I Fed My Baby Formula and I’m Not Ashamed

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.



43 thoughts on “I Fed My Baby Formula and I’m Not Ashamed

  1. Stacie

    I went through the exact same down to the frustration with the lactation nurse in the hospital. With my first she kept having to have her blood sugars checked because she was not appearing to eat. Once she got a bottle she was much better and content. With my second we did not want her to go through that but I still wanted to try and breast feed. The lactation nurse would not even come talk to me because I gave her a bottle! I am a nurse practitioner so I know all the reasons why we should breast feed, but I never produced milk- so a fed baby was the best.

  2. Megan

    I’m so sorry you three had to go through that, but so happy you were able to make the best decisions right away! After breastfeeding problems with 2 out of 3 kids, I wish I could have saved all of us the torture and misery and just made up a bottle. I devoured this site when I found it and thought you might be interested, too! https://fedisbest.org/about/

  3. Candice

    I went through a similar experience. After 21 hours in labor that resulted in a c-section I also tried breastfeeding. They took my baby to the nursery for the night, (I delivered in the evening) and continually brought her back to me saying she was screaming and hungry. I kept trying and trying to feed her, (exhausted) and she never was satisfied. The lactation specialist was rude the next day and when we got home the hotline nurse was rude as well and no help either. She told me I must not really want to breastfeed. Her advice was to feed and pump basically around the clock. This brought me to tears especially with almost no sleep since delivery. Finally I couldn’t take her screaming anymore. I felt like I was starving my previous baby. Sobbing I found a bottle of sample formula and fed her. And guess what, she slept! And was content. The next day her pediatrician said she had lost a pound and feeding her formula was exactly the right thing. I never produced enough milk to feed her and supplemented with the formula. It’s awful that no one ever tells you this is okay. I felt such guilt and shame, when in reality I did what was best for my baby, Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. Lisa

    I had similar issues with not being able to breastfeed and the lactation specialist at the hospital was terrible. My daughter was a preemie and had to be given formula because her sugar was low. Two years later She is now in the 95th percentile for height (my husband and I are not tall people) and I attribute it to being formula fed. I just had another baby and didn’t even attempt to breastfeed. It’s not worth it. Other women can judge all they want but you gotta do what’s best for you and your kid.

  5. Kathryn

    May I suggest Skepticalob.com for more information on the lactivist culture and the harm they cause.

    *Note: Not a LCs are like those described in the blog, but clearly they do exist.

  6. Cailin

    My husband and I are starting the adoption process and one of my biggest concerns is that our baby won’t get breast milk. This made me feel a little better about it! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Renee

      My husband and I are also in the middle of the adoption process for our first child and I was so appreciative of this post!

      Andie, do you have any formula recommendations or guidance for how to navigate that process?

      1. Lindsay

        I know you asked Andie, but I would recommend starting with a standard formula (generic or name brand) and go from there. Then see if the child needs something more specialized (gentle, sensitive, etc.) The Costco formula is made by the same company that makes Similac. I’ve read that is actually the same. Don’t over complicate it if you don’t have to. Some babies do need sensitive or gentle kinds but don’t start there as they may not need it. Good luck!

  7. Heather

    Thank you for posting this! My almost ten month old was combination fed for her first eight weeks and 100% formula fed after that. Luckily I have only faced mild mom-shaming but the decision was hard. We were both so much happier using formula. The mom’s mental health is important too! My girl is healthy and happy now… And so am I!

  8. Leah

    Mother of one, severe yet undiagnosed postpartum depression. I REALLY wish I read this when my son was a newborn and could hear a positive story of formula. What a benefit it would be for new mothers to hear your story and see that you don’t HAVE to breastfeed. Thank you for telling your story!

  9. Pam Callahan

    I was able to successfully breast feed both my children but I know many formula feed babies and they are completely fine and healthy. Formula today is much better than many years ago.

    My daughter had issues with pain and her daughter latching on so she pumped the first 6 months but after awhile it got to be too much so she weaned at 6 months to formula. Her daughter handled the switch with no problems and has thrived and grown well on formula. She’s almost 10 months now.

    You did the right thing.

