I Want To Tell Mothers That Bottle Feeding Is Also Beautiful

 

Kristen Elise Umunna
Kristen joined the Fed Is Best Foundation’s Mental Health Advocacy Team to be a voice for mothers, especially mothers of color who are struggling to breastfeed and are experiencing shame for feeding their babies formula.
‘ I want to be a voice that tells every mother that bottle feeding is also beautiful and formula is the best nutrition for the babies who are being nourished by it.’

My story:

February 12, 2014. I was just 1 day postpartum after delivering my firstborn and I remember bawling my eyes out. The nurses at the time were assuring me that I was doing everything “wrong” in regards to feeding my daughter. They woke me out of my sleep at least 7 times in one night to feed my baby and they assured me she was getting enough to eat. One nurse told me to stop crying about breastfeeding pain as it is going to hurt! “If you want to build your supply, you have to keep going!” Never has I felt like more of a failure.

February 13. 2014. I put her to the breast on demand as I was told in my baby-friendly hospital. Yet, she kept crying. And crying. And crying. She was making wet diapers, but something was wrong. I just knew it in my heart. So I did what my amazingly supportive husband suggested and I called the pediatrician and took my baby in for an emergency appointment. When the pediatrician walked in the room, she held my baby and handed me a bottle of formula to feed her. She told us we had to take her to the hospital immediately. When we arrived, the nurses and doctors took my baby girl in immediately. After she was stabilized and taking blood tests, she was diagnosed with jaundice, hypernatremia, hypoglycemia, and dehydration. She was critically ill because I was not making any breast milk while nursing her. She spent 3 days in the pediatric intensive care unit and we were devastated. I was STILL rudely encouraged to pump every 2-3 hours while sitting in the PICU with my baby, despite not producing any milk.

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I Attempted Suicide From The Pressure Of Breast Is Best

When I first wrote this blog post, I was blown away by how many mothers related to my breastfeeding story. So many women reached out to let me know I wasn’t alone, and shared nearly identical stories. Which made me both relieved, and also very sad that this mental health side of breastfeeding isn’t talked about enough. I don’t understand why so many people act like it doesn’t happen and don’t talk about it. We can SAVE lives if we DO talk about it!

I was just as equally shocked to see how many mothers thought that I should have kept breastfeeding anyway, even if it meant resenting my son, and being nothing more than a food source and a shell of a person. My story has been picked apart by many lactivists, from accusing me of being selfish, to thinking I just didn’t have enough support or encouragement. I had more than enough support for breastfeeding, but very little support for switching to formula when I knew it was best for my own mental health, and for my son. I can’t fathom telling a mom she’d better breastfeed or might as well be dead. I’m not against breastfeeding. I successfully breastfed my second baby for almost a year! But I don’t believe in breastfeeding at all costs, especially at the expense of the mother’s health, and that includes her mental health. A mother’s mental and emotional health are just as important as her baby’s health. Not every mom gets that oxytocin-induced happy breastfeeding experience. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and those moms need support and recognition too.

Postpartum depression is the most common complication after birth. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the first year postpartum. We NEED to start taking maternal mental health more seriously. The idea that breastfeeding prevents PPD is a myth. It can happen to any mom, no matter how she feeds her baby, and each mom can experience it very differently.

 I had more than enough support for breastfeeding, but very little support for switching to formula when I knew it was best for my own mental health, and for my son. I can’t fathom telling a mom she’d better breastfeed or might as well be dead. But I was told this and I believed them.

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How Do I tell the Hospital I Don’t Want A Lactation Consultant Visit When I Deliver My Next Baby?

Dear Fed Is Best Foundation,

Thank you for everything that you do! Your organization has made me feel so much better about my situation and personal needs. I did have a question for you though, although I should probably explain my situation first. My daughter is now 14 months old. When I was pregnant with her, I had preeclampsia from about 28 weeks onward. I had to take maternity leave eleven weeks sooner than planned because my job as a full-time middle school substitute teacher was too stressful on my blood pressure. I went to the hospital at 37 weeks with blood pressure of 177/100, and they decided to induce me. After 45+ hrs of labor, followed by an emergency c-section, Clara was born three weeks early.

My plan was to try to breastfeed, at least for the first 6 months. We had skin to skin immediately after birth, and I tried breastfeeding right away. She didn’t latch at first, so we thought we’d try again a little later. Once we got back to my room, we attempted again, but she still wouldn’t latch. She had absolutely no interest. She would turn her head away every time I would push her toward the breast, and she would cry as loud as if we were hurting her.

