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.
The following submission from Anna G articulates the key thesis of this website better than I’ve ever been able to express it myself. From her astute comments about the “right” kind of support, to her approach to breastfeeding the second time around, to her empowering message to new moms… god, I just love this woman, whoever she is.
I don’t have much else to say about Anna’s submission, because anything I would have wanted to say, she’s already covered so beautifully. So read, enjoy, and rock on, fearless ones…
I always figured I’d breastfeed. All my friends did it, and it was just one more aspect of parenting (along with picking car seats and preschools) where I figured that I would, of course, choose what was “best.” I prepared, and my family was supportive. I was ready.
About an hour after my daughter’s birth (by emergency C-section after 24 hours of labor), the pediatrician came in and told me she was going to have to spend a couple of days in the NICU. The pediatrician talked about how important breast milk was, and he said that I should pump and that the NICU would feed her whatever I could pump plus some formula “if I couldn’t pump enough.” My mind went back to all information I’d read about the importance of rooming in, nursing on demand, avoiding supplementation, etc. But when the doctor said “Your baby is sick, she’s going to the NICU, you can’t nurse her, and she should get formula,” I didn’t feel like I was in a position to object based on half-remembered stuff about non-sick babies from a breastfeeding book. I agreed to the doctor’s recommendation and started the pumping schedule. Nothing much came out, and the NICU nurses gave her formula.
By the time I was eventually able to try to nurse my baby a couple of days later, she wouldn’t stay latched on for more than a few seconds at a time, despite the best efforts of every lactation consultant and nurse who came into my room. We spent the next two days in constant failed nursing sessions, with nurses and LCs hovering over us and saying things like, “No, that’s not it,” the baby screaming, and me crying. Everyone thought the NICU nurses had given her too much formula and she either had nipple confusion or was unlatching out of frustration because my milk hadn’t come in. The nurses had us use flexible plastic tubes at my breast attached to syringes of formula to try to train her to suck–a process that took at least two adults and about an hour each time–but it didn’t really work at all. They also told me to keep pumping around the clock, which I did. I cried all day, every day, devastated that I was failing to feed my baby.
Right before I left, another hospital LC noticed that my daughter was tongue-tied and informed me that I’d need to get it fixed if I wanted to breastfeed, but that it might be hard to find a doctor to do it. She was right–I got out of the hospital and asked my pediatrician, who said the research didn’t support tongue clipping and that I could breastfeed without it. (We eventually found a specialist willing to do it, a couple of weeks later.) The first six weeks were a blur of failed nursing sessions, round-the-clock pumping, herbs, supplementing through plastic tubes and bottles, “nursing vacations,” and in-home lactation consultant visits. Those weeks were the worst of my life. I’m normally an extraordinarily even-tempered person and handle stress really well, but in that six weeks I don’t think a few hours ever passed without me crying. I cried while I tried unsuccessfully to get my baby to latch on and she screamed; I cried while I pumped and my baby screamed because I wasn’t picking her up; I cried at the disappointing weigh-ins at the pediatrician’s office; I cried while I moved the cans of formula from the counter into the cupboard to hide them when friends came over; I cried while I washed bottles and pump parts and syringes for what seemed like the millionth time. But most of all, I cried while I held my baby and read websites about how risky formula was, how many mistakes I’d already made by following the advice of my uneducated doctors, how anyone who really wanted to breastfeed could do it, and how if I wasn’t willing to make sacrifices for my baby, maybe I shouldn’t have had a child in the first place. I was a wreck. My husband and friends barely recognized me.
At about six weeks in, my LC had me do a weigh-nurse-weigh to see how well our strategies were working, and we discovered that we were nowhere near a point where I could start nursing exclusively. My LC gave me more advice about even more things I needed to do, and I hung up the phone and realized that there was no way I was going to do them–I had hit my limit. The next day, I boxed up my breastfeeding supplies, and my life got dramatically better immediately. I stopped crying. I started to enjoy my baby instead of resenting her. I spent time snuggling with her instead of just trying to shove her onto my boob while she screamed. We bonded. I had a lot of guilt about not trying harder, but as long as I stayed off the breastfeeding websites, it was manageable. As my daughter got older and started doing a lot more than eating (walking, talking, laughing), I was able to put the feeding issues in perspective. I even stopped feeling the need to tell everyone I met about how many IBCLC’s I’d seen and how many hours I’d spent pumping in an effort to justify the bottles in my diaper bag. My daughter is almost two now, and she is beautiful, brilliant, and healthy.
