The Bottled Debate

A few people have asked me if I’m still nursing Alex. The answer is no. We stopped that a long time ago.

The whole conversation of breast vs. bottle is interesting. Aside from the health aspects of it, what I find often comes of it is a mentality of superiority. Not for everyone, but for some. And I don’t think it’s even intentional. And, it’s normal, right? I mean, when you feel strongly about something you have opinions and it’s sometimes hard to see outside of that. To realize that sometimes the “ideal” isn’t reality. That sometimes people may share your views, but encounter their own challenges that add another side to the story for them.

That’s how I feel about this conversation. I am, and always will be, a believer and advocate for breast feeding. If you can, do it. It’s free, and it’s God’s way of looking after your little one.

Before Olivia came into our lives I did a lot of reading about adoptive breast feeding, and in fact gave it a shot. I got a bit of a milk supply in and nursed her along with her bottles for the first few weeks that she was home. It was mostly for bonding, and I think it helped.

Because of that experience it seemed obvious that I would nurse Alex when he was born. I was all ready. I had everything I would need, and we had our plans in place.

Then Alex was born.

He latched well right from the start, and he was a fan of eating. Except, that was the problem. He was always eating.

I wish I was exaggerating when I say that he was literally always on me. Chris will back me up on this. I would nurse him for an hour and a half at a time, and then he would fall asleep for a little bit. I would think he was good to go for a couple of hours, but half an hour later, if that, he was wanting to nurse again. At night if I got two hours of sleep at a time it was a miracle. I was exhausted. 

Alex was 9lbs 13 oz when he was born. A few days later he had dropped to 8lbs 15 oz. At our one week check up he had only gained back an ounce. We shared with my doctor how things were going with the nursing. We knew it wasn’t a latch issue, as she was watching me nurse and didn’t see any problems there. The lactation consultants in the hospital were confident that things were okay with us, as was the health care worker that did our home visit a few days after we got out of the hospital. That wasn’t the problem.

When you read breast feeding materials the impression one is given is that a couple days after you give birth your milk supply comes in and unless you have latching problems, things should progress just fine. Obviously there are small issues that may need to be addressed, but overall the impression is that your body knows what it’s doing and it will co-operate.

I am here to tell you that isn’t always the case.

That first week my doctor talked to me about my milk supply not yet having come in. I want to take a moment to tell you how wonderful my doctor was. She’s a fan of natural childbirth, and in fact, on her vacation time her and her eye specialist husband travel to other countries where she teaches mid-wifery. She is a fan of breast feeding. She was very supportive of my efforts, but she also saw other things going on and was okay with addressing them.

As I sat in her office that day and Chris and I recounted the past week she looked at me and said, “When your milk supply doesn’t come in right away it can be exhausting.” At that point I started to bawl and she just looked at me and said, “You know, don’t you?” We decided I would go on Domperidone to get my supply up.

Normally Domperidone takes a few days and then your supply is most definitely there. It didn’t work for me.

At our two week check up, Alex had only gained two more ounces. It was heartbreaking for me. I was so sure he was doing better, but he wasn’t. And the hardest part? As his mother, my body is supposed to be able to give him everything he needed to thrive. And yet he was starving. He was always hungry. He was dozing off to sleep because he didn’t have any energy.

I know you might be thinking, “There are other resources out there too!” Yes, I know. My MIL was a La Leche League leader who nursed all of her kids exclusively, including her twins. We had lots of conversations, and I tried a lot of her suggestions.

At that point, along with the doctor, we decided to start supplementing 2-3 oz day with formula. You know what? We saw an instant improvement in both Alex and me. He was realizing he could get full. I was finally getting some rest. It took Alex another week or so after that to finally get back to his birth weight. We were also moving around quite a bit, and slowly we started supplementing a bit more. By the time we hit the 6 week mark we had headed down to the US for a week before leaving for Haiti, and with all the traveling and visiting, I was struggling to nurse, and we only ended up nursing a few times a day. I decided that when we got back to Haiti I would go hard at pumping and nursing and getting my supply back up.

