About Suzanne Barston

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.

FFF Friday: “It feels like this is something for which I must beg forgiveness.”

My #ISupportYou partner, Kim Simon, and I have been working hard on developing a guide for bottle feeding support groups. In doing so, I’ve been pondering the reasons why we need such groups. After all, isn’t bottle feeding easy? Shouldn’t a decent handout on proper preparation and sterilization be sufficient for new formula feeding parents? There isn’t a learning curve like there is with breastfeeding; once you’ve got the hang of it, and have found a formula that works, you should be good to go.

 Right?

This is what most of society believes, and it is so far from “right”. Maybe it is true for some families, but certainly not for the women who frequent FFF. True, the logistics of bottle feeding are pretty straightforward (although I personally believe troubleshooting is often needed, and resources for bottle issues are sorely lacking). But there is an emotional, psycho-social component to formula feeding that requires support and community. 

If you don’t believe me, I urge you to read the story below. As Erin writes below, her experience with the shame of formula feeding “has been tremendously awful for the relationship I have with my baby. I started to pull away from him because it hurt so much to feel like I was harming him in some way. Everything about him reminds me of what wrong I think I’m inflicting.” How can we put so much pressure on women to nurse in the name of better bonding with their infants, when that same pressure is having the exact opposite effect on those who are unable or choose not to nurse? What would happen if, as bottle feeding parents, we had a place to come, to feel normal, to feel accepted, and to work through these conflicted emotions?

I want to create those spaces. Because I don’t want Erin and others like her to feel this way. It isn’t fair, it isn’t healthy, and it isn’t “right”. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,
The FFF
***
Erin’s Story

I had my first baby last month, after spending several weeks in the hospital with preeclampsia. When the preeclampsia became severe, I was given a c-section. My son was born at 35 weeks. The c-section did not go well–an insufficient amount of anesthesia was used, so that while I experienced some pain the muscles of my uterus did not relax, causing a half-hour struggle in the OR where a tech pushed at my belly and the OB tried to pull my baby out. Eventually they were forced to do more cutting in order to save his life.

As a preemie, he found it really hard to nurse, but I was determined. After my milk came in, I cup-fed him so that he would still be able to breastfeed. We had many visits by the lactation consultants. We were sent home with him nursing a little bit and supplemented by the cup. He was first introduced to formula when I was hospitalized again for an infection of my incision. As soon as I could, I was trying to nurse him again.

But it became clear after several weeks that it wasn’t really working. I had to nurse him for an hour, then feed him several ounces of pumped milk or formula, and then pump. It was the most exhausting ritual I’ve ever experienced, leaving no time for sleep. I paid for another visit with a lactation consultant, who found that he has a tongue and lip tie that prevents him from nursing successfully. We are now scheduled to have it removed, but for now he is being bottle fed, and it’s unlikely I will be able to nurse. In the post partum emotional rollercoaster, this is a punch to the gut. I have tried so hard. Seeing him refuse the breast (because he got nothing!) made me have crying jags for days.

What I’ve noticed is that this has been tremendously awful for the relationship I have with my baby. I started to pull away from him because it hurt so much to feel like I was harming him in some way. Everything about him reminds me of what wrong I think I’m inflicting. Seeing this happen, I know I had to give up the expectation of breastfeeding and not think about it. Otherwise he is going to have a depressed, withdrawn mother, which I’m sure will be much worse for him than any difference between methods of feeding. It’s just so hard to let it go. The cultural saturation of “breast is best” is really not helping. Everything I read online is disdainful of formula, even though many moms I’ve called, in tears, say they used it early or even exclusively. This needs to be an acknowledged reality so that when breastfeeding can’t happen moms don’t feel like they are harming their child, especially as it seems like a large number of women don’t breastfeed for whatever reason.

Reading other’s stories has helped. I am still crying a lot, and it still feels like this is something for which I must beg forgiveness. But my son is healthy so far, and I need to let this go.

***
Share your story: Email it to me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

Transformed by Postpartum Depression: A book review

“We need both medicine and mothers to create the future of maternal mental health.” – Walker Karrraa, PhD

 

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It’s no secret that I’m a survivor of postpartum depression. It’s something I talk about a lot, and it informs everything I do with FFF.  There is an obvious correlation between breastfeeding and postpartum mental health; whether this connection is positive or negative is a highly subjective, personal, individual matter. I see so many blanket statements, based on problematic data collection, and leaps of logic when it comes to this topic. No one ever stops to listen to the mothers who don’t fit their particular thesis. And while the topic of maternal mental health has slowly been gaining proper attention in both the media and research communities, as usual, the most important voices have been ignored: the voices of the mothers who have lived through PPD, and lived to tell the tale.

