Imaginary Sails

Formula: the other ‘F’ word

Here goes… I should preface this by saying 1) I am not a professional in this field, simply sharing my experience and opinion. 2) I am pro-breastfeeding, and that being said 3) I am 100% pro feeding-your-baby however you need to for them (and you!) to be well. Period.

Breast is Best‘ is a very simple phrase, for something that was so much more complicated than that for me. Before I had my son, when people asked if I was planning to breastfeed I would respond with ‘yes, assuming I can’, all nonchalantly like it was no big deal to me. I told myself to not be married to the idea because I ‘knew’ that things could go wrong or be complicated, but somewhere deep down I was getting very attached to this very maternal and primal thing, I had seen a few people close to me make it look easy, and if I was committed I was sure I could do it too. I am definitely a person who hangs A LOT on expectations and disappointment can hit me hard, so I told myself to not give too much weight to the expectation of breastfeeding coming easily to me… Unfortunately I totally did, I hung my hat on it, put all my eggs in that exact basket, imagined myself breastfeeding in a field full of flowers, bunnies and baby deer (HA!), I committed myself fully… I mean really, what’s the big deal? You have the baby, the baby latches, you repeat every two hours in order to establish your milk supply and you are set to go right?!?!

I also told myself to just embrace the birth of my son however it happened, even if it wasn’t 100% natural, even if it was a C-section. I won’t go into too much detail on this now, but I ended up with an emergency C-section. In summary we heard the words ‘jammed’ and ‘wedged’ coming out of the doctors mouths as they were doing the procedure, no wonder he hadn’t dropped at all after hours of active labour and almost full dilation! I got to be awake during the operation and see our little guy right away and it was the most amazing experience of my life, even though it was not at all how I pictured it. Thank goodness I’m not disappointed about how the birth went down or I really would have put myself through the ringer…

So it might have been the c-section (milk can take a few extra days to come in after this procedure), it might have been my baby’s latch (he had a slight tongue-tie that was corrected on day three.. my husband and I are also suspicious he may have a square-ish shape to his tongue which sounds so weird but perhaps that has affected things as well), it might have been my hypothyroidism (really might have been this one but the link wasn’t figured out until way too late – if you are having trouble see a lactation consultant if at all possible, they know a lot more than doctors, nurses, helpful friends and neighbours combined ;) )… Whatever the cause of me not having enough milk was, the doctor strongly urged me and my husband to start supplementing with f%$@&(* by day 4 after birth because our baby had lost more weight than they like to see. I was devastated, I wanted to be able to supply all the food my baby needed myself, I wanted to feed him myself, I wanted him to need me, I wanted to be enough, it felt like I was already failing at being a Mom and I had barely gotten started. I didn’t want to give my baby that stinky formula. Period. Ugh, I know, it all sounds so dramatic but that is truly how I felt in that moment.

But it wasn’t about me at anymore, I was a Mom now and my Husband a Dad, and we had a responsibility to make the best possible decision we could for our sweet little bundle. He had barely slept or wet his diaper in the previous 24 hours. He was hungry. He wasn’t floppy or lethargic, we weren’t in dire straits by any means, but did we really want to wait and see if we would get there? No, we did not. So with the help of the nurse we jigged up a feeding tube that would go alongside my nipple so he would get the formula along side the colostrum from my breast (my milk had not come in yet). He guzzled it, he was satisfied, something I couldn’t give to him at this point. The doctor said it would just be a few days until my milk came in, then we wouldn’t need to supplement anymore – guess what I did with that expectation?! You guessed it, hung my hat on it, took it as law and didn’t doubt for one second that it would just be a few days. There was just this one thing niggling in the back of my mind… everything I had read talked about the supply and demand behind breastfeeding and so those 2, 4, 6, 8 ounces of formula that was being given to my little one my body didn’t know to make so how would I ever catch up?

I didn’t.

