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.
When Jackie sent me this FFF Friday submission, she was worried that her story “talk(ed) a lot about breastfeeding,” and that she would “understand if you think it might be too hard to read for those moms that are really struggling and not getting anywhere”.
This breaks my heart, not only because Jackie was empathetic enough to think about this while she was trying to speak her own truth, but also because I know she’s right: there WILL be moms for whom any mention of a working breastfeeding relationship is triggering. And not because they didn’t want to breastfeed, but because they did, and they are tired of being made to feel like they could have done more, or questioning their own truths. I know this, because I was one of those moms once.
But it’s not Jackie’s story (which is wonderful, by the way) that makes me angry. It’s the fact that I couldn’t come to the same conclusion Jackie did. It’s the fact that we’ve been presented this black-and-white scenario, where formula is the enemy of breastfeeding, in every damn sense.
Would I have had kept breastfeeding if someone had told me it didn’t need to be all or nothing? That a little formula (or heck, a lot of formula) would possibly be the key to a long-term nursing relationship that didn’t force me to sacrifice my mental or physical health? I have a feeling the answer is yes.
Jackie’s correct that this “hybrid model” wouldn’t work for everyone, but maybe it would work for more of us than the experts would have us believe. Perhaps this formula-breastfeeding dichotomy is a false one, and if we stopped seeing these things as all or nothing, not only would the infant feeding mommy wars cease to be, but more women would also find ways to incorporate breastfeeding (provided this was something they desired) into their lives without it having to be such a complex and identity-defining experience.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
With my first pregnancy I was like most women- determined to breastfeed. My husband and both his brothers were breastfed into the toddler years so he was very much on board as well. My mother always swore she never produced any milk with me (I am an only child) so I was a bit concerned about that, but I noticed colostrum at around 35 weeks so I felt sure that I would be OK.
My first son was born at just over 40 weeks via a 37-hour, drug free, vaginal delivery. He latched right away and everything seemed to be going great. I had 2 lactation consultants visit us in the hospital and both of them thought his latch looked just wonderful. My son was content if sleepy (another red flag we found out later), I had very little soreness, no redness or chapped nipples. I thought I had this breastfeeding thing down! However, when he was 5 days old I decided to go to the breastfeeding support group at the hospital where he was delivered just to get him weighed and meet other Moms with babies around the same age. The LC and I were astonished to discover that my son had lost a full pound – 12% of his birth weight. That was also when we realized that the rusty, red pee diapers he’d been having were a sign of dehydration. I had missed the “color of the urine” discussion in the baby care/breastfeeding classes it seemed.
While we planned to mention it to his doctor, we thought as long as he was peeing regularly that was all that was necessary. Needless to say the LC shoved a bottle of formula at me and I rented a hospital grade pump (I hadn’t bought a pump figuring that would force me to be “good” and not tempt me to give pumped bottles of milk). I started the classic supplementation cycle of breastfeed/give a bottle/pump. When I started I was only getting drops of milk but about 10 days after birth my milk finally came in. Still, I never was able to pump more than 2 oz total in a sitting (both breasts) and by that point I had lost confidence in my ability to breastfeed, plus I was dealing with postpartum anxiety, a form of PPD. After lots of tears, discussions, and agonizing I ended up giving up on actual breastfeeding when my son was 3 weeks old and exclusively pumped for 5.5 months. My son got what milk I could produce and formula for the rest. He started gaining weight like a champ and is now a happy, healthy 20-month-old.
That experience erased any negative feelings I had towards formula, but I knew I wanted to give breastfeeding another shot. I remembered how much I had enjoyed breastfeeding when I thought it was working and hoped that, armed with the knowledge I’d gained the first time around, I could make it work on my 2nd try.
18 months after my first son was born I gave birth to his little brother. Unlike my first, average weight son, my second baby was a whopper, weighing in at 10 pounds 7 oz. I had no medical indications for this (sugar, excessive weight gain, etc.) so we chalked it up to genetics – my husband and I were both big babies (8/14 and 9/9) plus big babies run in my dad’s family. I ended up getting the epidural at the end this time around; the baby’s size made labor much harder and I couldn’t stay on top of the pain like last time. However it was another uncomplicated delivery – I actually got to lift my son up to my chest immediately after birth. He latched right away and fed easily.
Right from the beginning the kid was hungry. We ended up waiting the “golden hour” to do any weighing/measuring by default because he spent the entire period nursing! Determined to get my milk in, I nursed every 2 hours like clockwork (sooner if he wanted it which he frequently did) and my milk was coming in before we left the hospital. I think some of this also had to do with the great support I had in the hospital this time around, including one amazing night nurse who must have answered a million breastfeeding questions. I was much more on guard this time around, but again I was feeling good that things seemed to truly be going well this time.
Then we came home… and our first night back my baby decided to scream from 6:30 to 12:30. I would put him on the breast, he’d eat until he unlatched himself, I’d switch and he’d nurse the second breast until he unlatched again. We’d try to put him down and 10 minutes later he’d be screaming his head off until I latched him again. This time I’d armed myself with some ready-made formula and a feeding syringe (I wanted to avoid the dreaded “nipple confusion”) and we tried giving him 0.5 oz in the syringe but it didn’t do any good. So back to the breast he went. Finally at 2 or 3 in the morning I broke down and let my husband give him a bottle, which of course he gobbled up and went right to sleep.