Thanks to Walker Karraa, PhD, these voices are now being heard. In her new book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression (Praeclarus Press, 2014) she reports on her own analysis and research as well as that of other pioneers/thought leaders in the maternal mental health field. But throughout, she allows the words of her subjects tell the story. And it’s an important story – one that not only highlights Karraa’s thesis, that PPD can be both traumatic and transformative, but also details how we are failing mothers at every turn. This is something that’s been discussed, even here on this blog, but Karraa’s delivery of the information is profoundly moving and startling because it is so specific, personal, and honest.

Using her interviews with 20 different women, all of whom survived moderate to severe PPD, Karraa examines the experience of postpartum depression. But this isn’t some clinical, cold volume that treats its subjects like research – the care and admiration Karraa has for her subjects is clear throughout the text. It’s a unique book; one that I believe will be just as helpful to moms as it is to mental health professionals and academics.

I think the FFF Friday series is powerful for many reasons, but the one that feels most vital to me is this: for every specific, personal story I share, there are hundreds of moms out there who see themselves in the words. These experiences are individual, but also collective, and sharing them helps both the writer (catharsis) and the reader (relief/camaradarie/normalization). Karraa’s book serves this purpose for the postpartum depression community. That would be enough – but she goes a step farther, pondering complex questions about how we approach the pathology of depression, and even analyzing her own reactions to her research. The result is something entirely unique, engaging, and important.

One section that deserves national attention – like, yesterday – is Karraa’s chapter on the failure of care providers to help these women. Her interviewees report harrowing tales of begging for help, only to be cruelly dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed. Nearly all reported a complete lack of forewarning that PPD was even a possibility, in prenatal classes and OB/GYN appointments – even when they had past histories of mental illness. Lactation consultants failed to see what breastfeeding was doing to a mother’s mental health; pediatricians told mothers their suicidal thoughts were “normal”; therapists refused to help or refer to others who could. These mothers were forced to take matters into their own hands, as Karraa describes:

As I analyzed this data, images of the walking wounded came to mind – as if these women were hemorrhaging – in public – and no one noticed… To walk through daily life dying and being ignored by care providers, and invisible to support systems was crazy-making and cruel. There was almost a punitive sense of the experience of care-provider failure – an additional layer of humiliation, indignity, and negligence…women got pragmatic; if their providers were not going to fix the problem, they would do it themselves.”

Of course, this could be viewed as a silver lining, in the American, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps sort of way. But that is not what Karraa is advocating. It’s inspiring to see how these women overcame adversity, but infuriating that they had to do it alone. I hope that this book will act as the missing link – a close-up on the face of postpartum depression, a healing volume for those who have been through this particular battle, and a call to action for our society to make immediate changes in how we approach postpartum mental health.

FFF Friday: “Why I am suggesting my wife stops pumping.”

Lately, I’ve seen more discussion about the roles fathers (and partners) play in supporting breastfeeding. But I fear that there’s something missing in this discussion, a rather large elephant in the room that everyone is stubbornly ignoring despite the odor coming from the large pile of elephant dung in the corner. 

Having a supportive partner is absolutely fantastic when you’re trying to breastfeed. But what does being supportive really mean? Does it mean being a breastfeeding cheerleader, reminding your partner of the benefits and imploring her to keep going? Or does it mean stepping in when you see her emotionally disintegrating before your eyes? How do we help our partners truly support us – by indoctrinating them on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, or by educating them on postpartum mental health, and the importance of the emotional stability of the family? 

My husband struggled with this. It’s something I’ve talked about before, but probably not to the extent that I should have. In our case, he took the breastfeeding classes and was entirely convinced that formula was NOT an option for our family. Plus, I’d told him I wanted to breastfeed. This meant that he believed his role was to keep reminding me of these things; every time I burst out in tears, wanting to quit, he’d say “this is what we decided” or “I have to think of FC, and what’s best for him.” As I was already halfway down the rabbit hole of PPD, these were not helpful statements. I resented him, and felt even more like a failure when things didn’t work out. 

Six years later, Fearless Husband can’t even discuss what I do for a living. He’s still drowning in anger about it all; he feels like he was manipulated, which led him to put his wife’s emotional health (and his son’s physical health) at risk because of what society and the “experts” told him was absolute truth. I can look at my own experience with perspective; the passion I feel about this topic is no longer personal, but about feminism and justice and truth. For him, it’s still personal. 

