Just as our journeys to motherhood come in different forms, so do our journeys through motherhood. Sometimes everything goes as planned; you get the pregnancy and delivery you want and plans you made for your baby come to fruition. But as we all know, sometimes it doesn’t go our way and things beyond our control take us places we didn’t expect go. Many moments in my early journey of motherhood were filled with tears and late night Google searches, desperately looking for the one “answer” to fix it all.
Before my son was born, I knew I would breastfeed. It’s the obvious choice, right? It was what’s “best,” as touted by moms, medical professionals, lactation consultants, the blogosphere, social media and the like. I did everything I felt that a new mother could do to prepare; I read books, took classes, and I had the determination. Geez, we even practiced on nylon boobs in class!
However, despite all the preparation, on day 4 of my son’s life, I became a formula supplementing mom– and by month 4, he was exclusively formula fed.
I’ve come a long way towards acceptance of being a formula feeding mom, but the part that remains the most difficult is the feeling that I need to defend my journey in order to prove that it was necessary, and that I had tried everything to make breastfeeding work. It’s my one hindrance in fully owning my experience.
I know that there are many other new mothers who are currently facing what I did 18 months ago, and it breaks my heart to know the tears they are crying and the dream they are laying down for the health of their baby. As mothers, we are strong and we are brave; we sacrifice and sacrifice parts of ourselves to take care of our tiny humans. But we are also delicate and sensitive; we hurt and need encouragement.
When at 4 months of age my son became exclusively formula fed, we honestly all became much happier, despite my personal heartache. Until then, I considered myself an “everything” feeder because I did it all. I nursed, supplemented, and pumped for EVERY feed. (Yes, I even pumped in the middle of the night! Your supply is greatest during that time). Then I pumped exclusively while continuing to supplement with formula and would still nurse him a little, mostly for the comfort and bonding experience. During my journey I tried just about every supplement under the sun, devoured kellymom.com, consulted with lactation consultants, OB’s, pediatricians, occupational therapists, and speech therapists.
I encountered amazing support, but I also was at the receiving end of well-intentioned comments and “advice” that were often so painful to hear:
- Lactation consultants and mothers who equated formula to the f-word told me that if I just trusted my son, I would produce milk.
- Moms in playgroups stated “formula feeding my baby is the last choice I would ever make for my child!” while chatting about what they’re doing to boost their supply, making it even more awkward when I had to pull out the formula bottle to feed my crying baby. “It’s just not a choice for me,” she added again.
- Complete strangers who stopped me in public and commented on my baby’s roly poly size, deducing that “he must be formula fed.” (He had more than made up for his significant weight loss and struggles to feed, and gained delicious and oh so kissable baby rolls and a double chin!)
- A pediatrician who had to look up how much formula my son should be getting because “most mothers choose to breastfeed.” The recommended range I received of 19-48 ounces was not super helpful.
- Other well meaning acquaintances who told me that if I “just visited kellymom.com” or “tried alfalfa,” things would improve because it “worked miracles for their friend.”
Thankfully, I found a couple of mom friends who had similar journeys. They were the rocks and support that held me together many days. Everywhere I looked, there was all this amazing support for breastfeeding moms (support groups, slogans, social media outcries rallying moms together to normalize breastfeeding), but I truly believe that deep down, many moms understand that sometimes formula is necessary for the survival of our children, but I also see that many moms still believe that it is always a choice and that if you just “work hard enough,” you can fix your breastfeeding issues and not have to use formula. Choice was part of our journey and it was the right one for our family after months of struggling, after all, I wanted to be a mother and I was already doing that.
Sometimes, you do everything under the sun and your journey takes you to a different place. Trust me moms, formula is not poison and while it might not have been the place that many of you wanted to be, it’s not a bad place to be. My rally cry is this:
Motherhood is hard, it is raw, and it is beautiful. Let us support and have compassion for one another.
So moms, when your friend says they’re having to supplement, ask “how’s it going?” or “how are you doing?” instead of “have you tried…”, because in hindsight many of us moms know that your intentions were to be helpful and supportive, but what we heard at the time is “you’re not doing enough.” And can someone please make a “Feeding Support Group?” There are so many breastfeeding support groups, but for the mother’s who choose not to breastfeed or that choice is essentially made for them, there is often no where to go and so many questions.
During this Worldwide Breastfeeding Week, let’s support ALL mothers and the journeys they are on; proudly nurse your baby in public and shake that formula bottle! Let’s celebrate motherhood!
Thank you for writing this. The more people who write about the struggles we face being “formula feeders” the more accepted and normal it will come. This could have been written by me, almost word for word.
This is beautiful, Amy. There are so many different circumstances we all face as mothers. I am glad you shared your angle and experience. It is helpful for us to all have some compassion for each other, and sometimes to just be silent and listen. Thank you!