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Feeding Wars: My Journey with Breastfeeding, Pumping, and Formula

When I was pregnant with my first, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. I had clear views on all the typical decisions that new parents face. Would we vaccinate? Circumcise? Co-sleep? Sleep train? The list is endless. One topic that seemed straight forward to me was that, yes, I would be breastfeeding. My husband and I attended a four hour class, read a few books, and I bought some nursing bras. Breastfeeding? I was set!

James was born eight days late, after eight hours of labor and few complications. When it came time to get him to latch? I got into position, and my husband brought him to me. It didn’t work. It also didn’t work an hour later. Or a few hours later. We asked for formula in the hospital his first night. He had been screaming for what seemed like hours. He couldn’t latch and he was hungry. We were told, “That isn’t our policy.” After buying nipple shields, multiple visits with lactation consultants, and a tongue tie procedure? Breastfeeding still didn’t work. I began pumping the day after his birth and continued to try to nurse for two weeks. Fail. Fail. Fail. We just could not figure it out.

I joined support groups on Facebook, but that was a mistake. The judgment there? Unlike anything I had ever experienced. “You aren’t trying hard enough.” “Formula isn’t good for your baby.” Where was the support and understanding? My son was only days old, and it felt like the whole world was telling me that I was already failing.

Photo credit: Sarah Feinstein Photography

On the night of my 29th birthday, I drove to the store bawling my eyes out. I wasn’t pumping enough milk to keep up with my son’s demands. I needed to buy formula. The dreaded “F” word. Thankfully, my mom knocked me back to reality. “Why are you crying? Who cares if you have to give him formula? Are you feeding him? That’s all that matters.”

That was the first and last time I cried about my “failed” nursing journey. For the next six months, I pumped and supplemented with formula. I did not fail. I fed him the best way I could. That is all that matters.

Why do so many moms think this way? Why is this such a hot topic when it shouldn’t be one at all?

Less than two years later, I was pregnant again. Early on, I knew that I didn’t want to even attempt to nurse or pump. I didn’t want to experience the emotional roller coaster that went with trying and failing to nurse again. I planned on pumping once for the colostrum. It would be formula from then on out. I packed formula and bottles instead of nursing bras and nipple cream. Since we didn’t learn the sex of our second child, it absolutely floored me when our daughter was born. The nurse plopped her on my chest, and without any trouble at all, she latched. I couldn’t believe it. Was this what everyone had been talking about? How natural and beautiful breastfeeding could be? Ehhh…

Photo credit: Sarah Feinstein Photography

I didn’t like it. Ok, that’s a lie. I hated it. I hated breastfeeding.

Confession time:

The first night in the hospital, I did something terrible. I was so afraid a nurse was going to walk in and yell at me. When my husband was sleeping and the nurses were out of sight, I took out one of the tiny, glorious newborn bottles of formula—and I fed it to Anna. I had to make sure she would take formula and drink from a bottle. She sucked it down, and I was so relieved! It was important to me that she take a bottle. Because I didn’t want all the pressure to be on me. Honestly? I really didn’t think what I was doing was terrible—but so many people do!

Anna continued to nurse without trouble around the clock. I didn’t—and don’t—take it lightly that my body was able to produce milk and feed my child. So many women struggle to nurse or even produce milk to pump and want to so badly. I know that is heartbreaking. I’ve been there. But that never changed the fact that I continued to loathe nursing.

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Let’s talk about some of the things I don’t miss about pumping and breastfeeding:

Clothes.

Every single outfit I chose was based on how easily I could pull out my boob. This makes it really hard to choose outfits!

One-Woman Show.

I could leave Anna with my husband, mom—whoever. But then I received frantic calls to come home because she refused to take the bottle and would not stop screaming. When I nursed in the middle of the night (what seemed like a million times a night), I would hear my husband snoring, sound asleep. I secretly wanted to kick him in the throat.

The leaking.

Don’t ever forget to wear a nursing pad. Once, I was going to get dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant, and I forgot to put pads in. By the time I got to the restaurant, my boob had completely soaked through my gray shirt. You know what I wore inside? A nursing tank, no bra, and a burp cloth as a scarf to hide the evidence. Nothing would stand between me and my margarita!

breastfeeding engorgement nursing pads #momlife #momfail Nashville Moms Blog

#momfail Don’t ever forget nursing pads!