What about pumping between feedings? Wellll funny you should ask, after my little one would spend over an hour breastfeeding and then be awake for a bit, then have a shortish nap one of two things would happen: I would pump (and rarely yield more than an ounce or two – so frustrating!), and then baby would wake up wanting to feed and rapidly get annoyed at my lack of milk and I would end up giving him everything I had just pumped plus more formula. Or I wouldn’t pump and he might be satisfied to just nurse and we could hold off the formula one more feed. That was always my goal. I had been given the advice from the public health nurse and some successful breast feeders to ‘just relax, nurse my baby as much as he wanted, rest, and my supply would certainly increase. Just don’t give him formula, your body will adjust…’

Here’s what actually happened, I would follow this advice (I mean reeeeeally try to follow it, it wasn’t rare for me to spend about an hour and a half on a feed, then feed again half an hour later) until my baby was extremely ticked off and hungry, generally around supper time. Then I would give him a bottle – often in tears – feeling guilty that I was giving him formula, and also feeling guilty because I had waited so long that he was super hungry by the time I gave him the formula. Guilty. Why!?

Because all of this pro-breastfeeding hype has a flip side that has turned formula into a bad word, something shameful…

Yes, breast milk may be the perfect food for an infant, and ‘best’. It would also be ‘best’ if we all exercised every day, ate well balanced diets and got our 8-10 hours of sleep every night, but ‘best’ can be hard to attain. It took me a while to understand that this was just one of so many choices we will have to make as parents and really it is best to just trust yourself and let go of expectations and pressure you put on yourself, what others will think of you, and what you in your mind think people might possibly be thinking of you. Like I said it took me a while to learn this awesome lesson that I am sure I will learn time and again and in the meantime I tried everything, I was on domperidone, I had a herbal tincture, I ate the recommended foods to help with milk supply, I wasted our evenings pumping every time the baby had a bottle after attempting to delay more formula (again). I went a little nutty, I weighed my baby every single week for months and made sure he was gaining enough but also attempted to ensure he did not get a single ounce of formula he didn’t ‘need’. Seriously, I would give my Husband the side eye if I thought there was even an ounce ‘extra’ in a bottle he had prepared. We laugh about that now but I totally put stress on our relationship through my nuttiness. I did all this and more hoping and hoping I would eventually be able to declare we didn’t have to buy any more formula.

At first I was so ashamed, I would apologetically/defensively explain to people why I HAD to give my baby formula, I would avoid bottle feeding certain places for fear of being judged, and worry that people would think I was uneducated or lazy for not exclusively breastfeeding. (BTW all those bottles and prep and washing, not lazy). How awful. It took me six months to not have spontaneous breakdowns over this, now I just wonder why I wasted so much time worrying (and pumping, ;) )? Most people that I know personally couldn’t have cared less that we were supplementing with formula (aside from worrying about why I was taking it so hard). They saw my healthy baby and that was it. It was more this large emphasis and push towards breastfeeding that put this enormous pressure on me, and I let it, but not next time I can tell you that for sure.

I know women who couldn’t breastfeed at all, but their baby was formula fed and that is awesome. I know women who had an awful time with over supply and all the pain and discomfort that comes with that, keep on breastfeeding anyways and that is awesome. I know women who didn’t struggle with breastfeeding, really enjoyed it and that is awesome. I know women who stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula because they knew overall it would make them a better and more balanced Mom for one reason or another, their baby was fed and that is awesome. Notice the theme of awesomeness??? How about a big thumbs up for fed babies, because that is really what is best! Yes?! Yes!

This is a topic that is near and dear to me and I would love to hear about your experiences as well! My email is on the contact page, otherwise comment, share, and hugs below!



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  1. Monica

    September 23, 2015 at 12:06 am

    Thanks for sharing tanitha! I can relate so much to this! Expectation, emergency csection, trying to avoid formula at all costs, pumping every 2 hours for 4 months in an effort to give Formula little as possible! It seems so crazy now! I also had many melt downs because I felt like such a terrible mother for not being able to feed my baby. Thankfully my daughter latched on at 4 months and I could say goodbye to pumping forever. I really wish healthcare professionals/society etc didn’t put so much pressure on breast being best. Happy healthy well fed babies are all that matters.

    1. Tanitha

      September 23, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Oh man that is a lot of pumping Monica! It is crazy how much pressure there seems to be and then there’s the pressure we put on ourselves on top of all that – really it should just be support that is given from those who work with the new moms. Im so glad you can relate, I know this must happen a lot more than people talk about.

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