FFF Friday: “Seven years later, I still think about that day…”

One of the criticisms I often see about this website is that it might “scare women” out of breastfeeding, due to all the negative experiences shared in these Friday stories.

I understand where these critics are coming from, but the way I see it, everything else we see about breastfeeding is blindingly positive. No one speaks of the (sometimes rare, sometimes common) problems that can and do arise. So when these problems strike one particular woman, she feels alone and surprised. 

I don’t see how allowing women to tell their stories can ever be a bad thing. Of course most women who breastfeed aren’t going to develop sepsis like Leslie (whose story is below), but for the small but very real number that do, isn’t it better that they know the signs? By that same argument, isn’t it better if women are armed with information and resources about more common issues like mastitis, IGT, and tongue ties, so that they can be more proactive rather than suffering in silence?

Happy Friday, fearless ones,



Leslie’s Story


With three thriving children, my husband and I are through having babies, so the whole breast milk vs. formula debate has an aura of been-there, done-that for me. But, because my story and the message I want to get out are a bit different than many, I thought I’d share it with you.

With my first (who is now 7), I went through the standard new-mother breastfeeding hells (that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but that won’t surprise any regular reader of FFF) — you know, bleeding nipples, Reynaud’s Syndrome, screaming baby, unhelpful consultants, latch problems, psychotic sleep deprivation, wishing I’d never conceived (or been conceived myself), hating my baby for being hungry, etc. Eventually, I ended up just pumping and feeding the baby expressed breast milk. It sucked, but it was better than fighting The Nursing Wars with my baby. Unfortunately, I had HUGE oversupply problems, which pumping exacerbated. I mean, I could effortlessly pump out 50 ounces of breast milk a day, no problem. Well, actually, big problem — it took ALL of my time; I felt like my value had ben reduced to that of a farm animal (and I have two Ivy League degrees); we had to buy an extra freezer; and still my supply just kept increasing. If I didn’t pump, I’d get painful engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis, soaking wet tops, etc. It was literally impossible for me to empty my breasts of milk — I could have pumped 24 hours a day without running dry. I asked a lactation consultant about it, and she just suggested I donate my extra milk — neither she, nor anyone else, had any reasonable idea how to stabilize, much less reduce, my oversupply. Indeed, no one took my oversupply problem seriously — “Lucky you!” the obnoxious woman at the breastfeeding center exclaimed.

So, there I was about five months post-partum and pumping at least five times a day. One Sunday morning, my right breast hurt fairly badly, and I felt lousy. I knew I had mastitis. (I’d had it twice before.) My regular OB/GYN was out of town, but the on-call OB/GYN covering for him called in oral antibiotics for me. My husband went and picked them up and I started taking them immediately.

Three or four hours later, my right breast ached more (pumping was blindingly painful and I couldn’t make myself do it), and the red infected area had spread. Also, my temperature was going up (at that point, 101 degrees). I called the covering OB/GYN back — she was very irritated that I’d bothered her again, told me that it could take up to 48 hours for the oral antibiotics to work, that I should see my regular doctor if I wasn’t better by Tuesday, and not to call her again.quotescover-JPG-50

Now, here’s where I was/am really lucky: My mother was staying with us, and she’s very, very science savvy. She knew, and was worried, about sepsis, so she called my sister, a breast cancer surgeon, who lives across the country. My sister said to circle the red area on my breast with a Sharpie marker, so we could see if it was really spreading. A couple hours later, it had definitely spread, my whole breast was excruciatingly painful, my temperature was over 102 degrees, and I was deteriorating mentally — I just kept crying, over and over, that I didn’t know what to do, and that I just wanted to be left alone in a dark room.

My mother insisted that I needed to go to the ER. She and my husband sought my opinion, but I could only cry (in pain? in fear? in fever?). All I really remember is that I insisted that before going to the ER, I had to email my boss that he wouldn’t be getting the case memo he was expecting the next morning — I can’t explain why I felt that was so critical, when I couldn’t even take responsibility for my own health crisis, except that I was so sick, I couldn’t think straight.

Anyway, my mother won, and by 9pm that night, I was taken to the ER. My temperature was over 104 degrees, my white blood cell count was over 30, my entire right breast was red, inflamed, and dimpling, and I struggled to answer basic questions like my name and birthdate. Due to my doctor sister’s advocacy (she called the ER ahead of my arrival and insisted the ER call her as soon as I was admitted), the ER was all over my sepsis. I spent literally no time in the waiting room; I was taken straight back to a treatment room; within 20 minutes, my blood had been drawn, and within 55 minutes, I had a central line in my neck and was getting IV antibiotics (vancomycin).

