Switching to Formula - Feeling Guilty

I hope other women out there will be gentle with themselves and remember that the most important thing is taking care of your baby and helping them to grow and thrive - no matter how you choose to do it!

bottle fed
Bottle-feeding baby

Switching to Formula

A baby needs a healthy and happy mom. Breastmilk is best, but formula is there for a reason. If you decide to stop breastfeeding, you should do so without guilt and fear!

Breastfeeding is not for every baby and mother. Sometimes, formula is needed, and that does not mean a mom loves her baby any less, that she should feel guilty, or that she is a failure.

I Refuse to Feel Guilty

Amie's story

I tried to feed my son for six weeks exclusively. I was pumping in between feedings to increase my supply, and nothing. The most I ever got from both breasts was about 1 ounce. One breast was producing almost nothing. When I decided to switch to formula and saw my constantly crying baby suck down bottle after bottle finally getting fed, it was a huge relief, and I never looked back.

After my second son was born, I never even considered breastfeeding. The first experience of angst about not being able to produce was enough for me. Everyone made me feel like it was about my technique, but I spent hours trying everything possible and working with a lactation consultant for a month.

When the nurses started giving me looks after my second son was born about my choice to formula feed, I declared to all of the hospital staff treating my disapproving family and me that this was my choice. If they wanted to choose how to feed a baby, they were welcome to have one. No one asked any more questions after that. I'm all for education, but I refuse to let someone make me feel guilty about a decision I believe I am making in the best interest of my child.

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Kristen's story

My little man is now ten months old, and I went through such pain, depression, and judgment over my struggles with breastfeeding.

My little one lost 1 lb in the hospital, and his stomach was full of amniotic fluid and meconium, so we could not breastfeed for the first 24hrs as much as we tried.

The lactation consultants at the hospital made me feel terrible but sent me home with a very intense plan and formula to supplement. We tried and tried and tried for six weeks. From birth to 6 weeks, his total weight gain was only 2 ounces, yet he had enough wet diapers. He suffered from some pretty severe acid reflux.

I was berated by other moms and the lactation consultants, being told that it was my technique, I was selfish, and that every woman can breastfeed, I just needed to stick with it and try harder.

We switched to formula, and he has grown and is doing great. But that whole experience led to postpartum depression and anxiety. I hope other women out there will be gentle with themselves and remember that the most important thing is taking care of your baby and helping them to grow and thrive - no matter how you choose to do it!

cute baby picture
Cute baby - Image by Victoria Model from Pixabay

Perfect latch - Insufficient milk!

Lesley's story

For years, I told myself, "I'll have a breast reduction after I have children and breastfeed them" because my breasts are enormous and inconvenient - they get in the way, and buying bras is almost impossible and expensive.

Well, at the age of 35, I had my son. Despite the first 24 hours of him in the special care unit and me stuck in bed recovering from the caesarian section, he had a perfect latch when I got him back. And 2 hours later, he was still latched. He even slept while he was sucking. He screamed if I unlatched him to try to do anything like switching him to the other breast.

Three days later, we were still in the same routine - he'd be latched and sucking all day and was still losing weight. Finally, a midwife told me to give him formula. I felt like an utter failure. So I latched him for 3/4 of an hour (and the lactation experts in the hospital checked so many times and said, "well, he has a perfect latch!" and "keep at it, your milk will increase!"), she unlatched him and had a good squeeze & grope (while feeling bovine - moo!) to check - no milk left in there! So, he had a formula feed and went happily to sleep while I cried. Every feed after that was the same - 3/4 of an hour, then a bottle.

I never did get enough for a full feed, despite spending hours and hours each day with pumps attached. I pumped and poured it into his formula feed because some milk is better than none, right?

I gave up pumping after three months. I just couldn't do it anymore for less and less milk. When I was down to 5ml a day, it was time to admit I'd dried up. I decided that time spent being happy and able to interact with others, including the baby, was more important.

I've since found out that the medication I'm on could theoretically have reduced the amount of milk I can produce - but not one of the experts mentioned that at the time. "keep trying, your milk will increase!" They let me feel like an utter (or udder!) failure while my son's weight kept dropping.

I'm pregnant now and will try again because I know it is best for the baby. I have bottles, pumps, and formula standing by because I suspect they'll be needed again.

The boobie police have already started telling me how to feed my child, who hasn't even been born yet!

I Am a Formula Feeder

Lisa's story

"Hi, my name is Lisa, and I am a formula feeder."

For a long time, I felt like I should be standing up and saying those words in front of a crowd like 'Formula Feeders Anonymous,' a group of mothers who were ashamed of their burden on society for not providing what was 'best' for their children.

My shame in not being able to breastfeed and feelings of being less of a mother came from many sources: From midwives, lactation consultants, posters on the wall in the birthing room, strangers on the street, and the whole of society who seemed to scream 'breast is best!' and had no problems reminding me of that every time I pulled out a bottle. But the person who made me feel like a failure and judged me the most was myself.

