YEP, I’M GOING THERE.
The world is becoming more and more pro-breastfeeding, and that is an amazing thing. After having my daughter I was inundated with resources for breastfeeding – online groups, weekly lactation consultant-led meetings, in house lactation consultant visits, public health nurse visits, the Le Leche League…
We know breastmilk is incredible, but that doesn’t negate the fact that breastfeeding isn’t always the right or even possible choice. I’m here to tell you that bottle feeding, whether it be breastmilk or formula, is more than ok.
I thought I’d finally open up and share my experiences with breastfeeding, exclusively pumping and formula feeding. This post is a vulnerable one for me, and I’ve shared some great resources at the end. If you’re here reading after finding me in a google search at 3am whilst up nursing/pumping/preparing a bottle – solidarity!
Let’s rewind a little circa October 2017 when my husband and I did our hospital tour. I was 8 months pregnant, and very much nervous and excited about all that having a baby entailed. We walked into the maternity ward and were immediately welcomed with a floor to ceiling mural entailing why a mother should breastfeed. I remember feeling a bit put off by it; Amongst the reasons were: it was rewarding, ‘natural’ and something all woman ‘should’ be able to do.
Fast forward to the wee hours of December 1st, as I lay in a bedpost c section, desperately attempting to feed my baby. I’d been in labour for 56 hours. I’d been through 2.5 very painful days of induction, contractions and ultimately an unplanned c section. Exhausted doesn’t even begin to describe my state. As two different nurses aggressively pulled and prodded at my chest, and hours we’re spent trying to get Everly to latch and then stay latched I began to get that sinking feeling. I knew I was going to struggle with breastfeeding.
I was trying my damnest, manually expressing colostrum onto my pinkie finger and feeding it to her, one tiny drop at a time for hours upon hours. Meanwhile, the nurses told me I needed to keep trying, I needed to do what was ‘best’ for my baby. One of the nurses wheeled in a breast pump somewhere around the 48-hour postpartum mark, and uttered words I will never forget: “If you’re not going to keep trying then you have to pump”.
She didn’t even bother to show me how to use the pump, how to store the milk or wash the parts. The maternity ward was slow, only a few of us in the entire place, but suddenly she had no time for me.
Another day went by before the shifts switched and I was blessed by a nurse who took mercy on me. It was day 3, and I sobbed to her to please feed my baby some formula. Everly had lost a significant amount of weight, I was in excruciating pain each time I tried to nurse, I had this pump no one had shown me how to use or even how often to try. All I knew was that my baby needed to be fed, NOW.
It was one of the most desperate moments I’ve had in my life.
Days after coming home, I was visited by a public healthcare nurse, who also insisted on me breastfeeding. I had told her about the pain, and Everly’s struggle to hold a latch. She insisted on watching me for an hour attempt over and over again, even after noticing I was bleeding. That day she left with the message of, “you’ll regret it if you don’t keep trying”. I can assure you my only regret was torturing myself for as long as I did.
So the next day I paid out of pocket to have the queen bee of lactation consultants in my city come by. Again, my techniques and latching we checked. Again Everly was checked for lip and tongue ties. And with my wallet $100 lighter she left stating that I could try and pump, supplementing with formula as I went until I could ‘figure it out’.
I felt hopeless. I wasn’t by any means committed to breastfeeding because I felt I needed to in order to be a good mother. Rather, I felt lost in limbo. I was getting pressure from older generation women to solely feed formula, and I had pressure from the nurses, public health and maternity doctors to push for breastfeeding. I was told that pumping wasn’t sustainable. I worried about how expensive formula is. I worried about how painful nursing her was. I worried about how to find time to pump with a screaming baby all day and all night. By this point, it was established that we also had a very colicky baby on our hands, and the stress, anxiety and depression I was facing about it was so consuming.
I stumbled through a lot of grey area in the process. Late-night google searches and youtube helped significantly with learning about pumping, which as it turns out, the maternity OB’s, nurses and lactation consultants all didn’t seem to have anything to offer on other than strapping it on. So I somehow slipped into this relatively unknown middle ground of exclusively pumping and topping up with formula as needed for the next 5.5 months.
