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May 13, 2011

My Bottlefeeding and Breastfeeding Post

As I get ready to give birth to another baby, I find myself pondering my feelings about breastfeeding and about formula feeding.  I reflect a bit about my sisters in motherhood and the judgements that come so easily.

When I was pregnant with Sarah, if anyone asked me if I would breastfeed her, the answer was a resounding, "Of course!" or "Certainly."  I mean, what educated woman DIDN'T breastfeed her baby in the 21st century.  Everyone knows that BREAST IS BEST.  It's NATURAL.  It's inexpensive.  The baby will be healthier.  The baby will be smarter.  I was going to give my baby the best start!

When Sarah was born, she had to have some sort of suctioning procedure done (meconium in the amniotic fluid) immediately after she was born and the hospital where I delivered her cleaned her and did all sorts of stuff before I got a chance to breastfeed her.  At the time, it didn't seem to be the biggest problem...she latched on when we finally did get to nurse and stayed latched on fairly well.  The hospital didn't bring her to me every three hours or anything to establish a nursing routine or regimen while I was there, however, but it seemed we were doing okay with nursing.  My milk hadn't come in by the time I left the hospital, but no one seemed concerned.

The first night at home with my first newborn baby was...how do I say this? ... hell.  Craig and I were new parents and we were alone with our baby and we didn't know what to do with her.  I tried to get her to nurse, but she screamed and carried on.  She wouldn't latch on...and if she did, nothing was coming so she got impatient (it seemed) and arched her back and cried.  She was wetting her diapers, so we weren't all that worried, yet.  The next day a home health nurse came to check on us and Sarah had dropped a lot of weight...well, duh...the poor child hadn't been fed!  So, we got a pump and I started pumping (I was engorged) and we gave her a bottle.  She took the bottle immediately and seemed to guzzle what was in there.  She was starving.  We made it through three weeks by the sheer grace of God.  I really don't think new parents can begin to be prepared for those first few weeks with a new baby for the first time.  It's unreal.

For those three weeks, we tried and tried to nurse at the breast.  However, my let-down was so slow, that Sarah didn't seem to have the patience for me.  I was a wreck emotionally.  This breastfeeding thing did NOT feel "natural" and I was starting to not give a flip whether it was supposed to make Sarah smarter or not, I was losing my sanity.  I cried every time Sarah rejected my breast.  I sobbed as I held the pump on my breasts and felt like a cow being milked. 

By the 4-week check-up, Craig and I had decided that maybe we might have to try formula.  I was a mess emotionally.  While I was completely in love with my baby girl, I was feeling like a complete failure that breastfeeding wasn't working out.  I was guilt-ridden at the idea that I wasn't going to give my baby the best start ever.  Thankfully, the pediatrician was understanding, educated us on formulas (in the US, it's regulated and they all have the same stuff - "check the labels, you'll see" - and said, save some money and grab the Wal-mart brand) and told us we were doing a fabulous job, that Sarah was growing very well and we'll see you at 2 months.

What I wasn't prepared for in this decision was the judgmental attitudes among other mothers.  It was incredible.  As she would care for my daughter on occasion, my own sister would make comments about "that nasty formula stuff" and how breastfed babies' diapers don't stink, but her smelled like that "gross formula stuff"!  And my sister wasn't even a mother yet.  I would get disappointing glances and outright judgements from other moms about how I just didn't want to sacrifice for my child.  I was taking the EASY way out.  My child would be sick. 

My experience with breastfeeding Sarah was so traumatic that I didn't even attempt to breastfeed Danielle.  I didn't discuss it with anyone.  And while the judgments still hurt, I didn't linger on them.  But the guilt remained.  However, I was feeling guilty at the time about more than not breastfeeding.

I'd succumbed to the judgments also, about the fact that I worked outside the home, and THAT made me a poor mother, too.  Even though my children were at home with their father and in their own home all the time, it wasn't good enough.  I had one woman tell me that perhaps God hadn't truly called me to marriage and to be a mother if He hadn't provided an environment where I could stay home with my babies and had to rely on my husband.  Over time I learned to appreciate that God calls women and men to the vocation of marriage and parenthood in all sorts of circumstances.  But it took me a long time and lots of tears to get to that point.

