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.
This story speaks volumes about – well, about so many things.
So for once, I’m going to be quiet and let it speak for itself.
Happy Friday, fearless ones. And Happy Valentine’s Day – I’ve got nothing but love for each and every one of you, including the wonderful Caroline.
Recently, I was putting the final touches on the spread I had laid out for our lunch guests when I unexpectedly began to panic. We were awaiting a visit from a new-to-town couple and their toddler, and I wasn’t worried about normal things, such as kids behaving and everyone having a good time. Instead, I realized it had been an hour since my baby had had his bottle, and with the frequent feedings his reflux demands, I knew he’d have to eat again during our guests’ visit. My mind began racing to consider if this was going to be an issue and I immediately recalled the first time I’d met the mom at church, and her tone then and comments as she’d discussed infant feeding with another mom. I had forgotten about that, and now I was worried about the inevitable discussion (you all know the one!) when the bottle would come out. Was I going to get the verbal “At least you tried,” accompanied by the condescending smile, or would it be the, “Well, so-and-so’s milk/baby didn’t do x for y whole days, but then she tried z and she was able to nurse!”? Should I just plan to take my son covertly upstairs to the nursery for a diaper change and give him a few RTF bottles in private? I spotted my bottle sterilizer – was there still time to hide the contraband from the kitchen?
You know, I promised myself it wasn’t going to go down like this…AGAIN. You see, this was me (FFF Friday: “These are the memories I have of my sons first few weeks”). Short version: no milk supply. The happy ending to that story didn’t take place until my first born son’s twelve month pediatric appointment when we were given the clear to switch to cow’s milk. I drove home that day crying tears of joy, thinking, “He’s FINALLY going to be eating the same as all the other kids his age! Thank God! It no longer matters!”
While pregnant with my second born, I became committed to not having another horrible first year. I read up on IGT and myth vs. fact regarding nursing (yay for this website and Joan Wolf’s Is Breast Best?) and talked at length with my best friend who happens to have both an MD and a PhD in biomedical research. While I knew in my head that the supposed benefits of nursing are often overstated without proper scrutiny, in my heart I still genuinely wanted to be able to nurse. I hated bottle feeding my first born – aside from the social pressure and guilt, I hated the preparation time and hassle of keeping sterile equipment, not to mention the mess and cost. However, while I had decided to give nursing another shot, I wasn’t going to go overboard spending hundreds of dollars on supplements, equipment or consultations – this time, the only extra thing I was willing to try was the one thing we had not tried with my firstborn: placenta encapsulation (talk about the epitome of crunchy motherhood!!).
My second born son’s arrival was nothing out of the ordinary, save him being post-term, with nothing happening that might interfere with nursing. The day he was born, he had no interest and would not latch, but I was encouraged not to worry. Eleven hours after his birth, he still wouldn’t latch and had been crying out in hunger pains, so I chose to give him his first bottle. It honestly felt wonderful to be able to feed my newborn and ease his pain with a bottle! I had dehydrated and basically starved my first born and wasn’t going to do that with my second born – I refused to put nursing above my child’s health again. By day two, the placenta pills were ready, my son had a perfect latch, and we spent the day working on getting my milk to come in. To my utter amazement, it did! Something white began to come out of my chest, and the feeling I got the night of the third day when I heard a child of mine actually swallow for the first time while attached to me was amazing. I was not given that blessing with my first born son, so I am grateful to have had it with my second born.
As the days went on, we spent the majority of my newborn son’s waking hours nursing. I would switch him from side to side to side for one to two hours, and only when he was super fussy from hunger and would no longer latch would I allow him a bottle. The formula milk would then settle him to sleep for a quick nap, and the cycle would repeat. I was determined to give nursing all that I could, and began to dream that my milk supply would increase so that I could drop off the formula. As the days and weeks began to pass, the ounces of formula seemed to be winning the race, so I added pumping in to the mix to try to increase my supply, sometimes able to pump one or two full ounces in a twenty-four hour period.
For the following months, I rode the combi-feeding emotional roller coaster. Breastfeeding became my primary focus. I knew most of my son’s daily calories were coming from the formula milk, but I continued to get my hopes up about one day nursing exclusively. I remember getting so happy just to see a bit of breast-milk poo mixed in with my son’s dirty diaper and hoping the next diaper would have more. I found nursing to be so much easier than bottle feeding. My son had a textbook latch with only the occasional lip tuck, and he would drop off and re-latch himself if he wasn’t on properly, so I didn’t have pain from the latch – the only pain I experienced was the glass shard sensation from him sucking on an empty breast. It was also a breeze to soothe a baby at 2 a.m. with the breast while my husband prepared the bottle of formula that would eventually get the baby back to sleep – so much better than having the baby scream while waiting for a bottle! When I had female visitors over and had to nurse in front of them, they gave me happy smiles as though to say, “Welcome to the club!” Our pediatrician even treated us differently, talking about the superiority of breastfeeding and how she wouldn’t need to monitor his growth like she did with our toddler (even though they are following a similar curve), which meant no monthly weight checks or daily intake reporting this time. I even got to experience the odd sensation of nursing in public, both in a private room and in our car, finding that to be an extremely efficient way to soothe a crying baby when out and about. The only drawback to the nursing side of combi-feeding came in the bonding department: it wasn’t the bee’s knees I’d thought it was supposed to be. We nursed tummy to tummy with him looking over my shoulder, and I found I better enjoyed gazing into his beautiful eyes while he ate from a bottle.
Eventually, combi-feeding with low milk supply proved to be unsustainable. By the time my placenta encapsulation pills ran out, we were giving him a bottle every two hours plus nursing every four, and I had lost all hope of ever being able to nurse exclusively. When my son was a few days shy of four months old, he refused to latch for several days. I tried to express, but could no longer get anything white to come out. My milk had dried, and my son had self-weaned (yes, such things actually DO happen!!!). Rather anticlimactically, with no painful swelling or leaking, nursing was now over. Meanwhile, my husband had noticed some of the familiar signs of post-partum depression creeping into our lives again, but so long as I had been nursing even a tiny bit, I was unwilling to feed anti-depressents to my son. Looking back, I know it was a stupid decision to put the idol of nursing above maternal mental health, but at the time, all I could think of was how much we’d gone through with my older son and how I would have done anything just to have been able to give him a teaspoon of breast-milk. I just didn’t have the heart to pull nursing away from my younger son (once he pulled himself away, though, I did get back on the medication).
So, there it is. That’s my story for unsuccessful breastfeeding, take two. There were some lessons I learned the first time around that made things easier: avoiding public baby groups, feeding my son at church in an out-of-view location, ordering formula online or sending my husband in to the store when we had a coupon, avoiding militant lactivists on the internet, staying away from baby books, and taking the toddler but leaving the baby home with my husband when our whole family is invited to a party. Maybe such tactics make me a far-from-fearless formula feeder, but if you recall my goal of not having another horrible first year, it was essential for me to avoid hurtful comments and invasive questions. It has also helped to read every post on the FFF so that I can be reminded that I’m not alone. I have learned the hard way to limit my interaction with some of my more judgmental friends so as not to have another criticism of my child’s feeding, my birth choices, or my parenting decisions bouncing around in my head for days afterward… except for that tiny little omission I mentioned at the beginning of my story.
So, did I cower in the nursery? Did she see the bottle supplies? In the end, the family ended up not coming to our house that day, so I was worried for nothing. That’s how it goes.
Be my valentine. Email me your FFF Friday story: firstname.lastname@example.org.