FFF Friday: “I never expected people to be so quick to blame me for not trying hard enough.”

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. 

One of the changes I’d like to see from the I Support You movement is better access to truly supportive support groups for all new parents- whether they are breastfeeding, combo feeding, or formula feeding. It’s a tough thing to discuss, because what constitutes “helpful” and “supportive” for some does not mean the same to another – I’ve talked to some people who are adamant that if anyone had given them “permission to quit” by not emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding/danger of supplementation, they wouldn’t have met their breastfeeding goals. And yet so many women in the FFF community (and beyond) talk about their breastfeeding support groups and Mommy & Me classes with a distinct but subtle bitterness; a strange hybrid of nostalgia and anger. For every woman who “permission to quit” would’ve been detrimental, there’s another woman who desperately needed that permission.
I hope to see more neutral groups sprouting up – get-togethers that are truly about supporting each person’s unique journey, needs, and desires rather than pushing ideologies. It sounds like in Julia’s (who blogs at Pugs Not Drugs, one of the best names for a blog ever) case, a group like that would’ve allowed her to make decisions which were right for her family without so much heartache. I think that’s something worth fighting for.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Julia’s Story
I had always planned to breastfeed, but in the back of my mind I knew it wouldn’t be easy, as so many friends have so openly shared their struggles with me.  I read books, took the breastfeeding class offered at our hospital, and had the name and number of a highly recommended lactation consultant programmed into my phone just in case.  I didn’t register for or buy any bottles, and I threw away any formula samples that I received in the mail or at the doctor’s office.  I’d read that having it in the house was a black mark against one’s chances for successfully breastfeeding, and I wanted to do everything I could to make breastfeeding successful.

My daughter came into this world just shy of 36 weeks at 5lbs 13 oz and we did immediate skin to skin contact just like all the books recommend.  She latched right away the first time and I felt so much relief. I gave birth in the middle of the night on a Sunday and all the nurses were extremely helpful in getting her positioned and latched as it became more difficult to do after that first time.  Since she was born so early they were watching her blood sugar and temperature very closely.  Both were low and I was encouraged to feed her every 3 hours.  Because she was so sleepy and not sucking very well the nurse brought me a pump to see if I could express some colostrum to give her through a cup or a syringe.  I got nothing from the pump so we started supplementing with ready to feed formula via cup feeding, thinking we’d only need to do it for a day or so until my milk came in and the baby was over her sleepiness and then we’d be set.

The next day a lactation consultant came by my room to observe a feeding. She said we had a good latch, handed me a folder of info, and said we’d be well on our way once my milk was in.  No mention of renting a pump or any information about the breastfeeding support group they had weekly.  There was a flier for the support group in the folder but it did not state where or when it met, simply that it existed.  My daughter’s temperature and blood sugar were improving by the middle of the day and even though she was always asleep, we knew that was a normal and figured she’d wake up and get more interested in eating soon.

When her blood sugar and temperature regulated and we were discharged from the hospital with instructions to keep breastfeeding every 3 hours and supplement with formula via cup feeding after she nursed until my milk came in.  We took all the formula samples we could fit in our bag home in hopes we wouldn’t have to buy any formula ourselves.  I was still running pretty high on adrenaline at this point but the lack of sleep was catching up with me.  We knew we were fortunate that she had spent zero time in the NICU despite being a late term preemie, but we were so nervous about taking home such a small baby and having to care for her ourselves.  She was just so tiny and fragile.

The day after discharge we saw the doctor in the office and learned that my baby was quickly losing weight (down from 5 lbs 13oz to 5lbs 6 oz) and becoming jaundiced, so we had to come in daily that week for blood draws and were told to breastfeed/supplement every 2-2.5 hours around the clock.  My daughter had plenty of wet diapers but hadn’t pooped since birth.  I scheduled an appointment with the LC I’d heard good things about for the end of the week.  The doctor encouraged us to go to the breastfeeding support group for a weighed feeding and told us where and when it took place.  At one point I thought my milk had come in, but it was wishful thinking. My breasts felt fuller but I wasn’t getting anything when I tried to hand express and my baby was growing increasingly frustrated at the breast.
Again the next day we were back in the doctor’s office for more blood work to check her billi levels.  She was turning a nice shade of orange by this point and we were in full freak out mode.  I had consulted with many of my friends online about our breastfeeding issues at this point and they were so incredibly helpful and encouraging, however, over and over I was hearing  from them and reading online that I should be pumping if I was supplementing.  Moms that had been in a similar situation as myself had been sent home with a pump and instructed to pump every time they supplemented with formula so that their supply would not suffer.  The LC at the hospital never mentioned that.  They’d sent me home with the pump flanges and tubing from my one failed attempt at pumping in the hospital but I was given no info on pump rentals.  When I called the information desk at the hospital to inquire I found out I could rent a pump at the BF support group where we were headed that afternoon.