Thank goodness his first doctor’s appointment was already scheduled for the next day! There, my wonderful doctor told me to do what I secretly wanted to do anyway – let Dad give him a bottle overnight while I pumped. As she pointed out, if my husband gave the baby a bottle while I pumped, we’d be done much sooner and everyone would get more sleep, which I needed to stay sane, stave off the return of PPD, and be able to care for both my boys. My husband is a natural born night owl, thank goodness, so he’s never had a problem being up with me in the middle of the night. In fact, it’s easier for him than for me, a morning person by nature. My doctor also said that it was possible I just wasn’t making quite enough milk yet, especially with such a big baby. So started my hybrid breastfeeding/formula feeding journey. I would mostly breastfeed during the day and at night I would pump while my husband gave the baby bottles. Even though I could feed my baby 95% at the breast during the day with no issues, just like the last time I was never able to get much milk pumping; even after trying many of the standard pumping “tips” such as staring at a picture of the baby or listening to baby cries. I think I’m just one of those women who don’t respond to the pump. I would typically save the small amount of milk I pumped overnight in case the baby really needed a little extra during the day, which was sometimes the case.
This time around breastfeeding has worked out for us, with the help of formula. The baby gained weight slowly but steadily, ending up just an ounce shy of his birthweight at his 2-week check-up. At first we had some gas/spit up issues and I had to play around with brands but finally found that Enfamil Gentleease worked best for us in terms of keeping him happy and keeping the milk inside (which is ironic because my older son couldn’t use Enfamil at all – it gave him the gas and spit-up problems, so he was a Similac baby). I was off work for 6 weeks and during that time I breastfed whenever my baby was hungry, and boy was this kid hungry! In those first weeks I was lucky if he went 2 hours between feedings, it was often more like 1-1.5 hours, and that was often after nursing both breasts for a minimum of 30 minutes (and many times it would be an hour or more). I was lucky to have my mother-in-law staying with us to help take care of my big boy since I spent the majority of my time with the baby attached to my boob. However, even with all that breastfeeding the baby would sometimes not be satisfied and the small bottle of pumped milk was not always enough, so I turned to formula. Though he mostly wanted to always eat, at times he’d get into a deep sleep and wake up starving, then not want to take the breast because he wasn’t getting milk fast enough to satisfy him. At those times an ounce or two of formula would get him just full enough to give him the patience to take the breast. As he’s gotten older it’s not uncommon for him to take both breasts until he’s pulling off in frustration from lack of milk, take a big bottle of formula and then go back to the breast. When I went back to work full time I was lucky to pump one 4 oz bottle of milk (from the same breasts that fed the baby who could take 13 oz of formula overnight!) so he gets mostly formula during the day. I now breastfeed overnight since I’m not with him during the day.
What I learned from my experience is that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. I do think my kid is one of those who just really loves the breast, which I’m sure helps my little hybrid model work (since he’ll latch and suck just for comfort or keep sucking even when he’s drained me dry, giving me stimulation I wouldn’t get otherwise), but formula allowed me to really enjoy my baby this time around. It gives me sleep which I truly believe helped stave off the PPD (no depression for me this time around, yea!), it gives me a happy baby when he’s still hungry after I’m drained dry, it gives me nutritious food for him during the day when I can’t be with him and pumping fails me. Sometimes it just gives me a break or the ability to enjoy my older son, since dad can give my younger son a bottle when I need (or want) to do something other than breastfeed.
I think sometimes in the “breast vs. bottle” debate we lose sight of the fact that they can in fact work together to create an optimal experience. In those first weeks I worried about my supply and would pump if the baby wasn’t interested in eating at the 3-hour mark (which was a rare occurrence but did occassionally happen). Now I don’t worry about it, I figure he’ll eat when he’s hungry and if he’s still hungry after he’s tired of breastfeeding we’ll give him some formula. I did find that it got easier at the 6-week mark like so many LCs and moms say it will; he latched more naturally, fed faster, and stayed fuller longer. We still have some marathon sessions which I think have as much to do with comfort as nutrition, but I don’t sweat that either. I’m mostly continuing to breastfeed because it’s enjoyable for both of us. I feel that I could switch 100% to formula at any time and he’d be just fine. Whenever he decides to wean himself (whether that’s next week or next year) I’ll be fine with that. I know I’ve got an alternate source of food available that will keep him happy and healthy. I know I have been very lucky and that my “hybrid model” wouldn’t work out for everyone, but what I would like to say to moms struggling with breastfeeding is to not be afraid of formula, but rather to see it as a helper and a nutritious alternate source of food. I don’t know what I would have done without formula – 100 years ago would I have turned to goats milk or a lactating relative to supplement my babies, would I have just had unhappy, underfed kids, would my oldest have died from “SIDS” that was really undiagnosed starvation (I shudder to think!)? All I know is formula saved me from all that and, I truly believe, saved my breastfeeding relationship.
Share your story: Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.