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.
I’ve been thinking of how to respond to another blogger’s post about how women who claim to have “failed” at breastfeeding are just lazy liars; that we simply weren’t up to the challenge, or that we prioritized other things in life ahead of our newborns’ health and nutrition. It’s actually kept me up the last few nights, this conundrum of how to answer the battle cry: do I engage? Or chant a slow and steady stream of “bricks and bones” and take the high road?
Ultimately, I think the best way to counter these claims is to present FFF Katie’s post. This mother of 5 has the gift of perspective, something many of us in the breast/bottle debate do not. She has succeeded at breastfeeding, and “failed”. She has made decisions on infant feeding based on her own health and mental state, as well as that of her other children. And she’s done it with pride, and a sense of self that those who take pleasure in judging others will likely never experience.
Before I hand it over to Katie, though, I do want to say one thing. Please, for the love of god, do not let the asinine opinions of extremists (of any sort) cause you consternation or anger. Let me take on that anger for you (because believe me, I do); you just focus on yourself, your sanity, and your family’s well-being. In the end, any self-proclaimed lactivist who insists on telling women they are lying about physical impediments to breastfeeding, or that their own mental health or the needs of other children do not matter, is doing more of a disservice to the breastfeeding cause than a million booby traps. Those that truly care about the health and happiness of mothers and babies take this stuff seriously. In the end, it doesn’t matter if insufficient supply was caused by physiological malfunctions, or emotional stress. It doesn’t matter if your neighbor was able to withstand a case of mastitis and you weren’t. Motherhood isn’t a contest. Womanhood isn’t a contest. You shouldn’t have to defend your choices to anyone. Least of all here.
Lastly…I know that having someone judge our experiences can make this feel like less of a safe space. But it is safe, and it will remain so. If I need to, I will make FFF Friday posts the one place where I do censor comments. I will fight tooth and nail for each and every one of you. I may be small, but I’m scrappy. And I will fight dirty, if need be. Okay?
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
If you want to apply labels to me based on what I do every day, you might want to call me an attachment parenting, unschooling/relaxed homeschooling mom of 5 kids who, no matter how splattered I am in baby drool, will insist of wearing a full face of makeup to leave the house.
Despite the above, I am also an unapologetic breastfeeding failure. I also failed algebra in high school – twice – and I feel as bad about the latter as I do the former. Despite them both being part of a balanced diet, they just don’t agree with me.
What makes my breastfeeding failure so complete is the fact that of my five children, I successfully breastfed one of them. The problem is that this one moment of glory was not with Baby 5, which would have been redeeming in the eyes of my AP sisters, but rather was with Baby 3. We functioned in happy nursing bliss for almost 2 years before it was time to call time on the milk bar.
And somehow, despite this success, I couldn’t do the same for my last two babies.
To understand how disturbing this turn of events was at the time, one must understand my journey. If there is a breastfeeding problem, I have probably experienced it, and probably more than once.
Me and breastfeeding go way back. I gave birth to Baby 1 in 1991 at the grand old age of 20. I was a single parent and breastfeeding was part of my plan. For those too young to know, the internet wasn’t a household utility until some 7 or 8 years later, so this desire to breastfeed stemmed not from an overload of internet information but rather on my desire to live as simply and as naturally as I could.
Plus, breast milk is free and that is a bonus when you have no income and are staring down the barrel of a welfare check.
When I brought Baby 1 home, like many women, I felt like I’d been hit by a tractor trailor. Despite this, I dutifully waited for my milk to come in. So began my first Descent into Boob Hell. When it came, it arrived like a tsunami – wild, abundant and totally out of control. Milk flowed everywhere, all the time. Breast pads were useless. At night I would soak through my bra, my pajamas, and my sheets – time and time again. My baby was so overwhelmed, he would choke at my breast. It was like someone had turned on the faucet full force then just walked away while the house flooded.
To pile insult onto injury, my nipples started to crack. Then, at 10 days post partum, I developed a uterine infection which required me to be hospitalized so I could receive IV antibiotics. They would not let me bring my baby with me, and despite my efforts, the hospital pump they gave me produced…nothing. This may have been due to the fact that I didn’t use it – I tried it a couple of times but each time I felt like some robotic demon was trying to suck off my entire aereola. Not good.
After my stay in the hospital, I emerged feeling much better. The feeling of having recently survived an accident with large industrial equipment had passed but I was afraid that since I had to handle everything on my own, I could not cope with the extra demands– physical and otherwise – breastfeeding placed on me. So I made the decision to continue feeding my son formula, which he had been receiving during my hospitalization. I knew he needed a healthy and happy mamma; breastfeeding was getting in our way.
