Fed is Best: How I Fed My Baby – Part One

Baby Feeding Experiences

When I recently shared my experience with how I feed Marin I was incredibly moved by how many of you shared your own stories with me. One mother sent me a message detailing her emotional journey of trying to breastfeed that ultimately led her to formula feeding, and how she wished at the time she had other women to talk to, but she felt incredibly alone.

It made me realize that it was important to share all of your stories, because I truly believe fed is best. You need a happy mom to have a happy baby. We need to support each other’s choices and be there for one another. Thank you for sharing your honest experiences. I know this will help other women as they navigate motherhood. Part two will go live next week.


Baby Feeding Experiences

Hannah

I gave it a lot of thought before my son was born and I felt strongly that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed. I went into it feeling determined but also kind of doubting myself and if it would work for me. I took an online course through lactationlink.com (I would highly recommend!) and armed myself with as much knowledge as I could.

My son was born at 36 weeks, would barely latch, and anytime he did it was excruciatingly painful. He spent 7 days in the NICU and during that time I pumped around the clock but was producing very little. I brought what I had into the NICU and bottle fed him that and then supplemented with formula. I would try to get him to nurse but he got so frustrated and worked up and would then refuse the bottle. His discharge was contingent upon him gaining weight, so we tabled nursing for a while to make sure he would get what he needed from the bottle. We did skin to skin and then I would pump while my husband bottle fed him. He was discharged and we continued to pump/bottle feed for a while with the goal of eventually switching to nursing. I was constantly worried about my supply. I broke down one night because he was still hungry when we had just fed him. All I could think about was that I was “behind” on making enough milk for him.

I slowly started phasing nursing in, maybe once a day, but it continued to be extremely painful (even with a nipple shield). I heard so many things from different people – some saying that it does hurt, some saying that it never should, maybe my nipples just have to toughen up and it will resolve on its own, etc. The “lactation consultant” at my pediatrician’s office (who I later found out was actually a nutritionist, not an LC), brushed me off when I told her that it was painful, agreeing that “yes, it’s painful” without digging any deeper and told me that every 2 hours I should nurse while pumping on the side I wasn’t feeding on, and then pump the first side afterwards. Four months in and I’m not even that coordinated, never mind trying to do that all in the first few weeks. Besides, when would I have slept? I didn’t like her suggestion so I reached out to the LC at my hospital, who had been so helpful while we were in the NICU. Almost immediately she diagnosed him with a lip tie. I’ll add that my pediatrician had ruled out a tongue or lip tie at our first visit, and my LC said that lots of times they really don’t know what they’re looking for. We had the lip tie released at a pediatric dentist’s office and it turns out that was the cause of the pain I was having. Slowly I was able to work up to nursing him for every feeding. Now we’re 4 months in and I FINALLY feel confident that we have the hang of things. I had heard that breastfeeding can be hard but didn’t really get it until I was an overwhelmed first time mom running on zero sleep and stressing about everything. My husband was so supportive and very hands-on, and although he was there for me every step of the way, all the pressure still fell on me as the mom. It really wasn’t until I recognized that all of the pressure I was feeling was coming from me that I was able to relax a little.

Because this was something I really wanted from the beginning, I’m proud of myself for sticking with it. With that said, if it’s not for you then there’s absolutely no shame in that! Find what works for you and your baby and have confidence that you’ve made the right choice for you.

What I learned from all of this is that you have to advocate for yourself. You have to be willing to ask for help, and keep asking until you feel confident with what you’re doing. If the help you get doesn’t turn out to be helpful, keep looking! Nursing (or pumping, or however you’re feeding your baby) can be really hard, and when you’re doing it for the first time you’re probably going to need some help. That’s okay! You have to give yourself grace. Know that you’re learning, your baby is learning, and no one expects you to do this perfectly, so don’t put that that kind of pressure on yourself.

Catherine

For several reasons, I decided very early on in my pregnancy that I did not want to breastfeed. I struggle with anxiety and I knew that I would feel especially anxious while trying to breastfeed, and I also take medication that would have been passed through the milk. My best friend who had already had a baby last year exclusively breastfed and she was super supportive, but some other friends were not, which was something I did not expect.

