A World Breastfeeding Week Post from a Formula Feeder

Did you know that it’s World Breastfeeding Week? I kinda cringed when I heard about it. I’m not one of those people who thinks that breastfeeding is in any way gross or immoral. No, I wanted to breastfeed very badly when I had TJ. I read up on the subject dutifully while I was pregnant. I researched breast pumps for when I went back to work. I got myself a Boppy pillow. I didn’t really even want to buy any bottles, except for what I’d need with the breast pump.

Boppy Pillow

And then TJ was born.

It was four years ago this month. The hospital where he was born was wonderful. They had lactation consultants on staff doing rounds with the nurses. After TJ was born, the staff cleared out to let Tom and I bond with our new baby before the visitors were allowed in, granting me time to try to breastfeed. I think TJ got some of the colostrum out, but I don’t know for sure. I was exhausted from having been awake for 36 hours and excited that my baby was finally here.

Later on, when I was moved up to my room from the delivery room, the trouble started. The little guy just couldn’t latch properly. He gave me a giant, painful hickey about an inch away from where the milk came from, but no amount of positioning and cajoling could get him to do what he needed to do to get fed. After hours of trying, I agreed to let him supplement with formula. (Don’t give me that look. He was my brand new baby, and I was desperate to make sure he was fed!) The next day was no better, though the lactation consultant really helped me try. I tried out their breast pump, which was awesome. I was in really bad shape physically and mentally, so I accepted the strong sedative they offered that night and agreed to let them keep him in the nursery instead of bringing him to me to attempt breastfeeding. The night staff must have missed the memo, and when they woke me up, I must have sounded completely incoherent, because it took me a few tries to before I could convince them that it was okay to give him a bottle.

Before I left the following day, I purchased the Medela Pump In Style – not the same thing I’d used the previous day – from the hospital store, and the lactation consultant helped me figure out how to use it. My plan was to pump away and express the breast milk for him indefinitely. Of course, they explained, the formula had streched out his little stomach already, so I was still going to need to supplement with formula until my milk supply caught up with his demands.

That never happened.

I pumped for six weeks. It was an agonizing, excruciating six weeks. I felt like a complete failure when I couldn’t make this work. I pumped for 15 minutes on each side every two hours, and I still couldn’t get more than an ounce or two each time. I couldn’t adequately feed my son, and it was painful and completely draining of my energy.

I felt like a failure. And other people were making me feel like a failure. Other moms made me feel horrible. I never liked the term “Boob Nazi,” but after being the recipient of unrelenting verbal abuse for daring to quit breastfeeding and use formula instead, I allowed that there were, indeed, some women who deserved the label. TJ’s pediatrician insinuated that I didn’t try hard enough. The OB/GYN who filled in for the doctor who delivered TJ (because that guy went on a cruise) told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. Both doctors were male.

No one knew how hard I tried. How badly I hurt. How I dosed myself with fenugreek and attempted “power pumping” every two hours to encourage milk production – and still my supply dried up to practically nothing by the time I “gave up.” How I was going through  lanolin cream like there was no tomorrow. How I cried night after night because my 44H breasts  look like they’d been drawn by a hormonal teenage boy, but produced only tiny amounts of milk. How, despite the fact that it literally took me an hour to fall asleep every time I laid down, I woke myself up every two hours to pump a mere ounce at a time.

I didn’t know then that I had postpartum depression (PPD). I’d passed the screening test when TJ was 5 days old, but they never retested me. I didn’t know then that I had undiagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know then that I had undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which is what prevented me from sleeping no matter how exhausted I was. (Sleep when the baby sleeps? Didn’t work for me.) My body was shutting down on me because I placed too many demands on it, and people were making me feel like I was a terrible mother because I failed to breastfeed.

The truth is, breastfeeding is certainly the healthiest thing for babies, but it doesn’t work out for everyone. Some moms are physically unable to do it. Some babies are physically unable to do it. Some moms are psychologically unable to do it because of past abuse. We need to stop judging moms based on how they feed their babies. Let’s be happy when responsible moms feed their babies, whether it’s breastmilk or formula. Let’s be happy when moms provide a safe, loving environment for their babies, even if that means the baby gets formula. In the end, a mom who is miserable and resents her baby for their torturous breastfeeding sessions is doing a greater disservice to her child than a mom who is happy and feeding her baby formula from a bottle.

