FFF Friday: “I succeeded because she made it clear whatever I could handle was okay…”

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.

Before Catherine sent me this FFF Friday post, she emailed me to make sure it was kosher, considering that her baby gets 100% breastmilk. Obviously I said yes; heck, I wish I received more submissions from mothers who exclusively breastfed, combo fed, or exclusively pumped (as Catherine does). The ethos of this page has nothing to do with feeding method – you can just as easily be an FFF if you’ve never used formula as you can if you’ve never breastfed. What we stand for here is flexibility when it comes to parenting in general, especially when it comes to early parenthood. FFFs don’t believe dogma belongs in breastfeeding promotion or practice, and we believe that formula can be a conduit to breastfeeding “success”, however you choose to define it. What matters to us is that mothers and fathers are supported and educated in feeding and caring for their babies in a way that works for their family. I think Catherine’s attitude exemplifies this, and I’m really excited to share her story this week.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

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Catherine’s Story

I had my daughter at the beginning of March, and almost immediately she was labeled a “champ nurser” by everyone in the hospital.  Two lactation consultants came by over the course of my stay, and they told me that my milk was already in and my body could teach classes on nursing. I was pleasantly bewildered–I had no idea why everything was going so well, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Things changed the day after I got home. Rapid engorgement, fussy baby, unfilled diapers. I pumped and nothing came out. I went to see a lactation consultant just in time to avoid mastitis.
We ended up making several visits. My daughter latched perfectly and seemed to be nursing just fine, but when the LC weighed her afterward she’d sometimes only have gotten two or three mls. The LC didn’t know what was wrong, but she put me on a strict nursing-pumping-feeding schedule, gave me a breastflow bottle for the pumped milk, and filled a bag with ready-made formula to supplement with. She said I needed to offer the baby 2 ounces of formula at every feeding, because the most important thing was that she get enough calories.
Then, my supply disappeared due to all the time I’d spent getting engorged while my daughter wasn’t pulling enough milk. We ran out of the ready-made bottles and had to go buy some more. It was one of the saddest grocery runs of my life, reaching for the can and seeing “BREAST IS BEST” written prominently on the front of it.
Thanks. Like I wasn’t already trying not to cry in public.
Two weeks later, things hadn’t really improved. My supply was up a bit, but my husband was headed back to work full time and my mother was going home. The baby still wasn’t nursing well. I was exhausted from a 45-minute routine that had to be performed every 2.5 hours around the clock. We went back to the LC and I told her that at 3 weeks postpartum I was ready to give up.
“I don’t blame you,” she said. “You’ve done pretty much everything you can at this point.”
She told me that continuing to pump was an option even if I cut out the attempts to nurse, that my daughter would still get the benefits from breastmilk even if I supplemented with formula. She gave me a schedule for shortening and dropping pumps if I decided that I did want to quit altogether. Her only note of caution was that formula was expensive. She said I could call her anytime if I just needed someone to talk to.
I decided that if I dropped the nursing, pumping alone might not be so bad. We gave my daughter breast milk and formula in tandem for a couple of weeks until my supply was high enough that we could cut the formula altogether. My daughter is almost four months old and it’s looking like I’ll be able to pump milk for her until she’s 12 months at least.
I guess the militant breast-is-best crowd would call it a success story, of sorts. But why did I “succeed”? I succeeded because the lactation consultant shoved a ton of formula at me when my daughter was in distress. I succeeded because she made it clear that whatever I could handle was okay. I wish more people understood this–every time you lock up the formula, every time you make a mother dole milk into her newborn’s mouth with a tiny spoon to avoid “nipple confusion,” every time you tell her that even ONE bottle of formula will be the end of her milk supply, you are setting her up to fail. Your very inflexibility will drive her to exclusively formula feed her baby once she crashes and burns and can’t take it anymore.
I’ve done the best I can for my daughter, but some people still don’t think it’s enough. It has to come straight from the tap, you see. Fresh but bottled is slightly inferior, refrigerated even more so. The antibodies deactivate.
It was around this point that I realized that this is ridiculous. It’s insane. It has very little to do with the well-being of babies and everything to do with how women need to feel about themselves.
Yes, my baby gets breast milk. But I work half-time from home, and I cut holes in my bra so I can pump at the computer. I have to pump every two hours–if I worked in an office it would be absolutely prohibitive. I am not some mama bear earth goddess. No one is. I am fortunate because my circumstances allow for it, and more women need to realize that that’s all there ever is to it.
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If you have a story to share for FFF Friday, please 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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7 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I succeeded because she made it clear whatever I could handle was okay…”