During our first birthing class at the hospital, we were basically told that breastfeeding was the only option. They only talked about formula feeding as a last resort, which seemed wrong.  I felt ashamed after that class and worried about whether or not I was doing the right thing for my son.

I ended up having to have a C-section because my son was breech, and I cannot imagine having had the surgery and then trying to breastfeed during that recovery. I am so glad I made the decision early on about formula feeding and went through with it despite pressure from other people. One of my good friends is having a baby soon and she told me she felt comfortable choosing to formula feed because that’s what I did, so I’m glad I was able to pave the way for someone else in this experience. Formula feeding has allowed my husband to have more of a role, which was especially helpful while I was recovering from my C-section. He was always happy to take some of the middle of the night shifts and I was very fortunate that he was supportive about my decision to use formula. Obviously it can be expensive, but we have budgeted for it, and our pediatrician gives us free samples quite often which is a nice perk!

Overall I’ve had a great experience with formula feeding and I have no regrets. I think every woman has to make the best decision for herself and trust her instincts.

Stephanie

As I was preparing for birth, I honestly did not give much thought to breastfeeding.  I thought that I would breastfeed for 6 months or so and then when I went back to work I would try to pump but also would be okay with formula if it did not work.  Who knew the guilt and opinions and OPTIONS that would end up coming after my daughter was born!

When my daughter was born, she latched very easily, so I was lucky that wasn’t a problem.  I supplemented with formula in the hospital until my milk came in, which was around day 3 or 4 (the nurses luckily offered this to me, otherwise I would not have known to it).  The nurses also showed me how to pump in the hospital to help speed up my milk coming in.  This was useful because I had no idea how to pump!  Overall, everything was seemingly going well with feeding after we got home from the hospital.  But, when we went to our 2 week well visit, my daughter had not gained back her original birth weight.  The pediatrician suggested that I start nursing, pumping, and bottle feeding (“triple feeding”) every 3 hours during the daytime hours from 7am-7pm.  Every 3 hours was definitely challenging in the beginning because I felt like I was always waking her up to feed, or on the contrary, she was very hungry and wanted to eat in shorter periods than 3 hours.  During those times when she wanted more in between, I would feed her on demand.  But, overall, I do think that starting a feeding schedule earlier helped her with her sleeping (she started sleeping through the night at ~10 weeks for 10-11 hours straight).  I was lucky in that there was no nipple confusion with her – she was happy with either the breast or the bottle.  

While this worked in theory (she started gaining weight), this wasn’t sustainable for me as I was basically feeding and pumping all day.  During this first month, I also met with a lactation consultant at my home.  She observed a nursing session and weighed my daughter before and after.  During a 40 minute nursing session on both sides, she only took in 2 ounces of milk!  She thought this could be from a tongue tie, and advised me to see a tongue tie specialist.  So I made an appointment with a tongue tie specialist that our pediatrician recommended and in the meantime, read a lot of articles about tongue ties and talked to a lot of mommy friends/groups.  Clipping tongue ties seems to be a fairly new procedure, and while relatively safe/quick/easy, it seemed that there was not a clear verdict on whether this would help with breastfeeding.  The tongue tie specialist confirmed that she did have both a tongue tie and a lip tie, and recommended clipping them.  While it is a very short and fairly easy procedure (they do it right then and recovery is basically immediately), we decided not to do it as we didn’t see it as necessary based on some of the reading we had done.  Her tongue tie is not major and thus should not impede her speech later.  This is obviously a personal decision. 
At her one month visit, I decided that I would primarily pump and bottle feed.  I still nursed in the morning and before bed, but this was primarily for bonding (I always followed nursing sessions with a bottle).  

For me, the biggest benefits of bottle feeding (whether expressed milk or formula) were that my husband could help out and that I knew exactly how much she was eating at all times!  It was so nice to know how many ounces she ate and have that confidence that she was eating enough.  I also was able to “push” more milk to her during the day, to help her get full and start sleeping through the night.

