Thursday, September 25, 2014

The right formula

I've debated for a long time about sharing this, but I've decided that it might help people who are in my situation.

Like most moms, I had a plan for how I would feed my babies. I had always heard that breastfeeding was best for the baby and helped the mom lose the weight quicker. I knew how expensive formula was from my years working in a grocery store, and I figured I'd probably have to supplement with twins — but I planned to breastfeed them as long as possible.

And then life happened. Henry and Norah came more than two months early, way before we expected them, and my body was completely out of whack. Not only was I recovering from the HELLP syndrome and trying to keep food down, I was an emotional wreck. I felt guilty about not being able to carry my babies longer, I worried about them in the NICU, and I was terrified about going home from the hospital and not being right there to see them.

When the lactation nurse came in a couple days after they were born and explained how to use the breast pump and told me I needed to pump every three hours to get used to nursing (once it was safe for them to be out of their incubators long enough), I was overwhelmed.

I pumped every three hours except for a few hours a night and visited the NICU at least twice a day, taking the tiny bit of milk I was getting each time so the nurses could feed it to Henry and Norah via a tube. The nurses were reassuring at first, telling me that I'd be getting more milk soon, and it was fine because my babies were only eating about 10 ml every three hours.

Of course, they got bigger and needed much more than 10 ml each feeding, but my body simply wasn't producing that. I still pumped every three hours, juggling NICU visits and then work — and I got more and more anxious and depressed that I couldn't feed my babies and wasn't producing any more than before.

I tried holding Henry and Norah skin to skin and getting them to latch, but they were so tiny and still weren't developed enough to know how to suck. While I loved feeling them snuggled against me, they hardly got any milk and ended up frustrated and hungry — which made me frustrated and miserable.

We worried about them getting too agitated and spitting up their food. Fortunately, they were learning to suck formula from a bottle and growing quickly on that, and we were feeding them the tiny bit of breast milk I pumped from bottles as well.

Everyone has a solution when you mention that you're not able to breastfeed. Nurses recommended without recommending (because they're not allowed to recommend vitamins and supplements that are not regulated by the FDA) fenugreek, and I drank cups and cups of mother's milk herbal tea. I was trying to drink plenty of fluids and eat well. Nothing was working.

When we finally brought Henry and Norah home from the NICU, we were overwhelmed with taking care of two tiny babies and worried that they would stop breathing or have other problems now that the monitors were gone. Neither Andrew nor I was sleeping much, and when I did have a break when Henry and Norah were sleeping, the last thing I wanted to do was pump and get less than an ounce of milk.

A few days after they came home, I sat down with my mom (who was there to help) and Andrew, feeling horrible that I couldn't get any milk and that I'd basically given up on pumping. Instead of making me feel even more guilty or telling me to keep trying, they told me it was OK to feed Henry and Norah formula.

My mom reminded me that I'd given them breast milk, even a tiny amount, for five weeks, and that it was incredibly helpful to building their immune systems with antibodies. Andrew told me that I'd done the best I could and that there was nothing wrong with giving them formula — especially since they were healthy and were growing so well on it.

When I decided to stop pumping and trying to get them to latch, I felt like an anvil had been lifted off my chest. The stress of trying to feed my babies when I simply wasn't producing enough milk was crippling, and I felt so much relief.

Unfortunately, one of the first questions women seem to ask new mothers is how breastfeeding is going. When I told them I wasn't able to breastfeed, I felt like they instantly had tons of questions. Why not? Did you try fenugreek? Are you pumping?

When they weren't asking questions, I felt (and I know that some of this was in my head) like they were silently judging me. Women are constantly told that breastfeeding is best for the baby and the mom, since it helps you lose the baby weight faster and bond with your newborn. I had heard all of it, too, and I understood why they might look down on me for feeding my babies formula.

Except that it really hurt. I was finally feeling relief about not breastfeeding, and all the questions about it made me feel worse. I was doing what was best for my family and my kids, and I knew my babies were getting the nutrition they needed from the formula.

One of my neighbors came over a month or so after we brought Henry and Norah home, and I discovered that she had decided to exclusively feed her daughter formula and never even tried to breastfeed. She simply knew that it wasn't for her, and she was OK with it.

Talking to her made me realize that breastfeeding is absolutely a choice — and just like how I've decided to continue working full time, I can choose to feed my babies formula and shouldn't be judged harshly for that.

Do I think breastfeeding is a good thing? Absolutely. I think it's amazing that your body is supposed to produce milk that's customized for your baby and protects him.

Do I think formula is a good thing? Of course! Formula has been an incredible blessing in our lives. Though it's expensive and can be inconvenient to have to constantly run to the store, it allows Andrew and I both to feed them and makes it much easier to take Henry and Norah to daycare. It also allows us to see exactly how much they are eating and protects them from the daily medication I have to take that could be transferred through breast milk.

There is no reason to "mommy shame" or ask a new mother personal questions about breastfeeding, and there's definitely no reason to feel guilty about feeding your baby formula. Every situation is different, and you shouldn't have to defend yourself to anyone.

I am so glad to see how quickly Henry and Norah are growing, and I'm not going to let myself feel bad for doing things a bit differently. Don't let yourself feel that way, either.


  1. I am always surprised at the "mommy shame" new moms encounter. We are supposed to be lifting each other up and supporting each other, especially for new moms who need it. Not judging. I see judging before the baby is born and it's even worse after. What works for one family is for THAT family, not everyone. There is no rule that all moms have to do x,y,z. Good for you for sharing this. Hugs!

