Motherhood,  Mothering Through Fatigue,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings

Dear Formula Feeding Moms: I get it now

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I really hate that there are stigmas attached to both breastfeeding and formula feeding. I hate that this is a matter of contention between moms. Most of all, I hate the role I have played in it all.

For three weeks, my firstborn would not nurse. Five years later, I still have no idea why. I would put him to the breast, and he would just fuss and scream. If he did latch, it was for a few sucks, nothing more.

I didn’t buy a pump when I was pregnant. And, being a first-time lactating mother, my milk took about 5 days to fully come in. When my son was 5 days old, my mother went to Target for me and bought me a Medela double sided breast pump. My baby was barely eating, and we had started supplementing with formula samples the hospital had given us.

I hated it. So when our local La Leche League leader took time away from her three kids on a Sunday afternoon to work with me and my baby, give me breast pump recommendations, and coach me with breastfeeding advice – I was humbled and ever so thankful.

But he still wouldn’t nurse. She told me to avoid bottles, so we fed him by taping a feeding tube to my finger, filling up a syringe with breast milk or formula, and rewarding any time he sucked on my finger by giving him a tiny bit of milk at a time. Once my milk fully came in and pumping started going well, we were able to give him straight breast milk. He never had another drop of formula.

At his one week checkup, I was admitted to the ER after nearly passing out in the waiting room of the pediatricians office. My blood pressure was sky-high, I had slept about 30 hours in the past week, and I had a urinary tract infection. Later on that evening I sat there in the room in the ER, my baby in his car seat at the foot of the bed with my mother watching him. I had a blood pressure cuff on one arm, IV fluids in another, a pulse ox monintor attached to my finger, and both of my breasts hooked up to the breast pump as I dutifully pumped liquid gold for my hungry baby.

He still refused to nurse. At 2 1/2 weeks old after working with now three lactation consultants and consulting with another via e-mail, I made the hard decision to switch him to a bottle. I discussed this with the La Leche League leader whose sad response was, “Well, I cannot recommend that, but you do what you feel like you need to do.” 

I followed this course of action through that long weekend until I went back to the hospital lactation consultant (again) the following week. That evening, one day short of 3 weeks old, my baby nursed well for the first time. I cried in wonder.

Within a week, he had taken to nursing so well that we no longer needed bottles. Once he got older, I tried to reintroduce him to the bottle, but my attempts failed. I didn’t mind though much. We had overcome so much to get him to nurse, I was just so thrilled that he finally figured it out.

If you had asked me for breastfeeding advice any time in the last five years, I would have said something like this:

See a lactation consultant. See four if you have to. If Ezra and I could figure it out, you can too! Don’t give up!

Not only did Ezra figure out how to nurse, it quickly became his FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD to do. For the next year, he nursed as frequently as every 45 minutes (day and night). A three or four hour stretch between feedings was unreal. He continued to nurse both day and throughout the night until he was 19 months old. I finally (gently) forced him to wean at 29 months.

Throughout those 2 1/2 years, I was a regular attendee at La Leche League meetings. My favorite websites were Kelly Mom, Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths, Best for Babes, and The Leaky Boob. I ate up everything I could get my hands on concerning the topic and wore the “I Make Milk – What’s Your Superpower?” t-shirt with pride.

For me, formula meant last resort. Formula meant failure. Formula meant “sabotaging the breastfeeding relationship.” Formula meant less-than. Formula meant obesity and diabetes.

Formula feeding was what happened when moms didn’t have adequate breastfeeding support. Formula feeding was what happened when moms weren’t educated about breastfeeding. Formula feeding was what happened when moms had fallen victim to “booby traps.”

It wasn’t so much that I judged formula feeding moms, but rather that I pitied them.

I felt saddened that they simply weren’t supported in their “breastfeeding journey” and were unable to achieve their breastfeeding goals. And I pitied their babies, who, unfortunately, had no choice but to eat less-than-optimal food.

I remember so poignantly sitting in the back room of the then-called Supermommy Superstore, nursing babe in my arms, as our LLL leader said how bad she felt for those babies. I see moms mix up the formula and shake those bottles so hard – all those bubbles. I can’t imagine what it does to their little tummies! (*loose paraphrase*) 

Even though some of my closest friends were formula feeding moms, there was still a part of me that felt bad that they didn’t have what I had. They didn’t get the support that they needed.

But I did. I did because I sought out the help. I attended the meetings. I persevered. I made it happen.