Our partners can be part of the solution, or part of the problem. They can’t win. They are doomed if they push us to keep going when we really need to stop, or if they push us to stop when we want to keep going; when they don’t have an opinion either way, or when they have too strong an opinion. So what can we do to help them help us? 

I’d love to hear your ideas, and to collect them in a post that can be shared with concerned fathers and partners. Leave them in the comments below, or on the FFF Facebook page. 

To start this conversation, I want to share a unique submission I received from Jeff, a father who is dealing with this exact Sophie’s choice of a situation. I am grateful to him for sharing his thoughts, and for supporting his wife in the best way he can. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

Jeff’s Story

We wanted to breast feed our baby for six months. We were committed to it. In fact, I was worried that as the dad, I wouldn’t have enough to do in the first months to care for our baby. And it hasn’t worked out that way…

I am completely fed up with what breastfeeding – exclusive pumping – is doing to my wife. Some background – our baby is 7 weeks old. We had a normal, uneventful delivery, and she’s healthy, gaining weight, and a perfect angel! But she just won’t latch. Let me tell you – we have tried. For hours, doggedly and desperately. Nipple shields, syringes and tubes, pillows, massage, hand expression, “lactation cookies”, lecithin, goat’s rue, countless cups of tea, rain dances and magic invocations… The few times she did latch, she did not get enough milk to satisfy her. After weight loss, dry diapers, and a lethargic baby, we started supplementing with formula. Our stress level went down, and our baby sprang to life!

We have seen four lactation consultants (two in the hospital, and two since we got home). They gave us terrific support – hours of individual attention and lots of moral support. They are wonderful, encouraging, and compassionate people – and I would not say we’ve felt bullied into breastfeeding. I’m very thankful to our insurance (Kaiser Permanente) for providing the support, because we didn’t want to give up. Our pediatrician and an ENT specialist checked for tongue-tie, and found nothing amiss. They also worked with us on the pump, so we’ve really given this an honest effort. We just don’t know where the issue is.

Both baby and mom have been in tears after attempt after attempt – robbing them of pleasurable bonding time. I’ve watched my wife in tears over the pain of engorgement and plugged ducts, a bout of mastitis, and the frustration and embarrassment of being hooked up to a pump while I get the pleasure of holding and feeding our baby. We haven’t had to supplement with formula much after the first week, but it’s come at a huge personal cost.

So, my wife became an exclusive pumper. Maybe our experience is atypical, but pumping takes forever. She spends close to an hour per session, many hours a day, just to keep abreast (pun intended) of the demand. It takes at least half an hour before she gets any flow. There simply are not enough hours in the day for her to pump, sleep, and hold the baby. So in the name of “breast is best”, our baby is being deprived of the comfort of her mother’s arms.

We blindly subscribed to the “breast is best” philosophy. Since these problems stated, however, I went back and read the primary literature on breast milk versus formula (I have a PhD in immunology, and my wife has a MPH and worked for the World Bank in the nutrition hub). I was surprised at how weak the evidence for breast milk over formula was! The most convincing evidence I can find is that breast milk protects babies from GI infections, which makes sense if you don’t have a clean water supply as a basis for your formula. That’s not a significant concern in the developed world, however. For nearly every study I read, the differences in IQ and every other measure are less than the test-to-test variation seen in individual children. (i.e., the difference seen between a breast fed and a formula fed baby is less than the difference seen if you tested the same baby twice.) Even if you believe those differences, the link between intelligence and breastfeeding is confounded by the many other variables that cluster with extended breast feeding, especially socioeconomic factors.

I’ve reached the conclusion that this is not serving my wife or our baby’s best interests. So, I am going to tell my wife tonight that I think she’s done a fantastic job giving our baby nothing but breast milk for the first 7 weeks, but that I am concerned that “extraction” of breast milk is dominating their relationship to the detriment of both of their health. I would rather see my daughter held in the arms of her happy mother drinking formula than look across the room at my wife’s teary eyes while I feed the baby breast milk sucked from her body.

I still support efforts to encourage breast feeding, but we have to be wise enough to recognize when it isn’t serving the best interests of the mother or baby. Public health recommendations are based on large groups of people – they cannot (nor do they try) to predict the best action for all people in all situations. If breastfeeding works for your family, that is wonderful and I’m genuinely happy for you. Please respect that it does not always work, despite desperate desires to the contrary. We didn’t want or choose this outcome, but I don’t feel bad for making a decision that protects my family’s physical and emotional health.

That’s why I think it’s time to support my wife and baby by suggesting she’s done enough, and that it’s time she put down the pump and picked up the baby.

***

Want to share your thoughts or story about infant feeding? Email me – formulafeeders@gmail.com. 