“Seeing your child grow and gain, flourish and sleep through the night is rewarding – regardless if it comes from a boob, bottle or cannister.”
Pumping gave me the ability to offer my baby breastmilk without the crippling pain or instant anxiety of knowing she was getting enough (months later I went on medication of finally having a doctor recognize that I did in fact not produce enough milk for Everly’s appetite).
Pumping empowered me, but there was a significant lack of understanding or support around me. It was often a lonely process.
I felt like everywhere I turned there was support for breastfeeding mothers, but nothing for those who pumped exclusively or formula-fed. In fact, if you google search “the benefits of bottle feeding” the first result yields a list of stats showing the benefits of breastfeeding.
The true reality is that what is best for your child is to be fed. “Formula” is not a dirty word, and bottle feeding isn’t giving up. There best way to provide for your baby is the way that works best for each individual family. Ultimately, we need to start considering that the mental well being of mothers is a top priority in the health of a child.
There is no doubt that breastfeeding is an incredible thing. We know that breastmilk is liquid gold; It’s full of miraculous nutrients and antibodies. We also know that formula is insanely regulated, tested and controlled to be the closest next best thing. This trend of patting women on the back with one hand for being able to breastfeed, and knocking down another with the other for using formula is not only damaging to women but anti-feminist.
I’m here to tell you that bottle feeding is also rewarding and comforting. Seeing your child grow and gain, flourish and sleep through the night is rewarding – regardless if it comes from a boob, bottle or cannister.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT BOTTLE FEEDING
(BREASTMILK OR FORMULA)
YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOTHER FOR NOT BREASTFEEDING.
Let’s get this bullshit out of the way first. If you’re a new mother reading this, or even an experienced one who’s struggling to nurse for the first time (because all babies are different!) know this: You are not a bad mother for using formula or bottle feeding, regardless of whether you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed.
PAIN DOESN’T AUTOMATICALLY EQUATE TO YOU DOING IT WRONG
Often I hear from friends and fellow mothers that they just pushed through the pain, or that they were told that if it’s painfully they must not be using the correct techniques. It is entirely possible this is the case, but it is also possible that no matter what you do, breastfeeding can continue to be painful. This was the case for me. We learned multiple holds, checked for ties, tried nipple shields and balms, and in the end, I had excruciating pain during and often well after nursing.
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ALL OR NOTHING.
There are no rules stating you must solely breastfeed, bottle feed or formula feed. In the end, what worked for us was a mix of breastmilk via bottle and formula via bottle. It allowed me to sleep through the nights when my baby started doing so (because getting up to pump in the middle of the night when your infant sleeps through just seems so unfair). Pumping gave me, personally, an empowered feeling that I needed at the time and the formula allowed me to not feel like a slave to it. I realize there is plenty of fear-mongering around nipple confusion, but babies are remarkable, adaptable little things.
YOUR PARTNER, OTHER CHILDREN AND/OR FAMILY CAN PLAY A ROLE.
I am forever grateful that bottle-feeding allowed my husband to play such an important role in Everly’s life. It gave me some much-needed freedom and allowed him to bond with her in a very special way. Some of my favourite moments of the early days were watching him, bottle in hand and milk drunk babe on his shoulder.
NOT ALL BABIES WILL TAKE FORMULA OR FROZEN MILK
I’ve had friends who’ve had to try many different formulas before finding one their baby would take, and I feel for you if this is your struggle. You’re not alone. We ended up on a gentle formula that seemed to help quite a bit with gas that aggravated Everly’s colic.
We also learned that as she got older, she didn’t like the breastmilk that had been frozen. She took it fine if it had been refrigerated and then warmed, but once frozen it was a fight. That’s the story of how I ended up donating my last 150 ounces of pumped breastmilk.
RESOURCES FOR BREASTFEEDING, PUMPING AND FORMULA FEEDING
Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, and add any empowering words that might help a new mother struggling with nursing, bottle feeding or formula feeding.