Of course, I was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of sepsis from mastitis, and spent the next four days getting IV antibiotics. Thanks to my mother’s and my sister’s sophistication and persistence, my sepsis was treated very promptly — before I had any major organ failures — and I made a full, fairly easy recovery.

Overall, I received excellent care at my hospital. My only criticism — and it’s a big one — is that the hospital (the same one where I’d delivered my baby five months earlier) refused to let me use one of its breast pumps to relieve my terrible engorgement the night I was admitted. I hadn’t been able to pump for most of the day, and at that point I was regularly producing 40-50 ounces of breast milk per day; the engorgement and resultant pain were unimaginable. The hospital said it didn’t want one of its breast pumps contaminated with whatever bacteria had caused my mastitis and my sepsis. Not only was that selfish — it’s a hospital for heaven’s sake! — but my breasts were so full of pressure that the antibiotics had trouble getting to the underlying infection site. So, refusing me a breast pump actually jeopardized my health. (When the infectious disease specialist found out, he was livid and read the riot act to the maternity care unit.) Unfortunately, I was too sick and weak to fight that one that night — the next day, my husband brought my, ahem, hospital-grade breast pump from home.

ALL of my doctors — including my regular OB/GYN (who was back by then), my internist, the infectious disease specialist, my sister (the breast surgeon), and the surgeon who put in my central line — uniformly advised me to stop lactating, because another bout of mastitis could very easily kill me. My infant son’s pediatrician was in accord — she said formula was fine, and I’d be nuts to risk my life just to give him breast milk. Finally — FINALLY — I was prescribed a drug (bromacriptine) to stop producing breast milk. (Rarely, it can cause strokes, so no one would give it to me before.) I cried as I took the drug to stop lactation, because I half-thought it made me a bad mother, but I didn’t seriously consider not taking it. Unbelievably, lactivists tried to change my mind on that, claiming “breastfeeding is the most loving thing a mother can do for a child,” but their efforts had the opposite effect. Apparently, my life, and the possibility of my child growing up without his mother, mattered less to them than breastfeeding. Well, screw that. If someone doesn’t value my life, I don’t see why I should value their opinion.

When I got out of the hospital, we used up our freezer full of breast milk, and then switched to formula — and the baby was fine. A couple years later, with my second, I tried breastfeeding again, but got three breast infections in the first three weeks. As I said before, screw that — we promptly switched to formula, and again, the baby was fine. (For the record, in fact, my second formula-fed kid was recently tested as having an IQ of 152.)

With my third, we went straight to formula in the hospital. Surprisingly, the only person who gave me a hard time about the formula was our new pediatrician. (By then, our beloved, old one had retired.) When I explained that breastfeeding was dangerous for me because I’d previously had sepsis from mastitis, he condescendingly replied, “Well, you think you had sepsis.” No, asshole, I had sepsis, and I have the scar in my neck from the central line to prove it. My husband and I switched pediatricians immediately — who needs that kind of questioning and doubt from their kids’ doctor? Our next (and current) pediatrician appropriately couldn’t have care less how we fed the baby, so long as the baby continued to thrive.

Here’s the thing I hope others reading this take away from my story: If something seems really wrong with mastitis, go to the ER and ask about sepsis. Do NOT just let some irritated, on-call doctor on the phone bully you into waiting a few days for oral antibiotics to kick in. If I (actually, my mother) had obeyed the on-call OB/GYN that Sunday, I would have just grown sicker and sicker until Tuesday; statistics say I probably would be dead now.

Waking up healthy one Sunday morning, developing mastitis and then sepsis, and being told I might die, was among the most terrifying experiences of my life. It all happened so fast; I hadn’t done anything wrong; I couldn’t handle the situation myself; and — but for my mother’s and sister’s insistence in taking me to the ER — I probably would have died. Seven years later, I still think about that every day. And, every day, as I mother all three of my beautiful, thriving formula-fed children, I am grateful.


Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

FFF Friday: “I felt like I did not have a say in the matter.”

