On Failing as a Mother and What I’ve learned about Formula Feeding {Family Files}

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{Warning. This post will talk about boobs. If you aren’t into that, I won’t be offended if you skip this post and wait for the next one. I’ll be back in a few days with something non-boob related, I promise. Also, this post is lengthy. I guess I had lots to say.}

I announced last week that I wanted to start writing more about ‘family’ stuff. Well, there’s something I really need to get off my chest…and yes, it’s about my long journey to ditching Mom guilt and what I’ve learned about formula feeding.

When you’re expecting your first baby, you casually start reading things on the Internet about ‘being a Mother’ and inevitably you come across an adage regarding ‘feeling like a failure’. I balked at ALL of them. I told myself that I’d cut myself slack, know I was never going to be perfect and so long as my baby wasn’t starving, cold, sick or neglected – I’d be doing a-okay.

Man. Was I high and mighty. Because basically from the day Little Bird was born, I have felt like a failure at least once every single day.

Maybe one day I’ll write about Little Bird’s birth story, but for now let’s just say it started with a bang, was tempered by some good drugs, but ended with an emergency C-section. Within the first 48 hours of her life, we discovered she was pretty badly jaundiced AND had a significant tongue tie. The combination of that was a one-two punch that, to be blunt, SUCKED BIG TIME.

The jaundice meant she had to be incubated under UV lights and we couldn’t take her out except to feed her. It also meant we had to feed and feed and feed her because that’s the best way to get rid of jaundice. The tongue-tie meant she would not, COULD NOT latch to nurse. The C-Section meant my first time Mom milk supply was slow coming in. Fast forward to our first full night in the hospital and my baby was losing an unacceptable amount of weight and just would not nurse. After just 36 hours, she had lost MORE than 11 PER CENT of her birth weight. (Hint: That’s not average, normal or healthy)

After three days, one nurse recognized the dangerous path we were on and immediately provided us with supplemental formula. With the extra nourishment, Little Bird was doing better at kicking the jaundice and was starting to regain the weight. And I started to breathe a bit easier.

This should be characterized as a mothering win. I advocated for my baby. I knew something was wrong. I was aware of our physical limitations. But I still found myself falling into the guilt trap.

When the public health nurse came by the house a few days later, she insisted I show her ‘our latch’ and gave me three pages of notes on how to get Little Bird off formula as soon as humanly possible. When she left, I felt so uncomfortable. Like I’d forgotten to advocate for my family all over again.

What if I wasn’t worried about a blend of formula and breast milk? What if I invited the possibility of Dan feeding her in the middle of the night so I could rest? Where was the support if that’s what I wanted? Was I only being supported if we were trying to nurse 100% of the time? Family Christmas Photo

The doctors and nurses gave me nipple shields and coupons for more nipple shields. (They are these small plastic TORTURE devices designed to help babies latch to their mothers more effectively.) They told me to latch her as often as humanly possible. They told me to count how many ‘gulps’ and how many pauses.

They told me to squeeze, pump, push, pull, compress, decompress, let down, buck up – don’t FAIL.

Well. We squeezed, pumped, pushed, pulled, compressed, decompressed, let down and bucked up… and still.

Little Bird wasn’t gaining enough weight. We were at the doctor’s office twice a week to weigh her. It was clear to me the nursing wasn’t enough, but every time I’d brooch the topic, I was met again with ‘just keep trying’.

This is ideal. They’d say. This is BEST. Grin and Bear it. (<– I found that to be the most condescending of comments.)

Do you want to know how many latches were humanly possible? 26.

26 latches  in the middle of the night when Little Bird was just shy of three weeks old, my nipple burst open like overripe melon and bled all. over. my baby. me. my bed. ALL OVER.

You know what’s almost as traumatic as an emergency C-section?

Bleeding from your breasts. Wait, no.

Bleeding from your breasts while feeling like everyone is telling you that you SUCK at feeding your baby while you know there is an alternative that no one will really talk to you about or teach you how to do properly.