My daughter would.not.wake.up. during the group so I didn’t get to do a weighed feeding.  I did weigh her and was so upset to learn that she had dropped another 2 oz, down to 5lbs 4oz.   I did get my pump from the LC but no instructions on how to use it.  Thankfully youtube filled in the gaps for me!  I started pumping right away (after every feeding, day and night) but just got a few drops of colostrum as my milk still wasn’t in yet. Fortunately I got a call at the end of the day that her billi levels were leveling off and we breathed a sigh of relief.  Goodbye jaundice!

Five days after her birth my milk still hadn’t come in and my baby was screaming and crying when I brought her to the breast (and by that point I was crying too!)  When she wasn’t screaming and crying she was fast asleep and difficult to arouse for feedings, typical of late term preemies.   I got so tense and filled with dread before every feeding.  I was letting her breastfeed for 10-15 minutes per side (although I had to pull her off and wake her up every 2-3 minutes since she kept falling asleep) and then we’d supplement with the cup.  15-20 ccs after every feeding.  She gulped it right down.

The LC was amazing.  We met with her for 90 minutes and she helped me improve our latch, gave us tricks for keeping our sleepy baby awake and sucking, and taught us about doing compressions to bring the fatty hind milk forward.  I felt so encouraged during that one feeding in her office.  It was a weighed feeding but at the end when we weighed her she had gained nothing.  Nothing at all. She hit her lowest weight yet: 5lbs 2 oz.  I was armed with information and new techniques to try but no milk, the key ingredient to breastfeeding!

During our consultation the LC asked lots of questions about my medical history including a question about whether or not we’d had difficulty getting pregnant.  As a matter of fact, we had.  After going off birth control in early 2011 I never ovulated on my own and I needed Clomid to get pregnant.  The doctor suspected PCOS but while I had some of the classic signs, I didn’t have any cysts on my ovaries or irregular lab work, so it was never an official diagnosis.  The LC informed me that many women with PCOS have problems with low milk supply.   Other issues she noted were that my breasts never changed in size while I was pregnant  and I’d had zero leaking of colostrum during my third trimester.   Both of these things can be normal and not indicative of one’s ability to breastfeed, but sometimes they are a clue that difficulties are ahead.   She gave me some mother’s milk special blend supplements and detailed instructions on how much to take and how often.  She also fitted me with a hands free pumping bra and told us it was okay to use bottles instead of cup feeding.  Less messy and unlikely to cause nipple confusion if we used the right kind of bottles. I can honestly say if we hadn’t met with this LC we would have given up breastfeeding before the end of that first week.  She armed us with enough strategies and confidence to persevere, at least until my baby reached her due date, the first goal we set for ourselves.

My milk finally came in a week after my daughter was born, but I was never engorged and never leaked.  I was only pumping about an ounce a day.  I went to the BF support group weekly for weighed feedings and they were depressing.  One week she got 2/3rds of an ounce.  Another week she got about 1/3rd of an ounce.  The milk just was not there.  I was taking the supplements, pumping, drinking a shitload of water, but to no avail.  My milk supply was not increasing despite my best efforts.

I cried a lot during those first weeks and wanted to quit breastfeeding so badly but held on to the advice friends gave me, especially “never quit on a bad day.”  My husband hugged me and gave me pep talks and finally my daughter’s due date arrived.  She did wake up some, but it wasn’t a drastic change as I’d hoped for.  My pump rental was expiring and I returned it to the hospital.  I was so done with that thing, it had done nothing to increase my supply and all the time and effort I was putting in for approximately 1 oz a day was not worth it.  We needed much more than that to supplement so we had to rely on formula.

