Motherhood, Art, Creative Play, and Finding Joy in Everyday Life

My Breastfeeding and Formula Story


Yesterday I stood in the express checkout line at the grocery store, and looked ahead of me to the woman currently being rung up. She had a little baby in a car seat carrier on the cart, and one of her fourteen-or-less items was a can of baby formula. I thought to myself: “Ahhh, I remember those days, and having to buy formula.” But then, as I continued to wait in line, I realized that in all the time that we did use formula to feed Simon, I don’t believe I ever once actually purchased it myself. I always sent my husband Jeramy out to buy it. Since I did the groceries the most often, this seemed odd to me and I got to wondering why this was.

Well, for one thing, Simon’s grandparents on both sides helped us out a lot by using their membership cards to one of those big shopping clubs to get it cheaper for us. But the other reason, though it pains me to admit it to you now, was shame.

When I was pregnant with Simon, I read Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, and spent a lot of time daydreaming about nursing my soon-to-arrive newborn. I had several conversations with my midwife about how excited I was to breastfeed and bond with my baby. I memorized the steps to a perfect latch and all the different breastfeeding positions. I put a little basket next to the glider in the nursery, inside of which I placed some nipple ointment, nursing pads, a nursing cape (in case we had visitors), and my Ina May book. I had read up and set up…I was ready.

When Simon came into the world I made my first attempt at nursing him within minutes of his birth. Right off the bat his latch wasn’t right, and over the next couple of weeks we were in and out of the Lactation Consultant’s office, talking about everything from possible tongue-tie to cranial sacral therapy. At home, we struggled and struggled through each nursing session, with me sometimes gritting my teeth in pain and suffering through it because I knew breast milk was the best nutrition for my baby, and because he was hungry.

We also dealt with thrush, a painful crack in my nipple, and supply-and-demand issues. Every time I needed to nurse my baby, my stress level would soar through the roof. This was not the peaceful bonding experience I had been dreaming of.

One day, my Lactation Consultant (an amazing lady, by the way) gave me a nipple shield. I reluctantly accepted it, knowing all the stigma that comes with it, but it revolutionized nursing for Simon and I. Suddenly, all the pain was gone, and with it my stress. I could now enjoy nursing him for as long as he wanted, gaze into his eyes, stroke his little fuzzy head and relax. I began to feel that bond I had been longing for, and we got into our own routine and settled there. The shield was my best friend and I always made sure it was washed and with us in a little plastic container.

Many other nursing moms are adamantly and vocally anti-nipple shield, so I went to great lengths to hide my use of it in certain situations. I would put my nursing cape on even in the presence of these other nursing women (with whom I would normally feel comfortable and not shy in front of), and sneak the little Tupperware I kept the shield in carefully up underneath, put it on, and hope that they didn’t notice my extra fiddling. I felt embarrassed yet also so happy to have this tool.

Months went by, and my hours at work increased. We began to use up all my stored milk from the freezer and we were pretty desperate. I had a lot of difficulty pumping milk, and after much long and laborious debate, Jeramy and I agreed to supplement with formula when I wasn’t around to nurse.

I again felt like a failure. There can be some snobbery among breastfeeding moms, and I was worried I would be considered less capable, less devoted, less motherly for feeding Simon formula. I heard stories of other moms who had so much milk production that they had to dump some out, due to lack of freezer space. I secretly coveted their magic supply, and imagined all the I-told-you-so’s I would get from those who oppose nipple shields (one of the reasons being they can hinder stimulation for milk production). Thankfully, I had supportive people around me too, most of all my husband who reassured me that though formula might not be our ideal, it was also not hurting our child in any way. The formula was nourishing my baby when I couldn’t, and I was doing what I needed to do.

Contributing to the guilt I felt was the sense of relief coming over me as I no longer felt pressure to pump, pump, pump. A couple of times, I would come home from work just as Jeramy had finished preparing a bottle, and I would take over feeding it to Simon. It felt both like I was doing something wrong, and simultaneously freeing to be able to bottle feed my baby. I would sometimes begrudgingly admit out loud: “I kinda like bottle feeding. A lot.”

