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On Pumping and Bottles, Formula and Shame

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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 co-sleep. He naps in my arms. Sean and I both wear him for several hours each day. In general, I worry less about schedules, spoiling the baby, and all that other stuff and just focus on cherishing the big and small moments.

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, I’d started nursing him on demand around the clock, even as often as every 2 hours all night. 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 have 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. 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

Do 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 (and pumping has proven that the problem is not with my milk supply but his appetite). 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’s 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 and watching him try to hold it himself. I love it when he pushes it toward my mouth, so I’ll playfully pretend to gobble it down. And I’m thankful that we live in a time and place where specialists and options are available 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. Still, 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!