Why I Feed Formula

First, let me say what I am not. I am not a formula feeding advocate, nor am I a breastfeeding advocate. I am a feed the baby advocate. There are risks on all sides and it is in the best interest of each mother to weigh her options and to, if at all possible, attempt to breastfeed. I do not believe that formula should be a “go to” option, but I am eternally grateful that formula exists and that we didn’t have to watch our children starve to death, which would have been the alternative.

My son was “breastfed” for six weeks. He was diagnosed with failure to thrive at six weeks and we began formula feeding. He is a healthy, active 3 1/2 year old. I tried pumping, I tried everything that we deemed safe to jump start breastfeeding, and it simply didn’t work.

My daughter, who will be six months old in a few days, has been formula fed since day one. She nursed one time. And then I nearly died. I still have a very difficult time talking about this, but the gist is that my uterus tore and I was bleeding out. No one realized I was in trouble until I was in serious trouble. Even then, it took an inordinate amount of time for the nurses to be willing to call my doctor. There were attempts to put in a central line, which failed. There were numerous attempts to “figure out” which of my health complications was causing the problem: asthma, hypertension, fibroids.

At some point, it was determined that the problem had to be internal bleeding. Fortunately, my obstetrician is a supremely confident man — I remember very little, but I remember him promising me that he could fix this and I would be okay. I remember nothing else for about 48 hours.

I was intubated and on a ventilator for almost twenty-four hours. I apparently had a near heart attack in the operating room. I didn’t see my daughter for over thirty-six hours. During that time, she was fed formula as that was the only option available to her. Once I was in my room, my blood pressure alternated between crashing and rising dangerously high. They kept attempting to medicate and kept roller coastering me back and forth until it my ob stepped in and put a stop to it.

In my room in the ICU there was a breast pump, and there were super-supportive lactation consultants. Hours were spent debating medications, trying to pump, and arguing, LOUDLY, with various individuals about choices that were being made without consideration for my goal of breastfeeding my daughter. My obstetrician and the lactation consultants were strong advocates for my position, but my obstetrician also kept reminding me that ultimately the goal is both a healthy baby AND a healthy mother.

At this point, I was pumping and dumping until we started finding more and more blood in the breast milk. We all realized at that point that the blood thinners that were keeping me alive were also causing me to bleed heavily every time I pumped. Given that I already had nine units of blood transfused, my doctors decided that pumping was a supremely bad idea and I stopped.

I was released from the hospital six days after my daughter was born. I was cautioned against using my home pump until I went back into my doctor’s office two days later to allow him to review my progress and decide what I could/should do next.

The long and short of it is that we determined that it was in my best interests not to nurse based upon the amount of trauma I had sustained and the struggle we were having trying to get my blood pressure and my asthma back under control. This decision was made after lots of soul searching and discussion with my obstetrician, my primary care physician, a lactation consultant, Katie’s pediatrician and the intensivist who managed my case. And honestly, it was a relief that each one of them said, it is better for her to have you than to have breast milk. Let it go.

And to some degree, I have. I am grateful to the formula company that provided us with samples so that during those first few days at home we weren’t having to try to figure out what to use. I am grateful to my daughter’s godparents who purchased additional formula and nipples because this wasn’t the plan and we didn’t have the strength to go out shopping. I am grateful that our pediatrician has supported me every single step of the way. He is a strong supporter of breastfeeding, but he found the “rep” for the formula that we use and has procured additional “samples” for us because it is an expensive way to go and every little bit helps.

What I have trouble with is the marauding educators who feel it is their job and their responsibility to inform me that I’m not doing the best thing for my baby. I’m not talking about the people who write blogs about breastfeeding and/or actively support those who breastfeed. I am talking about those people who feel that it is their right to approach me in a store and tell me that I’m a terrible mother because I’m not breastfeeding my daughter. I’m talking about the people who make rude comments when I give my daughter a bottle. I’m talking about the person who accosted me in a store and brought me to tears because I was buying nipples for my daughter’s bottles.

I believe it is possible to support breastfeeding and breastfeeding women without making women who formula feed feel bad about themselves as women or as mothers. I think it’s a tired excuse that you should “be secure in your decision” if you’re formula feeding and shouldn’t get upset when people say negative/cruel things about people who formula feed. I think we need to stop calling names and stop using negative tactics to support breastfeeding women. Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing and women who breastfeed should be treated with respect. There should be no question that a woman who breastfeeds should be able to feed her baby wherever and whenever that baby needs to be fed. But a woman who formula feeds should not be treated badly because she formula feeds in public either.