However, there are downsides of bottle feeding/pumping: washing bottles and finding the time to pump during the day when she was awake.  V was fairly fussy in first trimester and I was not able to put her in swing/chair while I pumped so I had to pump during her short naps which once again, meant I had no time for myself. 

Around 11 weeks, I put my finger in my daughter’s mouth to see how her suction was and it was noticeably stronger than when I last did it at the tongue tie appointment.  So I figured I would try out nursing and see if she gained weight.  I ended up buying a scale and it has actually been very useful for these first few months (but yet just one more thing that is taking up space and that I will probably not use after the initial months).  She was now taking ~3-5 ounces each time with nursing and so I decided to go back to nursing only.  I am assuming the tongue tie resolved itself on its own– which I had read could happen with time.  We just had her 3 month well visit yesterday and the pediatrician confirmed that she is gaining weight appropriately.

For me, nursing is so much easier now, but I know that my situation is very unique.

Angela

With my first, I breastfed for three months and hated it. I was so happy when it ended. With my second baby, I did it for 9 months, 6 of which he only had my breast milk.  I slowly introduced formula and eventually stopped at 9 months.  It’s so tough and such a time commitment — plus, I wanted to continue for no reason other then I simply just kept on going. 

What’s interesting is that people weren’t super encouraging and asked when I was going to stop almost daily, something about pumping isn’t looked at with such respect as actually breastfeeding. 

Elizabeth

I had major issues nursing. I had a diagnosed over supply which caused me to have nipple pain and a crack. I ended up having to use nipple shields until it healed. I then went on to have a long nursing relationship to both girls. Looking back on this, I wish I had been more open to share my struggles but I thought I would be judged as not a good mother or that something was wrong with me for not being able to nurse easily. 

Once I went for help, I decided to be very open about my struggles. I also went back to work when both girls were 3 months so I had a long relationship with my pump. 

Philia

I have a nearly 3 year old toddler and 9 month old twins (they all share the same birthday-crazy)! My babies are all formula-only fed.

I took all the breastfeeding classes and was fully intending to breastfeed my baby. My breasts are/always have been a little uneven (one bigger than the other), and my doctor had said sometimes women don’t produce milk or only milk out of one breast if they have lopsided boobs, other times it’s just not even a thing and breastmilk is produced with no issues.
When my first son was born, he had to spend a week in the NICU, so scary, but ultimately everything was fine. During that time I tried so hard to breastfeed. I’d get like a milliliter (that’s 1 gram for reference, like a drop!), and the nurses and lactation consultants were trying to be so encouraging, but nothing was happening. It was very hard emotionally. People kept saying ‘breast is best’ and I got home and was trying to pump and breastfeed and nothing was coming out. I think I produced 5ml one day and was really excited. Because my son had been in the NICU, he was on formula, but I was trying to get some supplemental breast milk in too. I kept trying and trying and the schedule is just so demanding (have to wake up early to pump, clean parts, etc.) I felt like a failure and kept trying. I know stress can be a major part of it, but when something isn’t happening that’s ‘supposed to be’ happening, you get even more stressed– at least I do. I tried all the lactation cookies and lactation friendly foods and ingredients trying to get my supply to come in. I tried calling the hospital and asking for extra small parts, and they said they didn’t even make small parts like I needed (that hold less than 4 oz).

One day I was crying on the phone to my mom, and she said “I think it’s time to just put the pump away”. It was around 3-4 weeks in, and honestly, life was so much better afterwards. Best decision I ever made was to listen to my mom. My doctor said that I might need to use frozen cabbage leaves in my bra if I was just ‘stopping’ and that my boobs might be sore, but I didn’t need anything– I never leaked– basically nothing happened after I stopped trying to breastfeed and pump…because I wasn’t producing anything. 

When I had my twins, I knew from the beginning that we would be doing formula only. I cannot tell you how many nurses and doctors kept having me confirm that fact. Again I didn’t produce anything, but this time I felt zero guilt about it and it made for a less stressful feeding experience from the get go. Fed is best all the way.

