From Breast To Bottle: My Journey to Bottle Feeding

I didn’t expect to have this reaction to 20 pounds of frozen breast milk but I was hit hard. Seeing these full bags of unused breast milk made me briefly question whether or not I should have stuck it out and continued to make myself nurse my son. Should I have ignored my mental health to give him what everyone says is best?

You can’t go into a doctors or midwives office with posters and pamphlets proclaiming the magic fruit of the breast. You can’t go on the social media without seeing a mom so lovingly feeding her baby topless in the desert. Sure, the messages and images of breastfeeding are beautiful and there is no greater bond that one between mother and child. But is there too much pressure coming from a medical and social standpoint to breastfeed when may not best all women.

Breastfeeding was never positive for me. I never had an issue with latching or supply. If anything, my issues were with oversupply and making my newborn babies projectile vomit, violently. Then they’d cry in discomfort for months on end, sending me down the darkest path a mother can go down. I was depressed, angry, and hating my life.

There is no shortage of self-doubt in motherhood. All any woman wants is what’s best for her baby. I know I do. That’s why I forced myself to breastfeed my first 2 children. I had become a milking machine and human soother. My body was not my own and there were no boundaries to be set. I was a mother of a baby and it was my duty to give all of myself to my children.

Seeing both babies suffer through what was supposed to be the best thing I could do for them was confusing and heartbreaking. I was making them ill and so uncomfortable, they’d cry day and night. And that was best? No wonder women are feeling isolated and divided when it comes to feeding their babies.

Breastfeeding clinics are great if you want to continue to breastfeed. They’re set up in a way to support healthy breastfeeding relationships but you never see or hear women seeking out support for bottle feeding. There aren’t as many options for women who what (or need) to exclusively bottle or formula feed in person, but there are great online resources like Fed Is Best and Don’t Judge Just Feed.

Don’t get me wrong, I like what breastfeeding clinics and breastfeeding support groups offer. Breastfeeding can be a rough go for moms. And if it’s something they really want for themselves and their babies, it’s wonderful to feel included and encouraged. Trust me, there is a lot of love and magic that takes place in breastfeeding clinics and support groups.

But women who bottle feed or formula feed don’t have that same support or inclusion. In my experience, I was questioned and pitied. I made the best choice for my son and myself, I don’t need pity. I need support, too.

I had stuck with breastfeeding with my first 2 children. The intense pressure coming from every single direction made it harder to feel like I was bonding with my them. I felt trapped by them. Mind, body, and spirit. It was hard to cope with the sense of loss, I felt.

I was (and still am) happy to make sacrifices for my children. I’m a mom first. But at what cost? I wish I had a good answer for you.

I had initially planned to breastfeed my baby and it went well for the first few days. It wasn’t until I was back in the hospital at 4 days postpartum that things turned for the worst. To read more about my trip to the hospital after a day of being discharged, click here. It was one of my biggest deciding factors when I chose to formula feed my son.

I was put on Percocet to relieve the pain I was in and spent a week pumping and dumping 24/7 because I didn’t want to risk the meds affecting my son.

When the meds wore off, I was thrilled to breastfeed him again. He latched on like he hadn’t missed a beat and we were both doing well. This changed again when he was 4 weeks old.

He started screaming for hours and there was nothing my husband and I could do to console him. I was in a lot of pain from my belly birth and still trying to recover from the trauma that surrounded it. Being the hospital for nearly 20 hours from something easily prevented shakes me to the core.

There was one day in particular that I can’t shake. It was a Friday, a PD day for my oldest and my sweet baby cried and screamed for 11 hours straight. For weeks, this poor baby cried for hours on end and this was the worst.

Caring for 2 older children was difficult. Somehow, we managed. My husband and I took turns carrying, bouncing and swaying our new baby with the hopes he’d fall asleep. My lower back would throb in pain simply because I had no core strength and my spine needed to do all the work.

This nearly broke my husband and I. The guilt of barely surviving and trying to take care of our other children and ourselves as this newborn baby screamed for comfort was too much to handle.

We would yell at each other because we were emotionally and physically exhausted. We lost our connection as a couple and as a team. We were miserable and couldn’t even be in the same room with one another. There were times were we didn’t speak.

I had enough. I was tired and non functional. I was a shell of a women who couldn’t hold myself together anymore. Knowing I couldn’t continue going on like this, I decided to try formula. I felt like there were no other options. My son was 7 weeks old.

Admittedly, I felt lost. I didn’t know if this was the right call. I didn’t talk to anyone about this because I didn’t want the outside noise. I needed figue this on my own.

Over the next few days, we started to notice a difference. He wasn’t crying nearly as much. At 8 weeks, the crying was no longer every single night. Thank heavens because it was Christmas time. Our hearts broke thinking about how this was going to turn out for our other kids. We wanted to give them a good holiday but too drained emotionally to get it all together.

My other two children were colicky and I didn’t cope well. I became depressed and anxious with both and knew I couldn’t sink that deep again

I had continued to pump and saved my breastmilk for the time I was ready to start again. But the stress was too much. The anxiety left me fighting sleepless nights while feeling like I had been up all night drinking, during the day.

I tried my hardest to emotionally to begin breastfeeding again. It was something I wanted. But my anxiety got the best of me. My history of postpartum depression was too much for me to suffer through again. My sleepless nights were not an option. I was left with a very difficult decision.

I needed to take care of myself and my family. I couldn’t do that in the state I was in. I decided to continue with what was working for everyone and formula feed.

I pumped until my supply ran out. Christmas eve was the last day I pumped and the first quiet night we had in months. It was the first time my baby slept peacefully. The first time my husband and I slept peacefully.

I’m looking for a place to donate the supply I still have. It’s important to me that a mom and baby who needs it can use it. I want to see what I couldn’t do for my son, be used for good and not wasted.

I cried as I posted this simple question on Facebook and I’m choking up now. But for me, this is my way of letting go. Letting go of my trauma, letting go of my anxiety, and letting go of feeling the pressure to exclusively breastfeed and failing my baby by not doing so.

There are times where the breast isn’t best, and for my family and I, the breast wasn’t best here. I’m not ashamed I couldn’t make breastfeeding work for me emotionally and I don’t feel like my son is suffering. He’s healthy and thriving. So am I.

This was such a trying experience. My hopes for this post is to help another mom, fighting through her feelings of guilt know she isn’t alone. Choosing your mental health over breastfeeding is hard. But if it’s what’s best in the end, you have nothing to be guilty for. You are NOT a failure.

This was not an easy decision. It was extremely hard and it took weeks to come to. I took it seriously and tried my hardest to make it work first. It didn’t work and I’m at peace with that.

It’s not to say it still isn’t hard. I go back to the “what if’s” and wonder if I should have tried harder. Maybe I should have but in that moment in time, this was (and still is) the right choice. Whatever you decide is the best for you and your baby is the right choice. There is no shame in that.

We need feeding inclusion, not feeding exclusion.

Love your baby body,
Terrell

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