Women should be supporting women without requiring explanations or justifications before providing that support. I should not have had to explain why I formula feed just as other should not have to explain why they breastfeed. We’re feeding our children in the best way that we can and that should be enough.

26 thoughts on “Why I Feed Formula

  1. I think you’re completely right! Formula feeding mom’s are usually supportive of breastfeeding and it should go both ways! What works for one family may not work for another (as I see with your story). Great post!

    • It should. I just think there’s a huge difference between being a strong advocate for breastfeeding and being unnecessarily cruel to women who don’t. Saying things like I don’t respect my child because I’m not breastfeeding her or saying that I shouldn’t allow someone else’s statements affect me and that if I really felt okay with my “choice” then it wouldn’t bother me. Last I checked post-partum women are notorious for being emotional and having difficulty being completely rational with their responses.

      For my baby, formula feeding is best. I know that scientifically breast milk is better, but when it’s a choice between formula or nothing, formula is best.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Really interesting post, thank you. I appreciate your distinction between those who promote breastfeeding generally and those who attack you (and other bottle-feeding mums) personally for your choices – it’s a distinction that I wish was made a little more often.

    I have never heard of pumping causing bleeding before – what a terrible ordeal you went through! Your doctor was certainly right – better to have a mother than mother’s milk alone.

    Perhaps this is also good argument for better access to safe human milk banks for those mothers everywhere who would like their babies to have human milk but who cannot, for whatever reason, provide that milk themselves.

    • Trust me when I say no one, including the lactation consultant, had ever seen it before either. We were all stunned and completely flummoxed by it.

      I do have to admit that I have serious issues with people who equate respect for a child with providing breast milk for the child or who make really rude jokes about formula feeding mothers (an earlier post of mine addresses one of these).

      I get upset by the notion that it is somehow abusive to formula feed a child.

      We don’t know the reasons why some people breastfeed and why some people don’t. It bothers me that women are made to feel like they have to explain why they’re doing something for their child or with their pregnancy or whatever. We should be willing to support each other.

      The point was made elsewhere that women who feed formula rarely speak up about it as if that made it okay to attribute whatever motives one liked to formula feeders. It bothered me, so I worked on this post for awhile.

  3. I find the idea that anyone would judge someone based on whether they were giving their child a bottle or a boob completely ridiculous! Isn’t it time that we women stop hurting each other instead of helping? We have no idea the reasons someone might be bottle feeding and to presume that you as a total stranger knows what’s best for someone you’ve never met before is assanine!

    Adjunctmom – I hope you really do know that you’re doing what’s best for your child. It’s easy to say that you shouldn’t let other’s comments bother you, but deep down, I know it’s hard. We, as mothers, already put so much pressure on ourselves to do what’s best for our kids, we don’t need other people making us feel worse.

    Cheers to you adjunctmom!

    • Thanks and welcome!

      I have to agree. My goal with this post was to try to put a human face on a bottle feeder and the reasons why I do it. I know most people didn’t go through what I did, and I’m glad they didn’t. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I know a lot of people were really upset by Hannah Rosin’s article on breastfeeding, but I found it something of a relief. I can’t tell the difference between my son and the breastfed kids he plays with. Will there be some huge difference later in his life, I don’t know, but at least he has a life.

  4. Oh, I totally agree with what you are saying here! What an absolutely terrifying ordeal you have come through. I got tears in my eyes reading it – I cannot imagine.

    It is extremely puzzling to me, these people who feel the right to accost you in a store over buying formula and nipples. In the part of the country I live in, no one would even bat an eyelash at that as bottle feeding is pretty much the norm. No one should be made to feel bad for feeding their baby! I am completely on board with you – I am a “feed the baby” advocate, too.

    In my mind, I always relate this to my birth experiences. While I understand the studies and the literature that shows that vaginal birth is unquestionable the statistically safest for mother and baby, the truth of my life is that my body doesn’t seem capable of that route. Because of caesarean sections, I have to gorgeous girls that I treasure every day. The anti-C/S stuff – mostly I can ignore it, but it does sting every now and again.

    I’m starting to ramble, but I wanted to say I so appreciate your point of view, and the great reminder that the most positive kind of advocacy for any position is a gentle approach.

    • It’s been six months today. I would love to say I’m over it, but I’m so not. I get really upset even thinking about it for very long and it has had some long term repercussions.