It’s just bizarre that people (and usually other women) are so judgmental of one another. I don’t even understand why people ask how you’re feeding your baby – it’s like when people ask if you got an epidural or not…who cares? You delivered a baby!! You’re breastfeeding? Amazing! You’re using formula only? Great! You’re pumping? Awesome! You’re doing a combination?! Great…whatever is working, all power to you, you are feeding a baby and keeping it alive! I will say that my perspective has totally changed since having a baby. I’m now just in awe of women and what our bodies can do.

Sarah

I was so determined to breastfeed. For some weird reason, I’d always looked forward to the intimacy of it. Both babies were so hard in the beginning. My daughter was late but very underweight so I had to feed her all of the time but it didn’t come naturally to her for quite a while. My son was sent home with “a perfect latch,” only to lose weight and become jaundice. He nursed but was drawing milk, so he was in speech therapy at a couple weeks old. Oh how my nipples hurt! And bled because of his weird latch. It was a slog but both nursed very well after a couple months and we went 16, 18 total.

Michaela

I was VERY pro BF and thought I would never use formula when I was pregnant with my first. I took a breastfeeding class ahead of time and felt like I was prepared. Things were a little rough to start once my older daughter was born with the typical nipple pain, but as we started to get the hang of it around 6 weeks, I got a bad clogged duct that would not go away. It got worse and more painful and turned into an abscess which had to be opened and drained and packed DAILY at the hospital breast center. Everyone kept telling me I could continue to nurse and there was so much pressure but I literally had an open wound. Then I also ended up not only getting MRSA, but also I was allergic to the medication I needed for that and ended up covered in hives. In a fit of desperation I called the lactation clinic at my local hospital and the LC was SO kind and I was sobbing and she literally was like IT’S OKAY to go switch to formula. I sent my husband to buy a case and never looked back. It was so hard for me to see that it would be okay to switch but for my physical and mental sanity we fully switched to formula by 8 weeks and it was night and day. I was able to heal properly and enjoy my child.

In contrast, when I had my second baby, 15 months later I went right to formula (had a little trauma after my first and was NOT interested in nursing) and my OB was very supportive. She put up a sign on my hospital room to not ask me about nursing and was very “happy mom, happy baby”. It was such a great experience for me. 

People put too much pressure on themselves and there is a ton of societal pressure to nurse/pump and if that works for people, that is amazing, but people need to shift from their “breast is best” and “normalize breastfeeding” into just normalize any feeding and normalize supporting the mother. Sometimes it seems like the mother and their mental health is such an afterthought and there are so many improvements we could make in the US on this front. 

Allyson

My son will be three weeks tomorrow, so I don’t have a lot of perspective yet. But when I was pregnant, it always seemed like the options were either breastfeeding or formula, nothing in between. I’m so glad I saw your post about pumping, because I think it’s helped me keep a level perspective. That’s why I want to share my experience – in hopes that it could help someone else like you helped me. 

I am exclusively pumping, mainly because my son hasn’t latched yet. I have some ideas about why he hasn’t. First, my nipples are pretty flat (a month ago, I’d never thought I’d be so comfortable talking about my boobs so much!), which I know can be a problem for latching. My son is on the smaller side and his mouth is so tiny. Logistically, I can see why his tiny mouth is having trouble latching onto my flat nipple!

Also, due to circumstances beyond our control, I wasn’t able to meet my son for four days after his birth. No immediate skin to skin and no practice with breastfeeding in the hospital with the help of the nurses. He was given formula in the nursery while my milk came in (it took 3 days), which I had NO problem with. But I do worry that the time apart was a missed opportunity for us to initiate breastfeeding and now he’s just so used to the bottle. Part of this makes me feel like a failure, but I think that is this “mommy guilt” so many people deal with. I know that there was nothing I could do about this and I did everything I could while we were apart, which was pump. I’m happy to say within two days of coming home from the hospital, I was pumping enough to feed him exclusively breastmilk. I am super grateful for this as a lot of women really struggle to keep their supply up enough to feed their babies. 