FFF Friday: “I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally…”

Thanksgiving is coming up here in the States, and everyone is talking about what they are most thankful for.

I am thankful for formula.

I am thankful it gives us the ability to nourish children who might otherwise not be nourished. I am thankful it can be used as a stop-gap measure to get breastfeeding off to a good start. I am thankful it can feed kids with severe food allergies.

And I am incredibility thankful it gives mothers like Emily an alternative. Because feeding your child should not be an act of contrition, nor should it serve as a means of re-traumatizing someone who has already suffered unspeakable pain. Nothing is worth that, and I am thankful that formula can give those of us whose bodies are bogged down by complex emotional histories a way to alleviate some of the burden. If you’ve never known what it feels like to shudder at someone’s touch – someone you are programmed to love, and to nurture – you have no idea the level of pain that can cause. So I am thankful. I am so thankful. 

I’m also thankful for Emily, for having the courage to share her story.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Emily’s Story

I have a history of severe, long term, childhood sexual abuse. As a result I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a chronic pain condition called Vulvodynia, and multiple minor physical pain and nerve damage issues. I couldn’t stand the idea of losing anything else to my past, but in the end, I lost breastfeeding to it. After 3 attempts I am finally at peace with that, but not before plenty of judgement, poor care and pain both emotional and physical.

In hindsight, I have no idea why no one even suspected the issues before my first was born. My issues meant that I had a few special requirements related to the birth, and as a result had to give some quick summary of my abuse to anyone I dealt with. Even after hearing about permanent issues I have as a result of my past, no one ever once questioned whether there had been any considerable physical trauma to my breasts, as indeed there had been. I was registered at a birth center, with midwives. I heard the statistics that 98% of women can breastfeed, I knew the ‘booby traps’ and I researched latch, I was ready. My mother had breastfed 4 children without a problem and was part of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (our own version of the LLL) and while she was no longer part of my life I still felt a need to prove I could do just as much as she did. I never anticipated a problem.

I had the right start, skin to skin, immediate feeding, rooming in, everything seemed to be going as it should. But within 48 hours it began to hurt to feed. On top of this, baby was HUNGRY. On our third night after the birth baby screamed for hours while refusing my breast completely. We called the midwives in desperation, asking what to do. She said about the only useful advice I ever received on baby feeding ‘Give baby some formula, and come in first thing in the morning to see the lactation consultant’. Formula? What kind? How much? She had no idea, and at 3 in the morning with a hysterical child neither did we. We don’t get formula samples here in Australia. Thank God my grandmother had more sense than me. She had bought me one box of single-serve formula sachets, and insisted that I keep them in the back of the cupboard just in case of emergency. I had done so to humour her, but I am so grateful she did it. We fed baby some formula from the one bottle which came with my manual pump and she guzzled it down. I remember feeling so terribly, terribly guilty. But, I didn’t feel guilty about giving her formula, I felt guilty about unknowingly starving her for almost 4 days. I suppose I was lucky that way, I always knew feeding my baby was much, much more important than breast vs bottle.

We spoke to the LC who sent me home with instructions to pump every hour and a half during the day and every 3 at night. I haven’t mentioned my husband yet but he was amazingly supportive. However, he had no choice but to go to work due to our situation at the time. My grandma came over and taught me how to sterilize bottles for supplementing after the feed and helped watch baby while I pumped. I discovered later that the LC had told my midwife that she suspected I was one of the few women truly unable to produce enough milk, but no one ever told ME that, I suppose for fear that I would give up ‘too soon’. On top of that, I’d had hyperemesis in my pregnancy and was still on a ‘liquids only before lunch’ diet (and continued to be for 3 months due to other poor medical care, but that’s another story altogether) which obviously impacted things on it’s own. I was far from healthy. And emotionally I was struggling, badly. PTSD coupled with the trigger of experiencing pain in an area where so much pain had been inflicted during my past was almost more than I could handle.

I usually pumped 10-15ml in a sitting, and never more than 30ml. And the pain got worse, and worse. I saw 3 different lactation consultants and all of them insisted my latch was absolutely perfect, and my nipples looked great. They all said a variation of ‘baby is getting what she needs, there’s no problem, so you just have to push through and hopefully the pain will settle down in 2-6 weeks, though for some women it’s always painful, but it’s worth it because breast is best’. One even went so far as to give me coping strategies for the pain! I didn’t realize until much later how very, very damaging this attitude was to me. I told all of these women about my past sexual abuse, and they basically told me that I needed to just suck it up because it was best. At that point in my life I was just beginning to piece together some self worth and feel valuable enough to stand up for myself and value my own desires even a little bit, so being attached to a milking machine, and being given no way out of something which was inflicting pain on me was a big issue. I resented my baby, I didn’t want her near me. My husband doesn’t feature much in this story, not because he wasn’t supportive, but because he was young, scared, confused and struggling himself. He had no idea what to do. But, in the end, he talked me into letting go of breastfeeding because, he argued, better for baby to have a bottle with a happy mummy than breastmilk with a crying one. He has held this stance ever since. Only 2 weeks after birth I couldn’t take the pain anymore, no one would give me a way out of the pain other than ‘wait and see’, and I gave up.

