i formula feed…so what?

I’m aware that with my multiple posts on how I plan to give birth at home, in a birth pool using hypnobirthing techniques I may have given the impression that I’m something of an earth mother. A natural mother. A “proper” mother. So allow me to drop the bomb that will shatter that illusion…

I formula fed both my boys, and am planning on feeding this new baby that way too.

Oh shit, have I gone down in your estimation now?  Cos I can already see some pursed lips and was that a tut I just heard?  I know, right – I’m shortchanging my kids, I’m being selfish, I’m doing it wrong.

Ok, that’s very defensive of me and I’m only (half) joking.  I know that most people are not so judgmental, and the majority of folk couldn’t give a crap how I choose to feed my baby.  But just as I’ve seen a surge in women opting to breastfeed and in the support for normalising it, I have also seen a rise in bottle-bashing.  When it comes to an issue as sensitive and fundamental as how you decide to feed your child, it’s no wonder that emotions can run a little high.

I want to share why I came to the decision to use formula.

I’m going to slap on a huge old caveat to this – no one ever needs to justify their decision to anyone else.  Whether one woman’s decision to formula feed comes from a deep rooted tradition in her family or because she doesn’t like the thought of breastfeeding is as irrelevant as whether the woman down the street chose to breastfeed purely for budget reasons or from a passion for the immunity support breast milk provides.  A choice is a personal issue and no one owes anyone an explanation.

But I’m going to give mine…mainly because it gives me something to write about as I wait for this baby to arrive.

When breastfeeding just didn’t work for us

Even though I was only 17 when I got pregnant for the first time, it never even occurred to me to do anything but breastfeed.  Bottle feeding had never featured on my cultural radar.  So it was a shock when my baby and my breasts didn’t get the same memo.

A badly timed jab of diamorphine in labour left me with a sleepy and disinterested baby who was reluctant to feed.  When he did show an interest, I found myself looking at my breasts as if for the first time.  I kept trying to do everything the leaflet said, but started to despair – how was he supposed to latch on when my nipples didn’t look like the illustration?  Instead of nice little buttons for my baby to work with, there was nothing there…just flat, pink circles as if they’d been drawn on to my boobs.

I managed to coax a slight shape to my nipples, but struggled to get my baby to latch on.  I buzzed for help throughout that first night, but the midwives would only stay long enough to see him take a few sucks and then left me alone to watch him slide off again.  The more I tried, the more upset and frustrated we both became, and I felt like a nuisance both to the midwives and the other women sharing my ward who were trying to sleep.

I wasn’t allowed to take my baby home until he had fed successfully, so after another day and night of struggling and with a blood test showing that my baby’s blood sugars were low I gave in to the suggestion of giving him a bottle.  I remember looking at the “breast is best” poster on the wall as I gave him that first feed, and feeling like a total failure.  I rang my mum in tears, asking her to rush out and buy bottles, formula and a steriliser before coming to take me and my useless boobs (and of course, my beautiful and now contented baby) home.

Formula feeding worked for us

As it turned out, formula feeding wasn’t the evil I thought it would be.  I went back to college when my baby was 3 months old and so it suited us well.  I was also a single mother, and so it was nice that my parents could help with feeding to give me some sleep or a break when I needed it.

He’s 15 now and shows a mixed bag of the apparent impact of formula milk.  For example, he had horrendous eczema when he was younger which could have been down to how he was fed, but equally could have been because it runs in our family.  On the other hand, he’s excelling academically and has never had a weight problem, which goes against common beliefs about formula fed babies.

This is not me using anecdotes to argue scientific research.  If the research is there then we’ve just been lucky enough to avoid certain negative outcomes, though in a lot of cases the research isn’t conclusive.  This suggests to me that formula is a safe and good feeding option, it just isn’t as good as breast milk.  But I do believe that feeding method is but a part in a larger jigsaw of health components.  Breast milk may give a baby a head start, but there are a lot of other aspects of diet, upbringing and wellness that parents can influence which all contribute to a child’s health, attainment and quality of life.

