Judgments: Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

I want to make a plea to all mothers…  Can we please all just support each other?  We’re all going through similar experiences, emotions, and hormonal changes, and at a time when we are most vulnerable, we should be supporting each other vs. attacking each other when it comes to controversial topics.

I’m sure the above gives a hint as to where I’m going with this, but I feel it’s important to share my story.  To share the “other side” per se.  Maybe it will help shed some light to those who are so dogmatic about one right way of doing things.

Before I begin, let me state very clearly and succinctly: BREAST IS BEST.  Period.  There is absolutely no debate about it.  Breastfeeding your infant during their most formative weeks and months is arguably the single most important thing you can do to give your baby the best start in life.

But hear me when I say it is not always possible.  For me it was not, partially due to some actions on my part and partially due to circumstances beyond my control.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be possible if I have another child.  That also doesn’t mean I am a bad mother.  Let me repeat: It does not mean I am a bad mother.  It took me a long time to be able to say and believe that, so I think it’s important to repeat it.

I admit I was pretty ignorant when it came to the “breastfeeding vs. formula feeding” controversy while I was pregnant.  I understood at a high level that breastfeeding was better and encouraged, but didn’t really think that formula was all that bad.  I definitely didn’t put a lot of time into researching it.  I figured, heck, much of our generation was raised on formula, and we all turned out okay.  As long as you pick the right formula, your baby should be fine.

I wasn’t excited about the prospect of breastfeeding.  I hadn’t yet bonded with my baby – to me, “my baby” was still some abstract idea, a foreign invasion of my body but not much else.  I was scared that breastfeeding would hurt.  I had heard stories of mastitis and bleeding nipples.  I didn’t want to leak when I went back to work.  I didn’t want the daunting responsibility of having to be the sole provider of nutrition and sustenance for an infant.  I worried about my diet and how it would impact breast milk.

So I figured that formula feeding was a good enough back-up plan.  In fact, I was pretty sure it would be THE plan – although I left the door open to breastfeeding should I change my mind upon delivery (which I doubted).  Friends were shocked and tried to encourage me to reconsider my approach.  Doctors pressured.  The more pressure I received, the more I pushed back and the more adamant I became that it was my choice and I would formula feed if I wanted to! 

About 2 weeks before giving birth, I suddenly had a change of heart.  I literally woke up one morning in a panic – what was I thinking?  I have to breastfeed!  It’s the best for my baby!  I began to read up on it.  I talked to family.  I was torn.  It felt like so much to learn, so much to prepare for, so late in the game.  Within a few days, the impulse had died down.  My sister, who had experienced difficulties breastfeeding herself, advised me that if my heart was not fully in it, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  We agreed that I was just hormonal and to “stick to the plan” (meaning, decide at birth what I wanted to do).  Thus no preparations were made.

Delivery day arrives.  My baby is born after a very long and difficult delivery, and I miss out on the hospital’s Golden Hour bonding opportunity as they are fast and furiously working on my baby to ensure he is okay.  I am happy but utterly exhausted.  I just want to sleep.  Not yet bonded.

The nurse asks if I want to latch him onto my breast.  I do not.  I am beyond worn out.  I am sore.  I feel as if I can’t manage something else new at this moment.  I ask for a bottle instead.  This is now my biggest regret about that experience.  His first feeding is newborn formula.

My healing process is slow.  I stay in the hospital an extra day and night beyond what I had planned to.  During that time I am pretty much bedridden, and hubby takes over most of the feeding/diapering responsibilities.  Which means that the feedings continue via formula.  I am not yet fully bonding with my baby.  Nobody at the hospital asks me again if I want to breastfeed.  I probably would have pushed back if they had anyway.

Finally getting discharged.  I am told that my breasts should engorge within the next 2-5 days and that if I don’t want to breastfeed, to avoid contact with them and basically wait out the engorgement.

5 days come and go.  10 days come and go.  No engorgement.  Finally just after 2 weeks postpartum, mild engorgement begins.  I have nothing to compare it to, but they’re not nearly as painful or engorged as I’m told they should be.  All during this time, we are continuing to formula feed.  I am adjusting to having a new baby at home.  He is cute and small and I love him…  But I’ve not yet bonded.