I bonded with my baby almost instantly from that day on. So much for breastfeeding being the be-all-and-end-all in bonding.

The second time I went in better prepared. Because I described the pain I had experienced as a graze or burning feeling, it was eventually decided that baby actually wasn’t feeding right, was running her tongue along my nipple back and forth, and that was the cause of our issues. The lack of milk production was blamed on the fact my baby was (and still is!) very impatient and would not stay on long enough to make things happen. She had no interest in comfort sucking, so once the milk slowed she would give up. I was reassured that this time around, if baby fed well, all would be fine.

My second baby arrived after a wonderful birth, latched immediately, and fed well. My milk came in, it seemed supply was better because baby was cooperating more and I was much healthier after having managed my hyperemesis far better that pregnancy. But it still hurt. So much.

I saw a new LC, and she told me to use nipple shields. I told her that I had been specifically told never to try and use them because my milk supply was already low and inhibited by my psychological issues, and she said that modern shields don’t harm supply and they were better than the pain. What a turn around! I still experienced pain, but instead of being an 11 on the pain scale it was somewhere around a 5, tolerable. Note that babys latch, again, was absolutely perfect. My nipples never looked bad, never once did I bleed or bruise, nothing baby was doing explained the pain. But this baby was a comfort sucker, she wanted to be attached constantly if she could. That made the pain so much worse, so after about a half hour I would give her a pacifier.

4 weeks in and baby got into this awful habit of latching and unlatching, again and again. Since latching was the most painful part, having her do that over and over was absolute hell. But women around me kept telling me story after story of how they, or someone they knew, breastfed despite a lot of pain, so I kept pushing on. Emotionally, I was a wreck again, constantly triggered. I did not enjoy my baby at all. I didn’t want to deal with her unless I had to feed her.

6 weeks in and I spoke to the LC again about her constantly coming off. She had not gained as much weight as she should have. We did a weighed feed and she didn’t gain enough either. (I now know that neither of these were necessarily accurate but at the time I trusted her.) She insisted we begin giving one supplement bottle a day, just to help bring baby’s weight up a little, and to try and tolerate as much ‘comfort sucking’ as possible to bring in some more milk.

I gave baby her bottle the first night and she refused her next feed. I gave it the second night and she refused to feed for the next 12 hours. I gave it the third night and she never latched to my breast again. I knew there were ways to get her back on and fix things, but I was in pain, I was emotionally spent, and I was done. We became formula feeders the second time, and suddenly, I found I liked my baby, and I wanted to be near her again. Yet again, no bond occurred until after I stopped breastfeeding.

Third time around and I knew what I was doing. I set a goal of two weeks, with an ideal goal of 6 weeks, and released myself from guilt if it didn’t work. I had finally realized after messing with the shields that the cause of the pain was nerve damage from past abuse. I thought I had dealt with that fact, but all I had actually done was hide the real issue with the hope that with the shields I could beat this problem and prove to myself that my past could not take the ability to breastfeed away from me. I was ok with letting myself stop when the pain got too bad though, and this time I would end it on my terms, if I couldn’t take control by breastfeeding, I could take control by protecting myself and choosing to stop breastfeeding when it hurt too badly. Health concerns about formula were long since squashed in my mind. I was a fearless (potential) formula feeder! What I wasn’t prepared for was it all going right.

Baby came, latched, fed perfectly and continued to do so. Not only did my milk come in well, but I actually had oversupply issues (we suspect the difference is that my husband had true paternity leave for the first time, which allowed me a lot more relaxation and skin to skin time than the last two times). She was gaining like a champ, she was bright, alert, sleeping well and a perfect poster child for breastfeeding. I began using the shields the day my milk came in, and to my surprise, by about day 12 feeding was almost pain-free! We had done it, I was successfully getting enough food into my babies tummy without severe pain.

