FFF Friday: “I have no regrets about using formula…not a one.”

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 specifically chose this FFF Friday submission from Liz for this week because, with all the discussion over the attachment parenting TIME spread, there’s been a renewed conversation about personal choice within the parenting realm. Choosing to bottlefeed from the start is (at least for now) a choice we are allowed to make, and I find it tremendously refreshing to hear that some women don’t get all that bothered by the pressure to breastfeed. (On the other hand, it sort of negates the need for my blog and book, but whatever. I’d much rather be the Fearless Famine Fighter, or the Fearless Fairness Forger. Early retirement would be fine.)

I’m kind of in awe of Liz’s ability to focus on what’s important and block out the rest, and I hope you all enjoy her unique perspective.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…

My experience thus far has (fortunately) been fairly free of bullying and drama but I notice that every now and then there will be a comment indicating that there wasn’t a whole lot of perspective from moms that were on the formula feeding wagon from the start.  So I thought I might offer my own story regarding How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bottle…which is probably too strong a statement.  Like I said I’m hardly a casualty of the Mommy Wars…yet.
I grew up in a formula feeding family.  My mom was formula fed.  I was formula fed.  All four of my younger siblings were formula fed.  My baby doll was formula fed.  Looong before I learned how to change a diaper I learned how to bottle feed a baby.  I wasn’t visually exposed to breastfeeding until I was a teenager and that was through a video I saw in biology class. 
Sad?  Maybe.  But if you’re feeling sad reading this, it’s more sadness than I’ve ever felt over it.  When I first saw that video I was staring with all the fascination of a five year old boy who discovered that snakes are not slimy.  I didn’t feel uncomfortable and intrusive with it.  But I wasn’t taken up in things like “how beautiful and natural!” either (“beautiful” really isn’t a word I use to describe most bodily functions..).  I was watching a mom feed her baby in a way I had never seen before and it didn’t weird me out.
What was I talking about?  Oh yeah!  Bottle feeding!  So being that I was brought up in this world of babies and bottles, of course I was going to formula feed my kids should I have any.  It’s only natural to do what you know how to do…right?  Well that was how I saw things.  For many many years I was blissfully unaware of this whole Mommy War that was raging on behind the scenes that my own mother already had to deal with and she didn’t have the the internet.  
A couple of months after I got married I was finally diagnosed with PCOS.  Instead of being devastated I was leaping for joy.  It’s a very frustrating experience watching your periods get farther and farther apart after you’ve long passed the age when cycles are supposed to be regular.  Now instead of being a freak I had a name!  An answer!  Something that could explain everything from the 6-9 month cycles to my tenor voice! (Though between you and me I think my voice is actually kind of sexy)  But eventually I had to face the realization that the bottle or breast issue might not be something I’d have to consider ever. It’s possible for us PCOS ladies to get pregnant but it’s not that easy.  So imagine my very happy and terrified shock when two months after having a period I see that BFP.
Now I’m not a very crunchy person and my husband is only crunchy when it saves money.  So two things that were a point of contention were diapering and feeding.  A very pro-cloth diapering FAQ was enough to turn him off to the idea. But breast feeding…  See, he comes from a breast-feeding family.  He was breastfed.  All three of his younger siblings were breastfed.  This was the world HE grew up in and I guess it never occurred to him that his wife wouldn’t be so hot on the idea.
Oh we talked about the statistics but that can only go so far with me when strong personal experience says otherwise.  Ye,s my husband was a gifted child but he’s the son of gifted parents (genetics?) and had their undivided attention for the first few years of his life to cultivate that gift (nurture?).  My siblings and I are no intellectual slouches either and I was also able to read at a more advanced level for my age because my parents were able to devote more time to me.  Bonding?  Emotional development?  Sorry, but I don’t think method of feeding isn’t the be all and end all of bonding when there are so many other hours in the day to spend with your kid.  Obesity?  Yeah I’M fat but my sibs are not.  I have a couple of ideas as to what led to that and formula isn’t one of them.  In the end the only thing I could see eye-to-eye with him on was that it was free and convenient…well, if things were ideal, of course.  I already knew of one friend of the family who went through a breastfeeding horror story because she was unable to produce enough milk.
In addition to the encouragement from my husband there was some additional encouragement from a group of ladies from my book club.  I didn’t get jumped on about breastfeeding or anything.  The topic just came up eventually.  “Are you going to breastfeed?”  “We’re talking about it but I’m leaning towards ‘no’.”  And well…there went the conversation.  It was a pleasant conversation and it was clear that for at least two of these women, the experience was nothing short of amazing.  It was quick, it was convenient, it was free, and they seemed so happy to talk about it.  They were so positive about it I…thought about breastfeeding.
In retrospect I think on some level they took how easy it was for them for granted.  In the midst of our conversation I did bring up the concern about my friend and how I think I would feel more comfortable knowing how much my child was eating at every feed.  They were very quick to sweep it aside.  “Don’t let that discourage you.” (Fair enough)  “She was probably doing something wrong.”  (Whoa…you don’t know this lady)  “Everyone can breastfeed if they try hard enough.”  (She was trying for two MONTHS)
