FFF Friday: “We do the best we can with what is presented to us.”

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’m too exhausted from this week’s craziness in Boston to write anything even slightly intelligent to preface Katherine’s FFF Friday story. Luckily, Katherine has enough intelligence for both of us. As a fellow hypoallergenic formula mom, I appreciate her disbelief at how warped some people’s sense of relative risk can be. When your child is suffering from ingesting a food, it doesn’t matter if the substance in question is made from unicorn horns. All you want to do is make the suffering stop. It’s a loving, rational, and (as much as I hate the term) “biologically appropriate” response. I’m not sure how anyone can speak of trusting the maternal gut and making childbirth/childrearing less of a monitored, medicalized experience, and then in the same breath tell a mom she should breastfeed, in spite of her child’s bleeding insides. 
Could be the exhaustion talking, but… I don’t get it. I really don’t get it.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Katherine’s Story
I always planned to breastfeed my baby for the first year. After all, “breast is best” right? I read many books, made sure I had all the requisite nursing supplies, and spoke with friends about their nursing experiences. No one I knew formula fed; I never really considered it as an option.

After an emergency c-section my baby girl was admitted into the NICU immediately after being born. She had ingested a great deal of meconium, and required CPAP her first night to help her breathe. The hospital we were at was a WHO designated “breastfeeding friendly” hospital. Staff were very proactive in getting me pumping early on so my milk would come in. I was able to nurse my daughter in the NICU 12 hours after she was born, and every few hours after that, supplementing as needed with the colostrum I pumped. My daughter never needed formula in the NICU, and on day 4 she was well enough to room with us just as my milk came in. I felt pretty pleased with myself. In spite of needing a c-section and not having immediate skin to skin, here I was, successsfully breastfeeding.

I batled some latch issues, but with the help of my midwife and public health nurse, we were able to resolve them. I didn’t love nursing, but my daughter was gaining weight like a champ (she only ever dropped 2 oz from her birth weight), and seemed to enjoy it. I resolved to persist with my goal to nurse for one year.

At 10 days old, my baby started having bloody and mucousy stool, diarhea, gas and abdominal pain. She also became very fussy at the breast. I cut dairy from my diet. Then soy. Then nuts, eggs, and several other foods. Her issues continued, and her hemoglobin dropped to below acceptable levels. After meeting with a pediatric surgeon who performed a rectal biopsy, we confirmed she had allergic colitis. I met with a nutritionist to ensure my diet was apropriate, and persisted. I was finally beginning to enjoy nursing, and didn’t want to give up just as I was really getting the hang of things.

Finally, after over 2 months of a restricted diet,  we made the choice to temporarily use hypoallergenic formula while I pumped, in the hopes her GI would heal and I could resume nursing. Short term pain, long term gain. I’ll never forget the exchange with the pediatric nutritionist at the hospital as she was giving us samples of hypoallergenic formula to try. It felt like we were doing a drug deal in the parking lot. Since it was a breastfeeding friendly hospital, she felt ashamed to be giving us formula samples, even knowing my daughter’s GI issues.

First we tried Alimentum, but within 12 hours her bleeding was significantly worse. Since Alimentum contains elements of cows milk protein, it can cause a reaction in some babies with milk protein intolerance. So, we switched to Neocate. The change was immediate, but it took 2 weeks for her symptoms to completely resolve.

I should have been thrilled, but instead I was becoming increasingly anxious about resuming breastfeeding, and depressed from the burden of pumping and being on such a restricted diet. I stumbled across an article on Dr. Sears’ website that basically equated hypoallergenic formula to poision. Should I have persisted with breastfeeding in spite of all our challenges?
Finally, we were able to meet with a pediatric allergist. He suggested waiting another 2 months before re-introducing breastmilk, to allow our daughters system to completely heal. I would need to keep pumping, and maintain the diet, since food proteins can remain in the system for several weeks. Even then, there would be no guarantees she would tolerate my milk. His reccomendation was to continue with Neocate, and not reintroduce breastmilk at all. After careful consideration my husband and I decided that switching to formula for good was the best choice for our daughter’s health, and also for my wellbeing.

Making the choice to switch to formula was incredibly liberating. my depression lifted, and I was able to get out of the house with my daughter, eat like a normal person and enjoy life again. Still, I always feel the need to justify why we formula feed. I feel like an anomaly-I’m a formula feeding, c-section having mom in the land of home births and extended breastfeeding. I should have tried harder, eaten less, or -this one takes the cake- kept breastfeeding even if my daughters GI issues didn’t resolve. Because “breastfeeding is best.” Even if it means having a GI tract that is so inflamed, it is BLEEDING.

If anything, my experience has made me so much more empathetic to other moms and the difficult choices we all have to make as parents. We do the best we can with what is presented to us. Ultimately my goal as a parent is to raise a kind, compassionate, open-minded human being, and I seriously doubt that being formula fed has any bearing whatsoever on what kind of a person she will grow to be.

However a mom comes to the choice to formula feed, or have a c-section, or whatever, is ultimately her own business, and we could all stand to be a lot more open minded and empathetic.

Feel like sharing your story? Email it to 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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5 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “We do the best we can with what is presented to us.”

  1. I completely relate to this Katherine, my daughter also required hypoallergenic formula and it really was such a blessing for us that it exists! For us it was a choice between our baby being in constant pain, or using formula- we chose formula!! I applaud you for doing the right thing for your family- I too believe my experience made me more empathetic and I am now very careful to never judge other mother’s choices as I know I have not walked in their shoes.

  2. It’s hilarious that the people who want you to starve your baby for days or make them suffer pain and bleeding for breastmilk are the same people who think it’s child abuse to let your baby fuss in a crib for 5 minutes.

    • Elizabeth isn’t that the truth. I’m always amazed that we as moms still can feel, or made to be felt, guilty when our little ones were in pain or starving. No mom in her right mind wants to see that and it breaks my heart that babies end up suffering because of this idea that formula is poison and despite how they did suffer we still have to “justify” ourselves.

  3. Like you mentioned, more people need to be empathetic. People try to universally justify one way of doing things. It is ridiculous. What works for some people may not for others, and it is unfortunate many don’t understand that there is no conclusive evidence to consistently support one approach or method. Anyways, good for you. Glad everything has worked out and your baby is healthy and happy! =)

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