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.
There are a few FFFs who are now breastfeeding their second children, and I hope that when they are feeling up to it they will share their stories with us. I am so thrilled that they are feeling good about something that used to cause them angst and pain; that is honestly the best outcome I could hope for any of us.
However – “success” is not defined by breastfeeding working out the second time around. Success, to me, is feeling confident in your feeding choice. You also don’t need to “breastfeed, take two”, in order feel healed from a bad first experience. All you need for that is to have the ability with your next child to do what works for your family; to make an unencumbered, “clean” decision (i.e., not a result of pressure or terrible circumstances).
To FFF Rachel, the author of this post - and all of you – please hear me when I say this: It’s okay to not try again. It’s okay to decide enough is enough. It’s okay to be self-protective, because by protecting yourself, you are protecting your ability to mother and mother well.
Success is a baby who is sufficiently fed by a mother (or father) who is emotionally and physically healthy. Whatever you need to do to get yourself to that point, do it.
End of story.
And with that, the beginning of FFF Rachel’s story….
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
I was not determined to breastfeed at all costs. I knew that from the beginning. There was a limit to how much work I would be willing to do to breastfeed. Knowing that, I didn’t want to see the LC in the hospital after delivery or afterwards once I was having trouble. I was afraid she’d try to pressure me into doing more work than I could or wanted to. For this, I feel I fall into the “not a good enough reason to use formula” category. I often feel the need to discuss the troubles I had with trying to breastfeed my firstborn to validate my choice of exclusive formula with my second child.
When I was pregnant with my first, a friend of mine passed on some formula samples she’d gotten in the mail (her kids were ages 4 and 10), and I knew that I’d probably use them. But, I did want to start out breastfeeding. As our family’s breadwinner with no paid maternity leave, I would be going back to work as soon as daycare would take our son – 6 weeks. I intended to breastfeed from the beginning, then start learning to use the pump after a few weeks, so that I’d be a pro by the time I was using it at work. I would use formula when necessary.
My first son was born via a very rough, very fast forceps delivery. It saved his life; he was not getting adequate oxygen due to the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He weighed 9 lbs 7 oz, and his head circumference was in the 95th percentile. This all left me with a 4th degree laceration, in addition to 2 long internal tears. Healing was (is) a long road. I was in pain every day for the first 4 months of his life. In the end, I found relief in pelvic floor physical therapy, though I have lingering pain on and off even now. I don’t know whether my tearing affected my milk production, but it did decrease how much work I’d be willing/able to do to breastfeed.
As soon as Nate was born, he was fine. He was screaming and healthy. He was also rooting, hungry. The nurses told me he was hungry, but I wouldn’t be able to feed him until my OB finished repairing my pelvic floor. They knew it would take a long time, but weren’t sure how long. I couldn’t (and still can’t) stand the thought of letting my son go hungry, so my husband fed him a bottle of formula. He drank half an ounce and went to sleep.
By the time they were done stitching me, Nate was 2 hours old. That was also about the time that my epidural wore off. I have never experienced such all-consuming pain. I didn’t care about seeing or holding my son until I got some pain meds, which just took the edge off the pain. He was awake and rooting again then, so I tried to feed him.
Nate seemed to latch on fine, sucked for a few minutes, and soon fell asleep. We repeated this every time he woke up for the first day. I had no idea how to tell whether or not he was actually eating anything. The nurse told me not to worry. Of course I had colostrum, but only a few drops, so we wouldn’t really be able to tell.
The day after he was born, Nate began refusing to latch and screaming every time I tried to feed him. He seemed so hungry. Eventually, he’d wear himself out from screaming and fall asleep, having not eaten. The nurse helped me try some different things, but nothing changed his mind.
My OB wanted to keep me in the hospital an extra day because of my tearing but left it up to me. I was ready to get rid of the catheter, have my IV taken out, go home, and find a more comfortable place to sit, so we were released about 30 hours after Nate was born. Since we’d been having some trouble with breastfeeding for the past few hours, my nurse sent us home with extra ready-to-feed formula samples.
The first night home, after waiting at the pharmacy for an eternity, I dosed up on pain meds, sprayed myself with Dermoplast, sat down on an ice pack, and tried to feed Nate. He screamed, struggled, fought. I couldn’t make him latch on. He hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours (though I was beginning to doubt he’d actually eaten while latched on to me). When I couldn’t take any more screaming, I told my husband to bring me a bottle. Nate ate more than an ounce and fell asleep.
The next day I tried a few times to nurse, but was in too much pain to have the energy for it. We fed him formula all day. I suspected that continuing to give him a bottle would spoil him so that he’d never agree to nurse, but to me, that was better than leaving him hungry. He never did latch on to my breast again.
The fourth day, I got out my pump. I didn’t know if I even had anything to pump out. I had no leaking and no firmness in my breasts. Obviously my milk hadn’t come in yet, but I had thought that I should be able to hand-express colostrum but couldn’t. I pumped every 2 hours for 30 minutes at a time and didn’t get a single drop until my last pump of the day on day five. It was just enough to cover the tip of my finger. Five days after that, when Nate was 10 days old, continuing my pumping schedule, and getting a tiny bit more each day, I actually had enough milk (after a full day of pumping) to fill one bottle. He was taking 3 ounces at a time by then.
