On Pumping and Bottles, Formula and Shame

On Pumping and Bottles, Formula and Shame

As I type this, I am currently attached to a hospital grade double breast pump, listening to the rhythmic sounds of the pump as my milk fills the bottles.

In some ways, the journey to this place has been a whirlwind, well off the path I planned to take. But in hindsight, I can see the landmarks we passed along the way.

***

First, a few things you should know:

Other than 1 or 2 attempts at a bottle with our oldest (with the idea that I could sleep in on weekend mornings and leave her with babysitters, neither of which I ever actually did!), none of our girls ever had a bottle or any milk other than mama’s milk in their first year of life. I actually had a post draft started to let other young moms know that — like sleep issues — it’s okay if that was the approach they wanted to take since many people view pumps and bottles as new mommy must-haves.

Also, if anything, I follow more of an “attachment parenting” philosophy with Jackson than I ever did with our girls, as anyone who follows me on Instagram has probably already guessed. We cosleep. He naps in my arms. Sean and I both wear him for several hours each day. In general, I worry less about schedules and spoiling the baby and all of that other stuff and just focus on cherishing the moments big and small.

And yet…he is officially our first baby to not only get pumped breast milk but to have formula as well.

You should also know that I was formula fed, and while I suppose I might be a better “finisher” and more extroverted if my mom had breastfed me (cue the sarcasm), I was rarely sick as a child, I have always been a healthy weight, I graduated summa cum laude from college, and I am very close to my mom. So I’ve never really been biased against formula other than because of the cost and extra work involved.

I’m aware that there may be backlash on writing this post (and honestly have already seen it a bit from well-meaning but opinionated friends and acquaintances). And I know there are options other than formula. But here’s the thing: it’s easy to have opinions about what someone else should do, but every parent has to make the decisions that they feel are best for their family.

***

Now, for our story:

At 6 months old, our previously chubby baby began to slide rapidly off the growth charts. All of our babies have been tiny, so the 25th percentile wasn’t concerning in itself, but when he dropped further to the 5th percentile within a couple of months, our radar was on high alert.

When we’d first noticed the slowdown happening, I’d started nursing him on demand around the clock, even as often as every 2 hours all night long. But it didn’t seem to make a difference.

The slowdown in his growth combined with some digestive issues he had when eating solid foods (which he loves, can handle mechanically and practically begs for) sent us back to our pediatrician in between well visits, where we saw an even bigger drop in his growth curve. {And he eventually stopped gaining weight altogether.)

Rather than run pointless tests without any idea of what might be going on, our pediatrician (whom we absolutely adore and has walked through other scary events with us) sent us to a pediatric GI.

While the digestion issue is one we want to address, our biggest concern is really his weight. Babies need plenty of fat in the first year because it assists with brain development, and falling off the growth curve so drastically is a sign that he’s not getting enough calories or fat in his daily diet.

As I was processing everything the doctor said and what we needed to do, I realized that I had had nagging doubts about whether he was eating enough along the way. In addition to being a lightning fast nurser (about 4-5 minutes per feeding) it’s always been hard to get him to take more once he gets distracted and easy to soothe him if it seemed like it was too soon for him to eat again. He’s also become much fussier over the past few months, and I wish I could look back and see if that coincided with the slowdown in his growth.

Within two days of beginning a bottle of half breast milk/half formula, we saw differences: he rarely cried — or even fussed, really — except for when he bonked his head with a toy, couldn’t reach something he was after, etc. And, most notably, he suddenly had more energy and even seems to need less sleep.

On Pumping and Bottles, Formula and Shame

You know what didn’t change? Our attachment. He still sleeps cuddled up next to me. I still find myself staring at him while he eats, occasionally catching his eyes as I coo and murmur to him. He still snuggles in close while he drinks, slowly drifting off as his belly gets full.

And now? A week after starting formula, he’s taking his bottles like a champ. He’s still not eating as much as I think he should be (and pumping has proven that the problem is not with my milk supply but with his appetite), and I have a feeling that the doctor may have us increase the powder-to-liquid ratio after he reviews his most recent feeding log.

