Formula Shaming

I started writing this Sept 19, 2013 and I have been working on it it bits and pieces since. Though I don’t think it is a big deal, I thought I would offer a little warning about this post. It is going to be discussing breastfeeding in depth. It is silly, but it such a controversial/taboo subject for many. I think that it is completely normal, but just to err on the side of caution, I will say: TMI ahead. If you are uncomfortable with talk of breasts or nipples, you will want to skip this post.

Before I was even pregnant, I knew I wanted to breast feed. I felt that it was the best choice for me and my baby. During my pregnancy, I went out and got my nursing bra, breast pads and nursing cover. I didn’t buy a single bottle or formula. I received 2 bottles as a gift and one as a “sample” in the mail.

The big day finally arrived. Things didn’t go exactly how I hoped or planned (I’ll write about it soon in a birth story post), but my daughter was healthy. That’s all that mattered to me, but I should have seen it as a sign of things to come. The first day in the hospital was very stressful (again, more on that in my birth story).

When I got settled into the mother and baby room, I tried to breast feed right away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going as smoothly as I hoped. I couldn’t get her to latch, and when I did she wouldn’t stay latched long before pulling away and crying. I thought I was doing something wrong. My day nurse was awesome and told me that there was a nursing consultant that comes in, and that she would send her to my room to help me out.

The lady came in and gave me a bunch of information and a pamphlet with different nursing positions. I read over it and continued to try again and again. The shift change came, so I got a new nurse. I told her of my troubles and she told me that she had an “expert” to help me, who happened to be the baby’s nurse for the night.

It was pretty late at night by the time she was able to come and help, which was totally understandable. She had me put Evie in the football hold and attempt to nurse her. Again, it wasn’t working. She had me strip the baby down to her diaper (which is fine, we did that earlier for skin to skin time) and she got a wet cloth. She said she thought the baby wasn’t opening her mouth enough to latch and she was going to make her open her mouth. She used the cloth to “wake” Evie up and make her cry. When she was wailing, she would try to shove her mouth on my nipple.

It didn’t really work. I was trying to let the said “expert” do what was needed to get baby to latch, but it was really hard to hear my baby cry like that. I was in a lot of pain (c-section), tired from lack of sleep and worried that the baby hadn’t been able to nurse even a small amount of colostrum. I just wanted to cry, which I ended up doing multiple times.

After a while of trying, she thought that a nipple shield may help, so she went and got me one. That thing was massive and we couldn’t get it to stay in place correctly. To get it to stay on correctly, I had to hold it while trying to latch her, but I kept getting scolded that my fingers were in the wrong place. She suggested we try a little formula on the shield to entice her to latch. Guess what? Didn’t work.

By this time, it was around 1-2am. I got to the hospital just past 5am the previous day, and didn’t get much sleep the night before. I was exhausted. Evie was put in the bassinet and I attempted to get a little sleep, which was next to impossible. I had my nurse coming in each hour as well as someone to draw my blood at 3ish in the morning.

The so called “expert,” who was also Evie’s nurse, returned around that time to ask me if I tried nursing her again. Since I had been in a semi-sleep and was bed ridden due to my IV and catheter, I could not get Evie out of the bassinet on my own, so I had not attempted nursing again.

After that, things are a little hazy. I remember my OB coming in around 6am and he could tell I was exhausted. He reassured me that it was ok to send the baby to the nursery for a bit while I got a little sleep. So, we sent Evie to the nursery for a few hours and told them they could give her a bottle, since, at that point, she had not had any nourishment since her birth the day before. I was able to catch a little sleep, which really helped me feel a lot better. We asked the nurse to bring Evie back to the room and I was ready to try nursing again.

By this time the night nurse went home and my nurse from the first day was back. She was really sweet and offered to help me since I was still struggling. Together, we tried numerous positions, with and without the shield, etc and Evie still would not latch or latch properly. I asked if they had a breast pump and she said she would request that it get sent to my room. I figured if I couldn’t get her to drink from the tap, I could at least give her breast milk in a bottle.

In the meantime, I attempted to get her to breast feed and, when numerous attempts failed, I gave her formula provided by the hospital. Hours went by and I was still waiting on a pump. I inquired about it again and was told it was in use but they would get it to me as soon as they were done with it. Another shift change came and went. Still waiting on a pump.

Finally, on Saturday morning (I asked Friday afternoon) after asking again, the pump was available for my use. It just so happened to be the day I was supposed to be discharged. I no sooner got everything hooked up and started to pump and the doctor on duty came in to begin my discharge. I ended up sending my husband to the store to buy my own pump and some bottles since I had not purchased any previously. I decided that I would pump full time, and feed it to her via bottle, since I really wanted her to get breast milk even if she couldn’t get it herself.

We finally made it home mid-afternoon, leaving the hospital with a “goodie bag” of formula samples and coupons. I sent my husband out to pick up my prescriptions. I was in serious pain from my c-section. Since there way no way I could climb into our tall bed, I set up camp in the living room. I tried to get comfortable in our recliner, moved the bassinet next to me, and plugged in my pump so I could pump from the recliner.

What you may not realize until you try to do it, pumping is very tedious, especially with a new born. It feels like it takes forever, and sometimes there is little to show for it. I would pump every few hours and feed it to Evie soon after. When I didn’t have enough, I would give her formula. Soon enough, my milk came in, and could pump a good amount from one side each time.