  10. Erin H

    I hate that you went through that experience. Medical professionals should be there to help you with all the options. My daughter was a 31 week preemie. She was given donor breast milk for the first two weeks (my milk never came in, but it was never my plan to breastfeed anyway) and after that she’s been on formula and she’s thriving. She was on the “regular “ baby charts for growth by her due date. And babies spit up! I’m mad at those nurses for you!

  11. Janeanne

    Such a similar story to my son. I exclusively breastfed my daughter and three years later when I had my son, we were never able to breastfeed. I felt so guilty I cried all the time until the lactation consultant at our pediatrician finally assured me it was ok to stop trying and use formula. Now he is 13 and my daughter is 16. The irony is that my daughter is allergic to nuts, gluten, has eczema, terrible seasonal allergies. My son — nothing. He has no allergies and has been so healthy. So don’t feel guilty.

  12. Janet

    I had a similar problem with both of my babies. With the first one I pumped for three months and then switched to formula. With the second I pumped for a week and switched. The judgment I got from breastfeeding mothers was horrible, including snide remarks about future health and IQ problems. My kids are 20 and 23 and have had no major health problems. I won’t start bragging about how smart they are… but they are. :) My TMI problem is that I have very flat nipples and neither baby could latch on.

  13. Tammy Latter

    Andie I am soooo freaking excited about this post. Thank you for your honesty. I had such a similar experience with my son and the mothers guilt is horrendous with absolutely no basis. Our babies are healthy and happy and we got there. He’s beautiful x

  14. Danielle

    This post brought tears to my eyes as it is all too familiar. My son was born 6 weeks early and spent 17 days in the NICU. Every single day I was judged by hospital staff because I obviously wasn’t working hard enough to bring in breast milk since I wasn’t producing enough to feed my son. Luckily, they immediately began to supplement with formula but that didn’t stop the every day reminder (from doctors and friends/family) that I had to “stick to it” and pump every so many hours and eventually my body would catch up. It never did. I fought the fight for 8 months watching my supply dwindle. I felt like a horrible mother, like my body gave up on both of us. Luckily, our pediatrician was fantastic and completely supportive of him having formula – regardless of how much or little it was. His concern was nutrition regardless of how my son got it! Now, 2 years later I couldn’t be happier that he was supplemented with formula (actually, he was mainly formula and supplemented with a small amount of breast milk) and then eventually exclusively formula fed because now, he’s not only bigger than other preemies his age, but even full time babies his age. He’s ridiculously smart and such a little empath.

    I’m sorry you had to experience this because it’s awful, especially as a first time Mom. <3

  15. Juliet

    Thanks for posting this! I was unable to nurse both of my sons even though I had a lactation consultation with both. I had my daughter in Italy (military family) in an Italian hospital and it was an experience! They had “nursing rooms” where a group of us new moms sat in comfy chairs and the patient Italian nurses would help us and support us. I think it helped build my confidence and I successfully nursed my daughter for almost 2 yrs!

  16. Julie

    Amen! I tried breastfeeding for 2 weeks but my little guy wasn’t getting what he needed and it was torture for me. I sobbed the day I gave him formula for the first time, the guilt was overwhelming. Luckily, I had a sister who had struggled to breastfeed for months before finally switching to formula, so I knew formula was better than my baby not getting enough to eat. I also had a super supportive husband and pediatrician. After feeling sad and guilty for a couple days, I stopped feeling that way and have never felt guilty about it again. My son is now 6 years old and healthy as a horse. He’s a healthy weight and a healthy eater…healthier than me!

    I understand the push for women to breastfeed but wish it came with the understanding that it isn’t always possible. We’re so fortunate to have a healthy alternative when we physically can’t nurse our babies. Being a mom is hard enough without the pressure to be perfect.

  17. Cassandra

    Not a mom but this drives me bananas. I was in the room when my best friend delivered and was her night nurse. She had similar issues and the nurse also dragged her feet when we asked about formula She had three location consultants come in, it was so stressful (for Lyns AND Hannah) and finally we just demanded formula. I’m a preemie (I was 1 lb, 7 Oz) and so obviously, had to be on formula…I turned out just fine! IMO, Fed is best. Why people put so much pressure on moms is crazy to me (and infuriating). I feel for you!