Engorgement.

Plugged ducts and rock hard boobs. This is no joke, people. I delivered two babies drug free, and I can more easily recall the pain from engorgement in comparison to the pain from contractions.

Public nursing.

I never felt comfortable nursing in public. Some women do it so gracefully…not me. One time, I nursed Anna on a flight up to Minnesota with some poor teenage boy sitting next to me. My daughter moaned so loudly the entire time she was eating, and she kept flailing her arms and hitting him. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to die! I’m all for normalizing breastfeeding, but some people don’t like to or want to—and there is nothing wrong with that either.

Biting.

The first day Anna chomped down on me like I was a hunk of meat was one of the last times I nursed her. Want to know what bravery is? Putting your nipple into the mouth of a teething child.

Sibling Jealously.

My son’s world was rocked when Anna was born. He hated it when I nursed. He is (mostly) enamored with his sister now, but for several months? When I fed Anna, he would scream and try to pull my shirt up. It absolutely broke my heart.

I nursed Anna for over nine months while also offering formula. Honestly, I never felt that rush of love or bond that other women talk about. When it was over? It was over. I was never so happy in my life than the day I sold my breast pump, donated my nursing bras, and had my saggy, post-baby boobs back to myself.

If you tried breastfeeding, and it didn’t work out for whatever reason? I understand your frustration and heartache.

You are not a failure. If people are making you feel like you are doing something wrong, do yourself a favor. Stop talking to them. Surround yourself with people who support you.

If you tried nursing, and hated it, and stopped? I get it.

It isn’t for everyone, and I think it is a shame that so many people seem to think that pushing “breast is best” is best for everyone. It isn’t always best, and I understand your decision.

If you are exclusively pumping to feed your baby, you are a champion.

Wow! What a job that is. There were days when I felt like all I did was wash pump parts and get milk sucked out of me through tubes. It won’t last forever, and one day? You will be able to put it away for good. Call me. We can go out to celebrate after burning that horrible machine.

If you nurse exclusively, whether you love it or hate it, you are amazing.

What a gift and tremendous responsibility to be able to feed your child. I know what it’s like to nurse in bathroom stalls, in the backseat of a car, or with a cover on when it is 100 degrees outside. You’re doing a great job. Think of all the money you are saving! You have my permission to go buy something really nice for yourself.

If you choose to give formula to your child, and you feel push back from your nurse or doctor? Ask for a new one.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are doing anything wrong. I have two very healthy and happy kids that both drank hundreds of dollars worth of formula.

Every woman has her own reasons for choosing their feeding method. Being a mom is hard. The last thing any new mom needs is to be judged by strangers on the internet, nosy people in public, or even worse—friends and family. If you know a new mom who is struggling with this very problem right now? Bring her lunch, hold that baby, let her shower and, most of all—tell her what a great job she is doing. Formula is not best. Nursing is not best. Pumping is not best. Fed is best.

Did you have trouble nursing?
Did you ever experience any negativity for formula feeding?

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3 Responses to Feeding Wars: My Journey with Breastfeeding, Pumping, and Formula

  1. Cathy May 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    Nicely written!! I have 3 children who were ‘formula’ babies mainly because my oldest daughter didn’t get enough from me from the start. While still in the hospital we switched back & forth until we came home & I felt she got more from the formula & we were all more comfortable. Because she did so well I wasn’t concerned with my other 2 who also did good on formula. I think it is a blessing for those who can breast feed. I also agree with you that the most important thing is that your child is fed! 🙂

    • Kate Cortelyou May 16, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

      Yes! Fed is best!

  2. Katie J May 30, 2017 at 3:04 pm #

    Love this ❤️. For generations before us, formula was much more the norm. Now I feel that the pendulum had swung so far that women are being shamed which is ridiculous. I struggled with supply, and wish that more people would have been there to tell me to relax and that “fed is best.” It would have made the first few months of my sons life much easier. Thinking about pumping again makes me dread having a newborn, but the next time around I will stress less about supply and not hesitate to pick up some formula!

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