There can be a lot of personal and societal baggage attached to how we feed our children. We're bombarded with messages from the media, our friends, and well-meaning relatives, all claiming "breast is best." As a result, moms can carry a tremendous amount of shame around having and/or choosing to feed their babies formula. I'm dedicated to ending that shame and believe that personal stories can help us do just that. In other words, when moms get real about the pain of formula-feeding, the impact that shame and stigma has on real, actual people becomes glaringly obvious, as does our need to collectively, as a society, end the stigma of formula-feeding entirely.
I went into my first pregnancy positive that I was going to exclusively breastfeed my child until he or she decided they had enough. I believed the common misconception that breastfeeding was the most valuable thing I could do for my child (even though I had given up my body in order to grow them and bring them into the world). But things didn't quite work out the way I'd imagined when my baby was born, due to neonatal trauma and undersupply. I was devastated. I felt like my body had betrayed me and, as a result of that betrayal, I had let my baby down in the worst way possible.
I spent months pumping so I could at least give my baby some breast milk after they refused the breast permanently at just 6 weeks old. The fact that I still had to supplement with formula left me drowning in such intense guilt. In fact, for the first couple months, I would only feed the baby expressed breast milk and my partner would take over for the second, formula-filled bottle. I just couldn't bring myself to feed my baby formula myself.
The worst part? I never fully forgave myself until last year. That shame no doubt impacted my relationship with my firstborn child, who turns 8 years old in September. It doesn't have to be this way. The truth is, dear reader, it shouldn't be this way. I know if I had listened to and connected with other people with similar stories, complete with education and forgiveness, I would have been OK much sooner.
These stories are my gift to my former self. I hope, as a result of these mothers speaking openly and honestly about formula-feeding, we can, together, pave the way for a more loving dialogue surrounding how we feed our babies. We must be kinder to ourselves, and each other.
"It felt like failure. I was so set on breastfeeding [my daughter] but I wasn't making enough and she had lost too much weight. The first formula bottle I gave her was the first time she looked happy and content. It broke me a little bit.
"I finally consented to supplementing with formula after I'd been nursing my son every 20 minutes for almost three days straight. It took a tearful chat with the night nurse on duty who held my hand through the decision. She gave me the assurance that I wasn't doing anything wrong but that what I was doing was not sustainable (and that I wasn't failing at anything or giving up any chance of successfully breastfeeding). So the build-up was full of worry and guilt, but by the time we actually gave him the formula I was at peace with the decision (not to mention so tired I could barely see straight)."
"I had given myself permission to combo feed once I had to return to work after my second child was born. Trying to pump, store, and transport enough milk to meet my baby's needs was exhausting and stressful with my first. I gave my baby a bottle of formula a few weeks before I was set to travel for the first time and it was glorious. It was the first time I enjoyed feeding my baby. I had a painful letdown and I didn't realize how much I dreaded nursing him until that first bottle. He took it like a champ and I decided right then to quit breastfeeding. Formula gave him everything he needed, and I didn't have to hurt or stress to feed him."
"I felt like I was being treated like a child who couldn't properly care for my baby. I only had to use formula once, when my daughter was jaundiced. I had all the info (and the backing of the lactation consultant and nurses) who said it was unnecessary, that this wasn't the type of jaundice that would benefit from formula, and the doctor insisted I was literally risking my child's life if I didn't use formula for 24 hours. I felt bullied and like my agency was removed. It didn't matter how many medical professionals told me I was right, the doctor who determined if we got to leave or not made a proclamation, so we had to follow it."
"The first time he was fed formula was against my will, so I'm not sure this will help much. I made it extremely clear to the hospital staff that I intended on breastfeeding exclusively. [My son] was born at 2:56 a.m. and was hungry by 6:00 a.m that very day. The nurse, in her infinite wisdom, thought it would be better to let me sleep! It took two days to get him to latch on after that, and after one very dedicated nurse/lactation consultant sat with me for a total of six hours the following day to get him to feed from me correctly. We ultimately went to supplemental feedings because I was not producing enough. I still blame that nurse till this day."
"I think it's kind of sad that it made me feel sad and like a failure to supplement. With my firstborn, I read every book I could get my hands on and talked to everybody else and took everybody else's advice about how to feed my baby, specifically, breastfeed her. [My daughter] and I could never get comfortable.
It was a struggle from day one. I had everything I read and everything everybody told me in my head and we just couldn't find our own groove. I had all these echoes of everybody else's stuff in my head. She was miserable, I was miserable, and I was still trying so hard to nurse.
Finally, [my partner and I] gave her some formula. She peacefully ate and then peacefully slept. I continued to feel guilty. Continued researching breastfeeding trying to figure out exactly what I did wrong so I wouldn't duplicate it. Then my son came. I was just like, 'Here's a boob, kid,' and he was like, 'Great, thanks,' and that was that. We just did our own thing. Formula feeding for the first time came with a flood of guilt, sadness and failure. Which is ridiculous. Fed is best."
"Felt like a complete and utter failure because my firstborn would not latch on and I found out later (with my second baby) that I am not a good milk producer anyway. We had super crappy 'support' and 'advice' from people who were supposed to be able to help.
[My son] cried and cried for days. I cried for days. Breastfeeding did not work. I realized the stress was not good for any of us so we went ahead with a formula feed and then it was relief.
Although my son had reflux and the whole feeding experience when he was young wasn't great, I felt like the formula was missing something but I couldn't provide him anything else. I felt like a failure because I wanted to breastfeed.
I do believe mothers should provide for their babies (bottle or breast) however it works for them, but women shame others who can't breastfeed so that was hard to deal with at first. With my second baby, we had actual good lactation support and learned strategies. She breastfed for nine months but we had to supplement since I wasn't a super producer. Still, I felt redeemed somewhat."
"Well, using formula was a bit of a relief. I didn't use it much, because I preferred breastfeeding, but at a certain point after [my son] started walking (at 9 months old) he was too engrossed with moving to sit still and nurse. So I started drying up, even with the pump, and at that point he preferred a bottle because he could eat on the go.
"With [my daughter], I only gave her formula once or twice. She hated it. Wouldn't drink cow's milk either. That's when we started realizing she might be lactose intolerant."
"The first time my son got formula, [my son] was 3-days-old, in the emergency room at 3 a.m. after he wouldn't stop screaming for hours and hours. In the ER they thought my baby looked OK and was probably just hungry. They gave my husband 2 ounces of formula to feed our son and he stopped crying, chugged it down, and immediately went to sleep.
I felt like a horrible failure and was really shocked and overwhelmed because all the 'research' I did, and the stomach size infographics I read, made it sound like babies barely needed any food for the first few days. One of the nurses was trying to make me feel better and said something about how in the long run it can be nice for a baby to be able to take a bottle of pumped milk or formula (so I wouldn't have to be with him 24/7 or so I could sleep more). I was so rude to her and I wish I could go back and apologize!
Anyway, after a week of the most stressful time of my life and coming to terms with the fact that my baby had no interest in latching and I could only pump a few ounces a day, I decided to exclusively formula feed. I was still embarrassed to post any bottle-feeding pictures on social media for a while, but I pretty quickly realized how untrue and ableist most of the stuff was that I had previously believed and it made me pretty confident.
My son is 3 now and I'm so grateful that I live in a time and place that safe, nutritious baby formula (amazing science milk) is an option!"
"I never did because I was afraid I would be failing [my daughter]. Did she ever go hungry? No. But I was at a point of complete exhaustion and should have not been so militant towards myself? Yes. Fed is best."