  18. Teresa

    I love this post so much! I am the mother of a 4-month old. I had a very similar experience shortly after the birth of my baby. I did not produce enough milk, he wouldn’t latch, and he was also in the NICU with a heart condition, so breast feeding just never worked. At the time I was extremely disappointed, but now I think that exclusively formula feeding was definitely the right decision for us.

    If breast feeding works for a new mom, her baby, and her family, that is great! However, I think that it’s also really difficult and is dependent on a lot of different factors to work successfully.

    On a side note, one big benefit of formula feeding is that my partner was able to wake up in the night to help with feedings. This gave me a little extra sleep during a time when I desperately needed whatever I could get.

    Also – I know that many women have felt that breast feeding helped them to lose weight, and that’s great! However, for me, formula feeding my baby helped me to feel more like myself as I knew that my baby was no longer dependent on my body and its basic functions in order to be healthy.

    Thank you so much for this post, Andie! I love looking at the pictures of your little guy getting bigger and stronger every few weeks.

  19. Melissa

    Thank you for posting this. Mom of a 13 year old and an 11 year old and both were fed formula almost from the beginning. My oldest wouldn’t latch and wasn’t satisfied. They brought in a LC who wanted to rig up this tube feeding system and it was SO SO stressful as a new mom. He cried and screameduntil I finally asked for formula. The hospital was very hesitant but I felt in my heart that it was best. I did pump for the first 2-3 months but It wasn’t much. Today he’s 13, happy well adjusted, healthy. Nothing to complain about. With my 11 year old, we started formula in the hospital much to the chagrin of the nurses and LCs and I supplememnted with pumped breast milk. Fed is best but as you can see 13 years later this was so scarring and there wasn’t any support for my mental health and wellbeing while I was caring for a newborn. Thank you for speaking out!

  20. Sam

    I was breastfed but my brother was formula-fed. We both wound up healthy and, of the two of us, I’m the one who wound up with an eating disorder (OK, male vs female cultural conditioning may be partly to blame there). The only thing that may have been the result of bottle-feeding is that he had a slight jaw misalignment as a child, which was corrected when he was a teenager. But that might’ve happened anyhow.

  21. Momo

    Thus happened to me too, my baby will latch and after few minutes cry of hunger, i will feed her for hours but she didn’t get full to a point where my breasts were empty and sore then i decided to get formula now she is healthy and happy

  22. Mandy Kliber

    Well said…I’m a Certified Nurse Midwife and all too often think too much pressure is placed on mom’s with the mantra “breast is best”. I see too many women in our office with postpartum depression often tied in with their fear of of failure with nursing. Yes, there are resources there but no woman should feel like a failure, if nursing is exhausting, causes severe pain, or baby isn’t growing well-it just may not be worth it. There is a great chapter about childbirth and early motherhood, in a book called”Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. She says what I tell all my patients-your job is to care for yourself and your baby after delivery-that is IT. If caring for your baby involves formula so you are at peace, so be it. Motherhood should not feel like a failure. Great article Andie.

  23. Brittney D Lee

    Thanks for sharing. I had a VERY similar experience. We were pressured at the hospital to breastfeed (I have since learned there’s some sort of reporting and the hospitals/nursing teams/shifts with the most moms BFing can get kickbacks and rewards). I was allowed to give formula, but only if I used a SNS (a supplemental nursing system where you feed the formula from a tube through a nipple shield- to simulate breast feeding (in the hopes she would learn to latch ok and my milk would come in). Once we got home, we were on like night 2 and tried to wash the SNS and melted it while sanitizing it. We HAD to get bottles out in the middle of the night.

    I felt SO guilty. I tried pumping and feeding her what I could get for a few weeks, but that was exhausting. Once we made the all-in with formula, I could relax. It was what I needed, and now, at weeks from turning 3, she’s happy, healthy, brilliant, funny and doing well. I don’t regret it for a moment.

    1. Kaitlyn

      I was just coming here to say this exact thing! Some hospitals have an accreditation which lists them as “Baby Friendly”. The net/net of it is that they receive more funding for heavily promoting breastfeeding. While this is a great way to get breastfeeding mamas the support they need, it can leave anyone in a different position feeling terrible and guilty.