If you can breastfeed your child, and you love doing so, that’s fantastic! You are doing the best you can do for your baby. Keep it up! Don’t let the crazies get you down when they rag on you about breastfeeding in public.

If you don’t breastfeed your child, and you give your baby formula for whatever reason, that’s fine, too. Don’t let the crazies get you down. As long as you’re not neglecting or abusing your child, you’re doing fine! Keep it up!

Moms need to stop attacking other moms because of their own personal ideals about the “right” way to parent! I support breastfeeding, but I respectfully request that you respect the rights of moms who don’t breastfeed. You can’t begin to imagine their individual circumstances. And you know what it’s like when you get the dirty looks when you try to feed your baby in public. You know how it feels when someone tries to tell you to feed your baby in the bathroom. WHY would you think it’s okay to make other moms feel that way for not breastfeeding?

Christina Gleason (973 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I’m a relatively high-functioning Aspie who also lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the care of a psychiatrist, who assures me that people in therapy are often better adjusted than “normal” people who are not, because at least we know what our issues are and are working on them. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including World of Warcraft and Empire: Four Kingdoms. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


Comments

  1. Thank you soooo much for saying this. Like you, I disliked the term Boob Nazi….until I ran into them. I honestly think they do more harm than good for their own cause.

  2. I’ve been breastfeeding for more than 5 yrs STRAIGHT. I love it. I adore it. My best experience of having three kids.

    However, I will defend any woman who chooses not to breast feed their child for whatever reason. Because we are Mothers trying to make the best decision for our children. I have no right & no one has a right to tell you are any less a mom or love your child any less.

    I despise this Boob Nazi crap as much as those VAGINA NAZIs..You know..the women who tell you that you are less of a mom because you had your baby via C-Section…My kids were born vaginally yet I have comforted so many friends who had emergency c-sections who were then ridiculed by other moms. HOW DARE ANYONE JUDGE!

    I will continue to defend the women I know who are doing the very best they can for their children.

    • Thank you, Cypress, for being a part of the solution. My family thought I was crazy for trying to breastfeed in the first place (they just didn’t DO that) so at least I had familial support, but the backlash from other moms was unbelieveable! I actually started a LiveJournal support group for formula feeders that’s still going strong with several hundred members.

      I have NEVER heard of anyone being ridiculed for having a C-Section. I was born by C-Section because my mom’s bone structure just wouldn’t allow me to come out the natural way. We both would have died without the surgery. My SIL had pre-eclampsia and nearly died because they put off her C-Section for THREE DAYS because it was the 4th of July weekend. A friend of ours had her enormous baby via C-Section, too. I think he was like 11 pounds. Sometimes I wonder if these crazy people realize how many women and babies would DIE if they tried to “stay the course” and deliver vaginally.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I had a very similar experience when my first son was born. He was premature and had no sucking reflex. I pumped my boobs off for three weeks until I got mastitis (OMG, that was THE worst) and I gave up. I had a tremendous amount of guilt about that and caught a lot of flack from the midwives but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t even try when my next son was born. I fully support my BFing friends but it just was not for me.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry that you felt like a failure and that others validated this untruth. I think (and hope) that there are more breastfeeding moms who want to help other moms who are having trouble to find right the support to help make bf successful, but the boob-nazi’s may be a little louder.

    Is breastfeeding important? Yes. But it doesn’t do anyone any good when women are made to feel defective for being unable- over even unwilling- to breastfeed. IMO- Separating women into categories of feeding doesn’t support women who make either choice.

    I had a different experience, and shared my ideas on my blog – http://intentionalbirth.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/breastfeeding-awareness-week-whats-the-big-deal. I hope you’ll have a chance to check it out.

  5. I had different experiences with breastfeeding my boys. Elder boy had lots of problems from latching on etc..so only managed to breastfeed him for 4 months while the younger one I managed 2.5yrs. I too scoff at people who think that mum’s who delivered by C-section as “lesser” mums. The most important is that the mom and child are healthy and well – alive too!!. My elder boy was breached and for the younger one there was also some delivery complications so both were by C-section.

