was a tainted formula scare with Enfamil, and the only thing I could tell you about it is that I blew right past it and paid no attention because I never thought I’d ever have to worry about something like that. Thank God we had some samples of formula that had been mailed to us that I’d put up in a cabinet “just in case”. As much as I didn’t and still don’t really want to give my son formula I’m so glad it exists because without it he would be starving.
I also feel like the medical establishment failed us in that everything we learned about safely bottle-feeding formula we had to learn on the internet on the fly. I am ashamed to say those first few days of bottles we were so ignorant we didn’t even know to sterilize bottles, we were just rinsing them in hot water. Nobody ever told us anything about the logistics of formula feeding. If I had been half as educated about that as I was about breastfeeding maybe my anxiety wouldn’t have been so high.
My story echoes so many others of women who desperately wanted to breastfeed but simply couldn’t: grief, anger, regret, embarrassment, fear of judgment by others. I am a huge people-pleaser and a non-confrontational person to begin with but if I ever face blatant judgment or disrespect over giving my son a bottle I really think I just might lose it on anyone who says anything. Because I tried my damnedest to nurse my baby and I couldn’t. I remember many times sitting strapped to that hateful pump, tears streaming down my face at what wasn’t coming out of my breasts, and the thought that just kept repeating itself over and over in my head was “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip and you can’t force milk from an empty boobie”. No amount of “trying harder” or “really wanting to” would have magically replaced the blood I lost or magically put milk where there wasn’t any.
I know logically that failure to breastfeed my son was not my fault, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling terrible and less than a mother/woman about it. I am still working on accepting this reality. It’s comforting to me to read stories on the FFF blog about other women who have been through what I have and still have healthy, thriving, and bonded babies. I read a quote the other day that I thought was so meaningful (sorry I do not know the original source/credit):
“This is a brick wall.
It’s in your way.
You can climb over it.
Or tunnel underneath it.
Or kick it down.
Or try to walk around it.
Or you can sit down on the ground in front of it
and weep bitter, life-is-not-fair, brick wall-hating tears.
But let’s be honest:
When you cry, your mascara runs.
And so does your nose,
and your eyes get red and puffy.
And when you are done,
That brick wall will still be there.
In your way.
But the choice is yours. “
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