I’m still getting used to hooking up to a machine 4 times a day, and I’m slowly building a freezer supply of milk to ensure that we’re able to continue to give him half-and-half bottles for as long as possible.

{We are still nursing once at night because I will hold onto my lazy mom ways for as long as possible, which does not include getting out of bed for a bottle in the middle of the night!}

And I’m at peace.

I love feeding him a bottle. I love watching him try to hold it himself. I love when he pushes it toward my mouth so that I’ll playfully pretend to gobble it down. And I’m thankful that we live in a time and place where we have specialists and options available to us to help our little guy get the nutrition he needs!

***

So why am I telling you all of this? Quite honestly because Brene Brown told me to.

Okay, she didn’t tell me that directly, but as I was reading Daring Greatly (about vulnerability, shame and wholehearted living), I realized — despite being notoriously open about our life on social media — I was hiding the fact that we started formula simply because I couldn’t handle the pushback from those who may believe we’ve made the wrong decision.

The truth is that I know deep down in my heart of hearts that this is the best solution for us. I haven’t had a single regret since we made the decision. But I was still letting shame take hold of me because of other people’s opinions. And Brene says that words are the only way to banish shame.

So these are my words.

Have you had to make hard parenting decisions? Have you ever had a baby drop of the growth chart? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Krystal Griffin

    Oh, Mandi – sweet mama who loves her children and wants only the best things for them – you’re doing a great job! Every time I see a photo of Jackson I am praying you find answers and healing.

    I have been there with the hospital grade pump, 9 months of it. I’ve been there with formula too. And do you know something about the formula? It wasn’t a medical choice. I wanted to get pregnant again. Simple as that.

    My tough parenting choices these involve the possibility of sending one child, not all four, to public school. My first deterrent to doing so involved what other people might think of me and disappointment in myself. But as I’ve talked about it a little there has been support and love. Don’t get me wrong, judgment too. But I can deal with that when there are at least a few supporters.

    • http://www.thewarriorwives.net/ Elizabeth @ Warrior Wives

      Hey, you know I was homeschooled my whole life and so were both my sisters, but my parents sent all my brothers back to public school at a certain point. You have to do what works for that particular kid. I’m a supporter!!

      • Krystal Griffin

        Thanks, Liz!

  • Laura

    To borrow a dear friends hashtag #screamingfreedom. Proud of you Mandi, you are an amazing mama and you have made a choice that is best for your family full of faith for what God has in store. From that we can all learn a lesson about not measuring ourselves according to each other’s “choices” but rather letting love have the final say. ❤️

  • http://www.thewarriorwives.net/ Elizabeth @ Warrior Wives

    Oh I’ve been there with the criticism and shame. After my first very necessary c-section and subsequent choice to just continue having them, I got “Don’t you even WANT to try a VBAC?” No. No I don’t. I gave up nursing my first when I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with our second. Our 2nd only had about 10 weeks of breastmilk because he started screaming through every feeding and I could not figure out the problem. I beat myself up for a whole year for giving him formula especially since he ended up with so many ear infections he needed tubes (which nursing is *supposed* to prevent). And I gave up nursing our 3rd at 9 months too. I just hate it. It’s really hard to not feel shame about choices that many moms are so vocally against (like the article you posted yesterday about the vaccines). In some ways, though, feeling the shame has helped me to become less judgmental and just let other moms make their choices without commenting like I would have before. We’re all just doing what is best for our families!

  • Lori Asperschlager

    Mandi, I’m so glad you shared your story. I think you are doing the right thing for Jackson and for your family. I’m so glad for you.