It seemed to get easier over the next week. I made more milk every day until I plateaued at 12 ounces per day. Nate was combo fed 50/50, and I was ok with that. It would actually be easier once I went back to work because we could keep a can of formula and some bottles at daycare rather than take bottles of expressed milk every day. Then he could have expressed milk at night at home.
I found my output was best if I pumped 6 times a day, so I kept that up. I took herbs, drank herbal tea, ate oatmeal, and did so many other things to increase and maintain my milk supply. I peaked at 15 ounces per day at 9 or 10 weeks, right about the time that Nate increased his appetite to 30 ounces a day rather than 24. Then my supply started waning.
I redoubled my efforts to produce more. I wanted to quit, telling myself that it would be ok to go to 100% formula, that this was going to require more work than I wanted to do, and maybe it wouldn’t work out anyway. But I worried about regret and guilt. I read many things online about milk supply issues. What I found was not so much help with increasing production, and not so much comfort, as admonishments that there’s really no such thing as not having enough milk. I just wasn’t pumping right/long enough/often enough. Better still, what I should do was let my baby go hungry until he would eat directly from the breast. Then I could be sure he was getting all that I was producing. Most of the advice was from women who’d had some issues, but what really rubbed me the wrong way about them was that they would always end their advice with something like, “If I could get through my issues and still exclusively breastfeed, then anyone can.” This made me feel like quitting because of my waning milk supply would be premature. So I decided to stick it out.
I maintained my supply for about a week after that, but then it really started tanking. I felt like I was wasting my time, energy, resources, and money on trying to produce more milk and pump it out. When I told my husband that I’d been considering quitting, he told me to quit that very day. He’d been supporting me because I wanted to pump, but he felt that I was just torturing myself, and it wasn’t necessary. I agreed, but I couldn’t give up so soon. Giving up was a very emotional thing for me and meant admitting defeat.
Everyone said not to quit on a bad day because things could get easier. So when Nate was 2 and a half months old, I decided that I did want to quit pumping, but I’d wait until he was 3 months old for the final decision. I really did keep up my efforts those 2 weeks or so. By Nate’s 3 month birthday, I was only pumping 5-7 oz per day. I didn’t see any reason to keep up all of that work just for 1 bottle of breastmilk, so I quit. Emotionally, it was hard to let go, so I told myself that I could still pump when I felt like I had milk (I knew that I’d never be engorged). The first day, I pumped 3 times. The second day I pumped twice. My last pump was first thing in the morning of the third day.
I didn’t exactly feel guilty, but I was disappointed in my body. I was very sad the first week, but suddenly realized that I was no longer spending ridiculous amounts of time attached to the pump. I got to spend my free time with my son. I was no longer worried about how to make more milk or how much milk I had. I started enjoying feeding Nate. He was 3 months old, and I finally started to feel like we were bonding. I loved formula feeding! I was so relieved that I had let my milk dry up. My only regret was that I hadn’t done it sooner.
Despite physical therapy, I continued to have pain issues due to nerve damage in my scars. When I got pregnant again (Nate was 11 months old), we knew from the beginning that I’d be having a c-section. I couldn’t risk doing even more damage to my pelvic floor, not just because of my pain, but also because I’d be risking permanent and complete incontinence.
Knowing I never produced much milk for Nate, I didn’t trust my body to make milk for Ben. I would need to see how much he was eating. I didn’t have the energy or desire to try to exclusively pump again. But I remembered how wonderful I felt after switching Nate to formula 100%. I told my husband that I didn’t want to mess with trying to breastfeed this time, we’d go straight to formula. He agreed with my decision wholeheartedly.
We fed Ben formula from day 1. He was not as hungry as Nate was at birth. He actually didn’t eat until he was 6 or 7 hours old, and then it was much smaller quantities than Nate ate from his first bottles. I felt great after delivery. Once the morphine wore off, I was in pain, but with Vicodin and ibuprofen, my pain level was much less than it had been the first days and weeks after my first delivery. We were released right at 48 hours after Ben was born.
When my milk came in, I noticed. I found it impossible to resist at least trying to breastfeed and pump, even though I knew I didn’t want to do either. Ben didn’t have Nate’s strong appetite or impatience. I seemed to have better milk production this time. It could be easier. I attempted both breastfeeding and pumping over a period of 3 or 4 days. However, in the end, I finally admitted that I just didn’t like it, so I stopped.
I shouldn’t have to justify why I feed Ben formula or why I combo fed Nate for 3 months and then fed him only formula after that. It’s not accurate to say that I did everything I could to breastfeed, and it just didn’t work out. I may have been able to do more to breastfeed Nate, though it probably would not have been good for us. I didn’t really even try to breastfeed Ben. I don’t feel guilty for not breastfeeding; formula feeding is the best thing for us. But I do feel judged. That feeling of judgement makes me not a very fearless formula feeder. Looking at my 4 month old and 2 year old, people see beautiful healthy boys who are growing, thriving, and never sick. Obviously I’ve not done them any damage in the way I feed them. Why should people care whether or not these boys were breastfed?
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. Send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s like the formula feeding equivalent to a nurse-in…;)