      If you are a expecting mama reading this, who is debating formula as their preferred feeding option, look up if your hospital has this accreditation. If they do, you may need to either (i) be proactive and FIRM in telling them your opinions/plans on feeding and (ii) perhaps look into other hospital options. I do not believe that under ANY circumstance, someone should be made to feel ashamed for how they decide to feed their child.

  24. bonbonlimon

    My goodness, what a terrible experience for you. It’s wonderful you’re sharing this with your community here, these words should be said more often. Breastfeeding is HARD and does NOT come naturally to everyone. Fed is Best! I can’t believe your nurse and other providers made you feel guilty, shame on them for their bias. There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula, and if it’s best for your family, than it’s really no one else’s business.

    I have a daughter close to James’ age (14 months), and while I was able to breastfeed her it did not come easily to us. It took a week for my milk to come in after a C-section, she had a tongue tie and latch issue that wasn’t properly diagnosed/treated until she was about 6 weeks, and even then her latch didn’t get better until her mouth got a little bigger. We supplemented with formula for her first 6 weeks or so, and I definitely felt guilty. We didn’t really settle into a comfortable feed without any nipple crushing, milk blebs, etc. until she was 4 months. I look back on that 4th trimester and realize how intense it all was. There was a lot of crying, guilt, and of course lack of sleep. In the end, things worked out for us, but I never once had a provider make me feel bad for using formula when we needed to. Good for you for not denying James the nutrition he needed, and for not letting it color your perception of your abilities as a Mom.

  25. MIchele

    I am so sorry that you had to go through this. Nothing/no one prepares us for this and sadly, we (non-nursing moms) are left feeling like we’ve failed… been there done that twice! With our first baby I was in labor for 24 hours – pushed for 1hr then ended up having a c-section- no one prepares you for that either!!! I never went into labor…water had to be broken. NOTHING went as expected. THEN breastfeeding, that beautiful bonding experience- NOT! And those lactation consultants!?!?! Grrrrr!!!
    James is gonna be perfect! And by the way, you’ll continue to feel like you’re doing everything wrong throughout his life and that’s okay. You’re NOT! It just means you’re actually doing everything right! We worry cause we’re mamas. And when he’s in his 20s like my two boys he will worship the ground you walk on cause boys LOVE their mamas!

  26. Amanda

    I have a nearly identical story. I will tell you that six years later my daughter is healthy, smart, and thriving. How she was fed as a baby has absolutely no impact on our current life.

  27. Valerie

    I’m almost 32 weeks pregnant, and I constantly have people talking to me about breastfeeding. It’s … obnoxious. IMO, there’s way too much pressure on moms to breastfeed these days and it’s damaging. The part of your story where the nurse shamed you for asking her to feed James just broke my heart. The shame should be on her. Thank you for sharing this – it’s brave and important.

  28. Anne F.

    Shame on those medical professionals who put a guilt trip on you! How hateful and at such a delicate time. They had to see how stressed you were and how frantic James was crying after nursing so much. You know that good ole divine intervention when the female doctor took over and relieved your mind and heart and made you feel it was okay to bottle feed. God works in mysterious ways. Glad things turned around for you. My children are adopted. My sister wanted me to try and breast feed. ??????? I’m sure it can be done but not with my babies. Why stress everyone out. And I’m all for breastfeeding, but not trying to “make” milk!!!!! Hugs! af

  29. Chelsea

    Hi! This really mirrors what happened for me and my son Jacob (who turned 1 on sept 4).. he just never latched, we tried two lactation consultants and tried the breastfeeding centre doctors for 3 months… then I pumped until 6 months with my dwindling supply.

    One year into his life I can look at my beautiful healthy boy and don’t know why I stressed so much, or felt so much pressure or shame.