    I’ve got two daughters, a 5 year old and a 4 month old. I had a difficult time (yeast related issues/pain) with nursing my older daughter but stuck with it for 16 months. I’m so glad I could have that relationship with her but I also know the stress the pain caused me. I which I had treated myself better and realized I could have stopped nursing and we (her and I) would have been okay. Knowing what I went through the first time, helped prepare me for the second time of nursing. In the beginning, when my daughter was just a month old I had some problems with yeast again but knew better what to do and get help. I had planned to stop nursing full-time before returning to work to eliminate some of the yeast issue/pain. We tried several times to get her to take a bottle with formula and she just wasn’t doing willing. It was a huge stress for me at the time, thinking about returning to work and sending her to daycare not prepared for her to take formula from a bottle (breastmilk by itself in the bottle was fine with her though). In the end, about a week before I returned to work I realized I would be less stressed if I just continued nursing and not switch her to formula. I would manage any issues and pain I came up against. And maybe more importantly I would be willing to change course down the road if need be. I think that’s the biggest take away I’ve learned, the path I start out on may not be the one I end up on and it’s okay. And my mental health and physical health shouldn’t be discounted either. I don’t know what the future holds for us and our nursing relationship. I still have some issues daily and I have to remind myself to be smart about it and to be kind to myself as well.

  • Erin Boyd Odom

    You know what, Mandi? I am proud of you! I wrote a post last fall called “Dear Mom Who Tried to Breastfeed and Thinks She Failed.” I won’t post it here but will email it to you. I am very pro-breastfeeding (as I can tell you are!), but sometimes life happens! I really tire of the super crunchies (natural) among us who give no grace.

    Honestly, I often wonder if I should have been more pro-active with Hannah (my 22-month-old). She didn’t gain much weight at all her first year. She was born at 9 lbs. 2 oz. and was less than 17 lbs. at a year old.

    Mama knows best, and you are doing what is best for your boy! I love your transparency and personal touch on your posts this year!!

  • http://www.itsgravybaby.com Whitney

    As I read this article, I am currently hooked up to a Medela PISA. My first child was formula fed after several “booby traps” and the fact that I just didn’t understand how nursing really worked. My second child, I researched and was determined. She nursed until well over 2 and never took a bottle. I had every intention of doing the same with our third child. She had other plans. We were devastated to learn about all of her medical complications the day she was born. We had no idea- nothing was caught in any of our ultrasounds. She has Pierre Robin Sequence (a small recessed jaw, posterior tongue, cleft palate) so she cannot nurse. From day 1, I have pumped. It’s a love/ hate relationship. She underwent a tracheostomy because her tongue blocks her airway and g-tube placement for feeding at 9 days old and finally came home on day 20. I pumped and pumped. She developed reflux, quit gaining weight, began losing weight, and fell off the growth charts. We began fortifying my milk with formula and put her on reflux medication. She went from a lifeless, lethargic, constantly vomiting baby with big dark circles under her eyes to a thriving, happy, smiling, and energetic baby. Since she has been born, we have gone through job loss and a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer for my dad so stress has been high. I went through my entire freezer stash from her NICU stay and at 6 months and 7 days, I made her her first bottle of formula. I cried. I was angry that my supply had dropped so much. Now two weeks later, she receives 12-16 ounces of breastmilk per day and 8-12 ounces of formula per day and I’m okay with that. It’s actually kind of relieving to give myself break. The judgement over how we feed our babies is absurd. I have one formula fed baby, one breastfed baby, and one tube fed baby- they are all happy and well taken care of. Thanks for sharing your heart in this post!

  • Shannon

    Good for you! Leave the shame behind. Leave the shame for the people who judge and point fingers… they could use a little shame!

  • http://carrotsformichaelmas.com/ Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    You are such a devoted mom, Mandi. Of course you would make the best decision for Jackson! We fed Benjamin formula from month 4 on because his reflux was so terrible that he screamed through every nursing session and for some reason, digested formula better. Who knows if there would have been a way to change my diet and keep nursing, but with my first baby and working full-time and more sleep-deprived than I’ve ever been, pumping was pushing me over the edge. It was the best decision for our family, even if it wasn’t what I planned. And even though it made me sad, I’m glad I learned NEVER to judge another mama about how to feed her baby. It just killed me when anyone commented on him having formula and I never would want to make a struggling mama feel that way. Ever. I’m so glad you shared about this in your post because I’m sure it will help mamas out there be at peace with their decisions knowing that other good mamas have needed to alter their plans, as well. <3

