FFF Friday: “Society has made it so that if we don’t breastfeed, we better have a damn good reason for it.”

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.

I can’t read Amy’s story without tearing up, because it is SO much like mine. And it infuriates me – because no mothers, and no babies, should have to suffer like this. The dismissive attitude of her care providers; the lack of information that might have at least helped her find an appropriate formula (why wouldn’t a pediatric GI suggest a hypoallergenic? I’m dumbfounded…); the helplessness, inadequacy, and frustration Amy felt… this isn’t “okay”. Even for those who claim our fight is maternal-centric; that we only care about the well-being of the mother – how was any of the experience detailed below beneficial to Amy’s daughter? Maybe we should focus on the babies for a minute – because we certainly aren’t doing them any favors with the warped, convoluted system that passes as “maternal-infant care” these days. 

Rant over. Now it’s Amy’s turn – and boy, does she have reason to rant.

Happy friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Amy’s Story

My story is a lot like many others on your site. And really, I should leave it at that. Why do we breastfeeding “failures” always feel the need to explain and explain and explain? We shouldn’t have to. But alas, society has made it so that if we didn’t breastfeed, we had better have a darn good reason for it. And so, explain we do. To anyone who will listen, really. Even long after the little one has started kindergarten, for goodness’ sakes.

My start at motherhood failed fantastically in every way you could possibly think of. I couldn’t even *get* pregnant. After four years of battling painful infertility and two straight agonizing and expensive years of fertility treatments, our IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) miracle was finally, finally conceived. So, I first failed at that. When it came time to actually have her, my body failed at that, too. I needed a c-section (and don’t get me started on that topic, with the way things are going in that department, we need a Fearless C-Section Momma blog). Is it any wonder breastfeeding failed, too?

All my friends breastfed. While pregnant, people would ask if I would breastfeed. Is that a trick question? Why of course I would! Duh! Who wouldn’t? Smarter, healthier kid? Come on! Besides, this was a VERY wanted child; we spent years trying to have her (not to mention thousands of dollars), so naturally we’re going to do everything “right.” Oh sure, we might need to supplement from time to time; I’ve heard that’s really common, especially in the beginning, and I’m okay with that. My husband and I were both raised on formula and we turned out to be pretty healthy and intelligent people, so a little bit won’t hurt her if it becomes necessary. Plus, I’ve read a lot lately that there’s really no such thing as “nipple confusion,” so I’m not worried. But oh, we’d ABSOLUTELY breastfeed. I’d pump, too, of course. I’d like to get a break from time to time; maybe take a long bath, run to the store solo, or sleep in. A “relief” bottle would be daddy’s time to bond with the baby. I had it all figured out.

So imagine my frustration, when in the hospital, she wouldn’t latch. AT ALL. A steady stream of several different nurses and lactation consultants came in to try to force my babe onto my boob. I sat with my shirt open, both breasts hanging out, and no less than two people at a time trying to force my gigantic, swollen breast into her tiny mouth. She just wouldn’t do it. None of the tricks worked, not the nipple shield, not even the SNS. I started pumping with that ridiculous torture device known as a hospital-grade pump. I was a milk machine. Oh, I made plenty of milk alright. Tons of colostrum; several ounces at one time. The nurse even remarked that I had produced enough colostrum for two other babies in the nursery. I felt so good about myself. Oh sure, we were having some minor bumps in the road, but at least my baby was receiving liquid gold (from a syringe). Except the syringe method was wasting an awful lot of milk; most of it seemed to run down her chin. The nurses suggested feeding her the colostrum from a bottle, yet she seemed to struggle with that, too. It was strange; I was making so much and she clearly wanted it, but couldn’t seem to figure out how to take it. Tongue-tied! That’s it! She must be tongue-tied! I read about that – super common. I asked the LC to check. They said they already did. “Check again, please,” I requested. Nope, she was not even slightly tongue-tied. She was, however, jaundiced and getting worse. Dehydrated and fussy. Hubby determined we just needed to get home where we could have some privacy and get into our rhythym. We made a deal for early release (48 hours!) if we’d come back every day for bilirubin checks. We agreed.

