Before I had kids I knew I wanted to breastfeed them. I had seen my mom breastfeed my younger brother even though she was told growing up that nursing “was for poor people.” Regardless of class, it’s pretty common knowledge these days that breastfeeding a newborn has a multitude of benefits, and it’s my belief that “breast is best.”

Once my first son was born I began to nurse him with some rough guidance from the hospital nurses. They sent me home with a cheap diaper bag full of formula and an overwhelming list of phone numbers. I guess it’s no surprise that our nursing relationship lasted less than two months. At 20 years old, an inexperienced new mother, relatively new to the area, no mom friends, and a doctor who told me my baby needed to supplement or wouldn’t “thrive,” that nursing relationship was pretty much over before it started.

When I found out I was pregnant with our second son I was determined to breastfeed for a minimum of a year – the term recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time. I did a lot of research ahead of time, joined several groups online, and in time had made friends with other breastfeeding moms. I breastfed him until he weaned and moved on to regular milk, never having to use formula.

A very breastfeeding-only type of moment.

A very breastfeeding-only type of moment.

I figured that with my research and experience, breastfeeding my third son would be like second nature to me. He began nursing the moment he was born and I nursed on demand. He seemed to be a good sleeper – sometimes too good. His soiled diapers weren’t happening as often as they should, and soon I saw some signs of serious dehydration. I was nursing and pumping and he was eating, but not gaining. At nearly five months old I ran out and bought a can of formula. I was devastated.

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Underweight but not unhappy.

For the first few weeks I had a hard time even bottle-feeding him in public. Isn’t that ridiculous? Moms everywhere hide in their cars and in bathrooms, terrified to be called out for breastfeeding in public, and there I was doing the same thing to a bottle. I desperately wanted to fit my own mold, the “all-natural” mom who does the best for her baby.

But what is best for a baby when they aren’t thriving? The “best” is whatever gets and keeps them healthy. If having a healthy growing baby meant I would have to feed him formula from a bottle, then so be it. And slowly my scrawny little not-even-on-the-growth-chart baby filled out and plumped up and soon he was in the 50th percentile for his weight. Right smack dab in the middle of the chart. Perfect.

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The only bottle feeding picture I have.

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to appear to be the best parent we can be, we become blind to the real issue. No one was going to come up to me and belittle me for giving my child a bottle of formula even though it didn’t fit into my values. Heck, they don’t even know my values! But even though I didn’t get to make my breastfeeding goal, I did meet my goal of having a happy and healthy baby.

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When I'm not writing, I'm cleaning up after my three very messy boys, ages 8, 5, and 2, and my 1 year old girl. If I had to describe myself in just one sentence: Slightly crunchy, a little crazy and always exhausted.

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5 Responses to A case of bottle-feeding guilt

  1. Pam says:

    I totally get that….. I breastfed my first son for less than a week. He didn’t latch on, I had no support system for it, and I was completely miserable. I vowed do it longer for my second son, I made it a month, but he was always nursing and always hungry and again I was miserable. My older son is actually healthier than my younger son, interestingly enough. But, yes I did feel guilty for a long time, but I knew I did what was best for both my sons and I. You made an awesome choice for your son so do not feel guilty.

  2. Saare says:

    Very good read

  3. Jennifer says:

    Don’t stress it, Angela. You did what was best for both of you. I was obsessed with breast-feeding my daughters and saw them through to their toddler year, but not without some serious stress. For those looking for a really good resource, I just wrote a blog on nursing support in the form of a book.

  4. Beautifully stated. We all just need to give ourselves a little grace and get those negative voices out of our head!

  5. Your first two experiences sound very similar to my first two sons! I don’t have a third, so I can’t say how that might have gone. I am very pro-breastfeeding, but have always said that formula is a wonderful invention for moms who cannot breastfeed or if for some reason it’s just not enough for the baby. I’m glad your little guy is doing so well now!

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