When I found out I was pregnant again, the only thing on my mind was breastfeeding. I was terrified to try again, but I was more scared of not being able to say that I tried. So I decided to give it two weeks. If we weren’t on track to a mutually successful nursing relationship by then (which to me meant no pumps, syringes, tubes, or supplemental formula at the end of each nursing session), she would be formula fed.
To make a long story short, I’m in my third month of successfully nursing my second daughter. And despite what a lot of the people on the websites I used to visit might think, it’s certainly not because this time I was better “educated” about how risky formula is, or because this time I “really wanted” to breastfeed, or because this time I was willing to work harder. If anything, I was less dedicated to breastfeeding this time around, and less afraid of formula. It’s also not because I’m a better mom or a convert to attachment parenting philosophies. What made the difference this time around was simply that the hospital personnel who saw my daughter recognized and promptly fixed her tongue-tie within a couple of days of her birth, which made an insurmountable obstacle into a surmountable one. I seriously doubt we’ll go for a year without formula (I go back to work soon at a job with long hours where pumping more than once a day would mean that I wouldn’t get home to see my toddler before she goes to bed, and I don’t think breast milk is worth that), but I’m happy with how things are going for now.
I am passionately in favor of better breastfeeding support. But I believe the type of support that matters is NOT making sure that everyone really, really thinks women can and should breastfeed and telling women about all the harms their children will suffer if they don’t–I had plenty of that the first time around, and it caused nothing but failure and guilt. Real support is making sure the professionals who are around new moms and babies (nurses, pediatricians, LCs, and OB/GYNs) know the mechanics of breastfeeding and can quickly and effectively recognize and treat common problems (latching issues, tongue tie, thrush, whatever). How about toning down the first type of support and devoting more of our resources to the second for a while?
Finally, what I have to say to new moms is this: your happiness and sanity matter. Not just because “happy mom = happy baby,” but because moms are people whose needs and wants matter in and of themselves. Sometimes it is ok to make choices that serve your needs and wants even when that choice might result in some small increase in risk to your baby. Most people do it all the time, often for reasons that are a lot less compelling than the reasons we give up breastfeeding. Almost every day, I take my baby for car rides to public places, exposing her to a risk of car accidents and contagious disease–often for reasons no better than that I’m bored and want to get out of the house. And I think that’s a completely reasonable, legitimate choice–just as I think choosing formula because breastfeeding is making you miserable is a completely reasonable, legitimate choice.
Anna later sent me the following update:
I’m approaching the six-month mark, and things have changed substantially, so I thought I’d send an update to my FFF submission.
When I disliked nursing (or trying to nurse) my newborns, everyone kept saying if I could just push through the newborn period, everything would get better. They kept talking about how they loved their nursing relationships. Well, more power to them, but after six months, I just do not get it. It did get better, in the sense of going from “horribly painful thing that takes 10-12 hours a day and I hate every second of” to “thing that’s sort of ok except that it means that I can’t do anything, ever, that can’t be fit into the 1 to 3 hours between sessions of having something or someone sucking on my boob.” But it never got good or enjoyable, it never led me to bond more easily with my baby, and it never got as easy as formula feeding was.
Anyway, we started introducing formula when I went back to work and chose not to extend my work day so that I could pump enough at work to meet all of her needs. [Note: I almost typed "when I couldn't pump enough," but I find that such statements just invite people to make suggestions I'm not interested in hearing: Did I try adding pumping sessions? Pumping in the car on my commute? Renting a hospital grade pump? Watching videos of my baby? Smelling her clothes when I pumped? Oatmeal? Reglan? Mother's Milk Tea? Asking my employer if I could nurse at work? Breast compressions? Getting a hands-free bra so I could work while pumping? I did some of those things and not others, but I'd rather frame things in terms of choice than participate in the "Did you really do enough?" game.]
Recently I quit pumping altogether and decided to feed formula whenever I’m away from her, and nurse when we’re together. It’s been so much better. For me, breastfeeding (at least exclusive breastfeeding) just kind of sucks. Every bottle of formula I’ve given has made me just a little happier about being a mom.
Got a story that you’ve been dying to get off your (lactating or non-lactating) chest? Send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org and join in on the FFF Friday revolution….