How formula saved me

Before I had my son, I thought breastfeeding would be pretty straight forward. I mean, people said it would be a learning curve, but I figured once we got it the first time, it would be smooth sailing from there. 

Unfortunately that is rarely the case for most new moms. Breastfeeding is hard to learn! For mom and for baby. 

I was so excited to breastfeed my baby boy. And when I tried the first time, he latched on beautifully and suckled away like he was already a pro. I was filled with pride, and relieved that I was apparently finally catching a break. 

Well, it was a catch then a miss. In fact breastfeeding would become one of the most prominent stresses in my life for the next few months. 

After that first time, my son struggled a lot nursing. And I struggled getting him and myself comfortable while doing it. C sections can make that hard. One of the nurses freaked out that he wasn’t nursing well enough and strapped a tube to my breast attached to a syringe that would be filled with pumped milk or formula. The idea was to get him latched and feed through the syringe so he would realize there was food and start suckling. Well, it got him more calories but did little for his motivation to suckle. And his motivation just went downhill from there. 

I had a baby who nursed probably every 20 or so minutes, which lots of people assured me was normal, but he was a big baby, so it seemed odd to me that he couldn’t sleep for longer stretches before needing more food. Plus he didn’t nurse for very long at once. He would get frustrated and upset after just a couple minutes. He was also a very unhappy baby in general, and every evening we struggled with 4 hours straight of colic. 

For the next couple months, I pumped like crazy so my husband could bottle feed sometimes and give me a break, and I forced my baby on my breast during the day while my husband worked. Every time was a battle, especially at night when I was tired. He cried and got frustrated easily. I had tons of milk and was often engorged, so I knew it was there, he just didn’t like trying to get it. 

He loved bottle feeding on the other hand, and my mom noticed that the way he latched to the bottle was odd. 

With the stress of a new baby and the emotional struggle of having my body change dramatically, I stopped eating very much. Entire days would go by when I would eat nothing but a glass of chocolate milk and some handfuls of dry cereal until my husband came home and made me a bowl of pasta or brought me a dollar menu burger. Most days I didn’t eat at all until late afternoon. 

Eventually I calculated how much I was eating, after figuring out that I had a problem, and discovered I was eating anywhere between 400-900 calories a day. 

I started to get sick a lot. It felt like I was constantly sick. I threw up frequently and nausea made eating even more difficult. On top of it all, my body was still recovering from major abdominal surgery. 

One day I sat in bed, and I tried to nurse my son. He would suckle for a little then cry. It was the same old pattern. I burst into tears of anger and frustration. Then after calming down again I tried to manually expel some milk to encourage my baby to keep trying. However, nothing came. I took my hand pump and tried that, again nothing. I went in the next room and tried the electric pump. Nothing. 

I gave my baby some formula and later in the shower tried expelling again. One precious drop, then nothing. 

That was the day my milk dried up. It never came back. And my baby switched all the way to formula. 

At first I was devastated. I knew if I tried I could get my milk back -by changing my diet then pumping like a mad woman. But after talking to my mom and sister, I discovered that the stress involved in getting my baby to nurse wasn’t worth it. He took a bottle, and perhaps it was better to switch to bottles completely. 

So we did. All formula from then on. And it was amazing!

Yea, I know breast milk is best, but after switching to formula, I was less stressed, my baby was less stressed, and my body could use the little nutrients I fed it to keep me alive –it was a process building up my calorie intake again, so it made a huge difference to stop breastfeeding. 

I remember one day at church someone was smiling at my son, as people do, then turned to me and said, “he’s just such a happy baby!” I smiled in response but in my mind I was saying, “what? Whose baby are you looking at? My baby is king of the grumpy-pants.” But then I realized, my baby was happy. 

When did that happen?

Well, after I stopped torturing him with the emotional tornados that nursing brought, his manner completely changed. He went from colicky, angry, grumpy child, to happy, laughing, social baby. Maybe it was because I was less stressed and he felt that, maybe it was because he wasn’t constantly hungry anymore, maybe it was because he just plain hated nursing. I think it was a combination of all those things. 

Months later, my mom fed him a bottle during a visit, and she noted that he still suckled funny. She wondered aloud if perhaps that was one of the reasons he struggle so much nursing. Hearing her hypothesis lifted a huge weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there, because despite knowing switching to formula was the best decision for me and my baby, I still felt guilt from the mom-shaming world that hated on formula, and realizing the failed attempt at exclusively breastfeeding my baby maybe wasn’t all my fault made me feel more justified. 

But I shouldn’t have to feel that way! Formula saved me. And saved my baby. I will try breastfeeding again with future babies, but if the stress starts, I won’t hesitate to change gears. Because formula is GOOD FOR BABIES. It isn’t poison. It isn’t evil. Yes, breast milk is a wonderful God-given resource, but formula is also a wonderful God-given resource. 

A woman shouldn’t have to justify why she feeds her baby the way she does. Don’t moms deserve to be trusted making decisions for their babies, especially after everything they went through to have them (adopted or birthed!) 

A friend of mine who had a similar experience to me with breastfeeding her first baby never considered trying again with her next ones, because she understood that the stress was more harmful than the lack of breast milk, because formula is actually a healthy, life saving option. 

Some moms choose formula because they simply don’t want to breastfeed. Honestly, that is enough of a reason! Stop making those moms feel they have to justify their decisions!

And of course, plenty of moms choose to breastfeed. And to those moms I say, you go girl! You have accomplished a hard thing, and it is worth it! 

2 thoughts on “How formula saved me

  1. Janai,
    I haven’t commented before , however I need to let you know that I totally understand where you’re coming from. I have had 4 c-section and had 0 success breast-feeding. My oldest Kathryn is 28 and my youngest William is 18, in between is Paulie 24 an Emma 20.You know this already…it’s taken a long, long time to not feel guilty about my deliveries and formula use. Why have I felt this way for so long? I guess it is because we’ve been told time and time again that – natural childbirth is best and breast is best too! Thanks for sharing your journey thus far. I finally has to get myself to realize that I had to do what’s best for my baby…keep on writing my dear, keep on writing (or should I say blogging? )

    1. I didn’t know all four of your kids were c sections! That’s amazing. I don’t know if I’ll make it to four, haha. It’s always nice to know I’m not the only one who has to have all c sections. And I’ve become a pretty big fan of formula, and even still I sometimes feel like I have to make excuses to people who ask if I’m breastfeeding. It’s a difficult cycle we’re put through by the judgments of other women, we just have to keep reminding ourselves that we did the right thing for our babies, and that’s all that matters!

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