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 feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
Of all the misconceptions and untruths running rampant in the parenting community regarding breastfeeding, one bothers me more than any other. It’s the “you just didn’t try hard enough” sentiment, often heard alongside it’s ugly stepsister, “Nearly everyone can breastfeed if they just are willing to put in the work.”
My analysis of these insulting adages? They usually come from a) people who have never breastfed themselves, b) women who had some minor breastfeeding issues and were able to work through them or c) women who breastfed effortlessly. When I encounter such attitudes, I always feel like screaming the immortal words of MTV’s Diary– you think you know, but you have NO idea.
Amanda’s story gives us yet another example of an intelligent, educated, dedicated breastfeeder who ended up turning to formula. She did everything right, and was still made to feel as if she did something fundamentally wrong. What’s even more ridiculous is that Amanda is still pumping (at least as of her submission date to FFF), trying her damndest to give her baby the “best”, and yet it’s still not considered breastfeeding “success.”
Well, that buck stops here, folks. Let’s take back the word “best”. Best is subjective. Best means your personal best; how best is defined for your family; what is best for your particular child. Your “best” is…well….best. (FFF Desiree Johnson came up with that one a few weeks ago on the Facebook page, and I think it’s pretty spot-on. )
I’ll be back with my own posts next week… focusing on the book promotion crap at the moment, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of the blog…so I promise to kick my butt in gear soon.
Happy Friday, fearless ones…
From the moment my wife and I decided to start trying to conceive, I just knew I would breastfeed. First, we generally fall on the attachment-parenting-hippie-crunchy end of the parenting spectrum, and breastfeeding seemed like a natural fit with that. Second, we live in a community where breastfeeding is very common, and breastfeeding support is truly first rate. Third, we are frugal people…throughout my pregnancy, we referred to my breasts as “the best coupons ever”. I honestly never considered any other options.
I have PCOS (we’ll call that “warning sign #1”) so we guessed that getting pregnant would be a bit of a challenge for me, but 12 days after our very first IUI we got our positive pregnancy test. I was still hesitant to relax – my progesterone was low (warning #2), and miscarriage rates are incredibly high in women with PCOS. When the first trimester ended, I breathed a gigantic sigh of relief…I’d overcome my big PCOS hurdle, or so I thought! My pregnancy was mostly uneventful – a bit of nausea once or twice, some body aches, but nothing to write home about.
All of our major decisions were made with an eye toward ensuring BF success. I chose my OB/midwife practice because they delivered at a birth center inside a Baby-Friendly hospital, and we hired an amazing doula so we could stay home as long as possible, because I was determined to avoid epidurals or a C-section. The pediatrician we chose is married to an IBCLC and is incredibly pro-BF. We took our childbirth classes and breastfeeding classes, and I read just about every major pro-breastfeeding, pro-unmedicated-childbirth book that I could lay my hands on. I told my wife I wanted to donate all of our formula samples before the baby arrived –I wouldn’t need them, after all, and research showed that if I even had them in the house, I’d be jeopardizing my BF chances (she, wisely, said “Well, let’s keep them, just in case”). I had my breastfeeding pillows, lanolin, breast pads, and a pump all ready to go, along with multiple boxes of milk storage bags for my soon-to-be-overflowing freezer supply. Meanwhile, my breasts had gotten a bit fuller, but not nearly as much as I’d expected(warning sign #3).
After 5 days of prodromal labor, things picked up in earnest. We had an active labor at home. I ended up arriving at the hospital at 9.5 cm, and they just managed to get the tub filled when he was ready to be born. His birth got a little hairy – first the cord was around his neck, then his shoulders were stuck for about a minute and a half and he was born “stunned”, so had to be taken immediately to the warmer (he was just fine, we were both just a bit worn out from the ordeal). Then, probably because of the 5 days of prodroming, I hemorrhaged (warning sign #4). My 8 lb, 4 oz son was put to my breast and immediately latched on, which was great, because it helped to control the bleeding.
All of the nurses at the hospital had lactation training, and they all commented on what naturals we were. My doula said that I had “perfect” nipples for breastfeeding, and the IBCLC told me that our latch was great. I kept waiting for painful fullness (that’s #5), but eventually we ate the cabbage that I’d bought anticipating engorgement…it just never materialized. Our son fed CONSTANTLY, but didn’t appear to be dirtying diapers nearly as much as was expected (#6). The advice nurse told us that as long as he was wetting diapers, we were still fine. At our first post-discharge appointment, the baby had lost 7 ounces, but the doctor said he wouldn’t worry unless he was still losing at the two week appointment. Nevertheless, he continued to poop less than expected, nurse for hours on end, and be hard to rouse for and during feedings (#7) – we resorted to rubbing him with cold washcloths, to try to keep him sucking for more than a minute or two at a time.