Well like I said before…the conversation got me to think about it.  And I told my husband I would THINK about it (opportune word being “think” here).  And so I thought about it and thus began one of those nasty “mental” conflicts.  I could see myself forgetting to pack a bottle while on the road.  Having a method of feeding hard-wired into you sure sounded nice.  But would I like the feeling of having my boobs sucked on?  Bottles would have to be introduced eventually anyway.  Even though I’m a SAHM, my sister was getting married six weeks after my due date and I was her maid of honor.  SOMEONE besides me has to be able to feed this baby whether it’s hubby, or uncle, or grandma.  I don’t want this baby to be insistent on my boob.  Would my husband be willing to splurge for a pump to get the job done quicker?  Well breastmilk is natural…but am I really doing this because I want to or because I’m being pressured to?  I knew in the pit of my gut my heart was not in this breastfeeding thing but my head kept pounding on me and making me second guess myself as a new mom.  Even though I accepted formula now…would I feel one day guilty about not giving breastmilk?  One day I was checking out nursing tanks and reading pump reviews.  The next I was grumbling something about everyone sticking their nose a little too far into my boobies and if my husband wanted this baby breastfed so badly he better start lactating.
I eventually thought myself into a hole and ended up turning to my mother.  She was so wise that even when I was a teen I thought she was the wisest woman I knew.  So one day over the summer while I was visiting for lunch and we had a talk.  As soon as I said the words “I’ve been thinking about the possibility of breastfeeding” there was a shout of “Oh god WHY?!” from the other room.  My sister was the closest out of all of us to said family friend and was quite traumatized watching her go through whatever experience she had.  My mom kindly told her to butt out.  So we began to talk. 
Mom is the best.  She had her way of doing things but is definately on Team Fed Baby all the way.  Both methods come with their benefits and burdens and a lot of that balance will rely on your body and the baby’s body.  The issue really isn’t black and white.  Whatever you choose to do, it has to be the one you feel the most comfortable with and not the one that other moms are pressuring you to do.  You can’t do everything in order to please all those moms.  So just stick with what’s best for baby…and you too.  A miserable mom won’t be as effective as a happy one.
“But I will say this…there was not a single day where I regretted feeding all of you formula.  Not a one.  And I couldn’t ask for 5 better kids.”
I realized that until now I had never before met a woman that was so…positive…with her formula feeding decision.
With renewed confidence that it was okay to go with my gut, my husband and I had the penultimate discussion.  THIS baby was going to be formula fed.  I wanted to get back to treating my PCOS without worrying that my meds would be mixed in the milk.  I wanted to return to preparing for that “run a marathon” bucket list item (I’m still a few years away from that).  But most of all this whole mom thing was so new to me, I ‘d like to have at least ONE aspect of babycare be something I already knew how to do.  It’s not like he was going to do the majority of the feeding anyway so at least let me feed this kid the way I already know how.  Maybe if we have a #2 I can give breastfeeding a shot with that one.
Speaking of PCOS, it was this very blog that opened my eyes to the possibility that breast-feeding has a high chance of not being sunshine and rainbows for me.  I feel so stupid for having gone so far into this discussion and not once considering how PCOS might affect a breastfeeding experience.  After all, it mucks up with so many of my other womanly functions why shouldn’t this be any different?  When our daughter was born, I braced myself for engorgement and breast pain as I waited to dry up.  But except for some slight leaking from one boob that almost went entirely unnoticed if it wasn’t for a small bra stain and pain that was only noticeable as I was lying in bed free from distractions…nothing.  No cabbage leaves.  No ice packs.  Nothing that really needed a pain reliever.  Nothing.
We returned to the topic about a month after we returned from the hospital.  I was giving our daughter her final feeding for the day and he was watching us from the couch.  She was already able to hold her head up and just wanted to look at the world around her.  She was also sleeping through the night and no colic.  She’s never had a moment where she was completely inconsolable and was very healthy…further cementing in my mind that how you feed is a much smaller piece of this parenting pie than we all make it out to be.  She was able to drink a generic brand of formula that we could get at a wholesale price as opposed to what could have been a very stressful and expensive breastfeeding experience.
It turns out most people I’ve come across respect that.  The ladies in my book club have let me be.  I raised an eyebrow and couldn’t help but giggle on the inside when the newcomer said “Oh she’s beautiful!  She looks GREAT for a formula fed baby!” (in a twisted way I love it when well-meaning people are so innocently ignorant of their blatant disregard for tact).  Her pediatrician, though I could tell he doesn’t agree with our choice, was able to put biases aside to help us.  If anyone is giving me stink-eye when we have to feed in public, I haven’t really noticed.  I stopped being aware of everyone around me once I realized how dang cute she was.
Feeding her is an absolute joy.  I try not to take that for granted.
With a new perspective now that we were actually feeding a child, we were both able to be at peace with the situation.  In spite of a discouraging dry-up period I’m still thinking about breastfeeding a second baby.  But I will not put that kid, or myself, through a hard time while we wait for my boobs get their act together, something that may or may not happen.  Not when I have no regrets about using formula…not a one.