We got home and that’s when the screaming started. No, this can’t be. All the books say newborns are exceptionally sleepy the first several days. Mine wouldn’t sleep. She still wouldn’t latch, and we tried every different type of bottle and nipple to figure out which one she’d take. Every time we went back for a bili check, I’d see the LCs. They were woefully unhelpful and incredibly chastising. The only medical professional I had ever come to for help who treated me with suspicion; as though they thought I didn’t really want to do this. Each encounter felt confrontational; they seemed aggravated with me. I was in tears, and all they could do was tell me that “you can’t pump forever, you’ll dry up” and that I was going to get mastitis and clogged ducts if I didn’t put the baby to breast, among other ominous warnings about pumped milk not being as good as “fresh from the tap.” At the end of each session, they’d sigh and do what I call the Jedi Hand Wave: “She’ll figure it out,” as though they could simply will it to be with a wave of the hand.

I still tried to get her to latch at every feeding, but I had an overactive letdown reflex and if she managed to get any of the nipple in her mouth, it just made her choke (yes, I tried pumping first, but remember, I was a milk MACHINE – the stuff came squirting out like water from a garden hose with your thumb over it). It got to the point where I’d merely take out the breast, and she’d scream and turn away from it (how’s that for rejection for a post-partum hormonal new mother not getting ANY sleep whatsoever?). So I decided to pump exclusively, despite the LC’s and Internet’s warnings (cue guilt trip number three). Babies are smarter than we give them credit for, and she clearly figured out that the breast was not her friend. So I pumped. And pumped. And pumped. I wasn’t sleeping and was smashingly exhausted, given that my body was trying to heal from the c-section. She continued to scream. You. couldn’t. put. her. down. She was up every hour. She wasn’t doing ANYTHING the books and magazines said she should be doing, like eating every 2-3 hours and sleeping 2-4 hour stretches (she NEVER slept, unless you were holding her and she ate one ounce every hour). I never knew what that “milk drunk” satiated look looked like. She was NEVER content, NEVER peaceful. And I’d kill for a two hour stretch of sleep. Are the people who write these books idiots? Or is there something seriously wrong here? She would fight the feedings. She’d suck for a bit, pull off the bottle, then turn her head away and arch her back, all while screaming. For horrifying special effect, she’d often gag and choke, unable to breathe for a few terrifying seconds. Her lips would even turn blue. Then she started projectile vomiting; entire contents of bottles. Bottles full of the liquid gold I’d worked so hard to produce. She wasn’t gaining well. She also broke out in full-body rashes and hives. Several times a day, she had explosive, smelly diarrhea laced with mucous (and traces of blood, we’d later discover) that caused diaper rashes that looked more like chemical burns. I started cutting things from my diet. She continued to get worse. Even though I was producing plenty, we started supplementing a small amount (remember, I was okay with this), but it didn’t really help. We went to the doctor every few days; I desperately looked forward to the appointments. It was the only time we got out of the house. Friends were taking their babies to the mall, for walks, and I couldn’t comprehend how this was even possible. One friend with a baby the same age often called me lamenting how “bored” she was. I was flabbergasted because I was ANYTHING but bored. I was a veritable prisoner in my home. My outings were doctor appointments (to which the baby screamed the entire drive). I was usually in tears (wearing sweats and not having showered) and needing confirmation from some professional, ANY professional, that I wasn’t a fantastic failure at motherhood. I began to believe that my infertility was because God knew I’d be a horrible mother. He saw this coming. He tried to tell me. What people say about infertility is true, and their hurtful words echoed silently in my head: “It’s God’s will, some people aren’t meant to be parents.” We messed with nature and now I have a baby I wasn’t meant to have. Depression and despair began sinking in.

“Colic,” the pediatrician said. “You just have to wait it out.” But the reflux and apparent food allergies (milk protein and soy, we later discovered) were treatable. They apparently can exacerbate each other. She referred us to a Pediatric Gastroenterologist. While waiting for the appointment, we kept a journal of what I ate and how she acted (it never changed, despite my obsessive label-reading and eliminating foods one by one). We tried several different formulas; soy, rice added, sensitive. Still no dice. I knew NOTHING about formula, so I didn’t know about hypoallergenic formulas at the time (I couldn’t even PRONOUNCE Nutramigen). I remember standing in the formula aisle at the grocery store astounded by all the brands and choices and feeling completely overwhelmed and stupid. This whole thing strained our marriage (hubby was so over the attempts at breastfeeding, the constant pumping and washing pump parts, my crying, the baby’s crying, etc). He went back to work, and I spent my days hooked up to the pump, trying to rock the car seat with my foot while my child screamed; screamed in agony. From hunger. From the as-yet-diagnosed food allergies. From the reflux and esophageal irritation that was burning her throat like fire (we’d later find this out during a swallow study). To say I was a mess would be the understatement of the century.