  • Katie Engebretsen

    I was never able to breastfeed our 3 babies because of a medical conundrum, and it’s been a personal issue for me from the beginning. While some may suggest there are other options than formula, that’s not an easy path. With our daughter we had her on homemade raw goats milk formula, but took a lot of grief from our family and stressed us out worse. With our 3rd, I got connected to some local breast milk donors and he was able to have quite a lot of breast milk before we left Ohio. But that was not an EASY thing in any way. I had donors – who already had the milk pumped and frozen – back out for no understandable reason. The heartache that I went thru in getting the milk was *almost* not worth it. Now as we think about baby 4, I know it will be another emotional, truly spiritual battle for me to come to terms with the fact that I can’t feed my babies. Because I have no other option, I feel less shame about formula feeding, but I have to tell all of my new friends (as a military mama, I have to make friends often) my entire medical history – and about my firstborn’s first 6 months of life – before I get the pass. If I just say, “I can’t breastfeed”, in a lot of faces I see “Oh she’s just saying that. She could if she tried harder.”

    All this to say, even though your reasons for formula feeding are different than mine and different others, I’m still so glad you shared. I can’t speak for any other readers, but you ARE an influence in my life, and I feel peace when you share hard decisions that we all face. THank you.

  • Holly

    First of all, the picture of Jackson at the top of this post could be my 9 month old Ryan. Same bottle, same shirt, same hair. Baby twins! :) Secondly, thank you for this post. Ryan had trouble gaining weight while exclusively breastfeeding, so we supplemented with formula until I got Shingles when he was 5 months old and had to stop completely due to the meds I was on. I struggled with it a bit, but in the end I realized healthy baby and healthy mommy meant more than anything else!

    I think if anything, our struggles with breastfeeding (as well as my c-section) have given me a better lens through which to view other moms and to think twice before I judge their decisions. I don’t know what circumstances led to their decisions and can’t say what choice I would make in their situation, so I have no room to judge.

  • mmm619

    You hit the nail on the head when you said that “every parent has to make the decisions they feel are best for their family.” I’m glad your little guy is getting what he needs and is happy. I was 100% set on breastfeeding my son at least for the first 6 months and had hoped for a lot longer. When we left the hospital it was beginning to look like my hopes were going to present some challenges. The LC at the hospital wasn’t too helpful, but felt everything seemed to be ok with regards to my son’s latch, etc. Unfortunately when we went for his appointments just after leaving the hospital it was clear he wasn’t getting enough as his weight started declining quite rapidly. I tried many things that were recommended (looking back I probably should have sought out another LC and made an appointment but as a sleepless, worried, first time mom, I felt like I didn’t have time to do that) and ended up pulling out the pump and pumping in addition to getting the whole nursing thing figured out. He would get frustrated, I would get frustrated and after the first month, it was clear nursing wasn’t going to work. At that point, I started exclusively pumping and kept my goal of only breast milk for the first 6 months. I quickly developed a pumping routine and at the 6 month mark, I upgraded my pump and decided to keep going. I exclusively pumped for the duration of the first year and while it wasn’t what I had hoped for, it was the best decision for us and came with a few perks- sleeping for longer durations since he had a full feeding was the best! Thank you for sharing your story! I’ve concluded that being a parent is the most rewarding and challenging task all at the same time. We each do what we feel is best and have to be at peace with those decisions despite what others might thing.

  • Sara Kilpatrick

    Every mom needs to make the best choice for their child! Though I am a big supporter of breastfeeding, I know that sometimes it just isn’t the best option for a particular child (or a particular season) plus there are so many moms who just struggle with getting started. I was able to breastfeed my daughter for the first 6 months, but then my milk supply seemed to reduce (I was working full time and trying to pump, but I don’t think I was making as much as I needed). She did some breast milk and some formula for another 3 months, and at 9 months she went onto formula until it was time to transition her to cow’s milk.

    Though I would have loved to keep breastfeeding her until her first birthday, it just didn’t work out that way. I’ve known a lot of moms who have had to use formula for a variety of reasons and I have always supported them.

