Dilemmas and Decisions: Breastfeeding, the Pump and Formula

When I was pregnant with Juliana, I had these dreams of the two of us rocking peacefully with her happily nursing. Instead those attempts were meant with screaming baby and crying mommy. So I would pump milk for her and bottle feed, this included waking up during the night to feed her a bottle and then pump milk for later…in the middle of the night. After a month we started supplementing with formula and by 3 months I quit pumping and she was on formula for the rest of her first year. I felt incredibly guilty about the whole experience; I had failed at one of the first things a Mommy can do for her child. Was it because I didn’t nurse her in the first hours of her life (after being awake for 40 hours and undergoing major surgery) and she had more than one bottle of formula during those days in the hospital? Whatever the reason it didn’t work out for us, and she has always been incredibly healthy – one ear infection in nearly 4 years.

When I found out I was pregnant last year, I thought a lot about this experience with Juliana and decided that this time could be different. I would make a second attempt to breastfeed but if it didn’t work out I wasn’t going to pump and bottle-feed this time, instead we would go straight to formula and not feel guilty.

Then the announcement – twins- oh my….I couldn’t successfully nurse one baby, there is no way I could possibly deal with two. Throughout the remainder of my pregnancy, people would ask if I was going to breastfeed (it’s amazing to me that something so personal becomes a matter-a-fact topic during pregnancy and the early baby months), and my response was always I will try. The nurses preparing my hospital charts at my 3rd trimester appointments – I am going to try; the nurses checking me in for surgery – I am going to try…the answer was never yes.
In the recovery room, the post-op nurse asked if I wanted to try breastfeeding them, ok let’s give it a try. They both nursed for a few minutes. However their blood sugar was low so they had formula as well in the recovery room and later that night. I had already decided that they would have formula in the nursery at night, this second time around I resisted the night rooming in. It’s really an interesting concept – major surgery, still hooked up to all sorts of tubes, affects of spinal still wearing off, taking pain medication, completely exhausted and can’t get out of bed…yeah, leave a defenseless tiny human with me for the night. This time around I took full advantage of the nursery at night so I could start to recover from the long pregnancy and surgery.
That first night they both had formula and by morning their blood sugar had stabilized and we went back to the breast. All was well the first full day, second night and the next day. That third night, just as I was falling asleep at ~11:00, the night nurse came in and announced that Wyatt had already lost more than 10% of his weight (most babies lose 6-10% of their weight following birth) and they were going to bring him to me throughout the night to nurse and then give him a bottle – that nurse made me feel like a bad mom who had sent her babies away for the night and wasn’t doing everything possible to keep them healthy.

And then we went home the next day. Ruslan continued to nurse well and Wyatt didn’t eat quite as energetically. They were up constantly at night during those first few weeks. Scott would give each of them a bottle during the first part of the night and then I would sleep in their room the rest of the night, feeding them every few hours. We went for weight checks every few days; we were told to give Wyatt more formula since he wasn’t gaining fast enough. I was exhausted. Ruslan gained his weight back quickly and was excused from weight checks, and as we approached one-month Wyatt passed as well.

Ruslan developed reflux and formula made it worse, so we quit the one nightly bottle at about one-month and he has been exclusively on breast milk since. That means I have had to get up with him each night – no letting Scott get up with Ruslan, although he still gave Wyatt a bottle. As the reflux was getting worse I started searching for answers – and eventually I cut dairy out of my diet. Within a week, the massive amounts of spit-up were reduced to a dribble. I’m not a milk drinker, but I sure do miss cheese and ice cream and an occasional bowl of cereal.
At 6-weeks Wyatt was still having several bottles a day and breastfeeding the remainder of the time. I was so tired and he ate so slowly while Ruslan was done in 10 minutes. I made the decision to switch Wyatt to formula. I didn’t feel guilty this time, I knew that he would be healthy and I could do better for both babies by making this change. I’m so glad that I was firm in my decision because most people could not understand why I would do this, as if I was mistreating Wyatt when instead I was making sure that he was getting enough food. At his 2-mo check-up his weight had improved and I felt even better about my decision. Everyone was happy to get to feed Wyatt and it gave me a break in the evenings.

Since the boys have been in daycare, Ruslan is now getting pumped breast milk in a bottle during the day and he doesn’t care…that little one is just happy to eat. And now the next decision, when to stop? I am going away for a week at the beginning of December so we have that as an end date – I think I feel better having a target date (and knowing when I can eat cheese again). So by mid-November I plan to stop breastfeeding Ruslan and he will be on formula for the last 5 months of his first year. Hopefully by that point the reflux will be gone so the formula won’t bother him. So this begins the final stretch of this part of motherhood.

Breast milk or formula, both are healthy options for babies and no one should make mothers feel guilty for making the decision that is right for them and their babies. I am happy that I was able to provide breast milk for all 3 of my babies for their first 6 weeks and that Ruslan has become the happy little nursing baby that I thought I would have all along. Do I feel guilty that I am stopping during the first year, maybe a little…but stopping before the teeth arrive sounds like another good reason…and I know that Ruslan will continue to thrive.

1 comment to Dilemmas and Decisions: Breastfeeding, the Pump and Formula

  • chasingalittlelion

    Kudos to you for being confident with your decision. What an ordeal/adventure!

    Peanut wouldn't nurse and we never figured out why. I tried and tried and felt so guilty that we couldn't get it to work. And oh the comments and questions. Why can't people mind their own business? He got pumped milk supplemented with formula for 2 months but when I was headed back to work and planning to quit pumping, I ended up with an infection and my decision to quit was made much easier. Sure, Peanut is still under the 25th %ile in weight for his age but at least he's consistently skinny!

    Sure it would have been nice to be a stay at home mom and have him nurse exclusively for a year but that's between me, my husband and no one else. The naysayers can buzz off…