Make my day. Send me your story – formulafeeders@gmail.com – to be used for FFF Friday. 

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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17 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I have no regrets about using formula…not a one.”

  1. What a wonderful story! Also, your mom and my mom sound very similar in their attitudes to formula feeding. I was formula fed from the start because she was planning to go back to work and didn't want to deal with switching me from breast to bottle. My younger brother was breastfed for about 3 weeks. It hurt and he had a voracious appetite, she already knew what kind of formula to get from her experience with me, so she switched. Hearing her describe it, these were almost non-decisions. It's like she was a fearless formula feeder without even realizing it.

  2. Good for you! I also have PCOS and didn't know that it could affect BFing until some time after I stopped trying. Like you, I was not bothered about using formula, and I wasn't pressured by friends, family or doctors either. But still, if the mother is known to have PCOS, then the potential effects of that on BFing (undersupply AND oversupply) should be addressed.

  3. Hi. I posted on an earlier post about a woman with PCOS who had trouble breastfeeding. It seems that if your milk never 'came in,' you would probably not have been able to provide enough milk for your baby anyway – though that could change with a second baby. One breastfeeding advice book says that if the milk doesn't come in, there's really not much chance that you can breastfeed without supplementation no matter what you do.

    Obviously you weren't really sold on breastfeeding, but I think women who really do want to breastfeed but who might have factors stopping them from doing so exclusively, like a breast reduction, insufficient glandular tissue, and perhaps PCOS should be warned about this beforehand to spare them from disappointment and from wasted effort trying to get the milk to come/increase the supply.

  4. Oh I agree. Even though I had made my choice to FF very early on, I was really annoyed with both my reading materials and my own critical thinking ability that it never occurred to me that PCOS might be a significant obstacle if my decision went the other way. I always think of PCOS as a “below the waist” problem because the ultra-long cycles is an obvious sign of malfunction (please forgive my insensitive wording…I'm pretty utilitarian when it comes to these matters). Everything else my mind puts into the “cosmetics” category. Perma-belly, adult acne, mild hirsutism, etc. are more like cosmetic inconveniences for me rather than an obvious sign that things don't work as they should. This was the first time I faced the thought of above the waist malfunction.

    While it is true I wasn't completely sold on the idea, I do consider my attitude contributing to “dodging a bullet” more than anything when looked through a PCOS lens. I realize was spared a lot of emotional pain but only because I wasn't yearning for a breastfeeding experience in the first place. Even now if I'm asked about it my first instinct is to give my reason as being “this is what I know and grew up with” rather than “my milk never came in” even though the latter may seem more legitimate. In the end it was really just additional confirmation that the right choice was made.

    My goal with this was first to extend a hand in fellowship to the ladies who were never really on board the BF train to begin with for whatever and being content with that choice. The secondary goal was to help with the PCOS/BF awareness. It really would not have made much of a difference in my feeding decision, but it's there affecting a good chunk of my life and shouldn't be ignored.

  5. She's the best. I know it's cliche to say that many women dread becoming their mom but the idea never really bothered me that much. 😛

  6. Hi, Liz (hey, you stole my middle name and my mom's first name; just kidding), and thank you for replying to my response so quickly.

    About not being on the breastfeeding train from the get-go, I suspect it probably would have been a greater disappointment to you if you had had your heart set on breastfeeding. Unfortunately, that was a bit the case with a daughter of a friend of mine. This woman (the daughter) actually had to have medical help to conceive in the first place because with PCOS, she menstruated a few times a year at most. She was also very intent on breastfeeding. But her son never gained enough weight, so early on she had to go to formula (I don't know if her milk came in in the first place or not). She learned later that PCOS can cause milk supply problems. If she had known this before, she most likely would still have been disappointed, but it wouldn't have been so upsetting.