    My only issue is that the choice is made based on what’s best for the baby. I ran into one unfortunate mom-to-be when I was pregnant. She said that she was planning to formula feed her baby because she didn’t want it to interfere with her ability to go out at night (and party). I certainly hope she changed her priorities once he was born.

    Jackson has been blessed with a wonderful mom and family who are doing what they can to give him a great life!

  • http://www.quirkybookworm.com/ Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    My chunky monkey isn’t having weight problems; (As you know from my Instagram!) but goodness have we been having sleep problems lately. Something’s also definitely up with my milk supply, perhaps because I’m sick? I’ve been rather tempted to try formula a few times, not gonna lie. :) But I’m hoping a few more days of letting her nurse around the clock will get us back to some sleep.

    Anyway, glad you found what works for you and Jackson! (And bonus– perhaps you get a date night sans baby out of it?) :)

  • Katherine

    Oh I could write a book on this. All 3 of my kids ended up on formula, and I still feel like I constantly have to explain myself. It truly was the best decision though.

    My first and third I had supply issues around four months. My second I could tell it was starting to trigger some major overwhelm and depression, so instead of forcing myself to stick with it, I chose to quit at two weeks and focus on developing a healthy mental relationship with my child rather than a resentful one.

    Breast feeding has never been easy for me, both physically and mentally, and while I would love to do it for longer, I’m happy with the time I was able to do it, and I know that switching was the best choice for our family in each instance. Thank you for sharing your story! It’s always encouraging to hear from others who are pro-breast feeding but have switched. Makes me feel not alone.

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    I think one of the most difficult things about parenting is advice from friends and family with good intentions. Somehow they cause us to doubt our abilities as parents, even though we know in our heart of hearts we are doing the right thing. Thank you for having the courage to write this honest post. I think that we would serve each other well to offer more grace and support with less judging and criticism. In the end, we all have to answer for our own choices with our children so we should go with our gut. Great post!

  • Meggin Ball

    I’m reading this as I pump for my DD who is 12 wks. I’m a GYM that planned on breastfeeding at least a year if not longer. We practice attachment parenting and in was determined to make breastfeeding work. I didn’t realize all the problems we would run into from tongue and lip tie to supply issues due to labor complications. We had to switch to formula and expressed breastmilk so she would gain back her birth weight. It has been devastating and I’ve cried more than I thought possible. Im so scared that I’ll be unable to breastfeed our future children. :( Thank you for your honesty and transparency. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  • http://www.northerncheapskate.com/ Christina@Northern Cheapskate

    This brings back a lot of memories for me. I attempted to breast feed our oldest, but at about two months in – suffering from severe postpartum depression and double mastitis – I just couldn’t do it any more. I remember crying to my family doctor about it, and he said this, “If quitting breast feeding will make a happier person, then do it. Because if you’re happier, you’ll be able to be a better mom.” And he was right. It was so much better for us after that.

    When I found out I was having twins with my next pregnancy I decided to formula feed from the beginning. I didn’t care at all what other people thought – I knew that formula feeding would give me peace of mind, a chance to sleep, and most importantly HELP from my husband and family with feedings while I took care of 2 newborns and a 2 year old. You have to do what is best for you and your family, and no one should be judged for that!

  • Bess

    I mean….YEAH!!!
    I would have loved to have exclusively breastfed my son (now 11 months) but I had to have breast surgery at 16 and just could not make enough milk for him to survive. We turned almost immediately to formula (though I continued to pump a measly 1/2 oz. a day for 3 months so he’d have that bit at least). I know people who don’t know my medical history thought less of me as a mom because they saw I was giving him formula and that hurt a lot but, almost a year later, he is happy and healthy…and now eats solid food like there’s no tomorrow!
    Women need to stop beating each other up on this issue. Neither decision, either way, is an easy one.

