My cousin Rachel encountered complications as she sought to nurse her first child, Reid, in the fall of 2008. When she switched to formula, a close friend scorned her decision, suggesting that formula would turn Reid into a fat, lazy and sick child. This added an unnecessary layer of guilt to Rachel’s experience as a new mom.
As it turns out, Reid is a healthy, happy, brilliant toddler. This underscores more than her friend’s wrongheaded approach. She was wrong about predicting the future, too.
Read on for more of Rachel’s breastfeeding story.
Q: When your child/children were infants, how did you feed them—nursing, formula, or a medley?
A: I intended to exclusively nurse, but he was severely jaundiced and wasn’t nursing well (which I didn’t know, since I’d never done it before). I would feed him and he’d cry right afterward. We thought he was gassy, but it was really that he was still hungry. I had no idea! He was 8 lb, 2 oz when he was born, 7 lb, 9 oz when we left the hospital, and he was down to 6 lb, 10 oz or so by day three or four.
We had to go back in the hospital for a few days when he was five days old for him to be in the incubator, and this particular hospital made me give him formula so they could be sure he was getting enough to eat and to flush out the jaundice. When we got home, I nursed, but according to my breastfeeding support group, he’d feed for 40 minutes and get 2/3 of an ounce. To make sure he was getting enough, I’d nurse, then supplement with a bottle, then pump so that maybe I could give him a bottle of breast milk instead of formula.
I saw a lactation consultant several times a week, I went to the breastfeeding support group, and I called my doula several times for help and advice. I was up for almost two hours at every feeding, and it became too much. I was exhausted, and he was mostly getting formula by that time, anyway. By two months, I switched to formula only.
Q: Did you ever feel judged or scorned because of your method? For example, did a friend or relative criticize you?
A: Yes! My best friend told me that my son would be fat and lazy and sick because I wasn’t breastfeeding him. She told me I wasn’t trying hard enough, and that breastfeeding was best. In a later conversation, she said, “I don’t think you’ll try to breastfeed next time you have a baby.” I asked why not, and she said, “It just doesn’t seem like something you wanted to do.” I did! My baby was losing a ton of weight! It was scary! I did what I had to do!
Q: If you did feel judged, share your thoughts about what impact that had on you emotionally.
A: I had a hard enough time making that decision as it was. I did feel like it was partially my fault—I didn’t know he wasn’t getting enough, and that made me feel terrible. Having someone so close to me tell me that I was going to ruin my son by switching to formula was very painful.
It’s been over three years, and I still don’t think my side of our friendship has recovered entirely. Instead of viewing her as a supportive friend, I keep back information about parenting or things I’m doing with my son because I don’t want her to say something else about my parenting.
Q: Based on your experiences, what would you tell future moms about feeding their babies?
A: You need to do what works for you and your baby. The baby’s health is the most important thing, and getting enough nutrition is essential. My son is neither fat nor lazy, he never gets sick, and he’s absolutely brilliant. Being formula-fed has not impacted his health or wellness in the least. He’s very independent, which may be a result of not being attached to me for breastfeeding for a year, but he may have been that way regardless–I’ll never know.
Mothers have instincts for a reason; follow them, even if someone criticizes you for it. You need to do what’s best for both of you.
Like her son, Rachel is brilliant. She writes the The Lazy Christian blog, and just had her second baby, a darling girl named Lane.
- Got Milk? Breastfeeding’s Not Free–or Easy (Mama Writes, April 14, 2012)
- The Joy of Nursing (Mama Writes, April 28, 2012)
- Mom’s Milk+Formula=A Happy Baby (Mama Writes, May 5, 2012)