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 criticisms we’ve been getting about #ISupportYou is that we are over-simplifying what breastfeeding advocates do; that women shouldn’t be made to feel better about or given less emotive information about formula use, but rather we should simply get angry at the formula-hawking system that failed us. We’ve been told that what needs to change is our formula friendly culture, and no one is really being pressured to breastfeed.
To those critics, I offer the following FFF Friday story, from Marnie. Read it and tell me that things do not need to change when it comes to how we approach infant feeding policy and advocacy in our culture.  Tell me she was booby trapped. 
Seriously, tell me. 
As moms, we need to stand together to say enough is enough to the insanity. There must be a middle ground. We can’t allow new mothers to live in the type of fear and pain that Marnie did. We just can’t. Things have to change, and soon. 
Happy Friday, fearless ones,
Marnie’s Story
I’ve been reading the FFF blog, and I cry over every story shared by every mum. Reading over my own story, I feel angry at myself for letting me go through this, but most of all I feel jealous of all mothers who breastfeed (I sometimes stare at them in public when their babies latch so easily and they look so happy) but I also feel jealous towards mother who chose to formula fed from the start who did not have to go through the disappointment of wanting to but not being able to do this supposedly natural thing. I used to think I felt guilty over not being able to breastfeed but I have realised that this emotion I am feeling is not guilt, but rather I feel left out, I feel that everyone around me is part of this wonderful breastfeeding club where I am not allowed in as I did not try hard enough.
I am originally from South Africa and moved to Auckland about 5 months before giving birth to my baby boy, now almost 10 months old. I always planned on breastfeeding,  I was breastfeed until I was over 2 years old and so were both my brothers.  My mum was part of La Leche League and absolutely loved breastfeeding us. She is the reason I tried so hard: I did not want to dissapoint my mother.
Isaac was born 12 days late, the day before I was scheduled for an induction.  I gave birth at a birthing centre in Auckland with the help of my midwives and only gas as pain relief. We had immediate skin to skin and my midwife helped to latch him for his first feed before I was even moved from the birth unit. Apparently I had a great supply of colostrum. The birthing centre is very pro-breastfeeding; every feed a nurse or midwife would come and help me latch him, every one of them showed me a different way and gave me new tricks. I thought it was going great, it did hurt but everyone said his latch was great. On the second day my nipples started cracking and bleeding. No one was very concerned. I kept on feeding through the pain, every 2 to 3 hours for 20 minutes each side. I asked for pain pills (my midwife told me she put something in my chart about pain relief I could have if my stitches gave me problems as I had a horrible episiotomy) but was told by the very helpful nurse that I’m not allowed. They also forgot to check my platelets as I was very dizzy and lost a lot of blood. I realised that even though this is a baby friendly hospital they were not mother friendly at all, and after that I rarely asked for help with breastfeeding and instead use Google on my phone. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
As we just moved countries a few months ago we lived with my parents and younger brother who came over with us. I had lots of support as my dad is retired so I basically had a full time helper. My mum and husband also had a few weeks off from work after the birth so I had so much help that I could completely on concentrate on learning to breastfeed.
My mom, the great breastfeeding advocate was shocked when she saw my nipples once I got out of the hospital but she assured me that it could only get better.  It did not. My nipples just kept on getting worse and I could never get a good latch, even though it looked great once I get him on he would take a few sips and would promptly lose the latch. At home I could take all the painkillers I wanted to without being frowned upon so I was in the max of two different types that were safe for breastfeeding.  I remember how I panicked if Isaac woke up for a feed before I had a change to take my pills. The painkillers made it bearable to feed a baby with almost no skin left on your nipples but it also made it harder to distinguish between a good and a bad latch.
In New Zealand maternity care under a midwife is free and she is responsible for you and your baby until he is 6 weeks old. I had a wonderful midwife who visited me every few days. She commented how bad my nipples looked but never once suggested that I should stop breastfeeding.  In those first few days she once asked me if I had any ideas on what I was going to do and if I really wanted to breastfeed, and in hindsight she might have wanted me to ask about formula. I was too scared of being judged as an unfit mother and in my sleep deprived state I thought that it was a trick question.