  6. It really is sick how people attack families that use formula. My how times have changed. My oldest was born almost six years ago. I tried and tried to nurse him in the hospital and it did not work. He was so small and I had breast complications. The day after I went home I had the worst case of double mastitis that my OB had ever seen (thanks to the wacko lactation consultant refusing to let me pump). I bought a pump, was told by the lactation consultant to quit and just formula feed, but I did not want to give up. I refused to go to LLL because I did not want Boob Nazis pressuring me not to pump and use a bottle. I pumped and fed NHL for 3 months that way. Finally he used a nipple shield and got things for another few months.

    At the same time I went through this my friend hit rock bottom with her newborn. She needed an emergency c-section and the trauma caused her milk supply to stop. She felt like a failure because of the pressures that our society have put on new moms. It really is sad how we feel that if we select not to nurse or can not for any reason that we will be attacked.

    On the flip side, I am still nursing my youngest who is now 26 months old. You should see the looks and things I hear from family members, most of whom never breastfed their children. I know we will likely stop this soon, but who does it hurt if he wants to nurse 2-3 times a day and it has helped him to avoid a milk allergy his brother had?

    Lots of hugs coming your way and I hope that your amazing post helps other mothers know that it is fine to formula feed. Whatever makes your family happy is the best for the baby.

  7. I just wanted to say I loved your post…in fact I love all of them! How incredibly open you are and willing to share your experiences. And what a shame it is when people look for a reason to put each other down instead of building each other up. Life is just too short for that.

    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  8. I admit I was a bit of a BF Nazi but only for myself. I never beat up a friend or family member who couldn’t breastfeed or chose not to. It’s a personal decision that should be weighed carefully. What I hate more than the moms who make each other feel bad about not breastfeeding are some of the formula moms who are very flip about just giving the baby formula. I had a bit of trouble with Peanut and it amazed me how many moms just wanted to tell me that having BFed the other 3 should be good enough and I should just give up.
    Though we may have nourished our children differently, I can see your outrage over the crass and callous comments.

    I’m proud of you for making the attempt and being the kind of mom who has done the very best for her son, no matter what others think.

  9. Due to having a number of illnesses, breastfeeding was never an option for me if I was to remain in the best health I could while taking care of my newborn. I was very lucky, no one in the hospital tried to pressure me (maybe they knew my health history?) nor did my family or friends.

    It was something I wish I could have done, but three years later I can’t imagine my son and I being any less bonded. True, there were benefits that he did not get from formula but as a mom, you weigh the pros and cons and have to decide what’s best for the two of you. I have seen a lot of chronically ill moms stop taking their meds so they could bf, only to get sicker. That just wasn’t right for me.

    I don’t judge anyone and I applaud you for your efforts!

    • Emily,

      You are so right. We all know how helpful it is for babies to get breastmilk, but if the act of breastfeeding makes Mom sick (physically or mentally, such as postpartum depression) it’s really hurting the mom-baby relationship. A sick mom can’t bond properly with her baby, and may not be able to perform other basic baby care tasks adequately! I didn’t really get to enjoy my son until after I stopped attempting to breastfeed – and it really took a few weeks because I was still very depressed over the guilt and self-doubt about stopping. But my family commented on how much better, healthier, and happier I looked after that. It was the right decision.

  10. I too struggled with pumping, PPD, guilt, and the Boob Nazis… although I fondly call them the Mammary Mafia. 😉

    I think this is a lovely post. And I agree it’s really important to support those who want to breastfeed as much as it is important to support those who don’t or can’t. Plus, there’s a lot of misinformation out there- yeah, breastfeeding can be a wonderful, healthy thing for mom/baby, but in some cases, formula feeding is a better choice, as you and I both know. It’s not always black and white.

    Rock on sister! Thanks for the beautiful blog post!

  11. Thank you for this beautiful, eye opening post. I have a 2 1/2 year old that I breastfed for a little over 2 years. I am very in favor of breastfeeding, but really appreciate this other perspective. It is time we stop putting each other down. It’s not right to make another person feel so terrible, when we really are trying our best.

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