I asked for a bottle of formula. I was advised of nipple confusion, but I didn’t care. They only let me give her 2 mL, so I could try to breastfeed again later.

Then the bleeding and shaking began. I got back to my room and was only able to hold my daughter for about an hour, when I started to gush blood. The doctors and nurses couldn’t contain it on just the pads that they put underneath you. There was so much blood, they were weighing the pads to see how much I’ve lost. I started getting uncontrollable chills and going in and out of consciousness. From what I remember, they said that I was not clotting. They had to take me down to the OR for a D&C. So the first almost five hours of my daughter’s life, I didn’t get to hold her. My very stressed and scared husband did.

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Maternal Mental Health Feels Like it Comes Second to Breastfeeding When It Should Be First

This story is for you mommas whose mental health feels like it comes second to breastfeeding, when it should be first.

I have a long history of mental illnesses in my family. I inherited most of them. While they do not define me, they are a part of me. I have Bipolar 1 Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and a Panic Disorder.

I tried to get pregnant in 2016, but through no fault of my own, was diagnosed with PCOS and had to go back on hormones to re-regulate my cycles. Luckily, I was able to score an appointment with my amazing fertility specialist in Jan 2017 and I soon became pregnant in February. I saw my psychiatrist shortly after and I couldn’t decide if I should bring up how depressed I felt. This pregnancy was very much wanted but I wondered if I risked my stability and my mental health. My husband and I quickly decided pregnancy was not the time to start playing with my medication and I was just going to have to “push” through my depression unless I had thoughts of self-harm.

In this study, researchers found that 1 in 4 women had mental health problems: 15% had anxiety, 11% had depression, 2% had an eating disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 1% had post-traumatic stress disorder. The research also found low prevalence’s of bipolar disorder and other disorders.

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The Breastfeeding Support I Received Almost Killed Me And My Daughter; I’m Still Suffering From Breastfeeding Trauma

This is hard for me to write. My breastfeeding experience is a trauma that I don’t like to relive, but is undoubtedly the biggest cause of my postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA). But perhaps I can save someone else unnecessary pain and heartache. I know some will disagree, but hopefully my story can be a tiny cog in the wheel of feeding guideline reform.

Going into pregnancy, I knew Fed is Best. I decided I would attempt breastfeeding but if it didn’t work out, there’s always formula. Simple. Now, I’m a scientifically minded person. I respect those in the field and the scientific consensus. As I progressed through my antenatal appointments, it became clear. The general consensus is, breast is best, at all costs, with an inference that ‘formula is dangerous’. By the time my daughter was born, I had made up my mind. If other people formula fed, I wouldn’t judge, but I was going to breastfeed no matter what. I’d get all the help I needed.

My baby began crying from distress after breastfeeding.

That help wasn’t enough. My daughter would breastfeed for up to 3 hours at a time as the pain in her tummy would only allow a tiny bit of milk before she would either start screaming and thrashing in discomfort, or fall asleep (probably from low blood sugar). A quick feed would be around 90 minutes. Her reflux also dictated that I had to hold her upright for 30 minutes after a feed, otherwise she’d wake instantly again.  I was with her all night every night, with her chewing at my nipple shield on and off, fighting with her to just take a little bit more so I could have more than 2 hours of broken sleep a night. I was beyond sleep deprived. She was only getting enough milk to survive because she was constantly feeding. She barely slept, and was either feeding or screaming, clearly in pain. Once, people came running in a car-park because they thought she must’ve been badly hurt, her screams were that pained.

Her stomach was swollen and she was in distress

I’d heard that “the only reason breastfeeding fails is a lack of support” a million times. Lack of breastfeeding ‘support’ was not the problem. The health professionals I saw reiterated that “it’s normal for babies to cry” when I was pleading and crying in their offices. I stayed 4 nights in the hospital for extra ‘breastfeeding support.’ I went to the breastfeeding drop-in clinic multiple times. I saw an IBCLC and joined a breastfeeding support Facebook group. I called the ABA helpline. I saw my GP. I saw a second GP. I consulted the child health nurses. I rang Tresillian. I sought support on several Facebook pages and subsequently had my daughter’s tongue and lip ties cut, eliminated dairy, soy and minimised salicylates, tried block feeding, bottle feeding expressed breast milk (EBM), gripe water, infants friend, Infacol, infant gaviscon, colic mix, probiotics, baby massage, bicycle legs, patting techniques, baby wearing, skin to skin, dummies and eventually prescription reflux medication.