Hubby is going back to work soon.  I now force myself out of bed and start hobbling around the house to help take care of the chores and, most importantly, the baby in preparation for his return to work.  I begin spending more time with the baby than I had in the days prior. 

Then slowly, something starts to happen…  I feel something starting to stir.  I start to really watch him while he eats, when I change him, while he sleeps.  We make some meaningful eye contact.  I begin focusing less on my healing and more on him.  I start to fall in love with him.  He is no longer just a responsibility, a chore, something I have to do.  He is now MY SON.  My beautiful, perfect, angelic child.  A gift.  A miracle.  My heart opens up and with it comes the anxiety.  The panic.  The worry.  And the absolute NEED to do everything in my power to love, protect, and provide the very best for him.

At about that time, I receive an email from one of my best friends.  He makes a passing comment about how another mutual friend (who works for an infant formula company) saw a photo of me formula-feeding my baby and said that I really needed to “stop feeding him that crap.”   He went on to mention a few of the statistics our friend had shared in regards to formula feeding. 

I lost it.  While reading the email, I began crying uncontrollably (and those who know me know I am not a cryer).  I couldn’t stop. 

Suddenly it all hit me.  The profound love for my child, the anxiety, the guilt, the worry, and the fact that I had made the absolute worst decision I could have in giving him the best start in life.  What was wrong with me?  How could I have done this?  The words stop feeding him that crap are permanently seared into my mind.

I begin frantically researching.  Researching researching.  Can I still breastfeed?  Is it too late?  Of course, most of the articles and forums I read berate women who didn’t attempt to breastfeed from Day 1.  I am called selfish, unfit to be a mother, and borderline abusive.  I hear that I am ignorant and uneducated.  I read a piece that asserts that mothers who do not breastfeed should not be allowed to procreate.  I am told that my child will now not only suffer from a lifetime of disease and lowered immunity, but that he will also end up stupid and obese.  All because I made that one fateful decision.

The guilt and regret are overpowering.  I can’t stop crying.  Hormones, Google overload, and other mothers’ judgments only make it worse.  I feel absolutely horrible for what I’ve done.  The articles and books are not helping.  Hubby becomes worried.  He doesn’t understand.  It’s not as if you’re feeding him poison, he says.  But I am desperate to salvage the situation.  I will fix this.

I begin putting my baby to the breast.  Predictably, he won’t take it.  Why would he?  He’s become accustomed to the easy flow of the formula bottles.  Why work harder than he has to?  I keep trying.  Trying.  He simply won’t latch.  Once he bites.  Hard.  But never latches.

I buy a hand pump.  I pump pump pump for 40 minutes and get a few drops of milk.  I am ecstatic.

I call 3 different Lactation Consultants.  One I don’t like off the bat (she spends a lot of time reprimanding me for what a horrible decision I had made – as if I didn’t already realize that).  The other two are great.  I spend a lot of time talking with both of them.  I share my proud moment of the hand pump.  They both feel I can successfully re-lactate, but that it is going to take work.  I need to be committed.  I am.  I will do anything.

First thing I am instructed to do is to rent a hospital-grade breast pump.  I do that immediately.  The nurse shows me how to use it and also confirms during our test that I do “have milk” and should be able to re-lactate.  She furthermore confirms that the small amount of milk produced during that session is in fact colustrum – even better!  I am told to pump at least 25 minutes every 2 hours day and night for at least two weeks to start seeing results.  I’m shown how to give myself compresses and massages that should also help stimulate milk production.

I’m told to begin a cocktail of Fenugreek (10 capsules a day), Milk Thistle (6 capsules a day), 5 glasses of milk a day, and a lot of oatmeal and water.  I send hubby to the health store to pick everything up.  I’m told to visualize my baby to allow for the “let down” of milk, and to relax as much as possible.

Finally, I’m referred over and over again to La Leche League.  I desperately read up on their forums, websites, and once again conclude what a horrible mother I am for not breastfeeding from Day 1.  But I can relactate, they tell me.  Even adoptive mothers can lactate.  Just don’t give up.

