Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Great Formula Debate

It has been an age since I have blogged. Mostly due to the craziness of kids schedules, our schedules, but also because this topic was very sensitive to me. Actually, it is very sensitive to a lot of people. I never really knew what an amazing debate this was. I just really thought that it was a matter of preference and that you just had people on both sides of the playing field, kind of like political associations. Little did I know how passionately people felt about how they feed their infants/babies & how strongly they felt about how I chose to feed my child. I have found that Linus from the classic Peanuts movie, The Great Pumpkin, has left out a topic in what is not to be discussed amongst friends, Politics, Religion, Breastfeeding vs Formula and The Great Pumpkin!

So, from the time Ava was born she was on the tiny side. She was 7lbs when she was born but she dropped down significantly from the time we left the hospital and it seemed that we were having a real problem keeping her gaining weight. She was gaining too little between visits, off the charts low. In July we were so excited because she had finally gained the correct amount in the 2 weeks between appointments, we didn’t have to be seen for 4 weeks! Well, within those 4 weeks she did not gain one ounce. She was getting taller, her head was gaining girth but she was this tiny little string bean.

Breastfeeding and I have always had a love hate relationship. I love the nutrients it gives my child, I love the closeness it fosters between mother child, the added brain power that it gives a child, I love the calories it takes to breastfeed a child therefore, helping me lose weight (Hey, at least I am honest!) and I love the money it

saves us from buying formula. The actual act of breastfeeding though I have never been good at, thus making me hate the actual act. It can be painful, inconvenient (everything is timed around babies feeding schedules) and because I worry about making others uncomfortable I would leave a crowded room to breastfeed, making me feel like I was missing out on things. Its been really annoying, something that cave-women did I struggle and have struggled to do with all of my children. I have tried lactation consultants, changing my diet, fenu-greek, milk tea, homeopathic remedies, other moms advice, acupuncture, chiropractics, everything. Within about 4 months my milk supply starts to dwindle and my children either get very cranky and upset constantly or they start losing weight. The latter is what always scares me. Well, the doctors scare the hell out of me. They start throwing terms around like, “Failure to Thrive” , that usually involves a visit from Children and Youth Services. Not good times. So we have made the decision each time to supplement with formula and each time it has gotten harder and harder for me to do.

I went into this pregnancy and birth determined I was going to breastfeed Ava until she was a year at least. I had a great support system from other moms, since I worked I did a ton of research on how to make sure that I had a good milk supply in the freezer. I had a great system down but in the back of my mind there was some doubt. I knew something wasn’t quite right. She ate all of the time, and she would spit up huge amounts after each feeding. Back to research I

went, I took her to doctors, they put her on zantac, it was still not enough.

When we finally had to come to the decision to supplement Ava, it was because she was in a dangerous weight for her age and length. She was 5 months old and looked 3 months old, a friend of mine had had a baby 2 months after me and her daughter was giving mine hand-me-downs! Both Patrick and I were scared. Ava was also still waking up about 6 times a night to eat. I would pump and bottle feed so that I could see how much she was getting at each feeding. The spitting up was horrible and constant and nothing seemed to be working. So, we had to try the one thing we hadn’t tried, formula with a high rice starch content. I would breastfeed her and then give her a bottle. Within 2 weeks she was slowly gaining weight. The thing that I noticed that even though she was still spitting up, she was spitting up worse after being breastfed. I kept this up for a month and then moved her 100% to formula. She is now finally on the charts, for weight, just barely but she is there. She is a tiny 14 pounds at 7 months old.

I was met with a lot of eye rolling and a lot of people telling me to not listen to my doctor about supplementing. I was also met with people passive aggressively attacking me with their opinions on the decisions I made. Others weren’t so passive and just flat out told me I had made a very big mistake in supplementing Ava. It was then that I realized how sensitive this topic was. Usually, I just let things like this roll off my back. We have a very opinionated family, and even though I have very strong feelings about this and that, I really do try hard to acknowledge everyone’s opinion and not push mine on people. Everyone is entitled right? Here is the problem, these comments and opinions hurt me, cut me to the core. I was a mess.

I felt like such a failure. What a horrible feeling this was. It was determined that my breastmilk did not contain enough fat for Ava. So here are both sides of the coin. In one instance, I felt very selfish because here is my gorgeous baby girl that depends on me to keep her safe and fed, and I couldn’t naturally do that. I was selfish from the stand point that I continued to breastfeed her even though I knew that something wasn’t quite right. As I mentioned before, the calories being burned and the money saved were also wonderful bonuses of breastfeeding as well. Then on the other side of the coin was that I was inadequate to feed my child. My body wasn’t only not producing enough milk but the milk that it was producing was not high enough in fat. So in short, in my mind, I was inadequate and a failure when it came to one of the most natural things a mother can do, and people had no problem telling me so.

I have formula fed all of my children at different stages in their early lives and it still is not right with me. I feel like I have totally let them down, that somehow, I cheated them out of something. It hurts, a lot. I am envious of mothers that can breastfeed for long periods of time. Sure I have a opinions on when a child should be weaned but I keep those to myself, that is for a mother to decide and it does absolutely no good to push those thoughts on anyone else. It is interesting though to look at the social ramifications that we encounter on the topic. I know there are certain that people look down at me when I start shaking up Ava’s bottle. For a long time it was a dirty little secret, I hid formula cans in the back of my store or would pre make bottles and then just heat them up. I was still so disgusted with myself and mad at myself for being inadequate. Honestly though, I did this to keep the scrutiny at bay.

Over the last 2 months, with the help of my wonderful husband I have come to terms with our decisions. Had this been before the days of formula, Ava may have died. A lot of babies did

before formula was available. So of course I am really very happy that we had that option. As she gets older it does become a little easier knowing that she is only a few months away from being able to drink cow’s milk. Really, she is none worse for wear, she is very happy, barely spits up any more and finally is filling out her clothes! One thing this situation has reminded me though is that it is important not judge a person because you never know what they are going through. Keep your mind open.


  1. The one quote that we hold on to from all the many classes we took before Harper was "Your job is to feed the baby - rather that be breast or bottle." Don't let anyone beat you up about decisions you've had to make. Ava is so lucky to have such loving parents that have her health and best interest at heart! It's so wonderful that you had many options to search for the best thing for your family and your beautiful little girl.
    Hugs, kisses, and love to a wonderful and loving mama!

  2. Regina, you're the best mother on the world!! Your children are happy and healthy! I supplemented breast milk with formula from the time Ellie was 4 days old because she was rapidly losing weight although she was nursing 24-7. My milk was just not enough for her. In the days before formula if a mother's milk was not nourishing a baby then they would get another mother who had better milk to nurse the baby. For women to assume that every woman should be expected to nurse every child without any supplement is just not reality and never was.