Breast or Bottle?
I’ll start off this post by giving my outlook on breastfeeding/formula feeding BEFORE having a child. Disclaimer: I was completely ignorant to the topic considering I had no first-hand experience with it myself. But given that, this was my stance – breast is best. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it. There was no circumstance where it wasn’t the best. I honestly was so ignorant that I couldn’t even think of a good reason that someone would actually feed formula.
I had no idea.
Fast forward to November 27, 2017 (the day Vivian was born). After an hour or so of her being on this Earth it was time to try this breastfeeding thing for the first time. My nurses helped me position her and walked me through the correct approach to take. She latched (kind of) and to my surprise nothing was coming out. Uhhh hellooooo. I thought milk just flowed out after the baby came out. Again, ignorant, I know. Things weren’t going the way we wanted so after a couple attempts my nurses said it was OK to give it a break and try again once we get into the room that we would be staying in the next 2 days.
Once we were settled in our room a new nurse had introduced herself and began the coaching process of breastfeeding. I was introduced to a world of different positions, latching techniques, nipple shields, nipple creams, industrial breast pumps, breast shields, pump valves, pump membranes, and so on. Needless to say I was overwhelmed given the fact that I thought breastfeeding just involved putting the baby to the breast and voila!
We tried again and still no colostrum. I also wasn’t working with the best anatomy. I won’t get into it but I don’t have the world’s best “breastfeeding” breasts. Vivian was starting to get frustrated as was I. The nurse suggested I pump to get things moving along. I like to think of it as getting the pipes primed. I pumped for a 15 minute session and in the end got a tiny drop or 2 out.
Come on body, this baby is getting hungryyyyy. What are you doing????
So there I was hours after Vivian was born and nothing but a tiny drop to give her.
In the meantime the nurse had brought in a ready-to-feed bottle of formula and told me it was there if we needed it.
All the sudden that jaded outlook of breastfeeding completely shifted. My baby needed nourishment. She needed to be fed. My body was not producing something that she literally NEEDS to survive. What kind of selfish person would I be to flat out say no to giving her formula simply because I didn’t want to. Because I had an uneducated opinion that formula was bad for her.
To my surprise I didn’t hesitate and formula it was. I gave it to her and she sucked down about 2-3mls and was satisfied. She was fed.
Family poured in the room shortly afterward to meet her for the first time and the room was filled with 10-12 people.
I remember they asked how breastfeeding was going and I was honest – not well and pointed to the bottle of formula on the table. I remember feeling shameful. Like I did something wrong. (Not because anybody made me feel that way but because of my stance of the whole breast vs. bottle situation).
The next 2 days in the hospital were spent pumping and then more pumping. I would breastfeed Vivian, then pump and give her whatever I pumped. Every sticky little drop of colostrum I would get out we would scrape out of the breast shield and put directly into Viv’s mouth. After that we would follow up with formula since I still wasn’t producing enough. So each feeding session consisted of: straight from the breast, pumping and feeding, and formula. It was exhausting but I was so determined. What started off as drops turned into lots of drops! And 2 days post partum I was so excited when I produced what’s in the picture here. You have no idea how hard I had worked the last 2 days to produce more then just a single drop so this was a victory my friends. Colostrum really is liquid gold, for so many reasons. The nurses were great in the hospital and I saw a lactation nurse who was a godsend. She saw me both days I was in the hospital and made sure to check in with me right before I was discharged to make sure I was on the right track. She gave me all of her information for outpatient lactation services and we rented the hospital-grade breast pump to go home with. I left the hospital with confidence moving forward.
*Just a side note – a big shot out to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. Their staff is beyond amazing. Each and every doctor, nurse, nursing assistant, and administrative personnel went above and beyond for us during our stay there. I was seriously really sad when we had to leave. It was like we were living in a magical place where there is unconditional help and support. It was awesome.*
Our first day home was surreal and it felt like we had just kidnapped a baby from the hospital but that baby actually belonged to us and we were responsible for taking care of it and keeping it alive and stuff. Whoah.
I fired up the ole breast pump and my life as a milk cow continued. Same routine as the hospital – breastfeed, pump and feed, then formula. From start to finish the process took a little over an hour and Vivian needed to eat every 3 hours. Every 3 hours starting from the BEGINNING of the last session so by the time we had got done feeding her we had just about an hour and a half to do it all over again. When I didn’t have a baby on my boob I had breast pump attached to it but like I said before, I was determined. We were going to get this to work. I was going to be a breastfeeding mama. I was going to give my baby what I thought was best.
The routine continued and my supply had increased over the next few days and my milk had officially come in.