The pump HURTS!!  Wow, turn power down.  Relax.  Focus on your baby.  Take the supplements.  Never mind the chapped and bleeding nipples.  Clean it up and keep trying.

Every two hours.  Has it already been two hours??  Do it again.  Produce only 5 ml.  That’s okay, keep at it.  Day, night, night day.  Every two hours.  Water, oatmeal, milk, supplements, lanolin, pump, soothe chapped/bleeding nipples, clean pump parts, repeat.  This becomes my new obsession.

A week later and still only 5-10 ml.  No matter.  Those precious drops are added like miracle medicine to my baby’s bottles.  Keep at it, it will increase.

Two weeks in.  I’m getting tired.  Not sleeping since up through the night pumping.  Nipples ain’t pretty.  And STILL only producing about 5-10 ml a session.  Dreading pumping time.  I remain obsessed with pumping out every single drop possible.  Not seeing an increase.

I take a day off.  I rationalize that I am out and busy and didn’t get a chance to pump…  but if I’m being honest with myself, I just want a day off!  I want my nipples to heal.  I don’t want to dread pumping time.  I don’t want the pressure.  I want to take a nap!

Next day I pump and get 30 ml.  30 ml!!  Three times as much as I have gotten before!  Maybe the tide has turned.  But, after the next 4 subsequent pumps yield even less than 10 ml, I realize it was just build-up for having skipped a day.

Time passes.  I’m starting to become depressed.  I am obsessed with increasing my milk supply.  I can do this.  I WILL do this.  I cannot ruin my son’s future.  I am miserable and I wince any time anything grazes my breasts.  My nipples aren’t improving.  I become furious when my husband fails to shake every last drop of “liquid gold” into the formula bottle.  I am sleep-deprived, and not due to a crying baby!

After about another week or so of this, hubby pulls me aside.  You’re doing a great thing, he says, and I see how hard you’ve been trying.  But – don’t you think you’ve tried enough?  He struggles for the right words.  I feel like… you’re starting to lose focus of your son.  Says it gently.

I start to protest.  Argue. 

But then stop.  He’s right.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve focused on my son while feeding him (vs. thinking about The Pump and My Supply).  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve focused on anything other than increasing my supply.  I am frustrated.  Snapping at everyone.  Depressed.  Defeated.

And hubby has inadvertently given me the best gift he can.  The permission to stop.  I realized afterwards that was all I needed.  I knew a couple of weeks in that it wasn’t working.  My milk production wasn’t increasing.  I wasn’t succeeding.  But I couldn’t stop.  Wouldn’t stop.  Had to make up for my inital mistake.

So I needed that permission to stop.  Someone to acknowledge that I had given it everything.  That I wasn’t a failure as a mother.  And that it was going to be okay.  And he reminded me, again, that I was doing the best I could.  I wasn’t feeding him poison.  I loved him.  I cared for him.  And was learning as I go.

I returned the pump.  I put away the supplements.  And I decided to take the permission to move on and not look back.  I decided to use this as a learning experience for the next time.  Relief.  Peace.

I began to look forward to feedings again.  That quiet time with baby and I.  I began to physically heal.  I slept.  Through the night.  And was happier.  A better mother, a better wife.

And I vowed to no longer look up another forum, thread, or article regarding the Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding war.  I supposed I had lost the battle.  La Leche League would not have been pleased.  But the gray cloud hovering above me was lifting.  I was starting to feel like myself again.  I was engaged with my son.

All we can do is our best.  And we make mistakes.  I know that this was one of my biggest mistakes.  But I have accepted it, learned from it, and moved on.  What I wish is that during my most vulnerable time, I had been supported by other mothers, even those with different experiences.  Instead, I felt degraded.  I WAS degraded.  But what I needed at that time, instead of lectures and reprimands, was simply support.

Sometimes when we’re passionate about something, we forget to respect others’ perspectives and experiences.  It’s understandable – we simply KNOW we are right and cannot comprehend why someone else would not see it the way we do.  Yet in our constant lecturing and soap-boxing, we push those people away.  The ones we are so fervently attempting to sway, to see it our way, are turned off and retreat.  Who wants to be reprimanded?  Scolded?  Scoffed at because they cannot or will not follow the same practices that we do?