One chaotic morning after hubby had left for work, I looked down at my screaming baby while the pump whirred rhythmically, splashing a substance into the bottles that was clearly harming her. It was then that things suddenly became clear. THIS was supposedly what was best for her? This? All this? I’ll save you the rest of the agonizing details and skip to the part where we finally tried a hypoallergenic formula sample given to us by the pedi GI, and within about 48-72 hours, the rashes, hives, and diarrhea gradually disappeared. She cried a whole lot less and stopped fighting feedings. Feeding her actually became a calm and enjoyable experience for both of us. She took more than just one ounce at a time. She slept a four hour stretch for the very first time in her life, after waking, literally, every 45-60 minutes around the clock. We tried a few different reflux meds until we finally found the one that worked. I quit pumping. And really started mothering. We finally bonded and I fell head over heels in love with my little girl. I started feeling like a good mother who truly was meant to have this miracle child. At nine weeks old (yes, this went on for nine long weeks), she finally smiled for the very first time.

And so did I.

Postscript from Amy:  At 15 months old, my daughter was diagnosed with Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), an exaggerated gag reflex, Sensory Processing Disorder, and poor muscle control of the tongue, cheek, and jaw. It took that long for a diagnosis because she wouldn’t/couldn’t eat solid foods (not even baby food). With the exception of the occasional cracker or Cheerio, she existed almost solely on the hypo formula up until that point. It was why she was literally incapable of latching and had so much trouble even with bottles. It took 18 months of Occupational Therapy to teach my child to chew and swallow properly. 

 I am relieved to report that despite having been formula-fed, my now-6 year-old is the healthiest in her kindergarten class, having NEVER had a single stomach bug, having suffered exactly ONE ear infection in her entire life (at the age of four), is in the 40th percentile for weight, and is reading at a second-grade level. So much for being dumb, sickly, and obese.

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Want to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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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7 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “Society has made it so that if we don’t breastfeed, we better have a damn good reason for it.”

  1. Your story brought tears to my eyes, that sounds hideous. I can’t figure out how it took so long to figure out- and surely hypoallergenic formula was the obvious choice after you’d tried everything in the first few days! The so called consultants sound useless. How dare anyone treat you less than the awesome mother you are! Thank you for sharing and I am so glad you are all happy together.

  2. Wow! My heart goes out to you in the story! It sounds a lot like my experience with my first! Right down to the c section! Mine didn’t have any allergies, but he refused to latch on to my breast. He would twist and turn and basically fight me over it. I finally told lactation to get out and that I was giving the kid a bottle! He was delighted, fell right asleep, and mama stopped being an emotional wreck! I kept trying to put him to breast over the next few weeks and he continued to fight. So I stopped stressing. But I remember the guilt, oh the guilt… they make you feel. I remember feeling like I was dumping toxic waste into him, and just crying. I felt like a failure. But my mom and husband were so supportive and helped me to put it into perspective. I am happy to report he is now 10 years old, healthy as a horse, never had a ear infection, gets sick like once every 5 yrs and when he does he bounces back in a day. Smart, healthy, happy and extremely well bonded to his mama and dad!
    I am so thankful for the stories from other moms and for this wonderful community! We must support each other!
    Thanks!

  3. This made me so sad, but glad that you all are doing better! Amazing that it took 15 months to figure out that she had poor muscle control, I am so glad that the physical therapy helped.

  4. Wow, Amy….what you all had to go through just because of societal pressures on BFing being the ONLY right way to feed our babies. Your experience is one of many that CLEARLY show that that extreme way of thinking is far from the right way of thinking. So glad things worked out for you, and your daughter is doing so well! I had difficulty BFing and resorted to pumping and supplementing. With my diagnosis of PPD and starting my meds, I had to go with formula exclusively. My daughter is now 8 years old. When she was 6, she was reading 2nd grade level books also. She has been able to read adult level books since last year. So much for the claim that only BFd babies would excel intellectually, eh?

  5. So much of what you wrote resonated with me. Especially the double whammy of having dealt with infertility and then not being able to breastfeed. I have often felt that the difficulties I had with conception/IVF, pregnancy/birth complications, lack of milk production, and a severely colicky baby were all the universe’s cruel joke saying “I told you so! You were never meant to be a mother.” Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. This sounds similar to the experience my parents had with me as a baby. I was fed formula and happy to report that I’m a happy, healthy and fit young adult and I have no doubt your little one will grow up to be one too.

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