Me and my useless boobs

Despite the positives, the guilt I felt about my feeding method stayed with me and I do think it played a contributing part to the postnatal depression I suffered.  This depression stayed with me for years and materialised in many different ways, one of which was a deep dislike of my body.  To tackle this I went on a diet and lost a lot of weight (which I’ve briefly blogged about before), which left me with a smaller clothes size but also with boobs I couldn’t stand to look at.  I’d always had big breasts, having to buy my f-cup bras in specialist shops and dealing with chronic back pain and unwanted comments.  But now all I had were saggy, empty sacks which left me looking 80 rather than 20.  I hated them – not only had they failed me when it came to feeding my baby but now they failed me every time I looked in the mirror.  So when I was 24 I made the decision to have them reduced.  I was warned that my ability to breastfeed in the future may be compromised, but at the time I didn’t care – my future fertility was in question (another story for another time), and my boobs had proven themselves to be worthless for feeding anyway.

Growing in confidence with my formula feeding decision

Ten years after my first baby, and against some pretty big odds, my second baby was on his way.  I did my research and found evidence to suggest that my breast reduction may not necessarily mean I couldn’t breastfeed.  And as a bonus, my surgery had given me some proper nipples.  I approached feeding with an open mind – optimistic that time had healed my breasts but realistically purchasing bottles and a steriliser.

When he arrived, my second baby showed all the markings of a breastfeeding champ – he latched on right away and things were looking good.  Except my boobs.  It became quickly apparent that there was nothing happening on my side of the equation.  But unlike this heartbreaking story of a woman who struggled post-reduction to breastfeed her baby, I was confident enough to know when to call it quits.

This time around with baby number 3, we have once again stocked up on formula and feeding equipment.  I’ll give my boobs another chance to redeem themselves, but I’m doubtful anything will have changed in the 4.5 years since we last tried to breastfeed.  I’ve made my peace with that entirely, and am happy with the prospect of once again exclusively formula feeding

Feed and let feed

I trained as a midwife and am passionate about breastfeeding in most circumstances.  But I’m not holding my story up as one of those exceptions to the rule that everyone should breastfeed.  I think the most important thing is that a baby is fed by a parent who is happy with their feeding choice and who isn’t made to feel less than or wrong or weird for whatever their method of choice is.  Just as I don’t think women should be shamed into breastfeeding in some grotty toilet, I also don’t think any parent should be expected to defend their choice to use formula.  Live and let live, feed and let feed.  I use formula…so what?

 

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41 Comments

  1. Fed is best! I was lucky to have babies who latched like they belonged there, but that didn’t mean it was all smooth sailing! My milk supply wasn’t enough for them, and after my first spent 48 hours screaming despite the limp empty boob in her mouth, the paediatrician finally, gently, suggested that she was hungry and to try top up with formula.
    I NEVER looked back. After months of trying everything under the sun to increase the milk supply I finally admitted it wasn’t worth it, and it wasn’t working. I gave up breast for good.
    Fed is best! That is what should be normalised!
    #bloggerclubuk

  2. Totally agree—no one should have to justify their choices either way. I’m all for supporting women to breastfeed, but it’s not for everyone for various reasons. The thing I really don’t understand is why anyone else cares how we feed our babies. Breast or bottle, as long as they aren’t hungry its all good! #coolmumclub

  3. I agree with MomOfTwoLittleGirls, Fed is best, whether that be by bottle or boob. I tried desperately to breastfeed my twins, but they were born premature and just too little. In the end we bottle fed them my expressed milk which was topped up with a special prescription milk for pre-term babies. Thanks for linking up to #ThatFridayLinky
    Emily recently posted…The Benefits of Using Essential OilsMy Profile

    1. I think prematurity adds a whole other level of pressure when it comes to feeding method, so I’m glad you were able to find a way that worked for you.