At 9 1/2 months, Simon started biting me. He was getting used to the rubber nipples on the bottles and was teething pretty hard. At this point, I rarely needed to use the shield, but when this painful biting began, I dreaded another crack in my nipple and tried to use it again. No luck. He bit even harder on the shield. It sent jolts of searing pain through my entire chest and up my spine. I would break out in goosebumps and tears. I didn’t even feel like trying to breastfeed anymore. We had been through all that pain before, in the beginning, and I was terrified to start it all over again now. After more nights of crying and discussing and deliberating, we switched to formula feeding all the time.

On the one hand, it was wonderful. The fear was gone! On the other hand, my guilt increased substantially. I would avoid mentioning the formula in conversations with other moms, dodging the topic of feeding altogether. I would pray that strangers couldn’t tell that it was formula and not pumped milk in his bottles when we were in public. I would quickly rush to hide the can away in the cupboard when people came over to visit. I felt like the biggest breastfeeding failure on earth. Something I had wanted so badly, and fought so long and hard for…I had just abandoned it, had given up on my baby.

I sank into postpartum depression and I believe it had not only to do with the hormonal shift that came with the end of milk production and nursing, but also with my extremely strong guilt feelings. However, with time and support I eventually worked through it.

Now, looking back, I know I was not a failure. I worked very hard at something that was very important to me. I did what was right for the whole family at each step of the way, and I got through it all, to a place where I could finally make peace with my decisions. Sure, if I went back in time, with my current knowledge, I would change some things. I would have dealt with my shyness and joined a local La Leche League group. I would have stayed in the Lactation Consultant’s office longer and visited it more frequently. I would have quit my job sooner to focus on nursing more.

But I didn’t do those things and that is OK. I know this now. I am proud of the successes I did have, and of the fact that all of my anguish through the hard times we had means I love my son with all my heart and want to do what is right by him. My struggles also meant that I knew I needed to take care of myself too. A stressed out mommy is not good for baby either, and by changing course, I was able to more calmly and dotingly care for my child.

I share this all because there may be others out there having similar bouts of guilt, shame, stress, or jealousy with breastfeeding/formula feeding. I want to say it is OK to do what is right for you and to do it proudly. One of the things I would change if I could go back is all the hiding and pretending. Were I to be back in time, with a couple of nursing friends, I would proudly wear my shield or feed my baby a bottle of formula if I had to, because all of us would be doing the best thing we know how for our babies. Besides, any other mom who would judge me negatively for my choices, isn’t a real friend anyway.


Author: thismummaslife

I am a Mumma, Wife and part-time Assistant Children's Librarian. I want this blog to be a collection of moments from daily life that may inspire or be relatable. Please feel free to leave me comments, thoughts, feedback or stories from your own life.

25 thoughts on “My Breastfeeding and Formula Story

  1. I’m glad you wrote this. I struggled a lot to nurse P in the beginning. Latch? What latch?

    I watched my mom nurse my many siblings and I thought it would be a breeze. I didn’t bother reading books. I got an abscess in my left breast 1 week after the baby was born that turned out to be a staff infection and I had to have surgery. I lost the use of 1/3 of my milk ducts in that breast. I thankfully didn’t formula feed P, but I did pump for a couple of weeks and feed her my milk out of a bottle, and then switched to the nipple shield. I think “nipple confusion” is something lactation consultants make up to scare women into breast feeding.

    I’ve chosen not to go back to work, and I have no idea what my actions would be if I did, so I respect that you did nurse you boy part time. Good job, mama! And this post is awesome.

    • Thank you so much Nicki! I hoped that by sharing my story, some people out there facing the tough choices and guilt feelings might find it and feel they can relate.

    • Also, thank you for sharing your struggles. It is important, I think, to have a dialog about all of this. I have met a lot of women who have very easy, breezy nursing experiences and sometimes I think that makes the rest of us afraid to speak up. I cannot even imagine how hard it must have been to go through all that, especially surgery!

      • i can’t tell you how much of a failure i felt like. i was miserable. and on top of all of it, i wasn’t sleeping. i didn’t think i would ever want to have another child for fear of going through it again, but here i am, nine and a half months later and i’m ready for another whenever that should happen.

      • It is amazing how common it is for women to feel like they are failing in these circumstances. We are actually successful because we care so much about doing the right thing.

      • you’re right. in hindsight, i needed to do the things i did for myself in order to stay motivated to breast feed. i have to BE CAREFUL of my attitude though, because its very easy for me to judge women who don’t because i tend to think, “if i can do it, anyone can.”