I’m all for education, but it needs to remain objective and fact-based, not personal and attacking.  I can only imagine how an adoptive mother who formula feeds her child must feel – and she has no choice!  Present the facts and let the mother decide. 

And other mothers, especially, be kind to your peers.  Remember that we will all make mistakes along the way.  Let’s band together and show compassion, not pass judgment.  Let’s maintain the assumption that mothers want to parent the best way that they possibly can, although particular views may differ.  Let’s hold each other up instead of trying to tear each other down.

We’re all in this together.

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9 responses to “Judgments: Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding

  1. Pingback: Formula Roulette | 35mommy

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  3. Soon to be 2nd time mom

    This is always horrible to deal with this! I had planned to breastfeed and could not due to underdeveloped ducts. I have hugs boobs and glands that were totally filled with milk and there was no way to get the milk out. I am due with baby #2 soon and must face this problem again. It’s amazing how many people that I barely know ask me if I am going to breastfeed and I have to just give a fake answer since it takes too much effort to explain my medical condition. And even thought it’s a medical condition I am still made to feel bad because it’s the I am so sorry for you attitude.

    It’s funny, I do the organic, no toxic chemical route for my baby and will continue it for the rest of his life(he’s 7 now) I personally feel this is even MORE important than breastfeeding!!!! But I don’t say, why are you putting toxins in your children’s body to everyone I know who doesn’t try to follow the organic lifestyle.

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    • I can only imagine how hard it was with underdeveloped ducts – here you have the milk, but no way to release it! It must have been painful too. And THEN to have to deal with the judgment of others on top of it. I am so with you on the organic/non-GMO stuff; that’s the real risk in my opinion yet the focus of the masses isn’t there yet. Regardless, I could never fathom questioning another mother on how or why she feeds her baby the way she does – so still can’t understand why others (strangers, no less) feel it is okay.

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  4. Pingback: Encouraging Breastfeeding: How Far is Too Far? | 35mommy

  5. Oh the judgments…it’s actually pretty crazy if you ask me.

    I am a bottle feeder. I have two girls (4 and 6) and another on the way and that was always the choice for us. We have a hectic lifestyle (I am divorced and in nursing school)…we just honestly can’t handle another pressure. It wouldn’t be good for any of us. That is my choice. I’ve read the articles and the studies up and down. I am comfortable with my decision even now…6 years removed from that initial decision. I have very healthy girls…very smart girls…could breast feeding have made them smarter? Who knows…but our whole life as moms is choosing the best choice for our children and sometimes, it’s a choice between the lesser of two evils. The best case scenario isn’t always even an option. I’m sure I’ve made a billion mistakes since my oldest was born…I learn and do it better the next go around. Hell, even some choices I thought were the right ones with one kid aren’t the right ones with the second. I have no problem sharing my experiences if I’m asked (I was just asked today what formula I used) and if someone asks for a tip, I’ll let them know what I tried. It may work, it may not. I’ve even had some things I tried that didn’t work end up being the perfect solution for a friend. It’s all about the kid.

    I am glad you came to terms with your hurdle and are at peace that you aren’t a horrible mother and that you did the best you could. You did the best you could even before you tried to relactate. And kudos to your husband for being supportive and helping you through. Keep up the good work!

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    • I love your comments – so well stated! We are all just trying to do our best and what works for one family may not necessarily work for another. And the great breast vs. formula feeding debate is not the end-all be-all. Now that my son is over 2, like you, I notice that he is very intelligent, has never been (knock on wood) ill outside of a cold, is not obese, and is very alert. I think there are so many factors that play into how healthy our children are and how well they do other than simply breastfeeding.

      I love that you are confident in your decision and in sharing it. I also have a second child on the way (any day now!) and while I plan to again try to breastfeed, I am nowhere near as panicked about it as I was with my first.

      I appreciate your comments.

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  6. Pingback: Judgments: Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding | 35mommy

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