Evolution of a Formula-Feeding Mom

Becoming a new parent is an adjustment (to say the least). If there is one thing that all new parents quickly learn to deal with, it’s judgement. Any decision that you make regarding your baby will be judged somewhere, by someone. Now that we have online parenting groups, we can be judged by people half way around the world whom we have never even met!

No single choice seems as polarizing, though, as the war between formula-feeding and breast-feeding. The opposing camps on this issue are so divided, and the labels so harsh: breast-feeding moms are self-righteous and smug; formula-feeding moms are uninformed and negligent.

I should preface this post by stating that I am very pro-breast feeding. In spite of the fact that some of the health benefits attributed to breast milk may be inflated, I think it truly is the best nutrition for our babies. I also think that there is a lot about the breast-feeding relationship that we don’t know yet. There may be benefits that we don’t even know exist and can’t measure.

That being said, my son is formula-fed. It was never my plan. Like all first-time expectant moms, I had a vision of how being a mom was going to be. I planned on an intervention-free, peaceful birth followed by a year of exclusive breastfeeding. And, like so many expectant moms, the reality was much different. I had a difficult labour that culminated in a c-section. Instead of getting to cuddle and feed my new son right away, I was whisked off to recovery and had to wait hours to hold him. When I finally got to try feeding him, the nurse helped me position him, and he latched on right away. He knew exactly what he was doing and I thought to myself, “Oh, thank God.” I wasn’t going to have to struggle with this like so many other moms that I knew.

Over the next few feedings, however, something seemed wrong. Even though he was feeding every two hours, he was always hungry. He was dropping weight. And he hadn’t had a wet diaper yet. We had a little diaper on him that had a yellow stripe on the front that would turn blue when the diaper was wet. I checked that diaper constantly, praying that it would be wet, only to see the yellow stripe. That damned yellow stripe. After two days, the nurses got concerned. One night, after weighing him again, one of the nurses gently suggested that we could offer him some formula. Out of exhaustion and worry, I reluctantly agreed.

After bottle feeding him, I looked at my new infant son. He was finally satisfied, his tiny stomach full for the first time. I should have taken comfort in that, but I didn’t. I felt disgusted and angry with myself, and guilty. It was supposed to be my body that fed my baby. Resolved that that would be the one and only time that my baby ate formula, I resumed breast-feeding. But still, my body wasn’t producing the milk that my baby needed. We gave him a few more bottles while he was in the hospital, and soon it became routine. I would breast feed him to try to encourage my supply, and then we would “top up” with formula.

When we got home, the routine continued. Only now it was really painful to breast-feed him as well. From everything that I read, it seemed like he probably wasn’t latched on properly. I had help from my midwife, countless nurses, and lactation experts. They all said that he was latched perfectly and that there shouldn’t be any pain. Only there was.


Image courtesy of amdavis http://www.sxc.hu/

Feeding time became so stressful. I dreaded the toe-curling pain of my baby latching on, and the inevitable frustration when he drank all of the milk that I had and was still hungry. I started to think, “If he’s just going to need formula anyway, why bother putting myself through this?” It got so bad, that I actually started to delay feeding times because it was so miserable. My poor partner tried to help as much as he could. I would get positioned to feed, with pillows propped up all around me, and he would hand me the baby and then stand by helplessly as I cried while I fed him.

I knew that something had to change. Yes, breast milk was best for my baby. But having a happy and loving mom was important for my baby, too. Being able to bond peacefully over mealtimes was important. So I started to pump.  Things immediately got better. I stopped dreading feeding my son, and started to enjoy cuddling him while giving him a bottle. My supply was never high enough that I could exclusively breast feed him, but the combination of breast milk and formula seemed to be working. Then, when he was about two months old, I got sick. Overnight, my supply completely dried up. I tried to get it back, taking pills and pumping religiously. It never came back. It was then that I had to give up on the idea that I would ever get to exclusively breast feed my baby.

Since then, I wonder if there is something else that I could have done. I look back at milestones along the way and think…if I had just not given him that bottle in the hospital. If I had just met with one more consultant who might have told me what was wrong. If I had just tried a little harder at feeding him. It’s something that I still struggle with day to day. When I see a woman breast-feeding, I feel a jealousy course through my body, the likes of which I have never felt before.  I want that relationship with my baby.