      • Yes. every woman is different. I went into the whole thing with the attitude that anyone can do it as long as they want. I had no idea that it could be such a physical and mental struggle. I admit that I have dipped into some of the breastfeeding snobbery myself here and there a few times…but I strive to be judgment free and to know that no two people are the same. Formula may not be 100% as amazing as breastmilk, but it has enabled women to get through so many situations.

      • true that.

  2. You did a wonderful job! The best for you, for Simon, for your family! I’m glad that you feel better about it, at peace, now, with hindsight. You shouldn’t have felt guilty about it at all.

    I had issues with both girls, used a shield with both of them. Each girl had a different issue, Teagan had a lazy latch, but eventually got it right. She became a big chubbo, and nursed until I got pregnant with Ashlin.

    Ashlin, well, is still sort of a struggle. She never had a strong latch, never transferred enough, so production was an issue. I fought to continue, but never felt guilty about the bottle here and there of formula. Why? She was getting both. All good. We did a week of no nursing when her top teeth came in, my nipples just couldn’t take it, and now, almost 2 months later, are finally nearly healed. I’m probably still nursing because Ash is my last, and this will be the end once we are done, and I’m not sure I want it to be the end. Not yet anyway.

    • It is hard to let go and end it. Part of me wanted to keep nursing for the selfish reason of that urge to bond with him. My husband had to remind me that we could bond in other ways, even when using a bottle the feeding time can be special. I don;t know whether we will have a second child or not yet, but if we do I hope to have a better experience. I will certainly go into it with a different set of expectations and some experience to draw from.

      • I think some of the troubles we all have is that everyone tells us how wonderful and how natural it is, how it’s the best thing ever. Sometimes, that’s just not the case. And it’s something that you need to work at, and learn, and perfect. And you did succeed, through all the challenges, at nursing 9 months. That’s awesome.

      • 0It is always awesome to hear feedback from other women who used a shield. At the time, I felt like the only woman on earth who needed one.

      • The Lactation Consultants and Breastfeeding groups I went to were leery of using shields, but they seemed to be of the mind that if it preserved, or lengthened the nursing relationship, then they were a good step. A step to use, but to try to wean off.

        I know that I’ve never been completely transparent about my nursing issues on my blog, but I do know that I posted about using the shields with both girls.

        I think one of my issues with Ashlin, using hindsight, is that I didn’t pump to establish and keep up supply when she started going longer between nursing sessions. But, oh, I so needed to sleep and not hook up to a machine. I made the right decision for me, my family and the time. Would that decision have been right for someone else? Maybe not. but it’s all so unique to each person.

        ok. enough rambling. Just know you did awesome!

      • Thanks again! No worries about the rambling. I think it is great to have discussions about this with other women. Especially now that I am not afraid anymore!

        I know what you mean about avoiding the pump. Simon was a marathon nurser, going sometimes up to two hours in a go, leaving me wanting to feel free to move around for a while until the next time, not wanting to pump.

        Hindsight being 20/20, I would also have pumped more in the first few weeks. It was actually the pump that enabled me, when our latch wasn’t working and we were both frustrated, to get a few precious drops of colostrum for him, when he was crying nonstop on his third day of life. There was so little in the bottom of the container, I just dipped my pinky in it a few times, and let him suck it off. After that he passed out for hours.

  3. I love your honestly – great post! I had a similar rocky start to nursing including mastitis. Hey, you stuck with it for 9 1/2 months?! That is success – you did it! I think all the outside and inside pressure makes it harder!

    • Mastitis is probably the only nursing problem I didn’t have. I do not envy you! ouch!

      I am now able to focus on the fact that I lasted over 9 months as an accomplishment rather than a failure.

  4. Great post! I appreciate your candidness and also a “heads up” as to what will come with the hormone shifting once the breastfeeding stops. We’re in the weaning process now, just started formula last week (truth: I did feel guilty), and I’m having mixed feelings about stopping. I am excited to stop (for selfish reasons…don’t have to wear the orthopedic bras, I won’t have to brace myself for teeth marks, and I’m kind of done with the pumping) but then I am going to miss the “down time” I have with the little guy as he plays with my necklace or sometimes nods off. He’ll be a year next week and I think it’s just time. I’m really the one that is probably going to have the issues with it. He loves his bottle/sippy cup of formula!