Unfortunately, pumping isn’t quite the same as a baby nursing. My supply started going down after the first few weeks. I sent my husband out for fenugreek supplements, which helped. At that point, even though I had plenty of supply, I was getting less and less each time I pumped. Between trying to rest, diaper changes, rocking/cuddling her, washing bottles, doing tons of laundry (every time I turned around I was needing to clean the bassinet sheets and swaddles because of diaper leaks or spit up), and of course feedings, I was finding it hard to find the time to devote to pumping enough. I decided to try nursing her again, because just pumping was not working for us.

Feeling discouraged but hopeful, I jumped full into trying to get Evie to nurse. I bought a different type of nipple shield to try. I researched on the internet for advice. There was a lot of failure, but eventually some success. I was finally able to get her to latch and stay latched for a bit.

She was starting to get the hang of it. Each feeding time, I would try to nurse her. She usually nursed 10-15 minutes each time, but she frequently came unlatched and would get frustrated. She had a hard time getting her mouth open enough, just like in the hospital, and, when she would latch, her upper lip would not flare out. It would curl under, no matter what I tried. After nursing for the short time she would still be crying because of course she was still hungry.

As time went on, we continued to nurse then bottle feed. When I had spare time, I would pump to try to establish a freezer stash. My supply continued to dwindle. I was taking so much fenugreek, all I could smell was something resembling maple syrup. I ate oatmeal and drank tons of water. By the time Evie was 3-4 months old, my supply was history. Our nursing journey was coming to an end.

Now, I am aware that many women have been able to relactate. I know it is possible. By the time I could tell that I was drying up, I decided that it may be for the best. I wanted my daughter to have to best thing for her, breast milk, but it was a struggle since her birth. It stressed me out and I didn’t enjoy watching Evie get upset trying to nurse each time. I was happy that she at least got some breast milk, but I felt really guilty.

In my time spent researching online and participating in online communities, I noticed something- formula shaming. One thing that has been getting a lot of attention lately is the right to nurse in public, which I strongly support. It’s great that women are standing up for their right to feed their babies, and not just hiding in bathrooms or draped with blankets. Where there is pro-breast feeding, anti-formula sometimes closely follows.

I don’t think many people will argue that breast milk is best for babies. It is specially formulated to meet all their needs. It has so many benefits and some have called it a cure all. Formula, on the other hand, I’ve seen people refer to as poison. Who wants to be told they are feeding their baby poison? So I am poisoning my healthy growing baby by feeding her formula when I couldn’t give her my breast milk?

Another hurtful thing I’ve heard is that those who use formula are lazy or that you didn’t try hard enough to make breast feeding work. I for one worked very hard to make breast feeding work, but, regardless, using formula does not equate to being lazy. I would hazard to say that it is more work than breast feeding, not to mention expensive.

When Evie was smaller, she would have at least 6 bottles a day. We used powdered formula, so each time we left the house I had to have, depending in how long we were going to be out, 1-2 bottles with water and a container with pre-portioned powder. Going out for the whole day or a trip out of town required a cooler bag with bottles, water and powder, as well as a bottle brush and soap.

Some women choose to not breastfeed. Some families have a child through surrogacy or adoption and cannot breastfeed. Others, like me, wanted to breastfeed, but, for one reason or another, did not succeed. It really doesn’t matter what the reason for using formula is, what matters is that the babies are being fed. People don’t feed their babies formula with bad intention. They feed it to them to fill their hungry bellies and to help them develop and grow, just like parents that feed their babies breast milk.

I try not to let other people’s opinions effect me, but I am human. I am just a mama who is trying to do my best, and I can’t help but question myself and if I’m doing everything correctly. It took awhile for me to accept that I did try and that it was not my fault. Honestly, the issue is a whole lot bigger than just “formula shaming,” but seems to be “parenting shaming.” Pick any subject and they will be people , parents and not, criticizing it. Co-sleeping, cry it out, baby led weaning, breast feeding in public, babywearing, watching television, attachment parenting, etc, etc.

It’s time we, as parents, stop cutting each other down. Why can’t we encourage each other to do what we think is best, while realizing that others may have a different ideal? Parenting can be hard work and it is lots of trail and error. There are many ways to encourage other parents and offer resources without being insulting or in their face about it.

This has turned out much longer than I was anticipating. I apologize if I rambled a bit, but this is something that has really impacted me. I just want to say that I am no longer ashamed that my daughter was formula fed. I know I did my best and I don’t owe anyone an explanation. I also want to say to all those parents out there: you are doing a good job! It doesn’t matter if you formula feed or breast feed, bed share or not, feed baby food or do baby led weaning, babywear or use a stroller… As long as you are doing what you think and feel is best for your child, that is all that matters. I hope that my story can help someone who struggled with breastfeeding and formula guilt to know that it is ok.


About Nicole

I'm 32 years old. California born and raised. Mama to two wonderful kiddos. I love to travel, play video games with my husband, cook, and get tattooed. I'm generally a shy till I get to know you, which seems to give off the wrong impression to some. I can be a bit sarcastic. Ok, very sarcastic, but I mean it in jest (most of the time).
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