  30. Sheila

    I am old enough to be your mother :) and my two boys are grown, but wanted to share with you what I went through. I decided I would breast feed with my first. He would want to feed every 1.5 hours. On top of everything else, he had colic. Nothing helped. I do not know who suggested this, but we tried soy formula. It was like magic!!! I stopped breastfeeding and went straight to formula. When I had my second son, I decided to not breastfeed, but to put him on the soy formula. Boy did I ever get grief from the pediatrician on call – ours was out of town at the time. All I heard was how bad it was not to breastfeed. Long story short, my second son was much healthier than my first. It seemed like whatever was going around, my first got it. Also, one of my nieces was breastfeed until she went to using a cup – she had to have tubes in her ears after so many ear infections. I think it is a shame that people make you feel like you are not a good mother because you do not breastfeed. I think it is an individual decision and the medical field just needs to put the information out there and let the mother decide and then support her decision. My best friend was “Elsie the cow”. Her baby fed 8 am, 12pm, 8pm, at the same time my child wanted to feed every 1.5 hours. We are all different. I am glad you made the decision you did and got your sanity back!! I feel your pain as I still remember those first few weeks with a newborn.

  31. Cassandra Carlson

    Thank you for this! I had a similar experience and only wish that I had this to read when I was in the thick of it

  32. Brittany

    Gosh my breastfeeding journey is almost identical to yours! My baby girl seemed so hungry in the hospital and my milk never came in. The lactation consultants at the hospital where not helpful at all and my midwife basically told me I was going to traumatize my baby girl if I gave her formula. An angel of a nurse gave us formula to take home over the weekend and encouraged us to use it. When we went to our pediatrician the following Monday I met with the lactation consultant and as soon as I took my bra off she told me I probably had IGT I would never be able to satisfy my girl. I was so heartbroken and felt like a failure. And just like your story our normal pediatrician was busy so a nurse practitioner came to fill in for our appointment. She also shared she had IGT and wasn’t able to breastfeed her babies and that they were both happy and healthy kids. I remember sobbing with relief that someone had been through what I was going through. Thank you for sharing your story because there’s so much shame surrounding formula feeding. My baby girl will be 2 in December and she’s such a healthy and happy girl!

  33. Erin @ Erin's Inside Job

    Omg I can’t believe your hospital experience. That’s so rude! Miles was in the NICU right after he was born and so they immediately fed him formula – esp since I wasn’t even producing anything yet. We tried for maybe 6 weeks, but I had a low supply and ended up nursing, pumping, and supplementing and I was like um this is ridiculous. He’s been on formula ever since and it’s amazing. I cried one time when I realized I would have to switch over entirely and then thankfully never felt bad about it again. It’s so much easier too! YOU DO YOU BOO.

  34. Stephanie

    Thanks for sharing your experiences; I, along with so many others, have experienced breastfeeding difficulties and the guilt that, unfortunately, often comes along with it. After having a wonderful breastfeeding experience with my first son, I was dismayed when it did not go well with my second, who was born this past summer. After four weeks of painful feedings and lactation appointments on my part and hunger on my son’s part, I gave up and switched exclusively to formula. It was the best decision for him and me. While I understand that breastfeeding has its benefits, so, too, does formula feeding. I hate the shaming that surrounds formula feeding and hope that it goes away as more women share their stories!

  35. Jan

    I went through very similar circumstances. My children are much older than yours but I still feel so much guilt and shame I do t discuss it with anyone. You are so incredible for always stepping up to the plate. Just reading this has lifted some of my burden after all these years. I wish the medical profession and we as women supported each other more instead of judging.

  36. Anna

    I’m so sorry to hear that you had that experience, especially since what you describe sounds perfectly normal and not like there was something wrong with the breastfeeding. Babies are supposed to feed constantly to start the production, there isn’t supposed to be more than a couple of drops of colostrum and they loose weight the first couple of days without it being a problem. Being prepared for some of those things beforehand can really help a lot of new moms not to get frustrated with the situation – and they are all coming out of hard/long deliveries and lack of sleep, so far I haven’t heard of a single mom saying she was well rested and on top of her game when she started breastfeeding, but it still works. There’s a reason that medical professionals recommend breastfeeding and it sure isn’t because they’re getting paid to – and they don’t gain anything by shaming women, it’s all about the babies. A minimum of a week or two of trying for someone who actually wants to breastfeed would probably be enough to decrease the number of babies getting on formula from so early on by a lot!

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