    I read a similar story about a woman who had IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). She was actually a breastfeeding activist, and she was baffled when after giving birth her milk didn't come in. Then she saw a breastfeeding specialist who looked at her breasts (which were, in her own words, small and mismatched) and said there was not much hope of her breastfeeding her son exclusively. The woman wrote that if this condition had been 'caught' earlier, say in the hospital where she gave birth, she and her family would have been spared a great deal of grief.

    Then again, sometimes women can scare themselves into thinking that they won't be able to breastfeed when they can. For example, my breasts didn't get much larger if at all when I was pregnant, so I feared I wouldn't be able to produce enough milk. But three days after giving birth, it was evident that my milk would come in, and it did and I breastfeed for six months exclusively (and later with supplements) without any problems. So I think being realistic is the way to go.

  7. IMO there is really no excuse for the lack of screening for conditions that might preclude breastfeeding. Off the top of my head, there are a number of issues that could preclude EBFing for some women:

    -Prior history of sexual abuse or sexual assault
    -Auto-immune disorder (which can lead to debilitating Raynaud's, not to mention women who have to consider their physical reserves when choosing a feeding method)
    -HIV and other conditions communicable by blood and breastmilk
    -Thyroid condition

    And there are a number of issues that could preclude EBFing for some infants:

    -Conditions leading to poor muscle tone (e.g. one of the FFF posts this month about X&Y chromosome conditions)
    -Cleft lip or cleft palate
    -Tongue tie
    -Heart defect or problems with an other organ
    -Severe jaundice
    -Premature birth
    -Food allergies

    I'm not a doctor or LC, and *I* know this. It really makes you wonder what breastfeeding advocacy is really for. It seems there's a lot of work for the lactivist community to do, yet they're chasing their tails demonizing formula companies, which have nothing to do with the problems above. And of course there's the militants, who get their sick jollies by using breastfeeding as a hammer by which to beat others down.

    So what would be a better use of taxpayer money–more “breast is best” posters in hospitals, or spending that money on screening and real help? More breastfeeding quotas out of maternity wards, or more emphasis on ethical health care that actually diagnoses people correctly? What would be more helpful coming from organizations like the AAP? Berating women about “lifestyle choices” or advocating that pediatricians properly screen infants as well as teach proper feeding and food safety techniques (whether breastfeeding, formula feeding, pumping, etc.)? Not to mention advocating that their colleagues on the OB/GYN side properly screen moms for conditions that might preclude breastfeeding? What would be better for organizations like Best for Babes to concentrate on–seeing “booby traps” everywhere you look and writing fawning articles about celebs, or acting as if we'd have perfect breastfeeding rates if it weren't for eeeeeevil “artificial milk” companies?

  8. And don't forget anemia. That can wreak havoc with supply as well. I didn't know that until later…I was diagnosed with anemia in April (09), had given birth in January(09) and had a PPH, tried BFing until the end of February (09).

    Of course I'll never know if the anemia really played a role in my low supply. Or the PCOS. Or the combination of the two. Like the Liz, I did not have much emotional stake in BFing, which saved me a lot of trouble. If I had been aware of the risk factors, I'm not sure anything would have been done differently, but it's better to be informed than kept in the dark.

  9. I did forget anemia, which is silly because it's so common among pregnant moms, particularly if you have had closely-spaced pregnancies. It's enough to make you want to bang your head against a wall. Why aren't these common–so, so common–issues identified?

  10. Another factor that can preclude breastfeeding, at least exclusive breastfeeding, is breast surgery, especially breast reduction, because it removes some of the glands. I knew a woman who had a breast reduction, and when she had her first baby, she was heartbroken because she couldn't breastfeed (I don't know if she gave up when she realized she couldn't breastfeed exclusively or whether she didn't produce any milk at all). She at least should have been warned of this possibility when she had her breasts reduced. She might have chosen the reduction anyway, but she at least would not have been shocked when breastfeeding didn't work out.

  11. I've had anemia all my life, well, at least since I started menstruating, and I suppose it continued while I was breastfeeding. I remember my mother telling me after I'd weaned my daughter (at two years) that I looked 'worn down' while I was breastfeeding. Now I remember when I got this little lady in my arms, she had just weaned a litter of kittens, and I remember she was skin and bones (I got her fixed shortly after I got her). So I suppose nursing can wear any female mammal down!

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