FFF Friday: “Turning to formula was my first courageous act as a mother.”

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.

This week’s story comes from Michelle, a self-professed “foodie” who was dismayed to find that while food was a pleasure, feeding… well, not so much.

I love Michelle’s discussion of how food can be so much more than just calories. The act of eating is social, emotional… it can and should be a pleasurable act. In our society, though, we’ve turned it into something so fraught with judgment and anxiety – from our current obsession with childhood obesity in this generation, to the eating disorders that plagued our generation, we just can’t seem to get it right. This complicated relationship with eating and feeding begins with how we nourish our infants – I believe that by creating feeding experiences that are loving, happy, and full of laughter we will take a step in helping the newest generation have a better relationship with food. 

And I think that Michelle and her Sweet D are well on their way to doing just that. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

 

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Michelle’s Story: Foodie Becomes the Fooder

I love food. I’d even say I’m obsessed with food. It is sustenance, happiness, culture, adventure, and excitement for me. When thinking about Sweet D and exploring food with her when she gets older, I get very excited. In an ironic slap across my face, feeding her was hard for me. And eating was hard for her.

Just as I was instructed, I took the first possible opportunity in the delivery room to try to breastfeed Sweet D. It worked, but not great… but it was the first time for both of us.  As our time together continued, it became evident that something wasn’t going right. It shouldn’t have hurt that much and Sweet D would become furious with frustration after just a few minutes of trying to latch. I repeatedly turned down the formula offered by the nurses. We had the lactation consultants in the hospital come see us — they immediately checked her frenulum, that piece of tissue that connects your tongue to the bottom of your mouth. Hers was connected to the very tip of her tongue making it impossible for her to move her tongue as freely as was necessary for breastfeeding. I knew this was going to be a problem.

During those first few days Sweet D cried a lot. She was hungry and I was desperately trying to satisfy her. Because of the problems with her tongue, her poor attempts at latching really hurt me to the point where I was bleeding after only a short time on the job. I would nurse as long as I could stand it and would eventually have to cut her off because the pain was so bad. Neither of us could take it much longer.

I was nervous about my first appointment with our pediatrician the morning after we were released from the hospital. Everything I read online about her said she was very strict about breastfeeding. I didn’t know what she was going to tell me. By that first appointment, Sweet D had lost over 10% of her body weight. That’s the magic number that indicates the baby isn’t eating enough and something needs to change. I nursed in the doctor’s office as we talked about Sweet D’s tongue and my pain. “You’re definitely in rougher shape than you should be,” the doctor told me. I was surprised to hear that from her. I thought she was going to tell me it was normal. We left the office and headed to the ENT specialist who would snip Sweet D’s frenulum in an attempt to free her tongue and resolve this situation once and for all. I held my newborn in my lap as the doctor performed the quick procedure.

That afternoon I hit my limit. The pain was unbearable. Sweet D was screaming. She had become so frustrated that she wouldn’t eat. I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t take it anymore. My baby needed to eat and I couldn’t provide her with food as I had hoped. My husband called the pediatrician’s office and spoke to a nurse.  He explained the situation and asked what to do. The nurse said, “Uh… give her formula.”  Her tone implied she omitted the “duh!” from the end of her statement. I needed to hear my staunchly pro-breastfeeding pediatrician’s office say it was time for formula. Even with that seal of approval, I felt like I had failed, like I was doing something awful to my little girl. Formula. Anything you read about nursing will make you feel like feeding your baby formula is child abuse. Unfortunately, given our situation, I had read lots on nursing before delivering and now was feeling like a bad mother for turning to formula. But Sweet D needed to eat — I needed to feed my baby.  So I did.

I took a few days off from nursing to allow myself to heal. Then we brought in a lactation consultant. We got a pump. I wasn’t ready to give up on breastfeeding, but I also wasn’t ready to go back to it full-force. The lactation consultant was incredibly understanding. She wanted to see me succeed, but she knew the odds weren’t great. We worked together to come up with a plan: I was breastfeeding as much as I could starting with once each day and increasing; I was pumping at least 8 times a day for 10-15 minutes; and we were feeding Sweet D a bottle every few hours. It was exhausting.

My milk production suffered because of the initial delay in feeding. I was pumping every few hours to help boost my production and to get breast milk for Sweet D to have in her bottle but it didn’t improve much. And Sweet D’s ability to nurse didn’t improve much either After two bouts of mastitis, I turned to exclusively pumping. And after my third infection, I had to quit after two and a half months. The stress of it all was tainting my first months of motherhood.

I eventually felt better about my decision to give Sweet D formula, but I never felt great about it. I felt self-conscious mixing bottles in front of other people. Sweet D is 19 months old and I still feel like I have to defend my decision despite her being long off the bottle.

Sweet D is an incredible kid. Her teachers at daycare constantly tell me how smart she is and how much more quickly she learns than her classmates. And since the day she discovered it, she has been in love with her tongue. Every time I see her stick it out or use it to make silly noises, I think about how much trouble that little tongue caused her.

Now I can say that my only regret is that I read so much about breastfeeding before giving birth. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do. I wish I hadn’t read everything that implied giving my daughter formula meant I was giving up, being selfish and choosing to start off motherhood as a terrible mother. In fact, turning to formula was my first courageous act as a mother. Given the choice I’d do it again and I should do it again.

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Feel like sharing your story? Send it to me via email – 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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4 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “Turning to formula was my first courageous act as a mother.”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. Mine is so similar except that i had breasted my daughter, was really involved in la leche, had been training to be a chikdbirth educator. My hardest battle is with myself. I have only had support and care from everyone around me but i still struggle to be kind to myself and accept that formula was the right decision. In my head i have every piece of antiformula information. It is hard to accept that life is not lived in black and white and i have so little control.

    • Thank you for sharing your story! I’m in the same boat as Marion. I really wanted to breastfeed, and I did for a little while (maybe 2-2 1/2 months exclusively, after my son quit biting the heck out of my boobs/I’d grown resilient enough to ignore what discomfort was left, and off and on for another couple months). I wasn’t pressured or put down by anyone, but I made myself so miserable thinking “I have to do this! I want to do this so badly!”. I still struggle with feeling good about switching to formula, but I am trying to remind myself that it’s absolutely FINE, and a happy, less stressed Mama makes a much bigger difference than boob juice, no matter which way you slice it.

      • Thought I should add that my son is now 16 months, and I STILL feel guilty from time to time about this blasted issue. I need to be stricter in my internet blog/comment reading “diet” I’ve tried to put myself on for the last year!

  2. Thank-you so much for your story. I am a first time mom and have a beautiful 2-week old daughter. I struggled terribly with breastfeeding – pain, frustration, anxiety, poor supply, poor latch, etc. I, too read everything I could on breastfeeding and was convinced it would be a “no-brainer” – its natural, and best so we’ll just battle through it. Not so. I have never cried so much in my life. My husband and parents were worried about my health (post C-section, couldn’t rest, stressed, etc). My husband and I just recently decided to switch to formula and supplement with whatever breastmilk I can pump. The relief I feel is immense. I am enjoying my daughter and she is happy and healthy. I am hoping the accompanying guilt I feel from “abandoning” breastfeeding will fade with time.

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