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.
Sarah, whose story is below, brings up a really interesting and important point, so often lost in this debate: the inability to/decision not to breastfeed is not specific to modern times. Babies have been fed with breastmilk substitutes for all of history – through wet nurses, animal milks, and ‘paps’. The formula companies capitalized on a need; they did not create it. Even if every formula manufacturer closed up shop tomorrow, there would be mothers who couldn’t or didn’t breastfeed. So rather than fighting this fact of life, perhaps we could entertain the possibility of working together to ensure that whatever substitute parents are using is the best it can be.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
My story begins like many of the other mommies on this blog. I was totally set on breastfeeding exclusively (although willing to pump so that my husband could help out with feedings). I referred to formula as “crap” and mentally prepared myself for the struggles of breastfeeding. I had a friend of mine tell me how difficult it was but I thought to myself, “No problem! It won’t happen to me. And even if it does, I’ll be stronger than the others and see it through to success!”. WRONG!
After having high blood pressure and unbelievable fluid retention, the doctor scheduled me to be induced, much to my displeasure. I just knew that it would end in a c-section. I was right. And while my c-section was fantastic (that may sound strange but when they give you that wonderful body numbing spinal tap that makes you feel all warm and pain free and to hear your baby cry within about 20 minutes, it’s just what you need after 7 hours of a completely failed induction), I had no idea how a c-section would play into making breastfeeding success even harder than it already is. Once they pulled him out, they allowed me to give him a kiss on the cheek and then it was hours until I finally got to hold him. Nevermind that the best time to get those babies on the boob is immediately after they’re born when their suckling reflex is ready to go. With a c-section, you don’t get that option. They whisked me away to a recovery room to monitor me coming off of the spinal tap. Then I was finally put into a post-partum room. Right about the time they were on their way to bring me my newborn son (at least two hours after birth), my spinal tap was completely starting to wear off. I knew that as soon as they gave me medication for the pain, that I would pass out and not be able to hold him. I tried to hold off as long as I could, but after only having him in my arms for 5 minutes, I absolutely had to have medication. Anyone who has ever had a c-section or any type of surgery really, knows what that incision pain feels like. Can’t breathe pain. Seconds after that demoral went through the IV, I passed my baby to my husband for fear of dropping him from the effects of the drug.
The rest is a blur. All I clearly remember next is trying to get him to latch without success probably hours later. But I wasn’t yet discouraged. I knew that it could take several tries. And I was assured that the lactation consultant would be there the next day to help me. Each time we tried with him was unsuccessful. He just wouldn’t latch. So each time we tried without success, we gave him a bottle. The boy had to eat something.
In the meantime, I was pumping in the hospital to get my milk supply started. The lactation consultant told me I had flat and very large nipples that made it difficult, but not impossible, to nurse. So again, I was hopeful. My first night in the hospital after the c-secion, I couldn’t get out of bed. Not only had I just had surgery that morning, but I still had a catheter in. I was also given an ambian so that I could get a full nights rest so I could heal that much quicker. Not to mention my husband and I had already been awake for more than 24 hours at that point. Needless to say, my baby went to the nursery. There was no way I would have been able to get to him in the middle of the night nor did I have any desire to try when I had been recently sliced open.
Once at home, I continued to put my baby to the breast before offering him a bottle. Not only could he just not seem to stay on that nipple, he fought me every time. He seemed to hate the work that had to be done to breastfeed. So he would get a bottle and I would manually pump. About five days after we brought him home, I decided to exclusively pump all of my milk and put it in a bottle. I bought a double electric breastpump and embarked on what would be some of the most miserable weeks of my exsistence. Milk supply was never my problem, but overanalyzing every ounce that I pumped in a session, and wondering whether it would be enough was a problem. My daily worth was measured in ounces. I wrote everything down: when I last pumped, how many ounces it was, how many ounces he ate, blah, blah, blah. I became “proud” of my milk stash that I was storing in the refrigerator. But, both I and my baby were miserable. Everytime I sat down to pump for one of my five to six thirty minute sessions a day, my baby seemed to need something. I was so obsessed with giving him “good mommy milk” that I would ignore his cries and say to him “Just give me ten more minutes, I’m almost done!.” Yeah, right. Ten minutes to an infant is like a lifetime. It got to the point where I felt like I was putting the task of pumping over my child’s needs for attention, love, etc.. Not to mention the feeling of being a slave to the pump. I had to schedule my entire day around it. If I wanted to take the baby for a walk, I had to schedule it around pumping. Forget going out of the house. I barely would have time to make it across town to the store before I needed to head home and immediately strip my top off and attach myself to that machine. My husband would make mooing sounds at me and refer to me as “Bessie”. He did it out of love and it did make the situation less dreadful, but it was a testament to how ridiculous the whole situation was. My child didn’t know what I was trying so hard to do. He just knew that not only was Mommy miserable and cranky, but that she sometimes ignored him to “just get one more ounce.”
For weeks, I debated if and when I should quit. I talked to my husband relentlessly about it until he could have screamed. Everyone around me was so supportive in my decision to possibly quit, except me. I felt like I was taking away from my son what I had no problem making but that he just had a problem eating. I also felt like I was putting an incedible burden on my husband, the bread winner, to purchase formula. But finally, one day, after three months, I’d had enough. I didn’t go over it in my mind any more. I cleared my mind of any distracting thought and went through the physical motions of standing up, putting my clothes back on, turning off the pump, and putting it in the closet. I shut the closet door, backed away slowly, and didn’t second guess myself. I stored my last batch of milk away and felt absolutely awful.
Six months later, I am soooo over it. My son is perfectly healthy. No illnesses, no issues. I don’t feel guilty about pulling a bottle out in public. I don’t feel guilty about purchasing formula. In that six months since quitting the pump, I had to do a lot of reading and thinking to help myself feel better about my decision to formula feed.
I came across so many articles about the history of breastfeeding. As it turns out, women have had trouble with it since the dawn of time. There have been 4,000 year old baby bottles discovered among ancient ruins. The first breast pump was invented in the 1800s just proving that women have always had trouble. Wet nurses would have been needed not only for the wealthy who chose not to breastfeed their own babies, but for women who couldn’t for whatever reason. Nature isn’t perfect. When women have trouble getting pregnant, do these same so-called “breastfeeding police” blame these women for not being able to conceive? No, they see it as a shame. Why wouldn’t troubles with breastfeeding be viewed the same way? And why in the world is breastmilk hailed as this “magical elixir”? It is not a cure all, prevant all for illnesses or other medical issues. An entire generation of people (the babyboomers) were raised on a combination of canned evaporated cow’s milk, water, and CORN SYRUP!!! Yes, the corn syrup that gets such a bad rap as being practically poison in your child’s cereal. Yet this entire generation isn’t walking around with neverending ear infections, or whatever else people claim that breastfeeding prevents. Take my siblings and I as an example. I was breastfed for four months. My sister not at all, and my brother for 9 exclusive months. Guess who was the sickest out of the three? Yup, my brother. Bronchitis and pnuemonia at 6 months, sick several times a year, and most recently had his tonsils removed for excessive sore throats. I had terrible ear infections that caused my temperature to spike every time. My sister, on the other hand, is rarely sick and rarely was as a child. So my conclusion for my next child: If he/she doesn’t take it from the tap, then it’s bottle and formula all the way. And I’ll have a big smile on my face from that first scoop.
If you’d like to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It might take me six months to respond, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. I’m just terrible with email. Be warned.