I have received a bunch of questions recently about losing pregnancy weight while breastfeeding…and it’s a question I can’t answer because my baby was exclusively formula fed. Like most new moms, I assumed I would breastfeed buuut like many aspects of parenthood, those assumptions were challenged by reality.
I realized I was going to have problems with breastfeeding almost immediately. I could see I was producing some colostrum (drops, really) but James never seemed satisfied. He would latch and feed for hours at a time, then seem unsettled and go back for more. While we were in the hospital, he cried all night, so I kept offering him my breast. At that point, I had been in labor for 39 hours, pushing for 3 and a half hours, and hadn’t slept in about 3 days. I was quickly losing my sanity. My instincts told me he was hungry and I think he spent so much time trying to feed he also was suffering from a lack of sleep. On the second night after he fed for two straight hours only to start screaming, crying, and rooting, I asked the nurse to get him some formula.
She did, but it was clear she was hesitant when she asked if I was suuuure a couple times in a row. James drank 20 ml in what felt like seconds, which was the most she said he could have. He seemed content for a few minutes before spitting up. She turned to me and said “that’s what happens when you use formula. Their systems can’t handle it.” I felt even more guilty for not being able to properly nourish my son.
I met with a lactation consultant the following day in the hospital. She was well-meaning but the experience was extremely frustrating. I felt like she was going into way too much detail about the most basic things. I was tired and uncomfortable. Both James and I were sweating profusely. When our session was wrapping up, she began explaining how to find more resources and then started to explain how to google information in excruciating detail, “You could go on a computer and go to google.com and then in the search box you could try typing lactation help and then your zip code and press enter. Now where do you live?” I just burst into tears. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Thankfully Daniel was there and asked her kindly if we could just have some time alone.
When we got home, I kept trying to breastfeed. I remember staying up all night, watching a whole season of Better Call Saul (worth noting that I don’t remember a single thing about it). James would nurse for hours and hours and then continue crying and rooting. It was heartbreaking. We went to the doctor every day that first week home and he kept losing weight. I met with another lactation consultant at the pediatrician who was very sweet. Then we had another meeting with the pediatrician. Our doctor was called out of the room for an emergency and one of the other doctors from the practice came in to talk to us. This was one of the luckiest moments of my life because our meeting with the new doctor saved me. She told me her own story of not being able to breastfeed her children and how difficult it was for her. She tried both times and ended up formula feeding and felt guilty. But she sees plenty of children who are fed formula and are just as healthy as breastfed babies. It was really what I needed to hear. I knew in my heart breastfeeding wasn’t working, but I felt like talking to the doctor finally gave me permission to try something else.
On the way home we stopped at Walgreens and bought formula. James drank 50ml in the car, and for the first time in his short existence on the planet he seemed utterly content. I considered still trying to breastfeed what I could, but ultimately decided I couldn’t. I stopped entirely.
From the time he was one week old, James was exclusively formula fed and I’ve felt some shame and guilt about that throughout motherhood. But now, a year in, I am completely at peace with it. Parents should never feel ashamed about formula feeding. There are many good reasons to use formula just as there are good reasons to breastfeed. You just have to figure out what’s best for your family. He did spit up quite a bit in the first six months, but I have no idea if that was because of the formula or not. I do know he is perfectly healthy and happy. He received the nutrition he needed and his mom got her sanity back.