    • I found it hard to stop too! And yes, a lot of it was guilt but there was also still that part of me longing to snuggle my baby in a way only I could.

      I am glad I was able to give you the heads up. A lot of women I know experienced a change in mood when they finished nursing. It is a good time to find other ways to bond and be close, and to put some focus back on caring for yourself.

  5. Excellent post. I am an OB nurse and lactation counselor, kudos to you for working so darned hard. While I am of course very pro-breastfeeding I want to support all mamas whatever their choices whatever their reasons. I’m so sorry that you felt such guilt and turmoil at a time that is so important to us all as new mamas! Sounds to me like you did great!

  6. Thanks for sharing your story; while I have been breastfeeding our daughter for 2.5 years now, it has not been all puppy dogs and roses so it is refreshing to hear someone share such an honest experience. My struggles have been with low supply, especially in the hospital, constant demand feeding to make up for the low supply, difficulty pumping, and my daughter being absolutely inconsolable unless she was nursing. We tried supplementing with formula because of the low supply, my daughter’s initial low weight gain, and also the exhaustion and frustration I felt, but V wouldn’t accept the bottle and so it was all me all the time with no relief from my husband who was standing at the ready to help. I couldn’t have done it if I was working; I’m not sure what we would have done. Now, though I am entirely 100% ready to wean, it is an excruciatingly slow process because my daughter is so attached to me as her lovey through our nursing relationship. That has its advantages and it’s drawbacks. Weaning is too fast for her comfort and not fast enough for me, right now. All I know is, from my experience, and the difficulty we’ve had with weaning, while I understand the advantages and many health benefits to breastfeeding, and I feel proud of my efforts and value the close nursing relationship we enjoyed for a time, I think there are many reasons to seek a different balance than all breast all the time. Personally, if I have the same problems again, I’ll be seeking more support from both pro-breastfeeding organizations and also doctors who will support me using a bottle if I need to for sanity. I had read the books and had talked to professionals with little satisfaction or real support, so I thought I had to figure the rest out on my own! Turns out, I was having some legitimate struggles for which support was available. It is hard enough being a new mama without breastfeeding or any other parenting choice turning into a barrier or stress that affects our relationship with our precious little ones! Sometimes folks that take an extreme viewpoint when it comes to nursing don’t realize that they are distancing themselves from people who need their support and expertise. As a mom who has put in a lot of time and energy into nursing my daughter, I feel my perspective should have some merit when I agree that exclusively breastfeeding is not a perfect or even the “best” choice for every mother!

    • Thank you SO MUCH for sharing! 2.5 years is an incredible accomplishment, but I understand the toll it might be taking on you without ability to bottle feed. Good luck with the weaning process. Any you are absolutely right that while breastmilk might be the most perfect nutrition because it is naturally formed, nursing might not be the right solution for every Mama. If it making you so stressed that you are unable to enjoy motherhood, then the trade off might not be worth it. I think it is so important that women who are trying to breastfeed know about all their support options. I was lucky to have an amazing LC, midwife, and an extremely nursing friendly hospital. (Not to mention a helpful husband) But I know that not every woman has the same environment or experience.

  7. I love this post. I gave birth to my 3rd baby, Tegan, on 4/29. Since I had nursed my other 2 (one for 32 months, one for 43 months) I figured easy peasy rice and cheesy. Yeah, no. Between the time spend under the bili lights and the fact that I have marshmallow sized nipples, we are struggling. I pump and pump and pump, and she gets 2 formula bottles a day. Everyone tells me that keeping my supply UP is key, and that when she gets bigger she’ll nurse better, so I’m trying to stay positive.

    • Good luck to you! Hopefully you can get the support you need from family, midwife/doctor, or an LC. I wish I would have pumped more to get my supply going…but to be truthful, Simon nursed for so long each time that I was often too tired of having something on my boob to think about touching the pump. Sounds like you are doing things the way that works best for you and baby both!

  8. I’m 7 months pregnant, planning to nurse, but grateful to read this and be reminded (like everything with a baby and life in general) it’s not as easy as I might wish it to be. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • I wish you luck! Who knows, maybe your experience will be easy, breezy. But hopefully you at least know that if it should be a struggle in any way there are ways you can ask for help. I definitely would have been more persistent about that in retrospect! I regret not joining a support group because I was too shy.


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