I had a pre-scheduled check-in with a public health nurse the next morning, so I mentioned the bleeding and that I was hitting a wall. She said to take a break and try nursing again in a few days when the scabs had healed. She said to pump every single time I gave Little Bird a bottle to ‘ensure success’ when I restarted weaning her off formula.

I got off the phone and bawled. I was losing my mind. Slowly. Like a drip from a broken tap. I couldn’t just sit there and wait for scabs to heal over and try again.

Little Bird was feeding almost every two hours at this point. Giving myself a few days to heal would mean prepping bottles to feed, prepping bottles to pump, feeding, pumping, washing, sterilizing, repeat. That was WORSE than just doing one or the other.

When was I supposed to sleep? When was I supposed to actually enjoy my sweet baby? When I was supposed to stop feeling like a s***ty Mom??

Oddly enough, it was my Mother (and not a licensed health care professional) who saved me and Little Bird from falling off the edge of nursing induced insanity and starvation.

She said “No one can say you’re not doing the right thing. You’ve pushed harder than a lot of mothers push. You know what she needs. Feed her, cuddle her and fatten her up. Breathe and just start giving her bottles. Just be her Mamma.

So we moved to a 60-40 formula/nursing split. Eventually, she started only asking to nurse to pacify her between regular feedings. She is now 13-weeks old and this is still how we do it.

And it’s OKAY.

Even after all the heartache, I still didn’t feel comfortable talking openly about how I was feeding my baby. Too many voices were standing out there, like rabid dogs, waiting to tear down my choices and highlight my failures. Even if it’s unintentional, the daggers that come alongside well-meaning advice with respect to breastfeeding (or NOT breastfeeding) hurt like hell. I mean, there are dozens of ‘nursing support’ groups out there and a multitude of places for mothers to commiserate about nursing in the middle of the night, cluster feeding, nursing while co-sleeping, nursing in public… but none for the Moms who quietly decide to do it another way. (Many of whom probably fought hard to feel okay doing so.)

Little Bird is chubby and happy. And she gets at least one bottle a day from her DADDY, which to us, is insanely important.

I’ll get over it. Because I know I can’t be alone. There have to be other Mammas out there with similar experiences. I just wish there was a louder voice for us or a club or at least a t-shirt or something, you know?  Being a new Mom is terrifying and wonderful and the cloak of guilt is just unnecessary.

Here’s what I’ve learned about formula-feeding:

  • If you are formula-feeding under two-months of age, it’s recommended you feed only Ready-Feed formula. We fed Little Bird this kind for the first eight weeks. It’s NOT CHEAP by any stretch, especially as you reach eight weeks and your baby is eating sometimes 4-plus ounces at a time. So if this is your plan (ahem, or even if it’s not your plan), budget accordingly.
  • If you want to both nurse and formula-feed and even pump if you want to relieve pressure, you can. I did for the first eight weeks or so. We bought this pump set and I like it (as much as someone can like feeling like a dairy cow). It’s not too uncomfortable and the pressure/pull was decent enough. It was easy to clean and sterilize too and the carry-all case made it easier to haul from room-to-room.
  • I heard a lot about nipple confusion, but we didn’t have an issue with it at all. In fact, Little Bird will take any bottle we give her. We have been using a combination of these and these (mainly because I had purchased some beforehand and then some just came with the breast pump kit).
  • Our bottle drying rack was the best post-baby purchase. Seems silly, but boy oh boy, is that thing handy as heck. (I think our bottle routine is worthy of a post all on its own, so I will work on that for later on.)

Ladies… Just be your baby’s Mamma…. that’s the best advice I received and that’s the most heart felt advice I’d ever dare give to you.