And so, day and night, the joyous “breastfeeding relationship” I had with my baby boy took its toll on my weary body and soul.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved nursing. But for as much breastfeeding “support” as I had, I didn’t have all that much support in caring for my child. My husband was in Afghanistan, all of my local friends had children of their own and deployed husbands as well, my closest family members were six hours away, and my baby wouldn’t take a bottle so couldn’t be left in a childcare or babysitting setting.

It was me, all me, day in – day out.

I truly wonder if a mom can experience PTSD from two years worth of sleep deprivation caused by round-the-clock breastfeeding. 

Because those were some dark, dark days. I struggled with postpartum depression and intrusive thoughts. I battled illness and fatigue. At one of my lowest mothering moments, I fantasized about leaving my baby in the middle of the mall just so I could go to sleep.

It never really occurred to me to pursue any other feeding path, not when we had fought so hard to breastfeed.

_____

With Little Brother, I was far more prepared. I had 2 1/2 years of breastfeeding experience under my belt and my body quickly remembered how to lactate. This time I delayed everything I possibly could so that our “breastfeeding relationship” could come first – Hep B, circumcision, even baby’s first bath. My milk started coming in at two days postpartum and by 4 days postpartum I was able to pump several ounces. The most important thing was getting that baby to NURSE so I wouldn’t have to endure the three weeks of torture I had gone through with my first.

And nurse he did.

This time around, I was wise enough to utilize pacifiers early on. His cluster feeding those first two days sent me into a depression, and I knew I needed more of a break.

I quickly learned with him what worked and what didn’t, tried to get him on a good schedule, and much more quickly realized my limitations. We were hit with a week’s worth of snow days in January and I had hit my limit. I starting having very serious anger issues – lashing out at my husband and 5-year-old. Yelling and screaming often. That’s when I knew I had to make some changes:

So I asked for an anxiety screening and I scored on the low end of severe. My doctor and his amazingly sweet PA talked to me about my options. Breastfeeding limits what I can take, so they recommended that, if I was serious about medication, to try to make it to 6 months then quit nursing. Later on, they came back with a short-list of breastfeeding-safe meds and recommended Zoloft. I ran this by Little Brother’s pediatrician and she concurred. I have a prescription waiting at me for my pharmacy right now and will be picking it up in the morning. I’m pretty terrified it is going to make me crazy, but I can’t keep continuing how I am.

The morning after they told me I might need to wean, I went to the grocery store and picked up a can of Gerber Soothe. I had tried off and on since Little Brother was born to work with him on taking a bottle – it had been very hit and miss. I tried for an hour to get him to take a bottle of formula and he cried through the entire 2 ounces.

But, I’ve kept trying. I’ve tried pumped milk, half and half, and straight formula. I’ve tried leaving him with bottles so other people can try it at the Y and church nursery. I’ve tried about 10 different kinds of bottles (so far I think the Lanisoh bottles work the best), but three weeks later he’s still fighting it. So I just bought a bottle warmer and a different kind of formula that’s supposed to taste more like breastmilk. We will see how it goes.

While Zoloft is the preferred drug for nursing moms, I’m still going to work on getting Little Brother to take a bottle, because I need to be able to leave him for more than an hour or two. I would also love to not have to pump to make that happen. – February 16, 2016 – Pursuing self care and asking for help (in which we make some changes)

 

Much like his older brother, Big Brother was less than cooperative with the bottle. So I gave up the fight and continued nursing him. I nursed him through cutting six teeth in five weeks and it just about killed me.

Two weeks later he was still nursing all night long.

Uh-uh. No way. Not gonna happen. I’m done with this. 

I’m fed up. Nursing hurts (thank you teeth, poor latch, and baby pulling on and off). I’m exhausted. I’m angry. When I’m exhausted everything in my life feels ten times worse. I cannot continue this way.

So, on Monday, I did something drastic. After the whole getting-distracted-from-nursing-by-a-ceiling-fan incident, I pumped a bottle of milk. I offered it to him at the next feeding time. He refused it. He cried and cried and cried. He cried himself to sleep. When he woke up, I offered it again. No luck.

I told him if he wanted to eat, he had to take it. Finally at about 2:30 PM, I turned on his favorite baby YouTube video, stuck him in his seat, put the bottle in his mouth, and waited.

Slowly, he started sucking. – April 28, 2016 – Babies Need Boundaries, Too 

 

That was two weeks ago.