For some women, formula feeding is a choice.  For me and others, it’s a necessity. Regardless, formula-feeding moms love their babies just as much as breast-feeding moms. We are not all ignorant and uninformed. We are not lazy (spending nap times disassembling, washing, sterilizing, and reassembling those damn Dr. Brown’s bottles leaves no room for laziness). It’s not always a matter of us not trying hard enough. My baby is not doomed to a life of allergies, sickness, obesity, and eating processed food just because he got his start on formula. Thank goodness we live in a time where an alternative to breast milk exists.

In the end, I’m not writing this for the approval of all the other moms out there.  The only judgement that I have to live with day to day is what I tell myself.  And so I choose to tell myself that I am a loving and caring mom who is doing her best for her baby…and in a year I’ll have something completely different to obsess about.

11 thoughts on “Evolution of a Formula-Feeding Mom

  1. I had an awful experience too that led me to finally bottle feed. I wanted to breast feed at first. Well… mostly I wanted to because everyone (including my fiance) was pressuring me to do it, not because I thought it was best for me and my son. How the nurses in the hospital handled the whole getting started process of breast feeding is what really turned me off. They would come in every two hours and WAKE MY NEWBORN UP and FORCE him to breast feed, even in the middle of the night. I was dead exhausted from not sleeping at all for the first 48 hours, it hurt soooo bad, he was screaming because he just wanted to sleep, and all the nurses were judging me and telling me I was not doing right by my son by not waking him up to feed him. They were treating me as if I was neglecting him. Top this all off with the fact that I had a c-section and was denied pain medicine, so I was in writhing pain and couldn’t even stand or hold him on my own. In the end, I flipped on all the nurses and everyone in my room who was pressuring me and told them my son would be bottle fed and I wanted them to RESPECT me and my decision.

    Sorry that was so long. I think you just inspired me to write about my experience on my own blog, thelittledabbler.wordpress.com. I’ll get right on that!

    Libby Sawyer

    • I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately, I think that stories like this are common. I’d like to see equal support for women regardless of how they choose to feed their babies. I look forward to reading your story!

  2. I had a very similar experience trying to breastfeed. I’d spend ages trying to get him to latch, and then when he finally would, he’d fall straight asleep instead of nursing. I was exhausted, and after two days of that, he’d gone from 8lb12 to 8 flat. Same as you, no wet diapers, and his poor little lips looked so dry, and he would only sleep. I was completely distraught. I pumped colostrum & spoon-fed him, and at the birth center, they gave him formula to combat any dehydration or low blood sugar. I breastfed a couple more times after that and supplemented with formula one more time, I think, until I’d pumped enough to keep up with him. I’ve been pumping exclusively ever since. I’m hoping it’ll last, but I’m also growing to hate pumping. I’ll do it as long as I can, but if I have to switch to formula before a year, I’m going to try not to feel guilty about it. I know plenty of formula-fed kids with zero health issues –and a good number of breastfed kids who are sick half the time. There are so many other factors that contribute to our kids’ health, and, as you said, having a happy, healthy mother is one of those factors — and a big one. Good for you for doing what is best for your son (getting the sustenance and love he needs) and for you!

    • It makes me sad to hear so many stories like this…not that women are unable to breastfeed but that we beat ourselves up so much about it. I’m reading a great book now called “Bottled Up” by Suzanne Barston. I’ll be doing a review of it on this blog once I’m done, but I highly recommend it so far. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone!

    • Elizabeth, I’ve also noticed that most of the exclusively breast fed babies I know are always getting sick whereas all the formula fed babies are very healthy and never sick. In fact, the formula fed babies I know are in the 80th percentiles for height (but not in the least bit overweight) and seem to develop their fine and gross motor skills as well as social and language development a lot quicker than the breast fed babies. We’re all led to believe breast feeding will help a baby excelerate with these skills, but I’ve notice the complete opposite trend. Formula kids are excelling. I wonder if it’s because you have to spend a lot of time feeding baby if you go exclusively breast, and that cuts into the time you can engage in other activities that would encourage skill development. Now, this is just my observation of all the mothers and babies I know personally. But it’s such a glaring difference between formula and breast that it’s worth noting.

  3. Pingback: Free Formula Offers for Baby | thelittledabbler

  4. Pingback: Why I Decided to Bottle Feed | thelittledabbler

  5. Had to share a link to this post on my blog today! Thanks for the reminder that yes, we really ARE all trying to be better mothers, even when our choices about feeding diverge.

  6. Pingback: I Breastfed 7 Children…and Lived to Tell About It

  7. Pingback: Breast Milk Found to Protect Against Cancer, Kill Cancer Cells | Prepper Podcast Radio Network

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