One night after probably a week or so of being home I could not get Isaac to latch. Earlier that day my midwife suggested that I try using nipple shields to see if that would help with the pain. Isaac had one feed with them which was great but after that he did not want to cooperate and I was in so much pain and so scared of him hurting me that my mum took him and I hand expressed. I expressed into a sterilized cup and my mum fed the milk to him with a spoon. We didn’t own one bottle so this was the best I could do. It got us through the night and I phoned my midwife the next morning and she suggested skin to skin contact as much as possible. Isaac and I spent a full day in bed with him in only a nappy and me naked from the waist up. A few hours later I got him to latch. Success, or so I thought. But I still had very painful nipples and a few days later I developed a red warm patch on my right breast. I phoned my midwife immediately and she diagnosed mastitis over the phone and left a prescription for antibiotics at our nearest pharmacy.  Two days later it was in my left breast as well. Luckily it was caught early and apart from being really painful (but nothing compared to how my nipples were feeling) and feeling a bit weak and feverish it was not too bad.
My mum and dad bought me an electric breast pump so that I could pump every second feed instead of having Isaac feed directly from me in an attempt to get my nipples to heal a bit. Before I could even use it we had another bump in the road. Isaac lost a fair amount of weight in the hospital about 8% but we were sure he would gain it back fairly quickly. After two weeks my midwife was worried when he was still not back at his birth weight. He had lots of wet nappies (or so I thought) but no dirty nappies apart from a few meconium once in the hospital. She asked me to pump after every feed and give that to him as a top up. Luckily I had a brand new breast pump, but I got almost no milk from it. The next day be had still not gained anything.  That is when she said that I would have to give him a formula top up. She made up his first formula bottle in one of the only two bottles I had that came with my breast pump. Isaac of course gulped the formula down. I cried afterwards as I thought how he was perfect when he was born and now I had let him starve and filled him with poison. Now I can’t believe how irrational I was and how I let myself be influenced by others. He had his first real wet nappy after that, a nappy that actually felt wet and full. Looking back at photos I can’t believe how thin he was, I just thought I had a naturally thin baby now I realise that he was actually starving.
My midwife refered me to a lactation consultant that I saw that same day. She helped me with my latch and gave a few tips to help boost my supply. At this stage my nipples was too far gone so I decided to pump for a few days and just feed Isaac my milk with a bottle. I thought I would get him back on the breast in a few days.  I had to give him formula top ups as well as I could only pump about half of the milk he needed.  My midwife got me a hospital grade rental pump so that I could pump both sides at the same time. Slowly my supply increased but my nipples were still not improving. After a week of no improvement I stopped using the lanolin nipple cream that I religiously applied after each feed from the very first feed. Within hours my nipples started improving. I continued pumping, too scared of breastfeeding to try to latch my baby again. I stopped resenting my baby for being hungry. After 3 weeks I could start bonding with him. This was also the first time that I could hold him close without being in pain. Before I struggled to hold him as I was in too much pain. I kept on pumping, still scared of giving him only formula.
Everyone told me how proud they were of me for doing this but I hated them saying that. I did not want to stand out, I wanted to be part of the breastfeeding club. This made me feel like a freak. I was not proud of myself, I felt ashamed, ashamed that I couldn’t breastfeed and ashamed that I did not have the courage to formula feed. I knew formula was okay, but somewhere deep within me I was so scared that formula was not okay. I cried whenever I saw a formula ad and it started with the words ‘breastfeeding is the best for babies’ or when I tried to read up on what type of formula to use and everywhere it just tells me how good breastfeeding is for my baby. I felt like I did not have a say in the matter.
I pumped for 5 months before I decided to stand up for myself. I realised that I have a baby but I have almost no relationship with him. My days consisted of pumping milk and changing diapers while my dad fed and played with him. My baby slept through the night but I had to wake up in the middle of the night to pump. One day I just couldn’t do it anymore and I stopped.
My son is healthy. He is intelligent.  He is strong. He is happy. And importantly his mom is also healthy and happy. And we have fun together as I’m not hooked up to a pump all the time. I used to believe breast is best, now I believe happy mom=happy baby.
I want more children but most likely I will formula feed right from the beginning.  I am scared of the judgment of this choice but I am even more scared of the disappointment in myself if I tried to breastfeed a second time and it does not work.
If you have a story you’d like to share for FFF Friday, please email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com. Your voice, and your experience, matters. 