But, I hated it. I hate breastfeeding. I hate the feeling. I hated having my PTSD triggered by it. And, I still had no bond with my baby. I resented her. I had always assumed the resentment came from the fact feeding my babies caused pain, but after a long talk with my husband I have come to realize that the reason I feel so much resentment is actually that, while breastfeeding, the baby controls that part of my body. I have to feed baby on her schedule, I get no say over when I feel capable of coping with someone touching my breasts, even if it is for food. I feel out of control of an intimate part of my body, and that’s a feeling I no longer cope well with.

I simply didn’t WANT to breastfeed anymore. And I felt like the worst mother in the world for it. I had finally achieved what I’d struggled with two previous babies to do, and now I discover that, actually, it’s not what I wanted at all. I wanted to be able to breastfeed like everyone else. But the fact is, even after beating all the other issues, I had to accept that I will never be able to breastfeed like everyone else. There’s too much baggage, too many associations. Too many memories. I can never have what I wanted, no matter how hard I try. That was taken from me long ago. What I can have, breastfeeding with all the psychological associations and physical reminders it brings, just isn’t a nice, or good, experience.

I felt trapped. It’s wrong to not breastfeed when I am capable of it right? But that feeling of being trapped only made me want to stop even more, because of my natural instinct to run from anything which might trap or control me. I blamed myself for being too weak to cope emotionally because it was easier than blaming those that hurt me for yet one more long term consequence of their actions. But that only made the feeling of being trapped worse, because if I was just a better mum I wouldn’t find feeding so upsetting.

There’s a big difference between having no choice but to switch to formula, and actually choosing to go to formula for no reason other than ‘I don’t want to breastfeed’. I have heard many, many times ‘I support formula feeders, as long as they have made a real effort to breastfeed’. Actually taking the step to formula feed just because that’s what I wanted meant going against that large group of people who would have previously supported me.

And then there was accepting that this door is closed for me, which hurt. I hate to accept that my past has any permanent effect on my future. I hate to admit anyone could effect me that way other than myself, because it makes me feel vulnerable.

It was easier to accept I couldn’t breastfeed a particular child but I could try again with the next than it is to accept that I can never have the normal, comfortable, enjoyable breastfeeding relationship I have watched, and wanted.

My babies thrive on formula, they are rarely sick, they are very bright, and happy kids. I suspect many of the ‘health risks’ of formula have more to do with the portion of the population that uses/doesn’t use it than with formula itself. A working mum is less likely to breastfeed, and we know that children in daycare tend to catch more bugs than children at home, for example.

My husband convinced me to do what I needed to, and I stopped breastfeeding my third child at 2 weeks old. She is now 5 weeks and thriving. And surprise surprise, I bonded and enjoyed her far, far more within a couple of days of stopping. We are a formula feeding family, and I’m mostly ok with that now. It’s what is right for me, and for my babies.

 ***

If you feel like sharing your story, email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

 

FFF Friday: “Formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not.”

Women sometimes tell me they want to write something for FFF Friday, but feel bad doing so because they are still breastfeeding in some capacity, like Ashley is. I completely understand why they would think that; after all, the site is called Fearless Formula Feeder, not Fearless Combo Feeder or Fearless Breastfeeder Who Had to Supplement for the First Few Weeks. But anyone who has had to use formula is an FFF, in my book. We’ve gotten to the point where any supplementation – hell, any bottle use – is considered sub-optimal by certain folks, and moms are paying the price.

While on a research level I appreciate Ashley’s mention of body image issues, on a personal level it makes my heart hurt. Because she’s so unfortunately spot-on – breastfeeding “success” is yet another way that women’s bodies are monitored, assessed, and judged. If your body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, or you opt not to conform to specific parameters of what society decides “good bodies (women) do”, you’re going to be punished. 

But we’re changing that – one fearless feeder at a time. And just in case it isn’t clear, the formula is only one part of it. 

Happy Friday, fearless ones,

The FFF

***

Ashley’s Story

I was seventeen and standing on the band practice field when I yelled at my band director, “You have no idea what you’re doing!” And, “Oh yeah, no one likes you, either!” That was just the beginning of the breastfeeding/formula saga and debacle.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, I knew something was terribly wrong with my body and period. It was sporadic to say the least—coming and going whenever it felt inclined, leaving me with lots of surprises. The headaches, lack of a period, and blurry vision I experienced I believed to be induced by stress, depression, eating disordered behaviors, and whatever angsty hormones were flowing through my veins at the time. I eventually ended up seeing an OBGYN who did lots of blood work and an ultrasound on my uterus and ovaries. Through the series of tests, it was discovered that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (think bubble wrapped ovaries, just clearly not as fun) and a suspected pituitary tumor. Talk about a double whammy of a diagnosis and a basic guarantee that I would be stuck with a malfunctioning body for all of time. I headed to the endocrinologist who confirmed that “Yes, something is wrong. You need an MRI and we need to get it done as soon as we can.” A pituitary tumor was found which explained my blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, and most likely a good deal of my depression and horrible body image.