Nothing worked. My nipples were completely ravaged and I started to visually hallucinate from lack of sleep. I feared I was going into psychosis. We even brought up the idea of adoption, because I didn’t know how I could physically go on any longer. I felt I had no attachment to this baby because she was shattering me as a human.

 

My husband would race home from work to try to get her to sleep for an hour in the baby carrier so I could take a nap, but I had so much anxiety that I’d just lay there and sob uncontrollably. I was severely, severely sleep deprived but my anxiety would not allow me to sleep. The knowledge that I would be up all night, yet again, just broke me every evening. The constant breastfeeding meant that she was completely dependent on my broken, exhausted self. A break was not possible.

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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You From The Bottom Of My Heart

 

I just want to say thank you so much for your foundation’s web page and support group. I can’t say thank you enough! This is exactly the support system I have needed in my life since my daughter was admitted into the hospital at 3 weeks old due to failure to thrive.

This was worst experience of my life as a new mama and when the doctor told me my daughter could have died I was broken.

Because of the intense pressure, I felt the need to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. Yet for the 3 weeks that I tried I had no idea that I was starving my daughter ? My midwife was absolutely useless and she is a the biggest reason why this happened to us as she told me to keep breastfeeding and everything was fine. Long story short, I just didn’t have enough milk, and I didn’t find out until after my daughter was admitted to the hospital. This was the worst feeling in the world.  Formula is the only reason my daughter is alive today.  Formula saved my daughter’s life!

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Jillian Johnson: My Message To Parents During World Breastfeeding Week-Just One Bottle

By Jillian Johnson

It took all of the courage I had to put aside the debilitating amount of guilt I carried for five long years to tell Landon’s story—his birth, the first days of his life and how he died. In fact, I still don’t know where I found that courage, but I am convinced Landon gave me the strength. I wasn’t prepared for the intense scrutiny my story received. I was utterly shocked because people came out of nowhere to discredit my story with a vengeance, but I quickly learned how to be gracious in such a vulnerable time.

After all, nothing anyone could say to me could hurt me more than the death of my newborn baby.

I can remember a very specific time, when I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital and Landon was on life support. My dad was there with me and we were talking about Landon’s prognosis and I won’t ever forget him telling me what a special little boy he was and that he would do great things. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what his words meant because Landon was most likely going to pass away, and my dad was talking about how he’s going to do great things. I never dreamed that his death would change the lives of so many people across the globe. Continue reading

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My Lactation Consultant Slapped My Nipple And Called My Nipple Shield A Cheater

I’d heard pretty much since starting puberty that breast is best. It’s in movies, books, social media, health class, and even in my own family. So, you can imagine my surprise to be sitting across from a very concerned doctor with a starving infant hearing that my breast milk wasn’t enough.

My baby gained only 7 ounces in 1 month.

I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to do what was absolutely best for my son, no questions asked. But before he was born, the intense pressure to exclusively breast feed was causing anxiety attacks, frequently. I have flat nipples but I was assured breast feeding would be no problem.

Then I had my beautiful baby boy. We immediately had issues with breastfeeding. One lactation consultant slapped my nipple trying to get it to poke out and called the nipple shield a “cheater”. So I didn’t use one after that. We were not allowed to give him a pacifier. It was four days of pure hell in the hospital with both of us crying.

I was told over and over my body would produce enough milk for my baby and to just keep breastfeeding.

We went home and it wasn’t much better. So, every time I held him he’d cry, and then I’d cry because I’d have to feed him. I began dreading my child. No parent should have to dread their child. Continue reading

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I Am Not a Formula Feeding Mom

Writing helps me process my emotions. A few weeks ago, I wrote this, and have debated whether or not to share it, because sharing the things I write makes me feel really vulnerable. But, today I needed to reread it to remind myself that I am not a “formula-feeding mom”, I’m just a loving mother. I decided to go ahead and share it with you guys. I’m hoping that this can maybe help someone else who may need a reminder that motherhood is not defined by how we feed our babies!

Some days I have to remind myself that I am not a failure.

I didn’t fail at breastfeeding. I did not fail at being a mother.

Society and my inner voice may sometimes convince me that I came up short in the infant-feeding part of motherhood, but in the rare moments of clarity, I know that this is not true. I am confident in my decision to exclusively formula-feed my son.