FFF Friday: “It takes more than breastmilk to make a good mother…”

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 I hope we can all give them the space to do so.

FFF Sarah, whose story is below, makes a really interesting observation about how perfectionism and the concept of “failure” play into our breastfeeding experiences. I know we’ve talked this issue to death, but I think it’s worth continuing the conversation. For many of us who come to motherhood later in life, the loss of control over our lives can be intensely disconcerting. Control is so intimately tied to a myriad of mental health issues – eating disorders, OCD, depression – and parenting, in general, requires a certain degree of surrender, emotionally. So when your physical self decides to punk out, it can rock an already unsteady boat. As Sarah discovered, sometimes you need to adjust your plans to keep that boat from capsizing.

And as always, let me reiterate: I realize that (an embarrassingly small amount of) research suggests that only 2-5% of women are physically incapable of providing sufficient milk for their babies. 2-5% still means a significant amount of women. These voices are not some snidely stated statistic. Sarah is one of these voices. Listen up.

Happy Friday, fearless ones,


Sarah’s Story

My struggle with breastfeeding (and subsequent formula feeding) is different from the ones I’ve read here on FFF, and yet it’s exactly the same. Like many others, I planned on breastfeeding my child. I took the breastfeeding class offered by my hospital, I read the books written by LLL and the AAP, I lurked on the breastfeeding forums so that I would know what kinds of struggles I might face and how to overcome them. I knew it would be hard, I was up to the challenge and I felt fully prepared for anything that would come my way.
Fully prepared, except for what DID happen. We had no latch problems, no nipple pain – breastfeeding was a wonderful experience and I loved every second of it. For 3 1/2 weeks, I thought everything was going great. I thought the reason we were camped out on the couch all day long was due to the cluster feedings I’d read so much about – it didn’t occur to me that he was always nursing because I wasn’t making enough and he was hungry. I was a new mom, so I didn’t know what to expect my breasts to feel like; in retrospect, I never felt engorged, they never felt firm, they never leaked – those were big clues that my milk wasn’t in and I wasn’t producing properly. But after an amazingly easy pregnancy and L&D (seriously – 6 hours of labor, no drugs, 3 pushes, and my 9lb 4oz son came out with no tearing and without breaking a sweat) I figured my luck was just continuing. How great was it that I didn’t have to deal with leaking and engorgement? Yay for me! Finally at 3 1/2 weeks old, I used my bathroom scale to weigh him, and found out he was actually losing weight – cue the mommy guilt and crying.
Right away we went to the LCs. We did a weigh-feed-weigh, and found he was only getting about half an ounce total from both sides. They said he was a lazy/sleepy eater, and told me to start a routine of nurse-supplement-pump. They told me if I couldn’t pump enough for the next feeding to supplement with formula. They even gave me an RTF bottle right then to top him off! All of the LCs I saw at my hospital (we went back several times) were absolute saints, and so different from the ones many of you have dealt with. They were so supportive and knowledgeable, but not pushy or anti-formula. I love them. However, no amount of pumping, fenugreek, blessed thistle, oatmeal, etc could get my meager supply up enough to support my son. I think the main issue all along was not that he was a lazy/sleepy eater, but that my milk just didn’t come in and that I don’t have a milk ejection reflex at all – it would take 40 minutes of double pumping (with very aggressive massage/compression) to get an ounce of milk. Total. I don’t blame him for giving up and sleeping! I was producing about half of what my very hungry son needed – the day he eat 37 ounces, I felt so defeated. As many of you here on FFF know, the process of nurse-supplement-pump takes an incredible amount of time, so I decided to just pump and bottlefeed until my supply was up enough to EBF.
After 2 solid weeks of taking herbs and pumping 13 times a day (yes, THIRTEEN), 40 minutes at a time, my supply was up by 3 ounces a day. Not much to write home about, not even enough for a whole bottle. Bonus, it had destroyed my nipples. They hurt SO BAD, all the time, since they weren’t really getting a break between pumpings. I was also getting frequent clogged ducts and clogged nipple pores. The pain was excruciating – worse than labor pains, in my opinion. Of course, my clogged ducts eventually developed into mastitis. You can guess what happened to my supply. A hospital-grade pump was no better at removing milk, nor at increasing my supply. Finally, my mom (who breastfed me and each of my siblings until she had to go back to work) asked me, “How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” That made me step back and realize the insanity of what I was doing – the constant pumping, the pain of the clogged ducts and destroyed nipples, not to mention the fact that my son basically just sat in his swing all day long while I pumped.
After a few more days of “I will succeed at breastfeeding!” stubbornness, I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to make enough milk for him, and it was better for my son to have a sane, engaged mother than a few ounces of breastmilk a day – no matter how magical the lactivists made it out to be. My supply was so low that I just quit cold turkey – I had only one day of discomfort and was totally dried up in 48 hours. I never leaked a single drop.
Even though my son is doing great on formula (he was a completely different baby once he started getting enough food), I mourned the loss of our breastfeeding experience. It had been so wonderful, and it was hard to let that go. I had never failed at anything before in my life, and it was hard to accept that this was beyond my control. No amount of education, LC support, or willpower could change the fact that I just didn’t make milk. I had no idea that that was a possibility and I never saw it coming. I am hoping and praying that I don’t have an underlying problem like IGT and that I will be able to breastfeed my next child. Even if I am unable, I know I am no less of a mother because of this. It takes more than sperm to make a good father, and more than breastmilk to make a good mother.
Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday. E-mail me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.
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