  2. Isn't it awful what we do to each other? And if you did breastfeed them exclusively, people would nitpick you about when to wean. There's no way to win. First it's IF you breastfeed, then it's HOW, then WHERE and then sometimes it cycles again. It's so hard to believe in yourself and have the confidence as a new mom when casual comments--sometimes from complete strangers--can make you feel so insecure. I saw a quote on Pinterest that went like this: "I bottle-fed, and I breastfed, 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." -Joslyn Gray
    You're obviously a very caring mother with the best interest of her babies at heart. Go you.

  3. Yay! I am so glad that you were able to find so much relief and peace!! That is crucial. The longer I live, the more I learn how individual our lives are (and are supposed to be!) Don't let those people get you down. You know you're heart, and that's the ONLY thing that matters.

  4. Lindsay, I have always thought you are so amazing! The only shame is letting babies go hungry when there are so many options available and too much pride getting in the way! Your family is adorable!

  5. We grow up being taught to be ourselves, to be individuals. However, when we finally get there, so many of us want to be validated in our choices by convincing other people to choose the same. Shouldn't we allow them to choose their own path as we are free to choose ours? It doesn't make sense.

    Yet, I've had to stop myself from falling into the trap of looking at students with babies and judging them. I fall into the trap of seeing moms with kids less than 18 months apart and automatically assume they wouldn't want to be friends with me because I chose to have my girls 4 years apart.

    The first thing that I have learned from overcoming postpartum depression with my oldest was I needed to lower my own expectations and accept myself and the real picture I was living rather than the immaculate picture I had held onto in my head. I still look for things to improve, but I had to tell my inner bully to take a hike.

    The second thing was that while many do judge, more people say things in an innocent effort to make small talk and get to know you. They talk about what they know and the hard decisions they've made. They find a "problem" and they think they can help and offer advice. Most (but not all) of the time, I have been offended by people because I thought they were judging me and I read so far in between the lines that I found something that wasn't even there.

    Lindsay, you are a good person and Henry and Norah are lucky to have you. You will not do everything the way you had thought you would because you aren't perfect. No one is. They don't need perfect though, they need you. They'll grow up and be great people because they have the great examples you and your husband provide each day.

  6. Here you go - a recent study that shows the claimed benefits of breastfeeding are statistically insignificant when studying siblings raised in the same families, one breastfed, the other bottle-fed.

    Your aunt posted your story on Facebook and I had to respond. I was judged and shamed for not breastfeeding my children. But I had enormous kids (12 pounds and over at birth) and did not make enough milk for them. I was determined to do it the "right" way. My oldest son was never full, and constantly frustrated and crying. I was frustrated and crying. It was miserable for all of us. My husband pulled him away from me one night and gave him a bottle of formula. For the first time in his little life, my son was finally full. I didn't breastfeed him for weeks. Just days. I felt better when my breastfeeding advocate mom told me I shouldn't be doing it if I felt the way that I did. I needed to do what was best for me and my baby. My job was to keep him alive, and I was never going to do that just breastfeeding him. He would have starved and been malnourished - and I think THAT would have been far more harmful to his development than a bottle.

    No one can look at any baby or kindergartner or fifth grader or teenager and definitively know whether they were bottle or breastfed. You can't. Because the differences simply do not exist.

    My sister also had premature twins (boy/girl), and had to bottle feed one who refused to breastfeed, and could do some breastfeeding for the other. There is no difference between them. You couldn't guess which was which.

    You just do what's best for your babies and forget about the rest of the world.

  7. Great post! Loved reading your story. That is amazing you were able to do it for a few weeks - I don't know if I would have been able to stick it out that long with the frustrations you were dealing with and the pumping. Pumping colostrum.. I can't even imagine! Eden was a super sucker right away so my biggest issue was pain. It's so hard in the beginning, no one really talks about that as much! Anyway, glad you are happy and at peace with your decision, it's the perfect one for your family! -♥- Rachel (For the Birds)

  8. aww lindsay all that matters is that Henry and Norah are healthy and growing doesn't matter if they're on formula or breastfed as long as they're thriving. I agree that there is quite a bit of shaming and judgement around not breastfeeding. I think society forgets that it doesn't come naturally for everyone... that's why wet nurses existed back in the day!

    I had a sort of similar situation with Tavi, i don't think I wrote an actual post about it but it did come up in the comments on one. I was breastfeeding tavi and then I got severe mastitis. i was put on antibiotics that were suppose to have no effect on her but they did. So I had to introduce formula and we got a breast pump and i pumped regularly but I kept producing less and less milk. By the time I was done my antibiotics and was able to try breastfeeding again it didn't go well. tavi wasn't getting enough milk. I tried so much, went to a lactation consultant etc... and in the end I had to use formula or else have a sickly, malnourished child. As a mom i knew that was best for her even though it's not what I had planned.

    you did what's best for those babies and that's all that matters. you have no reason to feel bad about this!

  9. This post really makes me feel better. I am not a mother and don't plan to be in the next few years, but this "shame" has really started to worry me.

    7% Solution

  10. I'm on the same boat, Lindsay and though I didn't feel I was judged by other women, I still felt awful not to be able to breastfeed my daughter for more than two weeks. Somehow I felt I totally failed but when she started losing weight and wasn't latching as I was showed and suggested to help her, I knew that formula wass our next best friend. And it was till she started solids. There's no shame in not breastfeeding, it is a pure joy in watching our children grow and be happy. I believe it strongly. xxx


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.