So I made the call and didn’t look back. Since there was no internet in those days, no message boards, or Facebook feeds, or anything else entertaining for that matter, I felt very little guilt and there was no one around to suggest that I should.
I am happy to report that Baby 1 is now 21 years old, a musician, and the picture of health.
And he aced math in high school, so no worries about his IQ. If formula did kill off a few brain cells, he hasn’t suffered for it.
It was another 9 years before I’d step into the ring to nurse another baby. By this time I was married and working as a teacher but I wanted to try breastfeeding again. I honestly believed my first four had been a fluke, probably because of my age, and that with the benefit of added years and wisdom, I was sure to have no troubles the second time around.
I had no idea what I was in for.
Baby 2 was born in 2000. At the time, my husband, son and I had just moved to the United Kingdom (where my husband is from) and were living in my in-laws RV while we waited to get our own place. We brought Baby 2 home to a tiny space which we all inhabited together and I did my best to breastfeed.
Within days my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I had plenty of professional support thanks to the UK healthcare system – a nurse called a health visitor (who specializes in maternal and baby care) came to visit almost every day and could find no reason why I was cracking so badly. Despite the agony, I persevered, in no small measure because I was so depressed at being so far from home and I wanted to have one thing that only I could do for my son. Breastfeeding him was my way of holding on to my independence.
Four months I carried on. In that time my nipples never completely healed. On top of that I developed a case of mastitis so bad that my breast felt like a chunk of wood – you could actually knock on it and it sounded like a door. Despite following all the advice surrounding mastitis, I developed a fever and again had to be hospitalized. I was close to requiring surgery to remove the mass that had formed. It was a lucky escape.
Finally, at 16 weeks, my husband begged me to see reason. I had been so focused on nursing this new baby that I’d neglected both my health and the well-being of my first son, who was now 9, living in a new country, and in need of some maternal support.
Again, I made the call and never looked back.
Baby 2 is almost 12 and is a certified genius as far as his IQ goes.
Neither boy has ever been seriously ill a day in their lives.
Two and a half years later, my daughter was born. I was bound and determined that she would be exclusively breastfed. I was determined not to let my nipples crack and bleed. I bought some Lansinoh cream and it worked a treat!. I had one small bought of mastitis, but with the help of prescription antibiotics, it cleared up after a few days.
Once I hit 6 weeks, Baby Girl and I were cruisin’! Breastfeeding her was a revelation! The milk was always ready. There were no bottles to clean and no sterilizer to mess with. Her latch was perfect and I never cracked or bled. My milk production was not over-abundant nor was it inadequate. It was just right. And my little Goldilocks loved it!
After successfully nursing for almost two years, I became one of the converted. Anyone who even considered bottles for any but the most serious of dilemmas, was nuts. I was probably quite evangelical about it, and quite annoying.
Karma must have been waiting for me. When I had Baby 4, I never considered anything but breastfeeding. That’s why the entire debacle of feeding him came as such a shock.
Baby 4 had a voracious appetite. Tipping the scales at 9 lbs 14 oz at birth, he required a lot of sustenance. Right from the start, however, I could tell something was not quite right. I couldn’t get him to latch properly. I asked for help from the midwife before I left the hospital but, despite her belief that she knew what she was doing, she didn’t. I’d breastfed a baby long enough to know I was doing it right. She’d never breastfed anything in her life.
When my milk finally came in, I noticed straight away that something was off. Milk production with Babies 2 and 3 never returned to the flood levels of my first Baby but had at least been sufficient. When a baby has sufficient milk supply, your breasts drip mildly during let down and you can see and hear your baby taking long, satisfying swigs in the first few minutes as that first rush of milk quickly eases the harsh pangs of hunger. Their jaws drop and their ears wiggle.
You know when it’s going right because there really is no pain.
And you know when it’s wrong.
I was producing next to nothing. There was no dripping and no satisfied gulps of relief when my baby nursed. This made his suck that much harder, as if he was saying, “I know it’s in there, damn it!” This led to, you guessed it, cracked and bleeding nipples that no abound of medical grade lanolin cream could prevent.
Then we developed thrush. This painful little demon was my undoing. It’s athlete’s foot in your boob and in your baby. Getting rid of it is next to impossible. I knew the signs and went to the doctor straight away. There are holistic remedies, but they are time consuming to produce and involve purple stuff on your boobs which will stain your clothes and the recommendation is that you go topless for a while. With two sons in the house – one 20 and one 10, that sure as hell wasn’t an option. So to the MD I went. He gave me two tubes of cream – one for me and one for baby – but I saw no improvement.