Within two days, I gave him his first full bottle of formula, and I’ve been combination feeding him ever since. I estimate that he’s probably eating about 60% formula, 20% pumped milk, 20% milk directly from breastfeeding.

I. Am. Thrilled. to be formula feeding.

Which is probably more shocking to me than it is to you.  

I find myself shaking my head at my former idealism and grieving, once again, for the motherhood I could have known. Why didn’t I do this with Ezra? Why was I so convinced that he needed perfection that I gave him “best” at the expense of my own personal and mental health? Why was I so stubborn and proud when things could have been SO much easier?  

Now, for me, formula means freedom. Formula means flexibility. Formula means options. Formula means a little personal space. Formula means a restful night’s sleep for both me and my baby. Formula means not being called out of church. Formula means I don’t have to be hyper vigilant about finding a place to nurse discreetly every where I go.

Formula means I have a relationship with my baby that goes beyond just my body – and leaves me with reserves left over to have a relationship with the other members of my family who are just as important.

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Formula feeding is what happens when a mom realizes that she doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. Formula feeding is what happens when a mom is supported by medical professionals who care about both her AND her baby. Formula feeding is what happens when a mom realizes that not every box of mothering perfection has to be checked all at the same time, and that sometimes what’s “less-than” actually is better than “best.”

Fed is best onesie
Fed is best onesie – get it here!

In October, I did a lot of reading when Courtney Jung published her book, Lactivism and her New York Times article, Overselling Breastfeeding. It caused quite the uproar in the natural parenting community.

I’ll be honest. I’m not a scientist, so when they start talking about studies, my tired eyes sort of just glaze over and all I hear is “science-blah-blah-science-science.” I’m also not a feminist, so I haven’t read Courtney Jung’s book and don’t plan to. However, reading about the controversy, (particularly looking into the study of breastfed children compared to their formula fed siblings – see here, here, and here) made me question my pre-conceived notion that formula is BAD and breast is GOOD.

Here’s what I do know: Ezra was breastfed for 29 months, and I delayed introducing solids until he was six months old. He is allergic to eggs and peanuts and takes allergy medication daily to help his body in the war on pollen. His favorite foods are yogurt, Spaghettios, and ice cream. The only vegetables he likes to eat are corn and broccoli-dipped-in-ketchup. He is skinny as a rail. He has ADHD, sensory issues, adjustment disorder, and takes ADHD medication. He is a five year old with the intellect of a 7 year old but the emotional regulation skills of a toddler.

I was breastfed for a year (I believe) and have IBS, chronic fatigue, and severe food and seasonal allergies. My husband was fed instant dry milk from the time he was 3 months old and gets a bad cold once a year. At age 40 he’s just now starting to show signs of struggling with seasonal allergies, but he can eat anything he pleases. He’s also one of the smartest people I know.

This is all anectodal and doesn’t prove anything.

But it does make me feel a little bit better knowing that, regardless of my husband’s concern that “formula is basically the McDonalds of baby food,” Little Brother will be okay. 

So, Dear Formula Feeding Moms: I get it now. I get that you love your babies and are doing what's best for your mother-baby relationship. I understand why you would make the choice to quit trying to breastfeed, exclusively pump, supplement with formula, or formula feed from the very start. I get that you are a person too and have needs just like your baby does. I don't judge you. I don't pity you. Because now I am you.

So, Dear Formula Feeding Moms:

I get it now. I get that you love your babies and are doing what’s best for your mother-baby relationship. I understand why you would make the choice to quit trying to breastfeed, exclusively pump, supplement with formula, or formula feed from the very start.

I get that you are a person too and have needs just like your baby does.

I don’t judge you. I don’t pity you. Because now I am you.

I still hear the sweet, sanctimonious voice of my former La Leche League leader every time I shake up a bottle for Little Brother. But I shake it off, snuggle him close, and feed him anyway. His precious little belly doesn’t seem to be bothered by formula feeding in the least.

I am a breastfeeding mom. I am a pumping mom. I am a formula feeding mom.

No.

I am a mom. 

My baby is fed.

End of story.

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16 Comments

  • Karen

    Thank you so much for this! I formula fed all four of my children who are all healthy, highly-educated, working adults.
    Had I continued to try breastfeeding… I likely would have suffered severe ppd. Instead, I was able to enjoy my babies, take care of myself and my older children, have a relationship with my husband (who also got to have a closer relationship with his children through sharing the feedings), and everyone was well-fed.
    I recently lost a close friendship with a woman who invested all of her self-esteem and identity into being a breastfeeding, attachment-parenting, la leche leader, type of mom. The ironic thing is that we are both now in our 50s! She just couldn’t stand that I believe that breastfeeding “benefits” are negligible in a first world country. I would not agree that her way was superior to mine and I lost the friendship.
    So glad you are taking care of yourself and able to enjoy being a mommy!