We’ve tried a lot of different things to latch, with little success. I’ve still been trying to get him to latch, although I would say we are “casually” trying at this point. That means we try about once a day, until he or I (or both!) get frustrated. I had a meeting with a lactation consultant in the hospital and I have tons of resources to help me. But it’s almost too much info that I don’t even know where to start. It feels overwhelming, like I can’t deal with it. I feel happy just knowing Oliver is getting breast milk. But I also worry that I’m missing out on some important “connection” because we’re not spending that extra time close, skin to skin. We haven’t even done skin to skin time that much, because he hates being undressed and I feel like I don’t want to torture him more haha. This also makes me feel bad some days.

My advice to other women is – we are doing the best we can! (We being all mothers/fathers/parents.) Focus on what you can control and what is going well. Of course, we could always be “doing more”. That is a slippery slope of comparison. My whole hospital/delivery experience was not what I thought it was going to be – some good, some disappointing – but Oliver and I are happy and healthy and supported, so that’s all that really matters. 🙂

Joyce

I breastfed both my boys for about 6 months (nursing and pumping) and then slowly introduced formula as well.  They both started sleeping through the night around this time so it was nice to slow my production a little so I could have some rest.  I loved nursing for the most part, but found pumping to be a bit of a chore.  With my first, I feverishly washed all the parts every time and carefully air dried them.  With the second, I threw them in a plastic bag in the fridge often between pumps and it saved my sanity.

Both of my boys are GIGANTIC so it was really challenging to keep up with their hunger.  Both born at nearly 9 lbs and were well into the 20-30 lb range by 1 year old.  While nursing/pumping I wore a 32G bra (I am 5’6 and 115 lbs for reference) so I looked insane – Like some crazy blow up sex doll who could blow over with a light breeze because I was so top heavy.  By the time the summer came, I was ready to retire these titties!

I started by adding an ounce or two of formula to each breast milk bottle and slowly increased over time.  It was not easy with my second, he refused it for a long time – but my first took it easily.  Which is very on brand for their personalities now.  

Overall, I struggled with the guilt of introducing formula but then I realized that my sanity and happiness needed to be important.  It didn’t mean that I wasn’t putting them first – any parent knows everything we do puts our kids first.  The more relief I gave myself from that schedule, the more I felt like myself again.  And we know that being pregnant and having a newborn can really rob you of feeling like yourself, so it really helped me mentally and physically.

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9 Comments

  1. brittany wrote:

    feel like you’re missing a story about how someone breastfed, didn’t struggle, and loves breastfeeding. it’s frustrating to see breasfteeding portrayed as something that’s a menial task when not everyone feels that way.

    5.14.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      I shared the stories that were shared with me. If you have one you’d like to share feel free to do so in the comments or email me your experience.

      5.15.20 | Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Hi Brittany – that’s incredible that you’ve had a smooth and rewarding breastfeeding experience so far. I’m expecting my first child this summer and when I hear stories like yours I feel encouraged, especially as it doesn’t seem like there’s a shortage of wonderful breastfeeding success stories out there.

      On the contrary, I had NO idea how complicated breastfeeding could be and maybe wouldn’t have if I didn’t have mom friends who were forward about sharing in recent years or posts such as this one. These stories are also SO important as motherhood can otherwise be so isolating. The more we learn from one another, the less we have to pressure ourselves to strive for something that may not be the right option for any number of reasons.

      The point I hope I’m making is that you shouldn’t feel that your experience is lessened because others don’t share it. I’d assume these women don’t think YOUR journey is menial, just as I hope you don’t judge them in return. Each journey is different and a healthy mom and healthy baby is the most important goal.

      Sending lots of love to you and your little one(s).

      5.15.20 | Reply
    • Kelsey M wrote:

      Hi Brittany! You may have read the stories shared as depicting breastfeeding as “menial” but that is certainly not how I interpreted the above stories! Many of the women above expressed how they were planning to breastfeed and were even excited about it, but for many different health-related reasons, they were unable to move ahead with their initial plans. It’s important to remember we all interpret the information we take in with our own cognitive biases. If you had a wonderful experience breastfeeding, you could be reading the above stories through that filter and could have felt disappointed not seeing an experience you could identify with and therefore interpreted the stories as being “menial.” Another woman could read the exact same stories and find them inspiring and hopeful! If these stories don’t speak to you, try to remember these women are sharing vulnerable experiences with strangers and they’re brave for doing so! Looking at these stories through that “brave” lens might help change your interpretation of them. I hope you are able to find some stories you connect with, maybe not on this platform but somewhere else! Best of luck and sending lots of love and compassion your way.