  • http://educatinglaytons.com/ steflayton

    what a bummer to read the words “shame” in this post. Our 1st son came 2 weeks early and my milk NEVER came in. He was born dry-mouth dehydrated. We had no other options but formula and I’m thankful for that so he didn’t die! I was able to breast feed my 2nd son – for only 6 months before I became dehydrated and his weight began to slow / stall and we turned back to formula.
    There is no SHAME in that unless you’ve built a pride alter in being mother nature. But this is real life and these are our children!! God still loves us if we’re breast or bottle-fed. No one is asking that question at the pearly gates!
    And if those are your friends … ones who give to “backlash” … you might consider finding a better group of women to do life with.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      The thing I hate about the internet (among the many things I love) is it can be so hard to figure out tone and intent sometimes, but I kind of feel like you’re calling me out in your comment, and I’m not exactly sure why. Is it a bummer that there is shame associated with feeding choices? Absolutely. That’s why I wrote the post, because I refuse to live under it and I want to open the door for other women to share their stories and encourage one another. I think that’s happening a lot in the comments here, and I don’t think that’s a bummer at all!

  • Sarah D.

    So glad that you found something that seems to be working for your little boy! =) One thing that I was wondering, since your milk supply doesn’t seem to be an issue, is if baby could have a tongue-tie. A couple of my children have been tongue-tied and had issues nursing. Thankfully, the problem was fixed quickly and we avoided a lot of stuff down the road. Anyway, keep up the good work doing what’s best for your family! =) Hope you can figure out his digestive issues, too.

  • Brett

    In case you are interested in an option besides commercial formula, check out the Weston Price Foundation (just Google it). It has 3 different homemade formula recipes (I used the cow milk version because I didn’t have enough milk).

  • Nynke

    Hi Mandi, My son’s growth, he’s now 6 months old, stagnated frequently during the first months, where he would not grow at all, unless I fed him extra milk, which I got through expressing. It was quite scary, because he wouldn’t let me know if he needed more milk, at least he didn’t persevere :) looking back, I now know what his hunger signals were, but he was easily pacified and didn’t really seem to care.
    He didn’t go by the book at all and even lactation consultants agreed he was difficult to interpret. Many professionals actually told me he was doing fine, but I saw he wasn’t. I’m so glad I listened to my gut feelings this time around. Already being a mom, of a 4-year old daughter whom I nursed for 20 months, gave me so much more confidence to handle this one. And it seems you have that wisdom and experience too to know what is best for your little one!
    In my case, I expressed full-time to make sure he was getting enough, and I was producing enough and somehow he got the hang of it. I made it and I’m really thankful I’m still able to nurse him.

  • Aleah

    Others have shared, but I’ll jump in too. I was distraught at the thought of switching to formula with my daughter after I nursed my son through his first year. But the formula we used for her allowed her to grow, and I forced myself to focus on what we were gaining, not what we were losing. I think it’s very important to tap into your feelings, acknowledge them, and answer them. If you are sad or disappointed or even ashamed for moving to formula, allow yourself to feel that. Don’t push it away. Then respond. You are sad, but the switch is helping – hooray! You are disappointed, but you know you’re making the right decision – push forward. You are ashamed, but you know that those are expectations put on you by others and by yourself, expectations that aren’t necessary and aren’t required for being an awesome mom – move those expectations aside. For me, this was the best way to process what we were going through and not ignore my feelings about it while still keeping the course we had to keep.

    On a more humorous note, I saw a meme the other day that read, “I bottle-fed and I breast-fed, and before I knew it, they were all eating stale french fries off the floor of the minivan, and I was like, whatever, thanks for cleaning.” LOL!!

  • Faith

    At the end of the day, what is most important is not HOW our babies are fed, but that our babies are FED WITH LOVE.

  • Laura

    I never even attempted breastfeeding my girls. We did formula and bottles from the start. And I was ok with it because that was what was best for our family. You have to do what’s best for your family; no one should judge that – ever. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Mocksoup

    I supplemented with my daughter after losing my breastmilk while I relactated after a hosptial stay that decimated my supply, and my youngest son was formula fed from 9 months because I was put on a heavy duty medication that was unsafe for him. Something is off with Jackson’s appetite. You are feeding him formula the way that it was intended, as a food source when for whatever reason, breastmilk just can’t do it. He needs more calories per feeding, and that’s what you are doing. There is no shame in that, at ALL.