  • Ruth

    I don’t think it was just a coincidence that I found your blog. It was divine intervention. I’m not at a place right now where self care is even possible for various reasons. However, your writing has been a blessing.
    I could have written this post and many others I have read. You mentioned before your heart was with military ministry. Well, I’m a military spouse in the trenches of military life. Struggling every day. Thank you for your ministry, for sharing from your heart. May God bless you.

  • Ashley Steer

    Thank you for posting this!!!!! I chose to formula feed my son from birth. I didn’t try to breast feed at all. I didn’t want to. The thought of it gave me the heebie jeebies. I also have Asperger’s and I was worried about my sensory issues and didn’t want to feel any resentment towards my son. I did, however, try to pump in an attempt to feed my son at least SOME breast milk, but the feeling of the pump attached to me made my skin crawl and it took all my self control not to throw the damn thing across the room.

    Nevertheless, my son is now nearly 13 months old and is growing beautifully. He has reached all his milestones early. He has NEVER been sick; not so much as a runny nose. Personally, I lost all my baby weight and then some without doing all that much exercise within 6 months. I didn’t have any postpartum depression either.

    I feel the benefits of breast feeding are grossly over-exaggerated. All that matters is that a baby is fed, cared for and loved.

    • Aprille

      I am using formula because of my exhaustion levels and my need to focus on my self care. Using homemade formula has risks and would defeat the purpose of the choice I have made for myself and my child as it would take far more of my precious time and energy than either breastfeeding or formula feeding would.

      Formula is a safe option for babies, and I’m so glad that I and my son have access to it so we can have a more enjoyable (and restful) life and relationship.

  • Catherine Anderson

    I’m a big fan of Baby’s Only Organic Dairy Formula. I’ve been using it for a couple of months with success. In addition, it is really nice that it doesn’t have that “formula” smell to it!

    • Aprille

      I bought some of that on Amazon and have used it mixed in baby food but he didn’t like it for bottles. I’m trying to use it up by mixing it into the Gerber in small amounts just to be rid of it. I love Gerber soothe and don’t feel like it smells at all!

  • Amanda Hill

    Aprille, I am way behind in reading but I just saw this. I am so glad you wrote this! As the bread winner of the family AND the mom I had to return to work fairly quickly so I made the decision early on to not breastfeed. I introduced solids to my child around 5 months and she quickly developed a taste for actual food. At 2, she has a diverse palette and there is no vegetable or fruit she’ll turn away. I can put anything in front of her and she’ll try it. I know all children are different but I have faith that Little Brother will be just fine. As long as your children are fed, who cares how it’s ‘delivered’.

    • Aprille

      Absolutely. Little Brother is doing GREAT on formula and his appetite for table food is insatiable! He’s growing leaps and bounds and completely happy and healthy! I am even more thrilled with my decision to formula feed now than I was a month ago. We are still nursing here and there which is nice too, but formula is his primary food source now.

  • Colleen G

    I breastfed both my girls until they were 2. I was the one who talked my friend into continuing breastfeeding her son even though she needed Gallbladder surgery while he was tiny. Then I had four boys and developed Fibromyalgia. My body refused to produce enough milk. I had bought into the La Leche League myth that milk supply issues do not really exist. So I got to the point of my son losing weight and refusing to unlatch all-night-long!
    I love formula. I love bottles. My boys were just as healthy as babies as my girls were. They are all fine now. By letting myself use formula I was able to work around my health problems to actually enjoy my babies. I had resented my son every time he demanded to nurse before I knew he was genuinely hungry as all he wanted to do was nurse.
    There should not be battles about feeding babies.

    • Aprille

      Colleen, I love stories like this. I hate that so many moms have to learn it the hard way and get to a breaking point like this. However, I am glad that you did learn the lesson and do what’s best for you and your baby. I so wish more moms realized how truly born out of proportion this issue is! It really breaks my heart to see my former self and so many other moms refuse to give in to something that will make their life so much easier and actually help them have a more healthy relationship with their baby. Don’t get me wrong – I love and support breastfeeding. I just love and support formula feeding just as much.

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