  4. I almost killed myself trying to breastfeed my daughter for the first three months in the end we came right but in retrospect I wish I had saved my sanity by just formula feeding because who cares so as it’s feeding! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub with this xoxo

  5. I wasn’t much good at breastfeeding. I dried up after a couple of days with my first and the poor little thing was starving so she was formula fed too. We have to do what’s right for our families! Thanks so much for sharing with #Blogstravaganza xx

  6. We should only do what is good for us and not to be forced to do something that doesn’t suit excellent read well done for sharing Thanks for linking to the #THAT FRIDAY LINKY come back next week please

  7. Great read, I formula fed both my boys and it worked for us all really well. I am of the opinion that Fed is best, so breast or bottle is great as whatever works for you and your family really is the best option. xx Nicky #Blogstravaganza

  8. Agree with the others commentators who said Fed is Best. How you get there is up to you, as long it’s working for you and baby, it’s no one else’s business.

  9. I think it’s all about choice isn’t it? What works for one family, may not for another. There are loads of different reasons and whatever way the baby is fed is ok with me! I managed to breastfeed for 3 months with both and had so much milk I could have fed 3 babies! But work meant I moved to formula (plus then my hubbie could feed them too). It worked for us and I have no regrets. Great post and good luck with your new baby. ❤️ #anythinggoes

  10. I don’t have children, but friends have and we talked about it. I know a friend that struggled with her child until she gave him formula, while others were judging her. I don’t think you should care what others are saying.
    Anca recently posted…Festus and the pigeonMy Profile

  11. I never even considered breastfeeding and despite many people giving me ‘the look’ when I answered their extremely nosy question, I never ever felt bad about it. It’s such a personal choice. Good for you. #anythinggoes

    1. I love this! Because as I was writing I was aware of being one of those “I formula feed because I couldn’t breastfeed” women, and I wonder if a lot of women say that because they feel too judged if they just come out and say “I formula feed because I bloody well chose to.”

  12. I completely agree that everyone needs to make the decision which is best for them and their family…what business is it of everyone else? No one ever tells you just how tough breastfeeding is! We had no end of issues from jaundice and tongue-tie to engorgement! I was very fortunate that (eventually) I was able to carry on but not everyone has the support/is able to. #PostsFromTheHeart

    1. I think that’s a big part of it, how a lot of women (and I know I was one) aren’t aware that there could be issues until you’re hit with them. And when you have a newborn, and you’re tired, and you’re emotional…hitting a big stumbling block with feeding can be all too much to handle. Who knows how different my story would have been if I’d have been aware of flat nipple issues before I tried to breastfeed?

  13. So what!? I love this, I formula fed both of mine after it failed the first time. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying! Breast feeding a baby with severe tongue tie for 12 days caused permanent internal damage to my boobs. Which became clear second time around…! My two are still young but they aren’t behind developmentally and as for the weight… I was a formula fed baby and I am under weight if you go by the stupid BMI system (I promise it’s not a brag but I wanted to disprove that theory!) I agree breastmilk is best. How could it not be? But breastfeeding isn’t for everyone and judging someone for making the decision to formula feed is as shameful as making a breastfeeding mum feed in the toilet. Thank you for linking to #BigPinkLink

  14. Well done you. Fed is best, breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. As long as a baby is being fed, what does it REALLY matter? I beat myself up for not being able to continue breastfeeding (after baby was critically ill at 2 weeks and I subsequently became INCREDIBLY ill from extremely severe anxiety). I beat myself up for too long, but am now the proud Mummy of a beautiful, healthy 9 month old little girl. Giving up breastfeeding let me get better for her to be the Mummy she needed. #PostsFromTheHeart

  15. As a mummy whose baby has had extensive feeding difficulties, (breast, bottle and solids), I am wholeheartedly Of The opinion that fed is best. All mummies want what is best for their baby and one size most definitely does not fit all. #PostsFromTheHeart

  16. Amazing!! I was unable to breast feed for medical reasons and funnily enough have just written about my story. As long as baby is fed, there shouldn’t be an issue! #PostsFromTheHeart

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