Bonding with my baby was extremely difficult that first month.  I was growing to resent her and resent the pump.  My husband got to snuggle her and play with her and was clearly bonding with her and I was stressed out and in tears worried about how much she was eating.  The grueling feeding schedule was taking its toll on my mental health.  I remember crying while she cried during a feeding one night thinking “I just want to be able to enjoy my baby.”  Breastfeeding was not the warm, lovey dovey, bonding experience the books had promised it would be.  It was anything but.  When I turned the pump in and accepted that supplementing with formula was just what we were going to have to do, things really started to turn around for me mentally and emotionally.

Around 6 weeks I stopped going to the breastfeeding support group.  The weighed feedings were depressing and stressed me out.  The LCs leading the group offered me no advice that I hadn’t already read online. One mom in the weekly group was regularly pissing me off and making it a very hostile environment for several of us (many of us attending had premature babies with latch/supply issues).  She openly criticized those of us in the group that were supplementing with formula.  I dreaded the group and wasn’t getting anything from it but more frustration.

I was slowly reaching the acceptance stage by this point and was just breastfeeding on demand and following up every feeding with a bottle.  She was gaining weight thanks to the formula and I was grateful.  Around 12 weeks my daughter started refusing the breast.  She was hitting a growth spurt and going on nursing strikes for 12-24 hours, leaving me with clogged ducts and rock hard breasts.  She was screaming at my breasts and happily sucking down her bottles of formula.  I knew it was time to wean and over the course of a few days we did.  Sudafed dried me up and just like that we were exclusively formula feeding.

During those first three months of my daughter’s life I got some really great advice and encouragement from friends and family.  I also got some horrible advice, was judged by other moms, and felt so much guilt and disappointment over how things were playing out.  I soaked in encouraging words like “every drop of breast milk you give her is a gift” and “it gets easier” (and it did get easier after about 6 weeks just like everyone said.)  ”Don’t quit on a bad day” was probably the best advice I received.

some of the hurtful advice I was given when people learned I was struggling with my supply:

  • I needed to spend more time with my baby (24/7 wasn’t enough??)
  • I needed to just stop formula feeding altogether and trust my body to produce milk (so starve my child in the meantime??)
  • I needed to pray harder for God to increase my supply (what the…I still have no words, this is SO insulting and I heard it from multiple people.)

I didn’t respond to those comments.  I honestly could not think of a response that wasn’t “go !#@$ yourself” in many cases, so saying nothing was the better road.  I never expected people to be so critical and quick to blame me for not trying hard enough.

I am so happy I was able to breastfeed for 3 months when at one point I didn’t think I’d get past the first week, but I also wish our breastfeeding relationship hadn’t ended so soon.  I was disappointed that I didn’t have the “easy” and “natural” breastfeeding experience that so many books and friends touted nursing could be.

I knew going into it that breastfeeding could be difficult, but I was expecting difficulties such as cluster feeding, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, and oversupply/engorgement (lol, as if).  I really had no idea how exhausting it could be and I certainly had no idea what kind of emotional toll it would take.

My daughter is now 9 months old and happy and healthy.  She is thriving on formula and I am so grateful to live in a time and place where we have easy access to ways to feed our babies when breast milk is insufficient.  I really have a heart for new moms dealing with breastfeeding difficulties and guilt over using formula.  Being open with others about my own experience has led to so many great friendships and connections with other moms.  I hope sharing my story can provide encouragement to others to share their story and be a voice for formula feeders.


If you’d like to share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday, feel free to shoot me an email 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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2 thoughts on “FFF Friday: “I never expected people to be so quick to blame me for not trying hard enough.”

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It is very similar to my own, and every story I hear makes me feel less alone in my situation. It was so hard and felt like the end of the world when I was going through it, but as time passes and I “meet” others with a similar experience it gets easier to accept. So thank you for the encouragement!

  2. So sorry you went through this. I cannot believe people told you to pray for more milk, how insulting and ignorant. Well done for doing what you needed to do for your baby’s health.

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