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20 thoughts on “On Failing as a Mother and What I’ve learned about Formula Feeding {Family Files}

  1. I’m totally slow clapping for you right now, Mama! Breastfeeding really is AWFUL sometimes, and I don’t believe it’s always possible — especially with challenges like a tongue-tie and jaundice. I breastfed both of my babies and did get over the (horrendous) pain and bleeding after a while, BUT there were MANY times I wished I was formula-feeding. It’s hard to be the one-and-only person who can feed the baby, it sucks your partner can’t help with it, it’s exhausting to be nursing ’round the clock, and there are lots of times when you don’t WANT to stick your boob in someone’s mouth because OW. Looking back, I put too much pressure on myself. Good for you for doing what’s best for you and that sweet Little Bird!

  2. Oh, Erin!!!!!! This was me with Oliver!!!!! I knew there was something wrong in the hospital when my nipples had completely spilt open, but no nurse or doctor ever noticed a full tongue tie, lip tie and high pallet. At 6 months the specialist said “your nipples must have looked pretty awful, huh?!” YEAH. But I was supposed to KEEP TRYING. It got to the point where my blood would boil when I heard him cry. I wanted to throw him out a window every time he latched. Holy shit, the guilt. The tears. When I finally gave him his first formula bottle I was shaking like I was pouring poison down his tiny little throat. WTF. Why must we feel this way? You are amazing, Erin! And so brave. I wish I’d known you were having such a hard time. But really, there’s nothing anyone can say (except your own mommy!) that will make you feel any less guilty. I think it’s just a road you have to travel on as a new mom. A shitty gravel road that might pop your tires and toss rocks at your windshield. But at the end of the day, you are keeping a tiny infant alive and you’re rocking it. And the middle of the night daddy feeds are truly the best. I ended up pumping until Oliver was 1 and got my supply up so high with natural milk increasers that once he was having food at 6 months, he was nearly completely off formula and on breastmilk that I had pumped. Pumpin’ aint easy, but it was sure a heck of a lot better for my sanity. If you’re not healthy mentally, it really doesn’t matter what your baby eats! So much love to you, Erin!

    1. Oh man… I had the ‘recoil at the crying’ reflex too. I realized every time LB cried because she was hungry, my whole body would go stiff… once I became aware of that, I started talking about it to my family and that’s what ultimately helped us change directions…I knew it couldn’t be right for me to feel physically repulsed at the thought of feeding my sweet girl!

  3. Wow, just wow! You brought me right back to my nursing beginnings and pregnancy really, all of the “helpful” tips and horror stories! Brutal! The nurse that “helped” me with my Babe grabbed my breast and manhandled it, irritated with me for doing it wrong… Thank God for Bud, he saw my tears and demanded she leave. Then he talked me down and basically gave me the same advice your smart Mama Bear Gabe you! For people to judge how you feed, either way makes me furious! I’m just so glad that 26 years ago there was no internet to add to all of that noise. You are very clearly a loving Mama bear, your heart is wonderful and I feel like your own Mom should be so proud of the women she raised! xo

  4. Oh Erin! I feel your pain. My girls are 12 & 14 and I’m still feeling guilty because I couldn’t keep nursing them past 3 and 6 months. It just wasn’t working. They weren’t getting enough milk at all and my nipples were raw! Bring a mom is SO tough as it is and we’re so hard on ourselves. You have to do what works for you. You’re the only one who knows what’s best! Hugs!

  5. Oh Erin! I know all too well what you went through. My first dropped 14% by day 3 and didn’t get back to birth weight until a month old. It was so tough and I struggled so much too! Clara had a lip tie and tongue tie that no one diagnosed until she was three weeks old. Those first few months were the toughest months ever feeling like I was a bad mom if we went to formula feeding only. I felt so alone and like everyone just expected me to keep trying and eventually it would all click. I feel like I missed out on enjoying those early months because our soul focus was feeding every two hours. Nurse, pump, formula…rinse and repeat. Thanks for sharing your story!! I’m sure it will help some new moms out there.

    1. 14%! That’s about what LB dropped too… so hard to see them be so tiny and going through that. Glad you and your sweet family made it through!