I was in and out of appointments with the lactation nurse and she continued to coach me through this new lifestyle. We would take measurements each time to see how much Vivian was taking in and how well she was latching. Neither of which we were mastering. She wasn’t getting as much as she needed at each feeding so the life of breastfeeding, pumping and formula continued.
Life as a breastfeeding mama was hard to say the least. My hormones were all over the place and my nipples felt like they were on fire. Even a graze over them with my shirt I wanted to shoot through the roof. It. was. painful. I tried every cream on the planet but nothing really helped and when the bleeding started I needed a break. They needed to heal. I needed to heal. Vivian could sense the pain I was in at each feeding and it was becoming a negative experience for both of us so I switched to pumping only as it was a lot gentler on me. It also eliminated 1 out of the 3 steps we were taking at each feeding which was easier on me as well and we were able to see how much she was actually consuming per feeding. We were also able to drop the formula since I was producing enough and feeding times became a lot easier on all of us. Baby girl was getting breast milk and my nipples were getting a break.
After about a week of exclusively pumping, Viv was back on the boob. Still slightly painful but nothing like it was. She was about 2 weeks old at this point and something started to happen that would begin a whole new journey for us.
At diaper changes we started to notice blood in her poop. We called the pediatrician right away and they advised that it could be a little anal fissure and to keep an eye on it. The blood continued over the weekend and when Monday came around we brought her in to be seen. The doctor took a (very) quick look at her and immediately diagnosed her with a dairy allergy and told me that if I wanted to continue to breastfeed I need to eliminate all dairy from my diet.
I got the impression that the doctor had just jumped to this conclusion considering she didn’t even check for an anal fissure. How can you tell by just looking at her that she has an allergy to dairy? But I’m not the doctor and I had to trust she knew what she was talking about so I started a dairy-free life the moment I walked out of the pediatrician’s office. I went on mommy Facebook groups that were dedicated to dairy-free diets and they were filled with good recipes, snack ideas, fast food options, etc. I was so overwhelmed but I was more than willing to do this for my sweet baby girl.
The doctor said it could take a week or so for the dairy to clear from my system and I may still notice blood during this time period. A week had passed, then 10 days and the blood was till present if not worse. I had gone into the pediatrician a couple more times. One doctor had said she saw an anal fissure present but still advised I continue the dairy-free diet.
With nothing changing, back to the doctor we were. This time I saw the lactation nurse who recommended we start an exclusively fed formula called Nutramigen to eliminate any chance of dairy in her diet. I was upset. I didn’t want to only feed my baby formula. I had worked so hard on this breastfeeding journey. It felt like it was all for nothing when we hit this point but we were running out of options since nothing was improving with the path we were taking.
There was one major perk to this tho for me…
We started the Nutramigen when Vivian was little over a month old. She was on it for about a week but still no improvement. I was getting frustrated with the process. Nothing was helping and I felt like I was being bounced around from doctors and nurses with no real sense of a solution.
We were finally referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist.
The appointment consisted of the same thing the regular ped did. It was deja vu. She quickly looked over Vivian and looked at me and said she not only had a dairy allergy but a soy allergy as well.
I immediately began to cry. How do you know this by just quickly examining her? Are we about to go down the same road we just went down? Oh you want me to try a new formula like this is gonna be the saving grace? Now I need to start a dairy and soy free diet if I want to breastfeed? I didn’t read about this in any of my breastfeeding books. Amongst the positioning, latching, and pumping chapters there was no “how to live a dairy-free, soy-free life while breastfeeding” chapter.
The dairy-free diet was hard. There is dairy in things you wouldn’t even think dairy should exist in (ie bread). Soy is in even more. Like everything. Ok not literally everything but A LOT.
I was so overwhelmed. I had looked into a dairy-free, soy-free diet and good lawddd was it limited.
I stepped back and reevaluated my thought process. We all need to be happy (Brandon, myself, and Vivian). We all need to be fed (in Vivian’s case something dairy and soy free). In this stage of my life I needed things to be easy on me. A lot was going on and I was a new mommy. I’m not going to go into how I finally made the decision to switch exclusively to Elecare (Viv’s special formula) because honestly I’m not even quite sure how I did, I think it just happened. But I will tell you about the depression I put myself in getting there.
It was a mind fuck. And it was all self-inflicted.
My baby was an exclusively fed formula baby and I felt like the world’s worst mom. How could I not adopt a new diet for her so I could still breastfeed? Breast is best right? I’m not giving my baby what is best. My emotions were up and down, up and down. I had put myself in a state of depression over the whole thing. There was mornings I would wake up in uncontrollable tears over the guilt I was feeling. I felt awful about myself. I continued to pump 5-6 times a day for 15-20 minutes each time. I couldn’t give it up. I couldn’t make that decision to let it go. If I stopped pumping my milk would dry up and it would really be over and there would be no turning back. So I would pump, pump, pump to keep my supply up. I don’t really know what I was thinking would happen. Maybe the allergies would just go away after a week or so and I could start breastfeeding again? Maybe I’d change my mind and start to live a dairy-free soy-free life. Maybe I could pump until Vivian was 6 months old at which time I could try breastfeeding again. I don’t know. I think I was thinking all of these things. In all honesty this process was more depressing and more emotionally draining than IVF was. Honestly.