      5.15.20 | Reply
  2. Kelsey M wrote:

    Thank you so much for sharing these stories (and your own)! I am not in a relationship and I don’t even know if I want children of my own, but my best friend is currently pregnant and I want to support her in any way I can! I had NO IDEA the struggles related to breastfeeding and just feeding babies in general. I assumed it all just came naturally. How naive! The silence and erasure surrounding women’s issues is so crazy and I had no idea how far it went. I can’t even imagine being a single mom or a woman without health insurance or a woman without the financial means or support to have to deal with all of these issues. Thank you again for sharing. So eye-opening and important.

    5.15.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      You’re a great friend. Honestly I was the exact same way until I went through it myself. There were so many things I just had NO clue about and the utter lack of support for women as we go through these life altering events was just as shocking. It’s just so important to talk about these things and offer support to each other in any way we can. And I could not agree more. I am so lucky to have healthcare, financial means AND support to deal with all of these things, and it’s still difficult. It just breaks my heart to think about the women that don’t have access to the care they need.

      5.17.20 | Reply
  3. Alex wrote:

    Thank you so much for this post. It has truly helped me – my baby is 4 weeks old today and reading these varied experiences helps me feel like I’m part of an open community, full of respect for ourselves and each other. Your sharing that you only pumped also helped me tremendously- I struggled with latching and breastfeeding at the hospital, and didn’t know that “only pumping” was possible. After 2-3 weeks we finally got the hang of nursing so right now I’m doing what I call “3 and 3” – 3 pumping sessions during the day, and 3 nursing sessions at night. This works for me because I don’t love pumping at night – organizing the parts + the time it takes to both feed her and pump has me up for over an hour for each feeding session, so nursing is simply more time efficient at night. That said I don’t love doing it (some latches are good but some are rather painful, also I love that my husband can feed her and I love knowing how much she’s getting from a bottle)…then during the day I have more patience and time to wash the parts and I can be a little “off schedule” from her feeding and just enjoy more flexibility about when I pump. Finally, I found that pumping really helped me increase my supply- the more I pumped the more came in – so I build up a bunch of frozen breastsmilk for when I go back to working full time. Hearing your experience Jess helped me understand I could create something that worked for me and didn’t need to be beholden to an “only nursing” or “only formula” approach. Thank you so much for putting this together, I feel so much more confident and calm hearing everyone else’s perspective and experiences.

    5.17.20 | Reply
    • Jess wrote:

      Congratulations on your little one Alex! It feels like it was just the other day Marin was 4 weeks old. I can’t believe she’s going to be 4 months. The time really does FLY. I’m really glad you were able to find something that worked for you and baby. Sending you lots of love. xx

      5.17.20 | Reply
  4. Marisa wrote:

    It was so great to read a story (Stephanie!!) about someone else who was told that their baby has a lip and posterior tongue tie and chose NOT to go ahead with the surgery. My husband and I went for a consultation with one of the top pediatric oral surgeons in NYC, but the whole thing just felt so contrived and like we were being pushed into it. We did a lot of research, and there were just so many red flags we came upon suggesting that for lip ties especially the surgery does not improve baby’s intake. I am EXTREMELY happy to report that despite the tie diagnosis, my son is now 5.5 months, exclusively breast fed, and thriving. I lived through the hell of triple feeding around the clock from weeks 4-10, supplemented with formula when I couldn’t get enough output from pumping, and quite literally spent half of every 24 hours either breastfeeding, pumping, or bottle feeding. Weirdly something just clicked with his latch, his suction power (almost like he just had to grow into his mouth), and my supply around week 11 and has been great ever since. I am so happy we trusted our guts and didn’t go through with it!

    5.17.20 | Reply