FFF Friday: “…If I hadn’t used formula, my baby would’ve died.”

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 are also 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.

I recently had the honor of meeting the incredible couple who started
Friends of Maddie, an awesome organization that supports the parents of babies in the NICU. This got me thinking about all the amazing preemie moms who have been a part of the FFF community. The author of the following post, “LRN”, is one of these women.

I don’t spend enough time talking about preemie parents, and the intense struggles that they often endure attempting to feed the tiniest, most fragile of babies; I will try to do so in the future, but in the meantime, I hope that LRN’s beautiful FFF Friday piece will reach not only mothers of NICU babies who are dealing with feeding issues, but also those who fail to understand the complexities of this debate.

Happy Friday, fearless ones…



I stumbled on your blog and thought I could chime in, although my story seems to be pretty far from what I have read on your page….admittedly, I am an American living in a foreign country, but it is one with excellent medical care (in most respects)….

Fast forwarding through a pretty uneventful short pregnancy, I ended up at my doctor one night at about 11pm after having some bleeding (this was my first baby) and back pain. Ultrasound showed baby looked fine, placenta looked fine, baby heartrate fine….perhaps I had just jostled the wrong way and baby jarred my placenta, causing slight bleeding; they hooked me up to a monitor, said they would watch me for an hour just to see, but wrote papers for me to have 2 weeks bedrest off work. About 45 minutes into the hour, my water suddenly just broke, contractions started like a son-of-a-gun, and in less than 2 hours, my baby was born at 24 weeks, 5 days gestation – 1 pound, 10 ounces only! They whisked him away to the NICU and basically left my husband and I just there with a nurse to keep an eye on me. I didn’t even know if he was alive for several hours…..
Later in the day (baby was born about 2:40 am), the doctor finally came to see me (my husband had been to see him and take pictures to bring back) and my husband and give us the details. Insert a ton of depressing medical talk here…..
No one ever mentioned breast feeding or pumping, and I didn’t know to ask (baby came BEFORE scheduled birthing classes….I came from a small family – I never really saw anyone breastfeeding; those who did were very discreet and private about it). I was in the hospital for 3 days; on day 2, I asked one of the nurses – um, what about breastfeeding or pumping? Should I be doing that? And she looked totally shocked – your baby is so small, he can’t breast feed! You want to pump? I said yes, but I don’t know how. So she brought in a laptop computer and played a video on breastfeeding for me. I asked about pumping (I sent a friend to get a pump – hadn’t bought that yet – hadn’t bought ANYTHING yet for the baby) and she said she would get someone to help me. No one helped me.
So, day 3 I tried out my pump – absolutely the weirdest sensation ever! And I got 1 drop, yes, just 1 drop on the end of my nipples, after nearly 20 minutes hooked to the machine. I read and re-read all the instructions, thinking, I must be doing this wrong; according to the machine,, milk should be flowing out, I mean, geez, it has directions how to change to new bottles during the pumping session when you fill the first ones! But no.
So when I got home, I googled to try to find help from La Leche League (found a local chapter in a neighboring country, with a rep willing to work with me via email). Um, no one at the hospital told me I should have been pumping from right after the baby was born (not waiting 3 days), that I should have been pumping every 2-3 hours to get the milk established, that having my baby so early my body may not have been ready for milk and I would have to work insanely hard to get it to realize MILK NEEDED!
But once I knew, I started pumping every 3 hours, round the clock. I had a backpack pump that I took to work (I didn’t use all my maternity leave – I felt fine; I asked to save it for when the baby came home from the hospital – which would be 123 long days later…) with a cooler pack in it. Pump pump pump, all for my little guy….but the most I ever got in one pumping session was probably about 1 ounce per session – both boobs combined. Which at the time, was way more than he was drinking anyway, so I had a freezer drawer full of little milk bags of milk, in about 1 or 2 ounces each. In the mean time, the baby’s dr tells me to get blood tests because the baby’s bones are so brittle – I was very low on Vit D, so my milk was not giving the baby enough calcium, so they added it to his feeds (he was getting other sources of nutrition besides BM because of his medical health needs). Pumping actually wasn’t too bad on me – I never had mastitis, or cracked/bleeding nipples, and it never hurt – so I just figured, keep it up until baby can BF directly, and I will be in the clear!
Fast forward to day 119 – the first time they let me attempt to BF (they were suprised that I wanted to, with such a tiny baby!). They took me and baby into a cubicle with a broken office chair and left us there. I had no idea how to start – the baby weighed 4 pounds and was the smallest baby I had ever held! Still, I fumbled around, jostled baby a bit, and managed to get him to latch and suckle a little – I have no idea if he actually got any milk. After about 5 minutes, he got the hiccups and we couldn’t get the latch back, and he was getting fussy, so I took him back to the NICU for the nurse to get him a bottle. There are no lactation consultants here…we tried every day for a bit until his discharge on day 123, but never really succeeded.
When we got him home, I tried once or twice a day to BF directly and could never manage it – I have no family here and most of my friends were at work most of the time, or had no kids and wouldn’t know what to do to help. So I stayed a slave of the pump, and gave my baby the freshly pumped stuff plus started delving into my freezer stash. For about a month, this actually was working fine….then we took the baby for a checkup and they determined that he wasn’t gaining weight fast enough and had me get human breast milk fortifier (a powder added to my pumped milk) – so that basically made me give up the dream of ever trying to get the baby to BF directly.
Then later, he was classified as failure to thrive and I had to give him a special extra-high calorie formula – he had to have that for all but one of his daily feeds, so he could still get the benefits of a little breast milk. I still gave an occasional attempt at direct feeding, just because I wanted that bonding….but he never took to me (ironically, he would suck on any size or shape of bottle nipple, he wasn’t picky about them, he just didn’t want MY nipple – and I knew nothing about nipple shields or I might have tried that as well, if it was the “plastic-y” feel he liked). So when he was 5 months old (the first 4 being in the NICU), he was on formula mostly, with a dabble of BM.
After 2 more hospitalizations and more emotional trauma than one person should have to bear, I finally weaned off the pump during baby’s 7th month; he had frozen BM to last for 2 more months (at 1 bottle a day, since I never made more than a few ounces a day anyway – oh, and I was taking domperadome, fenugreek, teas, eating more oatmeal than a lumberjack, cool packs, warm packs – everything I could find as a medical, herbal, or old-wives’ tale to increase milk).
I really felt let-down by the medical personnel at the maternity hospital I was in….they just assumed I wouldn’t breastfeed or pump, due to the early birth, and therefore did nothing right away. I don’t know if it would have made a difference – perhaps my body just wasn’t ready, or it was too much stress with baby in the hospital in grave condition for such a long time…I just know this – if I hadn’t used formula, my baby would have died…it is that simple.
I want another baby someday, and I do want to breastfeed, but after all I went through, my baby is now 17 months old and is in the 50% for height and 5 pounds away from being ON the weight chart – I feel I did the best I could, the best anyone could have in my circumstances. (I will add that thankfully, the friends I did have here were all supportive of my attempts at pumping and providing breastmilk, it is just that none of them had the knowledge to help me).
I don’t know if my story is worthy of being on your site, since I wasn’t attacked or badgered by lactation and breast-feeding zealots, but maybe it will help another mother with a NICU baby feel better; I have since discovered that mothers of micropreemies (born less than 27 weeks and less than 1 KG) typically have lots of problems with breastfeeding/pumping (and the babies have problems with the feedings themselves) – if I can help even one reader with a baby in the NICU relax about not being able to breast feed, then I will feel like my trials were not just a test for me.


Share your story for an upcoming FFF Friday: simply email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

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