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.
Ashley’s story illustrates why I worry about our current, restrictive breastfeeding recommendations, not just for those who don’t want to nurse, but for those who do. Breastfeeding can and should be an amazing experience for both mother and child. By making it a parenting imperative rather than viewing it as a choice (because we do have a choice, as we have throughout history – formula is a more attainable, normalized, and stable alternative than wet-nursing or using paps/unprocessed animal milks, but alternative have always been there), it becomes more like a root canal rather than a massage. If someone wants to nurse once a day for 3 months, they should be just as supported in that choice as someone who breastfeed exclusively for a year. As Ashley explains, sometimes combo feeding can offer the best of both worlds; isn’t it the right of every nursing dyad to find what works for them, with their individual needs? Imagine how it could be if we lived in a world where everyone viewed infant feeding like Ashley’s daughters do. From the mouths of babes, as they say.
Anyway. Have a great Christmas, FFFs. This is my gift to you – one of the most well-written, stand-up-and-cheer, affirming pieces that has come floating through my inbox. Enjoy.
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Today, I nursed my baby for the last time.
And because she’s my last child, I’ll never nurse a child again.
Here’s my confession: We are a full 4 months shy of the AAP-sanctioned 1-year, “it’s-okay-you-can-quit” point.
For me, weaning “early,” entirely by choice with no dramatic reason other than I WANT TO was big step forward in shaking off the rather paternalistic expectations of Bloomberg, my baby-friendly hospital, breastfeeding pressure–promoters in general who advocate breastfeeding for a full year, the sacrificial nobility (yet apparently second-best option) of pumping at work, and the crock that a simple but firm “no bite!” during teething will eliminate all nipple strife.
With my first child, Charlotte, I went through typical breastfeeding hell. Bloody nipples, bawling (me) during oh so painful nursing, and more bawling (her) due to hunger, because I had been told a bottle of formula was a “slippery slope” that would lead to more formula and a reduced milk supply.
I dreaded each next painful feeding and pumped (often while my daughter cried—pumping takes TIME, and you can’t do much mothering attached to the machine) to get a break from my child’s mouth. I longed for sleep or a feeding time-out. My entire support system lived on the opposite coast, and I felt utterly alone and terrifyingly inept.
Finally, when Charlotte was 3 weeks old, I turned to formula. After hours and hours of her frantic crying and equally frantic nursing, I called the pediatrician. Formula, he said. Give her formula.
This being couple years prior to those blasted baby-friendly initiatives, I had some formula from the hospital. I sobbed as I fed my daughter that first bottle, devastated at my failure to merely feed my baby The Right Way and The Best Way. Charlotte drank bottle after bottle. Finally satisfied, she drifted off into a 5-hour nap. From then on, I guiltily slid down that slippery slope, becoming a combo feeder and supplementing when my supply came up short. I vowed to never again let my baby go hungry. I kept my promise. I never skimped on a formula feeding to try to increase my own supply, and cranky Charlotte became a jolly, lively baby.
Returning to work, I pumped for a while. Eventually, I quit, which added to my guilt. Of course I had read statistic after statistic on how working outside the home was the #1 reason women quit breastfeeding “early.” And of course I had read those glib assertions that with a wee bit of commitment, working mothers could still hang onto their I’m-a-good-mom badge by pumping multiple times a day. “Think of it like a little break!” the pamphlets said. Hardly. “Return calls while pumping!” our (male) pediatrician’s hand-out said. Um, pumps are LOUD. “Think of pumping as a way to connect with your baby!” a website cheered. No, pumping just reminded me that she was away from me.
I continued as a combo-feeder, breastfeeding mornings and evenings and bottle-feeding during the day. Ashamed of what was my apparent lack of maternal commitment, I’d hide the canisters of Enfamil at the bottom of my Costco shopping cart, fearing judgment from strangers.
Here’s the screwy thing: At that point, I actually ENJOYED breastfeeding Charlotte, although (or because?) I did it only twice per day. I missed her desperately when working, and now that nursing was no longer a painful, bloody horror show, I loved our sweet, quiet time together.