      I do know exactly what you mean about c-sections. I had two. One emergency; one scheduled. My daughter’s was the scheduled one. The fibroids didn’t shrink after my son was born and my ob was worried they would cause trouble. In the end, he was right because that’s where the tear happened. The “good news” is that we avoided labor. He’s convinced my uterus would have shredded itself if it had had the opportunity to go into labor, and while he’s confident, he told me flat out he wouldn’t have been able to fix me and very likely would have lost my daughter, too. So, I’m really, really grateful for c-sections.

      I am amazed at the nerve of some people, honestly.

  5. What a horrible ordeal to endure. I had twins and struggled with producing enough milk to feed them, so they always got bottles in addition to breastmilk. I didn’t run in to the extreme crazy people you did, but I did get a few people trying to tell me stuff that I just thought was crazy.
    There’s a similar stigma to a lesser degree for having a C-section. I had several people try to convince me not to have my medically neccessary C-section.

    • Oh, I know about the c-section stuff. I had two. And I get very tired of people telling me it’s more dangerous than vaginal delivery. I know that statistically that’s true, but I also know that statistics aren’t people and every woman is different and sometimes the statistics based on circumstance dictate that you have to do things differently.

      My husband says I’m lunatic magnet. I don’t know why but I always seem to have the really nutty people approach me with the most off the wall opinions. Go figure.

  6. i’m sorry you went through such an ordeal. i’m glad the dr. was able to determine the cause!
    my best friend has lupus & was unable to breastfeed due to medications she is on. she struggled with it & been judged by those not knowing her situation. women are often too quick to judge other women instead of lifting one another up.
    thank you for this great post. i found you via babytoolkit.

  7. Pingback: Other People’s Stories, Part 1 « Momsomniac

  8. I stumbled upon this blog and am in tears. I am so sorry for the terrible ordeal you went through giving birth… and that anyone has made you feel bad about making the best choice possible for your family.

    This post reminds me of something I read by a Glamour staffer who blogs about her struggle to be a mom and cancer survivor. She had to go off her lifesaving meds to get pregnant, and then worried about going back on them once the baby was born b/c it wouldn’t allow her to nurse. That really upset me… that the pressure to breastfeed was so strong that she would consider risking her life to do so.

    I also take umbrage that people feel they have license to beat up on formula feeding women b/c we “don’t talk about it”. Thanks to people like you, we ARE talking.

    If you ever want to find more support, I’d love for you to check out my blog…


    And thanks again for your heartfelt post. You must be an amazing mom.

  9. Pingback: What’s so Hard to Understand « Adjunctmom's Blog

  10. I just found your blog a few days ago and was reading my way backwards through to this post. Thank you so much for writing this. I can’t imagine how hard it is to relive this experience through writing, but I hope that the process of sharing your story (and hearing from others how much it helps them to read it) does something to help you heal.

    • Ahh, then you’re getting a crash course in what makes things tick, rock and roll, or flatten me depending on the day, week, or month.

      I would not wish my last birth experience on anyone. I would also not wish the pain that “activists” have caused me by suggesting that I shouldn’t care what hateful things they say because I should be secure in my decisions. Whatever.

      I also like movies and love my dogs. So, I’m really a well rounded person 😉

  11. HOLY. HELL. I’m in tears for you and am so glad you’re okay! The negative encounters you’ve had are truly appalling. Those people really think they are doing a shred of good for the breastfeeding cause by spouting such ignorant statements? What a shame. Thanks for sharing.

    • Okay might be a stretch, but I’m still here, and I’m counting that as a win.

      I don’t know how anyone thinks it helps the cause. It’s kind of like the anti-c crowd. I know they mean well, and I agree that c-sections shouldn’t be a first stop, but if I’d had a trial of labor, I would be dead now and so would my daughter. My husband would be without a wife and my son without a mother So, I just can’t see where sweeping generalizations and assumptions are a good thing.

      I’m eternally grateful to my OB for saving my life AND for knowing me well enough that he knew to trust my instincts.

  12. It sounds like you 100% made the perfect choice for your family. Bravo for you even trying the pumping route given the situation you were in. I think your response to BF queries is totally right on, this is an unbelievable situation.

    • I know it didn’t feel like reality when it was happening. I kept waiting for someone to say that this was all a joke and none of it had happened. I felt a lot of guilt, too, because I didn’t feel connected to my daughter the way I did to my son. I do now, but I was in weird head space after she was born.

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