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 also are 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.
Here in the States, you see a lot of bumper stickers and signs on the highway reading, “I am the 99%”. This is alluding to the idea that only the top-earning 1% of our population is living the American Dream; the rest of us are in deep doo-doo.
Sometimes, I feel like we should have FFF bumper stickers made up that say “I am the 2-5% (or by some more conservative estimates, the 1%)”. These are the percentages given for the number of women who are physically incapable of producing enough milk. Considering the lack of quality research that proves these statistics are accurate, I suspect the percentage is significantly bigger… but even if it isn’t, that 2-5% is made up of real, flesh-and-blood women, who deserve to be heard.
FFF Jo is one of those women, and her story unravels below. I hope Jo will be heard, and that this guest post will serve the same purpose as bright red graffiti on a highway underpass. These are the 2-5%, and they matter.
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
At no point during my pregnancy did I ever consider formula feeding. It wasn’t that I was against it, or even particularly passionate about breastfeeding, it was just that it seemed the most natural and straightforward thing to do, all you need are boobs and a baby right?
I live in the UK. From what I understand from reading this blog, things are a bit different here from the US. Formula is not allowed to be advertised or promoted. During my antenatal classes formula was never mentioned, and it is not ever offered in hospital unless medically necessary (or requested by the mother).
I had a very easy pregnancy. At about 30 weeks I was told that my son was lying breech and if he didn’t turn head down it would be safer for me to have a c-section. Despite a number of attempts to turn him he stubbornly remained where he was! So one Monday morning, 3 days before my due date, I went into hospital. My beautiful son was born at about lunchtime in what was a very stress free way. Straight after birth he was placed on my chest and breastfed very soon after.
All that night and the next day I continued to breastfeed. My son latched on beautifully straight away and seemed to feed well. I was slightly concerned that my breasts didn’t seem to be very full or hard, but I was told that this was perfectly normal and that ‘In a few days I’d be looking like Dolly Parton’!
When my son was 2 days old we were discharged and my husband and I took him home, ready to live happily ever after … that was when things started to fall apart.
The midwife came to visit me at home the day after I was discharged. As part of her routine check she weighed my son and told me that he had lost 11% of his birth weight. I was obviously worried, that sounded like a lot! She told me to breastfeed as much as I could over the next 24 hours, but that if he lost any more we would have to be readmitted to hospital. My son spent much of the next 24 hours on my breast, but the next day I was told that he had lost nearly 20% of his birth weight and we needed to go back to hospital immediately. I was very frightened – why hadn’t I been able to care for my son?
Upon our return to the maternity ward the midwives checked my son. He was jaundiced and dehydrated one of the midwife asked if I would consent to her giving my son some formula. Of course I said yes. It broke my heart to see the gusto with which he guzzled every drop of formula he was given – the poor thing must have been starving.
Over the next week I breastfed for as long as my son would stay at the breast, then pumped, then supplemented with formula. I repeated this process every three hours day and night. We had to give the formula using a cup as the midwives said that using a teat would make breastfeeding harder – It is a real skill giving a newborn formula from a cup!
During our stay in hospital the change in my son was amazing – he began to put on weight and fill out. He seemed so much happier and relaxed. I kept waiting for my milk to come in, but it never did. I was prescribed medication to increase my milk supply which it did, to a point (It took me 40 minutes to pump 1/3 of an ounce). After a while I couldn’t see the purpose of staying in hospital – Both my son and I were healthy and on a ward with babies with severe feeding difficulties. I asked the midwife if we could try feeding my son formula from a bottle. She agreed and he took to it well. We were discharged and agreed to continue breast, pumping and supplementing for as long as it took.
One month later, and we were in the same position. My milk supply had not increased. I was struggling to bond with my son as feeding him was such a trial. I was emotional, stressed and physically exhausted. My nipples were cracked, I had developed mastitis and was still producing so little. After watching me go through this for a few days, crying my way through every feed, my mum said to me ‘Why are you doing this? It might be time to stop’. I agreed, and over the next week my son became a fully formula fed baby. I was prepared for the pain as my milk dried up, but the pain never came, and I never leaked a drop (nothing to dry up I guess!)
My son is now a healthy, happy 3 month old baby, who I love with all my heart. I feel so blessed to be his mum. My heart still hurts, knowing that he didn’t get the best start in life. But in my head I know that I made the right decision. Without formula my son would have starved.
There does seem to be a common assumption that mum’s who give their babies formula (along with those who don’t co-sleep, baby-wear, etc.) are lazy, uninformed women who are looking for an easy option, but I know better than that. I did what I had to do to ensure my son was healthy and grew well – I believe that anyone else would do the same. The vitriol which some people direct towards formula feeding mothers astounds me. Just this week I have read articles saying things like ‘Formula is a starvation diet’, ‘Formula kills babies’, ‘If you couldn’t feed your child yourself then they were meant to die’. Reading such things brings me to tears, even though I know that my son is thriving.
I felt, and still do feel, incredibly guilty about my decision to formula feed, but my health visitor said something that made a lot of sense. I am a primary school teacher, and she asked me this question: ‘Can you tell which children in your class were formula fed? Can you tell which come from happy, stress-free households?’
I believe that I have given my son the best start in life that I could. He is loved by two happy, relaxed parents, and has a mother who is determined to do her level best for her son. This goes way beyond the way that he is fed.
Whether you’re in the 1%, the 99%, or don’t even know what the fruck that means, you are welcome to be part of the FFF Friday contributor “club”. Simply send your story to email@example.com, and help support other parents dealing with confusion, fear or conflict over their feeding method.