When I was pregnant with Helen, we were toying with the idea of figuring out if we could survive on Craig's full-time salary as a casino craps dealer.  I would try to stay home with the kids, and I would have to figure this breastfeeding thing out.  Before Helen was born, the ship had sailed on the dream of me being a stay-at-home mom.  My income was 65% of our household's income...there was no way to make it work.  But I was still committed to breastfeeding.

I'm happy to report that Helen and I had a strong nursing relationship.  Of all of my children, Helen is the most "like" me personality-wise and she was content at my breast waiting for my ultra-slow let-down.  My biggest problem was pumping at work because it took so long for let-down that I often was taking too long of breaks to complete this task.

I co-slept with Helen at night and that helped for the time that we nursed.  (And...I learned that breastfed baby poop stunk, too.  Sure, it stunk differently, but it wasn't like smelling roses or anything!)  I nursed her for 4.5 months.  I could have gone longer, but the pumping was really getting to me.  And, unlike many other moms...I didn't lose weight while breastfeeding...my body held on to an extra 20 pounds until I weaned Helen.  Helen took to formula just fine however.  And I felt a lot of relief regarding my commitments at work to be freed from the commitment to pump twice every day.

With Dominic, I only had 6 weeks of time off work and I knew that trying to get a breastfeeding relationship established in that amount of time would be very difficult.  Formula had worked well with our other kids and since Craig was home with the babies during the day, it was just as well that he be able to get that schedule going from the beginning.

This time, I will be able to be off work for 12 weeks.  I am contemplating nursing the baby.  It will probably be a "game time" decision.  This is my first baby that will have to go to a sitter for three days a week when I go back to work.  While it's in a home setting, and I'm very comfortable with it, it's still hard because before these promotions that Craig has received this year, he was always able to be in the home while I was at work and the babies were not exposed to germs and other kids before the age of 2 or so.  Dominic started going to the babysitter right before he turned 2 and that's the earliest any of my children have been cared for outside of the home.

I now have an almost 10-year-old daughter who was formula fed and has proven to be a well-behaved, well-adjusted, intelligent little girl.  I know that giving her formula didn't make her stupid and it didn't make her ill-behaved.  She had her first ear infection at the age of 4 after a swim lesson where she got a lot of water in her ear and she never got sick as an infant and hardly gets sick now.

I also have an 8-year-old who was formula-fed and she has proven to be sweet-tempered, well-behaved and smart, too.  Dani, again, seldom sick...so formula feeding her didn't "make" her any less healthy.

My Helen had some breastfeeding and some formula and ... let's just say, she's no dummy and she's very well-adjusted.  She was the one child who had ear infection after ear infection while I breastfed her.  Ultimately, she had tubes inserted and finally had the tubes removed along with her tonsils and adenoids. I often mention this to people who ask me if my "poor" children whom I didn't breastfeed have a lot of illness:  Um...no.  And the one child I did breastfeed was the most sickly of all.

Dominic is 2.5 now and he also hasn't been ill often either.   

There are some stubborn judgmental people who still scoff at me and say, "Well, there are exceptions to everything" or "Well, you're so lucky it's worked out that way for you" and stuff like that.  I don't berate the choice of other women to breastfeed their babies.  I support it and am very happy that many women are able to have it work for them.  I did it myself and while it hasn't always been the way I've done things, I look back fondly on the time I was able to breastfeed one of my babies.  I especially admire those work-outside-the-home moms who exclusively breastfeed for a year.  Wow, that's awesome!  I know that the pumping thing was just not something I could endure long-term and those moms who sacrifice in that manner truly are saints.

I didn't really write this to sway anyone for or against either breastfeeding or formula feeding.  I'm about to have another baby and the questions had started coming in my real life about whether I would breastfeed or not.  Truth be told, it would be a no-brainer for me if I were going to be able to either work only part-time or not at all...I would try to breastfeed.  But at this point in time, it looks like I'll be returning to my full-time job at a non-friendly workplace (toward motherhood anyway).  But I'm still considering it.  If I only had 6 weeks off again this time, it would be a no-brainer that I'd usd formula.  But I have 12 weeks...so I'm thinking about it (going the breastfeeding route, at least for a time).