Then we got back, and every night that I tried to latch Alex on for a pre-bedtime feeding was a fight. He had gotten used to the bottle and liked it. He didn’t want to nurse.

Chris and I spent several long conversations, some of them with me in tears, about whether or not I should keep trying. In my head I knew it was the right thing, but when I checked my motivation, I realized I was carrying a lot of guilt and I worried about being judged if we bottle fed exclusively. I mean, I should be able to nurse exclusively, right?

In theory, yes. But, as it turns out, some of us have a really hard time with it. My doctor shared with me that one mom she worked with worked for FOUR months to get her full milk supply in. I had never heard such a thing. As it turns out, the more of my mom friends that I talked to, the more I learned that others had difficulty with the same problem.

After all those conversations Chris just came to me one day and said, “You know, Olivia was totally formula fed and she’s perfectly healthy and hardly ever gets sick. . I’ll support whatever decision you make about nursing. I just want you and Alex to be happy because right now neither of you is.”

It was so true. He would fight when I would try to latch him on, and I would feel guilty about not wanting to fight with him, telling myself that if I was a good mom I would get through this and get my milk supply up. Chris’ comment was the key that unlocked the door for me. It released me to make the decision I needed to make for both Alex and I. I could finally see through the fog, and realized that when Alex was thirty and healthy, I probably wouldn’t still be beating myself up if I knew I had bottle fed him. I would still carry guilt if I knew that I forced the breast and we ended up battling it out every day.

They say one of the best things you can do as a mother is to let your child lead you and let you know what they need. I decided in that moment to let Alex lead and to release myself from the breast vs. bottle guilt. And you know what? We were both so much happier. He was happy because we didn’t have  daily battle, and I was happier because I could look forward to feeding times rather than cringing about what I knew was coming. Chris could help when things got hairy around the house and mission and I was being pulled in too many different directions. This peace settled into our home and we found a new rhythm.

Now here we are, 5 months later. And you know what? I don’t for a single minute regret my decision. I don’t regret it because Alex is fine. You hear so much negative press about formula and how it’s almost like it’s from the devil. Your baby won’t have the same immunities. Your baby will grow up to be obese. All sorts of stuff like that.

Olivia, after being formula fed, was one of the healthiest kids we’ve ever seen. And she’s a little whippet who burns more energy than she consumes. She is not fat. She is not sick.

Alex is also very healthy. He’s 7 months old and only now fighting his first cold even though lots of other bugs have moved through our home at different times. He’s a big boy, but he’s not fat. Yes, his thighs are pinchable, but the kid is over 30 inches long, and weights about 24 lbs. He’s already outgrown his infant car seat because he’s just going to be a giant of a kid. You can ask anyone, he’s not fat.

And the bonding thing… aren’t breast fed babies more bonded to their mama’s?

Um, no.

Olivia is one of the most secure children we’ve ever met, and not only was she bottle fed, but she was also adopted. We’ve just been really intentional with both of our kids about building up relationships that matter. Our kids get lots of touch time, lots of cuddles and kisses and hugs.

What about the bonding that happens when nursing vs. the bonding that supposedly doesn’t happen while bottle feeding. I’m sorry, but my son still reaches up and holds my fingers or tries to touch my face when he’s eating. When he’s done, he pulls off of his bottle and nuzzles in for a snuggle. I’ve lost count of how many people have commented on what a cuddly baby he is for his age. At 7 months he’ll often cuddle in and nuzzle me or just rest against me and watch the world go by. So, does bottle feeding mean less bonding? I don’t think so. I think personality does. Alex is a baby that thrives on contact and needs that, and isn’t afraid to let us know he needs it. Olivia is the same way. She will ask to be snuggled or cuddled. She’ll ask to have her feet tickled – one of her favorite things. Our kids find reassurance in our arms, and it has nothing to do with how they were fed.