  6. You are definitely not alone! My experience was similar. I breastfed for 16 days and it felt like months. I cried all day ,every day and was in so much pain. The lactation consultants made me feel like there was no reason why I “couldn’t or shouldn’t” breastfeed. The guilt of stopping was the hardest part. I felt like an absolute horrible mother. Having my husband be able to help with feedings was also very important to me so I understand completely.
    Being a new mother is stressful enough as it is and is an absolute crazy ride. I think we should be proud of ourselves for doing what is best for not only our new little babies but also for us as parents.

    1. It just doesn’t seem fair that we get to a point where we resent our child or our family. It’s so key to listen to our inner instincts and just do what is best to get the job done 🙂 Thanks for the comment Christine!

  7. Oh Erin, what a horrible experience. Can I reassure you that you will lose that guilt as time goes on. 38 years ago I was in the same situation and now? Well, I am proud of myself of getting my gorgeous son through jaundice, a spell of tube feeding in the baby ICU because he had lost 25% of his birth weight and a breast abscess from using the pump. In those days I was kept in hospital with him so we did not get home for 3 weeks. On the 5th week with the other breast starting to get ultra sore I gave up altogether on the breast feeding stuff and put him on formula, whence he started to thrive.

    These so called experts and their mantra of breast are best are fine if nothing goes wrong. But sometimes Mother Nature does not help us. Now I have a robust son who has rarely had a day’s illness and I am so proud of him and the nurturing I gave him.

    Please do not beat yourself up about this. You are a fantastic Momma and your Little Bird is very lucky to have you. Pat yourself on the back for insisting that things were not right. Now, relax and be a great Mom. Smiling. Did you know it gets worse??? LOL. That first day at nursery, kindergarten, school…….. wow those were difficult! Don’t look forwards or backwards. Enjoy the day as these days swoosh by at a rate of knots.

    Love from the UK

  8. Bless your heart! I had several of the same issues with my babies (I have three.) Now they are 16, 13 and 10 and they are wonderful kids! It is so hard to let go of the fear that we’re not doing everything we should or could, but honestly, you are doing an amazing job and I’m so glad your mom helped you through this time and encouraged you to be the mother your little girl needs! Speaking from experience, there will be many more times you question your ability as a mom, but try to remember that God gave you this child, He chose YOU to be her mother and you can do it! Much love and a big hug. <3

  9. Do what is best for you, and don’t worry about what everybody else thinks. I nursed my first, and when I went back to work when he was 2 months, I pumped and supplemented with formula. We lost our second a few hours after birth, so they gave me drugs to dry up the milk I already had. I wish I had known about donating breast milk, but that was 1984. I was able to stay home with my third, and nursed her for almost a year. When my first granddaughter was born, her mom was only producing drops of milk (but we did not know it). Baby lost about 10 oz and was screaming, till I told her we needed to supplement with formula. Baby was also jaundiced and spent 24 hours under the lamp. My DIL tried to pump, but never got very much. When my second granddaughter was born, she spent her first 16 days in the NICU. My daughter is type 1 diabetic and baby girl’s sugar dropped to 20. She was not producing enough milk because of both a c-section and Sjogren’s Syndrome. The NICU put baby girl on a glucose IV and introduced formula, which was necessary. But she was allergic and they had to switch formulas. She also has bad acid reflux. My daughter was able to nurse some in the NICU, but by the time baby girl got home, she was confused. She just preferred the bottle. So that’s what we do. My daughter pumped some, but when she went back to work, it was too difficult to keep going. When my first granddaughter was born, one of the nurses said, “No matter which way you choose, in the end, you have a happy, healthy well-fed baby. And that’s all that matters.”

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Cindy! These choices are truly personal… and we should all just support one another 🙂

  10. Hooray for you! You’re doing the best for your baby and yourself. My first baby refused the breast after just six weeks. I was devastated, but wanted her to thrive so she became a bottle baby. My other two were preemies who had breat milk for the first few months but were ALWAYS bottle fed. They are all adults now, well and happy.

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