Enter me, once again, screaming on the band field, all due to a pituitary shrinking, dopamine inhibiting medication, better known as Dostinex. The medication caused some pretty intense mood swings, hence the yelling. I mean, I had never raised my voice at anyone in my entire life and there I was screaming at this poor woman who probably disliked us just as much as we disliked her. Someone please go give that woman a cocktail and cookies on my behalf. Anyways, I digress. The Dostinex worked (yay!), but I was still left with PCOS and the promise that the pituitary tumor would come back eventually. I felt great for the remainder of my senior year and then I entered college where things went well for quite some time, until my sophomore year. Blame it on the alcohol abuse or yo-yo dieting (though, through an academic research project and proposal that I completed at my university, I did find a correlation between hormone disorders and both eating disorders AND alcohol/drug abuse), I felt terrible again. I mean, who wouldn’t? It turned out that my tumor was back based on preliminary blood work, and I decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it. So, however silly that decision was, I left it to get worse until I graduated from college.

I got married the day after graduation. We discussed having children, but didn’t give ourselves a firm timeline. Without getting too deep into detail, we were only able to conceive once I haphazardly took birth control that I suddenly stopped because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It was supposed to regulate my cycle. Oops!

Enter our little bundle of joy. I found out that I was pregnant on a frigid December morning and had him on a steaming hot Mississippi afternoon nine months (and two weeks!) later. I did everything I could to be the perfect pregnant mother. I took my prenatal vitamins, ate healthier, cut out caffeine (for the majority of my pregnancy anyways…), read up on attachment parenting, invested in baby carriers, and most important of all, decided to breastfeed. I was all set! So, when my nearly perfect pregnancy went two weeks late and I had to be induced, I tried not to sweat it. After all, I still had the Ergo and my boobs! Don’t forget the co sleeper! We were going to rock this parenting thing.

Though I had anticipated a natural birth, once I was induced, I only lasted a few hours until I was begging for the epidural. I had a fairly short labor, but had a few scares with Job (the baby) showing signs of distress from the intensity of the contractions. Luckily I didn’t have to have a c-section, something that I was deathly afraid of recovering from. Once he was born and his lungs were cleared of meconium, he was laid on me to breastfeed. The nurse, who I found out wasn’t a lactation consultant after asking, sloppily threw his cute little face onto my breast, and it immediately hurt. Badly. But, I didn’t say anything because I figured the new sensation was something I needed to get used to, and the cuteness of his face was just too distracting. Ha! I felt pretty good about the nursing that was accomplished before he was swept away for a four hour – YES, four hour!) transition in the nursery. I got settled into the room and we nursed without much pain or confusion on and off throughout the night. The next day, however, things got frustrating for the both of us. He wasn’t staying awake at all and I could barely get him interested in my breasts which made me start to panic. That night is when we all (including my poor husband) just mentally and emotionally fell apart. I had never felt such excruciating pain in my life as I did when he was latching on to nurse. All of the nurses seemed baffled because his latch “looked perfect” and I “just needed to keep taking him off and putting him back on.” After hours of doing that, I started to realize that maybe we weren’t so prepared for breastfeeding after all.

The next day we were sent home and reassured by the lactation consultants that establishing a breastfeeding relationship just takes time and that pain is normal in the beginning. Everything I had read correlated with what they were saying, so I didn’t question it and prepared myself for the few days (ha) that it would take getting used to the pain. Things did not get better and the day before his check up I had been up for 23 hours straight. I couldn’t fathom how this beautiful baby that stayed attached to my breast an hour and a half at a time, was still hungry and inconsolable. Weren’t babies supposed to eat, sleep, and wet/dirty diapers? He did none of those things! I should add that when we called the nursery, they told us to not be too concerned about his lack of diapers and that some babies just took a while to get started. What did I sign us up for?

We went to his check up the next day (he was five days old at this point) and realized that he had lost an entire pound. That was definitely more than what is usual for a baby to lose. The lactation consultant tried expressing breast milk from my breasts and looked concerned. Nothing was coming out. She told me to nurse Job so that she could inspect his latch. She again said that his latch was great but that he obviously wasn’t getting anything out, which explained his major weight loss, lack of

diapers (thanks, nursery) and inconsolable crying spells. I asked her to inspect his tongue and lip frenula, and she said his tongue was tight, but that it shouldn’t be the cause of any issues. She asked how I felt about formula and on the inside I was horrified, but I let out “That’s fine!” through my sobs. I have never seen a baby guzzle down a bottle so quickly before. It took him about a minute flat to drink an ounce. He quickly went to sleep after she burped him and I was mesmerized by this beautiful, sleeping, peaceful child placed in my arms. We left with a plan to do a weight check in two days. Our hope was that he would gain weight after supplementing him with formula, me pumping and nursing until my milk came in.

