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I’m a natural mama, and I…formula feed. What? How could this be? Aren’t those antonyms?
Here’s the thing, I know that breastmilk is liquid gold. I know that it is exactly what babies need, and the nourishment is second to none. I know that breastmilk adapts and changes to meet the needs of the baby. I know that it is healing and nourishing and incredibly beneficial. I don’t dispute any of that. But it wasn’t for me.
When I say that “it wasn’t for me,” I don’t mean that it’s not something I wanted to do, though I truly believe that if it wasn’t, that would be okay, too. I’m the mom who had researched breastfeeding tremendously before having my first child over 9 years ago. Who refused to have formula in the house before her birth. Who had a breast pump ready to go months in advance. I just knew breastfeeding would be amazing, and even if it took some work and we had some bumps along the way, that I’d be able to overcome them, and my daughter and I would be breastfeeding champions!
As life seems to show me often, it had other plans for me
My precious fetus was supposed to be born in the birthing home, I was hoping in the tub, and it was going to be the beautiful, peaceful, loving experience I just knew it would be. Unfortunately, my darling baby decided she wasn’t coming out. My birthing home dreams were torn down as I was admitted to the hospital for induction at 42 weeks, per Florida law. I was lucky enough to have an awesome midwife who knew the doctors and had me hold out until the one I was most likely to get a good chance at a natural birth with was on call. He was great. The staff was great. I have heard so many horror stories, and I’m truly incredibly blessed to have wound up with such great people. However, I didn’t progress, and when I finally was ready to push, my daughter was under stress and moved, causing her little head to swell. Emergency csection it was.
We both were healthy and there were no complications. But I wasn’t able to hold her for roughly 8 hours after her birth because I couldn’t feel or move my arms. A nurse tried to hold her and get her to breastfeed, but she wouldn’t. I’ve always wondered if my delayed ability to hold her played a role in our breastfeeding issues, but I truly will never know.
I breastfed her in the hospital pretty much constantly, but she really just wouldn’t latch. I worked with lactation consultants and nurses, and then at home worked with a lactation consultant from the birthing home. Everyone said it looked like I was doing what I needed to be doing. My poor baby was a mess. Crying all the time. I now realize she was starving. At the time, I thought it was colic. I was advised by everyone not to use a nipple shield. A piece of advice that I understand, but that stopped me from using something that potentially could have helped me breastfeed. Eventually my darling baby began gnawing at my nipples so much that I was left with just open wounds. I remember crying because it was so painful, and looking down to see drops of my blood trickle out of her mouth. I was beginning to loathe my new baby. I didn’t want to be around her and I most certainly didn’t want to hold her or feed her. My wonderful and amazing mother told me that I’d given my baby colostrum that she needed, and that it was time to really evaluate what was best for us…even if it meant something entirely different than the idea I’d had of how it would go. By that point pumping was excruciatingly painful thanks to the open wounds. I gave it a go, but after a week or two I switched to formula. After that I was able to bond with my sweet girl. And she stopped crying all the time. And I fell in love with her.
Eight years later, I just knew that this time breastfeeding would work!
I dealt with so much guilt about formula feeding my daughter, and been attacked on so many pages and forums for not trying hard enough, or not caring about my daughter enough to push through it, etc. It was awful. But this time, I was going to make it work! I did even more research. I had the pump ready to go. I had the nipple shields ready. I was doing it this time! My second daughter was very prompt, unlike her sister. She knew it was her due date, and she wasn’t even entertaining the idea of being late to her birthday. I had a successful VBAC thanks largely to a determined little fetus! And she seemed to latch beautifully! You guys, it was happening this time!
Until it wasn’t
About the time my milk was coming in, baby girl number two started screaming nonstop. She also dropped a lot of weight. Like, too much. My incredible husband and I visited the lactation consultants several times. I reached out to friends and family. My cousin’s wife, who is a pediatrician and the mother of twins, suggested syringe feeding her some formula (since I didn’t have any milk expressed). My husband, who is my rock, did. And my starving baby was finally able to relax. It turns out that she has both a lip tie and a very deep tongue tie. She was latching, but unable to pull the milk. We had the lip tie corrected (they wouldn’t touch the tongue tie because it was so deep and would require more than just a quick snip). We then went back to the LC for guidance because she still was unable to get milk. She showed us how to try to retrain her to eat. I was constantly breastfeeding (and she wasn’t getting any milk), and in the few moments she wasn’t attached to my body, I was pumping. I started to not want to be around anyone. I started to not want to hold my new baby. I started to not feed her anymore, instead I would cry as I pumped, and give the milk to my husband to feed her. Then I began getting less and less as I pumped more and more. I started to panic, all the while the resentment for my precious new baby growing. My husband came into the bedroom, where I insisted on staying alone, and said “I know this isn’t what you want, but I think it’s maybe time to switch to formula.” I didn’t even protest. I couldn’t say the words myself, couldn’t entertain the notion myself, but hearing him say it allowed me an incredible relief.
We made the switch to formula
We switched to formula, and I was able to bond with and fall in love with my sweet baby girl. My 8 year old (at the time) got her mother back, and my husband got his wife back. And I got to enjoy my new baby and my family.
Sometimes breastfeeding not working out doesn’t mean a supply issue. Sometimes pumping just isn’t the answer to latch issues. Sometimes walking away is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your family. And don’t beat yourself up for it. I dealt with cruelty on some of the parenting boards and facebook parenting groups I was in. Do we really need to shame mothers for doing what’s best for their families? Do we really need to tell them that breastmilk is superior to formula? I’ve never seen anyone arguing that formula is the same as breastmilk or better than breastmilk. What I have seen is mamas who are attacked for not breastfeeding, and you guys, that needs to stop. Breastmilk is AMAZING. And yes, there are plenty of incredible mothers who have overcome situations like mine, or worse. But it’s not a contest. Motherhood isn’t a contest. We don’t have to all agree on parenting choices, but we should try to be as understanding and supportive as we can be when it comes to things that are not dangerous to the mother or child.
What we use
We opted to go with Earth’s Best Organic Sensitive, as it is widely available. I know there are some potentially better brands that use goats milk, but they’re hard to find in the US. We add probiotic drops to one bottle each day, which helps her gut flora as well as helping her poop daily. And we opted for Dr. Brown bottles because they helped a lot with gas, though originally we went with the glass Evenflo bottles.
I’m a natural mama
I use coconut oil on her little bum. I use teething tablets, and homeopathic cold tablets, and homeopathic gas drops. I give her small amounts of elderberry syrup (without honey) in her bottle when people in the house were coming down with colds. I give her very diluted peppermint tea in a dropper when her tummy is really bothering her. I cloth diaper. I am letting her cradle cap do it’s thing instead of opting to treat it. We do massages when she seems gassy or constipated or her legs are bothering her. I make our sunblock. The child has only had a handful of baths in her first year, and they were almost all because we put epsom salt in the water to help her sleep. I’ve been wearing her since she was brand new, first in a Moby, then in a ring sling and Ergo, and now mostly the Ergo. You guys, I’m pretty crunchy. But I have formula fed both of my beautiful,brilliant, perfect children. And I’m not ashamed of it.
***I am not a medical doctor and nothing in this blog is medical advice or to be used in lieu of medical treatment or advice from a doctor.