Do I feel more bonded to Alex now than when we were nursing. Yes. Why? Because there is no stress and we’re not fighting each other. I can enjoy him. I can enjoy looking in his eyes and snuggling him as he eats. I can enjoy having him grab my fact or giggle when I make funny faces. I fall more in love with him now than I did when I was nursing because when I was nursing I was actually starting to resent him. I was tired. I was worn out. I wasn’ t sleeping. He constantly needed me. Now I can enjoy him, and it’s wonderful. I love being his Mommy.

I think the debate is one of those parenting things that makes us feel better about our decisions. For some reason we like to find things to judge others about. But, sometimes a family’s decision has been made for more reasons than just convenience. Like I said, I had an attitude adjustment because I thought I knew it all. Turns out I needed to be humbled, and I learned a few things because of it. I hope I never judge another young mom just because of her feeding preferences. Mothering is hard enough as it is. Why should we be hacking at each other?

~Leslie

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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

10 thoughts on “The Bottled Debate

  1. THanks for your story. I didn’t find breastfeeding easy, either. With my second child (born premie) I struggled on for months pumping and trying to establish breastfeeding. I’m not sure that I should’ve done it. The exhaustion really had a negative impact on me. You’re an awesome mama and you have great instincts!

  2. So proud of you for making the choice that is right for your family and having the courage to write about it. It is an extremely personal decision that isn’t easy to make. I totally identify with your reasoning to switch to exclusive bottle feeding and the impression from other mothers that anything less is a sin. I too struggled greatly and had such high hopes for this “beautiful and natural” thing called “breastfeeding” that turned out to bring such pain and unhappiness all around for us – nothing beautiful about it. I’m happy to hear that you and your family are thriving :)

  3. Funny how we had opposite problems. I had an abundance of milk, but we had a horrible time with latching. I instantly feel judged when I pull out a bottle for Sulli, and feel the need to explain “It’s pumped breastmilk… we couldn’t get breastfeeding down”. I think next time I’ll try harder to make it work, but as for right now we’re happy with our system. I was finally able to freeze my first extra feed of milk today, and that was even after dropping a full bottle on the floor yesterday :)

    • Girl, I’m so proud of you for sticking it out even after all you’ve been through with it. I know it’s been hard for all of you. I agree with you about hating to explain. Why do we feel we need to justify ourselves?

      • Excellent question! And why do ‘people’ feel you/we need their unsolicited advice!? You are both great moms who have your babies’ very best interests at heart, so why would anyone feel the need to question that!? Bless you both!!!

  4. Leslie,
    I went through very similar issues with both of my boys and they are very healthy! I know exactly where you are coming from! Dob’t let the comments of others make you feel guilty (and it sounds like you don’t already) as you are his mother and you are the one that gets to decide, under your personal circumstances, what is best for you and Alex! Glad to hear you are both doing well!

  5. With all my babies, breast feeding has been a struggle. Each baby started on the bottle earlier than the one before and I felt I needed to always explain to everybody why my baby was formula fed. It’s not as natural as I grew up to believe! I was a bottle fed baby (which I’m sure was a really negative thing back then) and I’m FINE!!! At least mostly. ;)

  6. You amaze me, Les…some would say ‘It’s no body’s business but ours’ (and it ISN’t!), but you just put it all out there! And find in the sharing that others have struggled too! This kind of openness is the best way to build and strengthen our relationships! What a blessing you are! And thank you!!!

  7. Enjoy the honesty and the encouragement from others. I think being a mom always lends itself to guilt of some kind. It starts even before the child is born and follows us all the time. But, it is ALL worth it. You find the peace and joy and know you are on track and who cares if the others are on a different track?

  8. I applaud any mother who chooses to breastfeed or pump/use their own milk if they are able too as it gives their baby a good start. And if they are unable to continue doing so for whatever reason they choose – that is their business and shouldn’t be “guilted” in the choices they make! Your baby will tell you what he/she wants and mom’s know best! A rested, happy mom makes a happy baby so do what works best for both of you! I too breastfed my babies and was “guilted” for the choices I had to make in bottlefeeding but I chose to ignore that and did what worked best for my kiddies. Les & Andrea – you’re excellent mom’s and I fully support the choices you make – you definately have healthy, happy babies! Hugs!

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