  1. I’ve been lurking on FFF ever since someone in a hideous babycenter formula vs breast thread turned me on to this blog, and I’ve become obsessed! This has got to be my favourite FFF Friday of all time, and what do you know? It was written by a Mom who gives her child all breast milk! Cheer! Congratulations Catherine, on your amazing success! And amen to everything in your story 🙂

  2. I think it is awesome that the LC made the baby’s health the priority and was supportive of formula and breast feeding. I’m glad that it is working out for you! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Love love love this. I exclusively pumped and the amount of self-hatred regarding it not being enough that I ran into on EP boards astounded me. I still think fondly of the LC who told me that exclusively pumping was a perfectly valid choice.

  4. This is very similar to what happened to me with both my babies. My son is just three months old now and I’m pumping again. Everyone thought his latch was great in the hospital, except for the severe pain I was in, but I figured that was normal for the first few days, right? Wrong! He wasn’t sucking properly and like your baby, would nurse and nurse and get next to no milk. The LC’s I saw were very kind and helpful to me as well, and they got me on a pumping schedule right away. I was so disappointed because I’d pumped for nearly a year for my daughter and was really hoping to nurse this time. Right now he gets about 90% breast milk, but since my supply is stable I am only going to pump 4 times a day and then give him formula when he needs more. This way I am hoping to keep my sanity and save some money too. 🙂 I am so glad you’ve found a solution that works for your family. After all that is what is most important, not what goes into tiny tummies.

  5. This might also be my favorite Fearless Friday too. You go Catherine for so confidently finding the solution that works for you. And hats of to the LC you got to work with. If more LCs had that approach I think more women might be able to find solutions that include getting breast milk to their babies OR at least feeling fully supported in their choice to do whatever makes them sane and feeds their baby! Not to put blame of the LCs but as you stated the craziness that there might ONLY be one right way to feed our babies is the advice and council that led me down a dark road in my first month post-partum. This site and success stories like yours continue to build my confidence that doing what’s best for me, my family, my body and situation makes for what’s best for my incredible baby boy!

  6. Fantastic post and fantastic points. I suffered breast feeding complications that became very severe and dangerous to my health (my backed up milk began to form a huge tumor that the doctors couldn’t control even with multiple needle aspirations and surgery) which ended up forcing me to quite BF all together in order to stay out of the hospital.
    Looking back I wish so much that the LCs had been more supportive of routes besides only nursing a baby and nothing else because I found out after the fact that if I’d pumped more and bottle fed more I likely would not have undergone what I did. But the LCs I saw were too afraid that if they encouraged me to pump I’d “fail” at BF. I wish more pro BF advocates would realize that sometimes pumping, bottles, and formula can be a vehicle to a better BF experience, just like Catherine pointed out.

  7. This was fantastic to read. I’m 7 months pregnant and really want to be able to breast-feed, mostly because formula’s so expensive, but I have to avoid the lactivist blogs and books because they’re so obnoxious it makes me really unhappy. I ran across “Bottled Up” and read it a few months ago, and it was extremely helpful in taking away a lot of the anxiety I had regarding breast-feeding. That lactation consultant sounds like she is amazing–it’s wonderful to hear about someone who’s more concerned with the mother and baby’s well-being than pushing an agenda that might not be right for them.

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