Breastfeeding and Formula


Before A was born, I hadn’t thought much about how I would feed him.  After a few doctor’s appointments, only breastfeeding was mentioned to me and I was encouraged to take a breastfeeding education class before the baby came.  I took the class and it seemed like breastfeeding was the best option, and I committed to nursing A for 6 months.  I had a pump, nursing bras, a nursing cover, a few notes from the class and I was ready to go.  I was going to wait 3 weeks before introducing a pacifier or a bottle – I would follow all the rules.

A few hours after A was born he was having trouble breathing and ended up in the NICU for 5 days.  He ended up being totally fine, but he had a breathing tube the first day and I couldn’t breastfeed him.  I was devastated that he was separated from me attached to all of these machines, but I immediately started pumping per the nurse’s instructions every 3 hours.  That first day I would get like an imaginary drop of colostrum, and I would label the bottle with the unseen drop and ask John to take it to the NICU for A.  I did this round the clock until the next day when they let me try to breastfeed him.  I didn’t know what I was doing (thanks for nothing breastfeeding class!) and some of the nurses that week were patient and would help me for hours, others not so much.  There was an issue with his blood sugar at one point and they needed to give him formula and I was hysterical, because at this point I was hell bent on breastfeeding because it was the only idea that was shared with me about how to feed baby.  I spent a lot of time crying trying to nurse my baby who was attached to all of these wires, pumping afterwards to get my milk going, and feeling upset as I watched him suck down bottles of formula.  He also had a tongue tie that they suggested we get clipped before leaving the hospital; I hesitated putting him through anything else, but the doctors said it would really help with breastfeeding so we did that too.

He was given a clean bill of health thankfully and we headed home; they rented me a hospital grade pump and I was instructed to pump after every feeding, so for a few days I would nurse for about 45 minutes, pump for 20 minutes, and then pretty much start the whole process over again.  The next week we went to a lactation appointment and A had gained back his birth weight so I was told I didn’t need to pump anymore, my milk supply was plenty for him!  Yay.  Everything was fine for a couple of weeks, but then he just didn’t seem satisfied after feedings, like ever.  He would nurse for 45 minutes sometimes and cry for more afterwards.  I started taking him to those weighted feedings at the hospital and he wasn’t taking in much milk; his tongue tie had reattached.  The lactation consultant told me I needed to pump again to increase my supply, take pills, eat certain things, etc.  So I began that process again and I was absolutely miserable.  I hated putting A in his bouncer and sitting next to him and pumping when I just wanted to play with him.  I went to a final appointment and after all that pumping and pills and everything I was told to do, he was barely drinking an ounce after 45 minutes of feeding at 2 months old.  She said it was time to supplement with formula after every feeding and that I shouldn’t feel bad because A was so happy nursing still and I did everything I could.

So I would nurse for just a few minutes so that A could get a bit of breastmilk and because I enjoyed the snuggles, and then I would make a bottle and he would be stoked.  I kept this up until he was about 5 and a half months old and drinking like the maximum amount of formula a day and pretty much drops of breastmilk (I felt dizzy and nauseous for months and thought it might be because I was basically weaning the whole time; the second I stopped I felt better – I seem to have issues with any hormonal changes).  I don’t remember the last time I nursed him; I don’t think I even knew it would be the last time.  I thought I would be sad, but then I looked at my extremely healthy and happy son.  Even though he went to daycare, he was rarely ever sick…even less frequently than some babies I knew who were exclusively breastfed.  He was growing well, always in a good mood, hitting all his milestones, and an absolute joy.  He didn’t care if he was getting breastfed or formula, he just wanted to be fed!  I grew to love those formula bottles, and I could have kicked myself for how much pressure and stress I put on myself those first few months and vowed that with my next baby, if there was even a slight question about my milk supply or if things didn’t feel right breastfeeding, I would switch to formula and not feel guilty whatsoever.

When C was born, I was able to nurse him right away and during our stay at the hospital.  However, since a pump is what brought my milk in with A, I didn’t really know that it is a little different when the baby is the one trying to get your milk in.  So when C was trying to suck every half hour the entire night, I was calling the nurses like “what is wrong with this baby!!!”  I had no idea that this was totally normal.  His latch hurt for a few days but we worked it out; the next week at our lactation appointment I told the nurse I did NOT want to exclusively breastfeed but would rather combo feed, that I did not want to pump to increase my supply, and that I did not want to nurse and supplement with formula at the same feeding.  She said if I could make it through his 3 week growth spurt, my supply would be better established and then I could switch some nursing sessions over to bottles.  Yay!  I did just that, and while C was gaining weight fine on my milk, I really didn’t enjoy pumping if I missed a feeding, wondering how much he was getting, or being the sole person responsible for his nutrition.  Even though I didn’t love it, I started pumping instead of breastfeeding, and then offering formula if I didn’t feel like pumping or if I didn’t pump enough.  I slowly let my supply dwindle down and at 2 months he is mostly formula fed and gets a few ounces of thawed frozen breastmilk a day.  But even though this is what I wanted, I STILL ended up feeling guilty.  WHY??? Again, C is thriving, constantly smiling at me, loves snuggling up to me while I give him a bottle, and I am able to feel better physically and am not stressed about if he is getting enough nutrition or not.

I realized that with all the breastfeeding propaganda, the only natural assumption is that breastfeeding is good and formula is bad but that is so far from true.  Yes, breastmilk might be best but formula is like as close to best as you can get.  And in my opinion, if you are someone like me who had trouble breastfeeding to the point that you weren’t able to even enjoy being a mother at first, then formula is actually best.  I wanted to write this down to let others know that if your feeding plan for baby didn’t work out, it is okay.  If you love breastfeeding, good for you.  If you love formula, good for you.  As long as you are feeding your baby with love, that is all that really matters.



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