I felt an enormous sense of relief, but left extremely concerned that we would remain dependent on formula. If there was one thing that La Leche taught me, it was that you do not want to supplement with formula. The next day (day 6) my milk finally decided to make an appearance. I pumped an entire drop in fifteen minutes! When we went checkup we discovered that he had gained 14 ounces! That is a LOT of weight to gain for a little baby in just a short two days. I was thrilled. “He must have gained so much because my milk is fully in and he is getting formula. Let’s wean off formula!” We decided to wean off of formula and two weeks later, at his pediatric appointment, we discovered that he had lost weight again after weaning from formula. I immediately sat down and cried while Matthew (my husband) tried to reassure me, while also expressing his concern for Job’s weight and well-being. The pediatrician came up with another plan for supplementation, but it wasn’t nearly as “invasive” as our last plan, the one that actually made him gain weight. Eventually we discovered that my milk was still in a pitiful state because the two ounces a day that we were supposed to be feeding him was turning into two ounces per feeding.

The story should fade out peacefully at that point, but somehow, it continues. Through my obsessive research online and a post made out of desperation to a tongue and lip tie support group at 4:30 one morning, I discovered that Job did indeed have a lip and tongue tie. When I looked at the symptoms (painful latch, poor milk transfer, weight loss, reflux, gas, sleeplessness, no dirty diapers) I cried tears of joy. We had a solution! We just had to get his ties revised and we would then enjoy the breastfeeding relationship that I always read about and was witnessing secondhand through friends who had also had babies that same month. I scheduled an appointment for two days later and didn’t look back. The doctor did a fabulous job and completely revised the ties, but my low supply persisted. She suggested that we bring him to the chiropractor because that often helps babies with ties to nurse better. We went twice and I definitely witnessed an improvement in his attitude and ability to turn his neck, but alas, no more milk.

I decided I would go to a lactation consultant one last time. I had already used up all of my visits at my other lactation consultant and she basically told me that there was nothing else she could for me and that I should be at peace with the fact that combo feeding would just be our new normal. The new lactation consultant took a strong interest in my case and said that she had no doubt that my PCOS and tumor were at the root of my low supply. I think that all along I just wanted someone to validate my feelings by telling me what the other lactation consultant never really would. “You have multiple issues, but there is one last thing we can try. Have you heard of domperidone?” Had I heard of it? Of course! But I had no idea that people actually got prescriptions for it. It sounded like something out of a Harry Potter movie or a land of unicorns. Something so magical that it would cause you to lactate? I wanted it. And I got it. Nine pills a day later, I am happy to say that this depressing saga has somewhat of a happy ending for all of you who have stuck it out this long. I am now breastfeeding my baby and supplement half of what we were at. I neither feel very much a part of the breastfeeding or formula feeding community, but like many other mothers who discovered that for whatever reasons, breastfeeding was just not possible for them, I identify more with formula feeders. Why? Because formula nourished my baby when my breasts could not. Formula, it turns out, was not the enemy in this story.

Throughout all of this I felt completely worthless. The only reason I mention my feelings of self-worth throughout high school and college because since meeting my husband, breastfeeding was the first time I had felt hopeless in a very long time. When I looked in the mirror, I felt like I was again, judging my perfectly acceptable and even small 120body. Only this time I was judging my breasts nstead of obsessing over calories, I obsessed over ounces of milk. Through the fenugreek, oatmeal, lactation cookies, gallons of water, Gatorade, and special teas, I barely enjoyed the first four weeks of my child’s life because I was so overly concerned and hyper sensitive about what people would think if they found out what I was “doing” to my child by feeding him formula. I used to be vegan, for goodness sake! I had people tell me that I just needed to try “this” or “that” and that low supply really didn’t exist unless somehow I wasn’t nursing enough and didn’t I know that “breast was best?” I barely slept and sobbed throughout many of the days while my husband was away at work. My poor baby was wet more with my tears than he ever was with breast milk, but that’s okay. It’s all ok now. And you’re okay, too. Don’t let anyone guilt you into thinking that you’re “doing” anything to your baby except for loving them the way I know that each of you do.

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