My daughter weaned herself at 8 months old (yes, babies CAN wean themselves).
Charlotte’s weaning was a mutual and well-timed decision. But even after all the tears, angst, and sheer work that getting to that point entailed, I still felt like a failure. Like I had come up short due to inexperience, the audacity to work outside the home, and the fact that Charlotte simply adored her bottles of formula. In the back of my mind, I worried that I should’ve tried harder.
Next time, I vowed, I’d do better.
When pregnant with my second daughter, Lorelei, I dreaded the upcoming burden of breastfeeding, knowing it would steal from the joy a new baby brings. The pain. The stress. The nurses coming into my room every 2 hours to reprimand me for letting her (and myself) sleep instead of feed.
And that’s pretty much what happened. Sure, I was more adept this time around, but this child also tore me up. Again, I spent hours and hours of my maternity leave pumping, always paranoid about having a relief bottle on hand, loading up the freezer, and giving damaged nipples a chance to heal.
Except for an ounce or two of formula now and then to “top off” a feeding before bed, my daughter was, I suppose, exclusively breastfed for the first 3 months.
But I saw myself as a formula feeder. I viewed that yellowish powder like the Ben & Jerry’s pint I always have in the freezer—there if I needed it but technically off limits. And yet, like the ice cream, I knew I’d eventually consume it, so I felt preemptively guilty. Worrying about the next feeding and my milk supply absolutely consumed me, especially after I returned to work and was at the mercy of what my pump could do.
I pumped at work for 3 months—miserably. My employer, bless its heart, installed a lock on my office door. I had a private place to pump, so what was my excuse? I figured I better keep going. Pumping, pumping, pumping.
My supply faltered, especially after several weeks of ongoing illness. Eventually, I had to mix in some formula with the breast milk when I prepared bottles for day care. Then a whole bottle. Then two bottles.
This devastated me. I had worked so hard! But I realized that I could not WILL myself to make more milk. I just couldn’t. Still, I pumped.
Then one glorious day, my pump broke. My $300 pump that had caused so much misery was dead.
I could buy a new one, I thought.
Or, I could quit pumping.
Though initially upset and panicky, not super thrilled to be backed into a weaning corner, I slowly started to remember what life was like before my body was expected to produce meals every 3 hours. I could take my older child to birthday parties and gymnastics on weekends without pumping a bottle for my husband to give to Lorelei and rushing home for that next feeding. I could get more work done at work, I could spend less time cleaning parts, and I had so much less to remember to pack on hectic mornings.
So, I quit pumping.
With Lorelei, I eventually found that nursing sweet spot I had hit with Charlotte, breastfeeding entirely on our terms—Lorelei’s and mine. Again, I breastfed in the evening, before putting her to bed, and again in the morning before work, my now 3-year-old Charlotte nestled against me, chatting or rubbing her little sister’s head.
Yesterday, as I nursed Lorelei before work, Charlotte asked, “When I was a baby, did I eat from you like Lorelei?” I said yes. “And when I was a baby, did I drink from bottles like Lorelei?”
Looking at Charlotte’s bright, healthy, nonjudgmental face, the pointlessness of all this breastfeeding guilt struck me. To my daughters, breastfeeding is totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering. And to them, bottle-feeding is also totally normal—a loving, nurturing form of mothering.
And they should know.
Lorelei unlatched, sidetracked by her sister, and my goofy girls started blowing raspberries at each other and giggling. My girls know they will always be fed and are deeply loved.
I’m grateful that formula helped me adequately feed my children, and that, with both my girls, I managed to have a segment of time in which I enjoyed breastfeeding.
I hope they know how much I’ve loved nursing them in those quiet, intimate evenings, when we were reconnecting to close out the day, breastfeeding on our terms—for us, and not to maintain supply, to support national anti-obesity agendas, or because hospital pamphlets told us to.
I’m done breastfeeding. I’m nostalgically wistful and a little sad.
But I do not feel guilty.
If you feel like sharing your story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.