To make my misery complete, the thrush developed into something even more horrific – Deep Thrush. This is when the thrush has travelled down the milk duct. Between feedings (when a poor suffering mother should be blessed to feel nothing) I now had stabbing pains – like someone was trying to extract shards of glass from my breast. One minute I’d be fine, just sitting there watching the Oprah show, and the next – BAM! I’m clutching my chest and gasping for breath. Not a good look, let me assure you.
On top of all this, Baby 2 has Asperger’s Syndrome – he’s on the autistic spectrum. He is particularly sensitive to emotional upheaval in his life and he was becoming a wreck watching me sacrifice my breasts on the alter of motherhood. He was becoming increasingly anxious and seriously sleep deprived. He become more rigid in his thinking and there were days where the stress of a new baby and an agonised mother left him unable to function.
At 5 weeks, I decided I could go on no longer. Feeding this new baby was taking up too much time and way too much energy. I had three other children and a husband to worry about. Everyone needed me to bring my A game and I wasn’t even out of the locker room. Something had to change.
I won’t lie – I couldn’t even be in the same room when my husband gave the baby his first bottle. The smell offended me. My failure to do something I had done so easily just a few years before was gut wrenching.
It. Totally. Sucked.
After a few days I put my Big Girl pants on and took back responsibility for feeding the baby. There is an Attachment Parenting methodology to bottle feeding and it involves mom doing most of the feeding and lots of skin to skin contact in order to mimic the breastfeeding experience as closely as possible. So that’s what I did.
I also refused to wallow in guilt or self-recrimination. The situation was what it was. I made the call to end breastfeeding, not anyone else. Feeling bad about wasn’t helping anyone. I took one for the team and now I had to suck it up and move on.
Truthfully, that baby was super happy to get that bottle of formula. He loved having a full belly. I enjoyed feeding him pain free. He continued to grow and thrive, as had his brothers who had been fed formula, and after a few days of adjustment, I began to enjoy our new “nursing” relationship.
At the end of the day, that’s what feeding is – nursing. Whether it comes from a breast or a bottle, if it is done with love, care and attention, baby will be happy and well nourished.
Baby 5 came along just 3 months ago. I gave breastfeeding a trial run but the problems of Baby 4 – lack of milk production and thrush – were present from the start. Again, my nipples were not up to the challenge of a baby who had to suck too hard and in discomfort and they cracked and bled almost immediately. I tried the medical remedies, consulted with my midwife and my health visitor and they tried to help but it was no use.
At two weeks, I made the call. At his 2 week weigh in, the health visitor determined that the baby was not gaining enough weight (yes, they used a breastfed baby chart). He was failing to thrive. With a 15 month old nipping at my heels – on top of everything else – I simply did not have the time to make this work.
He is now 3 months old and doing great. I practice Attachment Parenting in other ways – such as co-sleeping and baby wearing and we are both happy and healthy. My son with Asperger’s is also doing well. He went through a period of anxiety right after the baby was born, but once I started formula feeding, everything calmed down.
Calm is what I need.
There has been more public pressure to breastfeed this final time. No one says anything directly, but I can tell. Most women I know breastfeed. I am the only AP parent I know who does not. For AP parents, breastfeeding is our not-so-secret handshake. Do it and you are in The Club. Don’t do it and you are treated like some kind of half-caste alien.
Never mind. Twenty years ago when I had my first son, the debate at the time was about working vs staying at home. Study after study was digested by legions of women who wanted proof that their decision was going to result in the smartest, happiest, most successful adults. These days, no one worries too much about it. It’s a personal choice each woman makes based on her own circumstances. There are good and bad points for each.
Live and let live, right?
That’s how I now see this whole breastfeeding “Mommy War” story. It’s just a bunch of sound and fury.
In 20 years of trying to get it right, I have learned a few lessons. First and foremost is that your relationship with your child does not begin and end with how she was fed as an infant. Even if you breastfeed, there are loads of ways to screw up your relationship. Navigating adolescence is one of them. If I could tell new parents one thing it would be this: feed your child in the way that works best for you. It doesn’t matter. But when that gorgeous little baby turns in to a difficult 15 year old, and out of the blue that 15 year old asks if you want to watch a movie together, or go shopping, or if you have to invent ways to hang out – for the love of God, DO IT! That is how you keep the family bonded. That is your best protection against drugs and teen pregnancy and all of the other bad things that can happen as your child moves ever closer to adulthood.
It’s not about the boob. It’s about communication and love and nurturing. Get that right and you have half the battle won.
The other half? Sheer luck if you ask me, and despite what some might say, boobs are not some kind of lucky rabbit’s foot. Your teenager can’t walk around with them in their pocket to ward off evil influences. Sorry for anyone who thought they could. I hate to bear bad news. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Feeding your baby should not.
Take a stand. Send your story in today, and let the world know that parenting amounts to more than lactating breasts: firstname.lastname@example.org