From the time I was a little girl, I was told by my mother how she not only breastfed both my brother and me till we were over 12 months but also had enough supply to contribute to the milk bank at the hospital.

When we were shopping together, if she saw a sound, sleeping baby in its pram, she would say, "that baby must be breastfed - it is so content." So, when I fell pregnant, I imagined myself sitting in my rocking chair, breastfeeding my happy, healthy, and content baby.

After 15 hours in labor and labeled as 'Failure to Progress' at 9cm dilated, my baby started to go into distress, I went under the knife, and my beautiful baby boy was born at 8 am.

His daddy took him to meet the family while I was in recovery, but because of complications with the epidural, I was there for a long time, and by the time I came to the ward, I was exhausted. After everyone left in the late afternoon, my new little boy and I fell soundly asleep.

It wasn't until the next morning that a midwife asked me how many feeds he had had, and I responded with, "umm, I haven't fed him?" She looked a little panicked but promptly whipped out one of my boobs, grabbed the baby, and put his face next to my nipple. He looked at it and went back to sleep.

Over the next day in the hospital, I was given 100 instructions on how to breastfeed and why to breastfeed. I had my nipples gabbed by more people than I had ever had - all trying to get my little boy interested. He wasn't. Every time they tried, he would have a few sucks, scream, and fall asleep. So I would try putting him on for about 45 minutes every couple of hours until we were both exhausted. I would then hand express colostrum into a little bottle and give it to him with a syringe.

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Sitting in the hospital room, watching all the other mothers breastfeed while I fed my baby with a syringe, made me depressed.

Some of the midwives were lovely, but some were frustrated with me -more than I was at myself, and one, in particular, was determined to make it work. She told me to strip him down to only his nappy and 'helped' him stay awake by placing a cold, wet cloth on him every time he got sleepy. But instead of attaching and sucking, this just made him scream. I felt like taking him, wrapping him up, and running away, but she stood over me for an hour doing this, with me crying while she exclaimed: "he has to do this, he has to eat, everyone can do this if they try hard enough."

After that, just two days after a dramatic birth, a c-section, baby blues, and a baby who wasn't eating, I asked to be discharged, and the hospital was just fine with that, as they were very busy, and I guess I was taking up space.

At home, I went through the motions of trying to get him on for 45 minutes, followed by hand expressing for 45 minutes, feeding with a small bottle, crying for an hour, and then doing it all over again.

I saw lactation consultants who told me to keep trying, and we would 'get it,' I spoke on the phone to helplines who told me to keep trying, and we would 'get it,' and I talked to doctors who told me to keep trying and we would 'get it.'

With the support of my husband, who told me that it was unhealthy for the baby and me to continue with this, I gave up on the idea that I would get him to latch on, and I bought a breast pump. I expressed for the next two months, which was a little easier but still a long, drawn-out process. After two months, my milk dried up.

In despair, I stood in the formula aisle of the supermarket and cried. I had no idea which formula to choose. I knew no one who formula-fed, and I couldn't deal with the pressure from any health professionals. I was much too embarrassed that I had failed at something that seemed so easy and natural for every mum I knew - and that I hadn't kept trying.

Through tears, I read some of the information on the tins and bought the one in the most expensive gold tin to help my conscience just a little.

He gulped down the lot and then slept for 5 hours. No tears from him at all, and I saw a content look on his face for the first time. As the days passed, I watched him get happier and more alert, and even though I still grieved that he was not getting the 'best,' I was starting to feel better too.

My husband fed him a lot, leaving me free to do other things instead of spending three hours in a feeding process. I could brush my hair and teeth and take a shower!

Feeding him the formula in the privacy of our own home was fine – I only judged myself, but out in the world, it seemed like everyone judged me. When shopping, I would make up the bottle of formula around the corner before entering the mothers' room in the hope that the other mothers might think that it was expressed milk.

As my fat, little, healthy baby grew, I realized that maybe the formula wasn't that bad. It kept him alive; he was thriving, we were both happy and healthy, and I was a good mum.

After discovering how many mums have similar feeding issues, I started to feel like I wasn't alone. My confidence grew. When people asked me why I wasn't breastfeeding, I told them, "It wasn't the right choice for us" I didn't try and explain my whole story to excuse myself. I didn't feel like a failure anymore. This beautiful little boy loved me, and our bond was so close – it didn't matter how he was fed as long as he was fed.

When I had my second baby, we did everything right; still, he wouldn't breastfeed. This time at the hospital, I had a midwife who wasn't fixated on making it work, and we discovered that my milk ducts weren't working as they should. The chance of me breastfeeding was slim.

I still expressed for a few weeks for my new little boy, but when it was too much, I didn't hesitate to put him on formula.

Every time I sit in my rocking chair, hold him close, feed him his bottle and watch him drift off to sleep, I think of how grateful I am to have such a healthy, happy, and content baby.

If you need breastfeeding support, please contact a breastfeeding helpline in your country.

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