At his two-week appointment, he had lost 5 more ounces, and the pediatrician was officially concerned. He suggested that I buy a Supplemental Nursing System to give him a little formula until we got my supply up, and asked us to come in for a re-weigh in 3 days. I cried my eyes out all the way to the specialty mom and baby store, cried in the car while I made my wife go in to buy a short-term SNS and an expensive herbal tincture to increase production, cried on the ride home, cried while I mixed up the formula, and cried while I struggled to tape on the SNS. My son ate like he was starving (which, you know, he was) and then fell fast asleep while I called the pediatrian’s IBCLC wife. She gave us a ton of suggestions on increasing supply, all of which I followed – water, hours of skin-to-skin, using the SNS, pumping every two hours or after every feed, whichever was more frequent, enough Fenugreek that I smelled constantly of maple curry, Goat’s Rue, and a prescription of domperidone at a dose that cost us roughly $5 a day. With that, he was still drinking about 20 ounces a day of formula, so we think I was producing maybe 5 ounces total per day.
With the formula supplements, he started gaining right away, and became a totally different, much more alert, much happier baby. I, however, was becoming exhausted and depressed. We were completely tied to the house – even if I could somehow bring the pump, SNS, tape, and formula out with me, I was so mortified to be “failing” at breastfeeding that I refused to feed him in public, or even in my living room if anyone was there other than my wife. I began to dread the sound of him waking up, knowing that each time he cried from hunger, it would start an hour plus session of feeding, pumping, and washing all of the bottles and pump parts. He was super-alert and playful right after his feedings, but of course I missed all that, having handed him off to my wife to hold and play with while I pumped. 9 times of 10, he was asleep again before I was done. I found myself yelling at him and getting angry and frustrated when he’d spit out the tube in the middle of the night, knowing it was going to be a battle to get him re-latched onto the finicky, leaky SNS.
And then there were the judgments. I posted on a few message boards about my troubles, and got a whole lot of “well, you gave into the pressure to give him formula, so his gut bacteria are already ruined, and it’s no wonder your supply tanked after you supplemented” and “before formula existed, people found a way, so there’s no reason you can’t make it work if you want to”. Once, a woman who spotted my can of formula in my shopping cart told me that she “just feels so bad for children whose parents are too lazy to feed them properly.”
We slowly accepted that this was not going to be quickly resolved and bought a new, permanent SNS. I resigned myself to rashes on my breasts from taping on the tubes, cracked nipples from the pump, and allowing my wife all of the bonding time with my son, still convinced that my supply would increase and we’d eventually be able to have a “normal” nursing relationship. Several times, I put him to my breast, only to have him scream and cry when almost nothing came out…which of course made me cry more. I kept trying, convinced that if I just did everything right, things would all work out. At my 4 week follow-up with my midwife, I cried when I saw the “It’s Easy to Make Plenty of Milk” poster hanging in her office, and felt the need to explain to her all of the things I had tried, afraid she was going to judge me for my failings (she didn’t, and was awesome, as were the lactation consultants. All of the medical professionals in my life were much kinder to me than I was).
With all of this, after 4 more weeks, my production was up to maybe 12 ounces a day. One night, in a haze of exhaustion, I accidentally put part of the SNS down the garbage disposal. My wife exploded about how much my breastfeeding failure was costing us in supplements, Canadian drugs, formula, and expensive nursing systems, I cried for 2 hours, and we eventually decided that paying another $70 to replace it just didn’t make sense. I resigned myself to pumping and giving my son whatever I could make.
Funnily enough, once we dropped the SNS and I let myself accept that I wasn’t going to ever breastfeed him as I’d imagined, my supply jumped (I think the stress of the whole SNS/pump/wash cycle, combined with the worry over whether my supply was increasing or decreasing, playing a big role). We got a car adapter for the pump so we could leave the house, I started timing my pumping so that I could spend time with the baby while he was awake and alert, and I started to really enjoy feeding times, where all I had to do was focus on him, instead of on whether the SNS was leaking, whether the tube was in his mouth right, or how long it would be before I could be done feeding and pumping, because I only had 2 hours before I had to be up for work. And I slowly started “coming out” as a partial formula feeder, talking about my experience with a few other new moms, always starting with a long diatribe of all of the things I’d tried to make feeding work.
I still combination-feed my son, who is now 3 months old, with about half of his diet coming from formula, and the other half coming from what I pump. I work from home, so I am able to pump whenever necessary, and for another, my wife is staying home with our son, so I have extra hands to help me with feedings that take longer than normal…otherwise, I have no illusions about whether we’d be able to continue this way. For us, this is what works best. But I am still working through my phobia of giving him bottles in public. Today, I gave him a bottle in the middle of our Farmer’s Market…baby steps! I am so incredibly grateful to FFF and other websites providing support for women who are feeding formula, wholly or partially – I truly believe that this site was a big part of me regaining my sanity around feeding my son.
Tell the world why your best was best. Send me your story for an upcoming FFF Friday – firstname.lastname@example.org.