You see, I didn’t start out motherhood with the goal of breastfeeding my son. It wasn’t my plan to exclusively pump. Nor was it my plan to formula-feed my baby. My only plan was to feed him.

I took a breastfeeding class. I bought a nursing cover and nursing pads. I bought a breast pump and breastmilk storage bags. I signed up for formula samples, and sanitized baby bottles.

Before my son’s birth, I prepared to provide nourishment to a healthy thriving baby boy by whatever means necessary, with whatever method worked best for us.

After his birth, there was an overwhelming pressure to breastfeed no matter what. Women from all directions told me that breast milk was the best gift I could give my child, that it would give him the healthiest start to life. They said to me that breastfeeding was how we would bond as mother and son. They chided I needed to stop pumping and try harder to get baby on the breast or my supply would suffer. They warned that I needed to stop supplementing with formula.

They said that they wanted to “support” me on my breastfeeding journey, because “more mothers would succeed at breastfeeding if they just had enough support.”

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I Had All of The Support In The World And Breastfeeding Still Didn’t Work.

They tell you that if you prepare enough, it will work. They tell you that all you need is support, belief that you will be successful, and commitment. If only it were that simple.

I knew I might have issues. I had breast reduction surgery back in 2001, but had been told that using the right technique would preserve my ability to breastfeed. Nonetheless, I set out preparing to ensure I would be successful. Besides doing yoga, pilates, weight training, and exercise, I got into the midwife program and prepped diligently. I did prenatal workshops and tracked down a book on how to successfully be a breast feeding after reduction mom. I hired a private lactation consultant for a session ahead of time. We talked about teas and tinctures, techniques and diet to help my supply be optimal. We talked about how I could use a supplemental nursing system if necessary. I read extensively and was convinced breastfeeding was the only way to feed my son to ensure his well being and I would have no problem breastfeeding because I had SUPPORT.  

After lengthy pre-labour, labour finally started but my son was posterior and we stalled at 5cm dilated for over 10 hours. Finally, 33 hours after labour started, I delivered our son vaginally. I was exhausted after being awake for 3 days straight but determined to breastfeed. We seemed to struggle with latching and when he finally did, the pain took my breath away. I had already gone through 25 hours of labour before finally getting an epidural, but the pain during each feed was excruciating and only ended when he stopped feeding. Within a few hours I was concerned by the pain, and by my misshapen nipples that were already severely cracked and bleeding. I asked each nurse that I saw. All told me the latch was good and waved off my concerns about pain. My reading had told me to keep going but also mentioned it shouldn’t hurt this way. Worse yet, I often worried about how rarely he seemed satisfied with eating or would suckle to sleep. Yet we were released from hospital with instructions to be patient and told that breastfeeding would work out.

When I pressed about the bleeding, one nurse snapped at me: “What did you expect?”

My son barely urinated in the first few days, and by day 4 seemed more and more unsettled, finally crying 5 hours straight in the middle of the night. I was trying to let him feed as much as possible, but the pain persisted. The nipple shields a nurse gave me in the hospital helped my son to latch but the pain persisted with every feed, during the whole feed. My son still seemed always hungry and would stay latched on for over an hour if I left him. I’d try to persist feeding him, exhausted in bed, weeping at the pain and frustration.

CarlyCrying

After crying for 5 hours straight he fell asleep from exhaustion.

Our midwife team came for home visits every day. I dutifully showed our tracking charts of how long/often at each breast, his output and they would weigh him.He was quickly dropping weight so we tried to come up with a strategy. I kept up eating my oatmeal and good food like quinoa, as well as drinking lots of water. We bought a lactating tincture which I took religiously and by day 4 we both went for chiropractic and osteopathic care in case that would help. I got acupuncture. During this time, my wife contacted public health to have another lactation consultant come. I was doing all the right things, but my son was barely urinating and kept dropping weight. The lactation consultant ‘diagnosed’ a posterior tongue tie and lip tie which she believed was the cause of my pain and the state of my still bleeding nipples that would often be blanched white and misshapen after a feed. She thought temporary supplementation would be needed but was insistent no artificial nipples, so we had to tube feed him with SNS or by finger. I was told not to use a soother so he often fussed unless I let him latch onto the shield on my breast. I pleaded to get my son into specialist quickly and the frenectomy was performed at 7 days. Sadly, it did not help my pain. The Dr. who did procedure would tell me after procedure that she didn’t think tie was serious enough to warrant the frenectomy and that the real issue was an anatomically small jaw that would simply have to grow. 

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