I couldn’t make any solid decision and our freezer was becoming an overfilled box of frozen breast milk. We had to buy a deep freezer to be able to continue to store it all as I still wasn’t coming to a decision and the milk was piling up. During nap time one day I organized it all by date and stored it in our new freezer.
The pumping sessions were taking a toll on me. As soon as I put the shields on to start to pump I immediately felt depressed. It was like my hormones would go haywire during these 15 minutes. It was also time spent that I was unable to be with my daughter. Some of the times I’d have to just listen to her cry because I was unable to hold her during a session. It was getting harder and harder to find 15 minutes 6 times a day. And what was it all for? Vivian was thriving on her new formula. The blood in her poop was gone. I got to eat cheese, and ice cream, and all the fun things that have soy in them and most importantly Vivian was FED. She was growing and her tummy was happy. But I still wasn’t happy. I needed to make a decision. I needed to stop putting my body through such agony and stop living a life consumed of mom guilt. (Mom guilt is so real btw). So I did. I made a decision. Vivian would be a formula fed baby from here on out and I was going to start the process of weaning off the pump.
Fast forward to today. Vivian is a little over 7 months old and Mama has sure learned a lot.
First and foremost – breast is not always best.
Fed is best. Whether that mean breast milk or formula.
Breast milk is best because of the nutrients, antibodies, immunity components, vitamins, etc that it contains. I get it. All formula feeding mamas get it, as well. I am not arguing with that and yes I wish more than anything Vivian could have gotten breast milk for more that just the 1 month that she did. I understand that formula is not the same as breast milk but the term “breast is best” should really have an asterisk next to it. For example:
Breast is best*
*breast is best when:
1. A mother is able to breast feed. I’ve learned that some woman are not physically even able to breast feed due to health reasons and anatomy. How could breast possibly be best when a woman’s body does not allow it?
2. The baby isn’t allergic to what is in the breast milk (ie Vivian)
3. The mother isn’t on any medications that can harm the baby. Some medications mothers are on are dangerous for the baby to be consuming through breast milk but mama needs to stay on said medication.
4. A mother’s milk supply is enough to feed baby. Some mama’s milk supply doesn’t even come in at all.
5. And finally, breast is best is when a mama chooses that it’s the best for her lifestyle. Some mama’s simply just choose not to (not for any of the above reasons) and that’s OK too! As long as that mama is getting that baby fed that’s all the matters!
Also what about mother’s who have adopted a child and therefore can’t breast feed at all. Thank God science has allowed for the production of formula, especially in these cases. The list goes on and I understand why this topic is highly debated but it shouldn’t be. As long as baby is happy, healthy, and has a full belly it shouldn’t matter how you got there. Every parent’s ultimate goal is to feed their baby. So in the end isn’t it really “fed is best?” I think so. Parents need to stick together and stop beating each other up for conflicting parenting decisions.
I can’t tell you how many times it stung to get “judgy” questions regarding me formula feeding. I’ll never forget – right in the beginning of our formula feeding journey (when I was still very depressed over the whole situation) I asked a waiter to bring us a mug of hot water so I could heat up Vivian’s bottle. He got it with a smiling face and was very nice about it but told me how his wife breast fed all their children and said “it’s actually really beneficial to breast feed”. Ouch.
Cans of formula even have a notice on the back of the cans recommending breast milk to be fed. How about that? Can you imagine how it feels every time you go to feed your child your reminded that you’re not giving what’s best?
I still get comments here and there and in all fairness I don’t think most people realize how rude it is so I tend to shrug it off and change the subject but for this reason I wanted to write a blog post on this topic.
Stop telling me how much better breastfeeding is – I know.
Stop telling me how you were horrified that “one time” you had to feed your baby formula.
Stop giving me judgy eyes when I mix up a bottle of formula in public.
I’m feeding my baby and I’m doing the best that I can. She is happy and I am happy.
And yes I know breastfeeding mama’s experience the judgement too in their own regard but take it from someone who has been both a breastfeeding mom and a formula feeding mom, I think us formula feeding moms have it a little worse now-a-days.
Rewind 20 or so years ago and it would have been the opposite. At that time formula feeding meant you had more money and could afford such a luxury.
I’m rambling now but you get my point. Stop judging each other for FEEDING your babies. Breast is best*. Fed is best.