Breastfeeding Week: On Feeding, Formula, and Failure

“This is not a canister of failure.” That’s what my husband said as he held up a brand-new can of baby formula.

I had worked so hard to avoid feeding my son formula. I pumped four times a day on weekdays in addition to nursing him three times a day (morning, evening, middle of the night). I had built up so much supply in the freezer that Chris completely relied on breast milk while I was away on a business trip. I considered the single time my mom fed him 30 ml of formula while we were out to dinner an anomaly.

So when Chris told me that we were down to just a few liters in the freezer, my heart sunk. Although we had gotten through the trip with some supply left, Sprout vastly increased his milk intake the following week. Each day he drank more and more and I simply couldn’t keep up. If I was staying at home and nursing him, my body would have adjusted, but there was no way to pump more than I already was.

I just had to face the facts; Sprout was going to have to drink formula, whether I liked it or not. Coming to terms with this forced me to consider why I was so obsessed with Sprout only drinking breastmilk.

Part of it is that I really do believe breast milk is better than formula. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula, has just the right variety of nutrients and is simply the best food for babies. But I mainly drank formula as a baby due to my mom not getting enough breastfeeding support and I’m fine. Similarly, I would never say to another woman that supplementing breastfeeding with formula is wrong.

Part of it is that I really hate supporting the companies that produce formula. They’ve run huge marketing campaigns in developing countries convincing doctors to provide formula and women not to breastfeed. While breastfeeding is the best everywhere, formula feeding can downright dangerous in developing countries where women may not have access to clean water to mix it or a way to sterilize bottles. In addition, it’s shameful to be telling someone to buy something over a free option when they may not have enough money to both buy it and pay for their other kids to go to school. But as much as I try to avoid it, I still buy plenty of other morally dodgy items (Cascadian Farm cereal, owned by General Mills, jeans from the Gap), so it wasn’t just that.

A lot of my disappointment in needing to supplement came down to simple pride. I was genuinely proud that my body could feed my baby and I believed that through sheer will alone I could produce all the milk he needed. After all, if I just tried hard enough and was just dedicated enough, I could overcome the limitations of the pump and therefore, of returning to my job.

But it simply wasn’t true. I couldn’t force my body to do something it wasn’t suited to do. To feed my child, I needed to set aside my pride.

So Chris started feeding Sprout formula, mixing it with breast milk. And the world didn’t come to an end. Sprout liked the formula just fine and continued to increase his intake, far past what I pumped on even my best days. I kept pumping as much as I could and doing the best job that I could as his mom.

Now that I’m winding down pumping (thank God), feeding him formula and now cow’s milk doesn’t seem like such a big deal. But at the time, admitting that I couldn’t do it all myself was So Damn Hard. But sometimes you just need to accept help, even if it’s from a can.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Week: On Feeding, Formula, and Failure

  1. Pingback: This week in the Slacktiverse, July 12th, 2014 | The Slacktiverse

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