I also wanted to write it because I've seen a lot lately either on internet forums or on other blogs discussing breastfeeding (among other parenting decisions) and it has weighed on me to get my perspective out there.  

Craig and I have always simply done whatever we've had to do to raise our family.  I feel blessed that our decisions have included such a wide variety of things on the parenting spectrum.  I think it gives us a well-rounded background of things that will work and helps us to trust our ability to handle multiple situations and different types of children.  It's helped us to trust each other, too.

UPDATE:  When Blogger "went down for maintenance" yesterday, I had 8 comments on this post.  Unfortunately, it seems those did not make it through whatever maintenance was performed on Blogger.  My apologies.


  1. Ugh, it was kinda tough to read your blog. As a mommy this is one of those tough tough things. With my first, she had so many health issues that I had to nurse her. And I stayed home. Oddly, the health issues helped the nursing, we got amazing help at Children's, way better than at the hospital.

    With my second, I assumed I would nurse, but this time I was working. Nursing started out fine, but by six months I was a wreck. Working full time, nursing, taking care of two kids, not sleeping enough, I could not do it. With the support of my husband we went to formula. And you know what? She is still perfect. She eats til she is full, she is growing like a weed, is happy, and we have a wonderful bond.

    I think as Mommys we need to stop with the criticism and bring on the love and support. Do what works for you. Parenting is hard enough without bashing each other. Life is not a competition.

    Wish you the best, I am sure you will make the right choice, whatever that may be.

  2. I remember being all excited about breast-fed baby poop supposedly not stinking compared to formula-fed babies. Well the people who stated these facts must have something wrong with their nose, because Joe's poop smells awful!

    Anyways, I'll admit that before Joe was born I was always shocked that women didn't try to breastfeed. Then my best friend had a baby and had to go back to work soon afterwards so she didn't even try. Then I became a mother myself and realized that you have to do what is best for both you and the baby. I hate all these Mommy Wars and making each other feel like crap for our decisions.

    Good luck making your decision! Whatever it is take comfort in knowing it is the best!

  3. I love reading your perspective, Michelle. I absolutely agree that you have a well-rounded background and that gives you such a great approach towards parenting! It wasn't until I had such a horrible time nursing Miriam at first that I finally realized why people would use formula - and I apologize a hundred-fold for my attitude towards bottle-feeding before that! I'm sure whatever you do with this child will be the right decision for your family.

    Oh, and ditto on the breastfed baby poop stinking! When Miriam was only going once or twice a week, it would really be pungent!

  4. I've only had a 6-8 week maternity leave with all of my kids, and I've breastfed all of them. Elanor was exclusively breastfed for over six months (I pumped), and she nursed for over two years. With William and Violet, my supply tanked after about six months so we had to supplement with formula. But I'm glad I breastfed them as long as I did -- even a little while is worth it, in my opinion. And personally, I find breastfeeding SO much more convenient than bottlefeeding; the milk is always ready, warm, and waiting. But then I'm blessed in that all my kids have been excellent nursers from the get-go.

  5. Beautiful conclusion, Michelle. What a wonderful perspective!

  6. I meant to include that 2 of 3 have also had formula, also for varying reasons.

  7. Michelle, as always your post was compassionate, honest, and just made sense.

    I've breastfed all my children, but for varying lengths of time for different reasons. Like you said, you do what is best for your family. I'm at the point that I care very little about what others think about our parenting decisions because I KNOW my kids are doing great BECAUSE of our decisions. :)

  8. Michelle,
    This is a beautiful reflection.

    Since I work with kids and families all day, every day, I see first hand just how every family is different and has to do what works best for them.

    And you are an awesome momma! I've seen it firsthand :).

  9. Fun reading your old posts! I breastfeeding both kids for over 2 years. I am absolutely proud of myself for it. One big reason I am so proud is because I wasn't working full time. I feel like I had something to feel accomplished about during that period of my life where I wasn't feeling accomplished with my career.


Thank you for reading. I enjoy reading other perspectives, please feel free to share yours. :)