Breastfeeding vs. Bottle & formula feeding – 3 perspectives

No, this isn’t yet another piece debating which is better or shaming anyone’s choice as to how they feed their baby.  Nope, this is about my personal experiences and how grateful I am that I got these different perspectives and what I learned from the varying circumstances.
All 3 of my children started on the breast at the hospital, but it didn’t necessarily stay that way.

First off, breastfeeding is certainly NOT the easy choice… it can be challenging, frustrating and PAINFUL and it’s a darn good thing it’s free (if you exclude the cost of a nursing bra, gel pads, nursing pads so you don’t leak through your bra/shirt, supplements to increase supply or any of the creams you need to heal your poor nipples).   Of course on the other hand, you can’t discount the priceless experience of that physical connection and bonding time with your baby.

For my first child, he was a good eater at the breast, had no health issues (not even jaundice), however *I* was the one to develop issues.  About a week in, I didn’t feel well.  Turns out I had mastitis.  I was exhausted and my recently cracked nipples were hurting and I just desperately needed a break.
So I took one.
My hubby went out to get formula (because I hadn’t yet pumped) and bottles and I skipped one feeding and napped while my hubby gave my son his first bottle.
Just skipping one feed and allowing my nipples to heal for 2 extra hours, getting a nap and having my meds kick in, I felt SO MUCH BETTER.
Afterwards I was more than ready to get my son back on the breast.  At first he was showing disinterest in coming back to my breast, but we put some formula on my nipple and poof – he was back on.
I exclusively breastfed him after that for his first 6 weeks, but then had to return to work.  So the pumping began.
Let’s just say I don’t think any woman actually likes to pump (other than getting relief from engorgement).
The actual act of it, especially if you pump both sides at once, just makes me feel like a dairy cow.

cow-milking-machine

Yep, that’s what pumping feels like.

It’s so impersonal.
You’ve literally hooked yourself to a machine.
Yet when you’re done and you see those bottles even just partially filled with this nutrient rich milk that YOU CREATED, the feeling of pride seems to make it all worthwhile… at least until you have to pump again.

Since there was no designated room for nursing mothers at my office job, I had to fashion a string and bed sheet from home as a curtain for privacy at the opening of my cubicle while I pumped at my desk.
In my predominantly female workplace, the one male in our team was 2 cubicles away from mine and every time I turned the pump on, within 10-20 seconds, he’d let out a “moo!”.
It was so wrong, but he’s lucky I’m easy going, have a sense of humor and it takes a lot to offend me.  It just added to my experience of feeling like a cow.

At the beginning, I was able to still breastfeed my son at night.  I was so lucky he didn’t have nipple confusion and was able to have bottles all day, but nurse at night.

Over the course of a few months, pumping at work became tedious.  I wasn’t given any more time in the day to get it done (and usually pumped just one side at a time to keep a hand free to use my mouse/answer my phone/type one-handed so I could keep working. I didn’t have one of those hands free bras… didn’t even know they existed at the time), but was expected to meet my same productivity, so pumping 3 times per day became 2 times, then 1 time… so of course, my milk production went down and it didn’t take long before I wasn’t producing enough for my son to fill the bottles I provided to his daycare.
Enter formula supplementing.
I always did a mix of my milk with formula for the bottles so it wouldn’t be all one or the other.  Slowly but surely, the percentage of formula kept going up while my amount of breast milk was decreasing.  By the time he was 12 months old, his bottles were 90% formula.  By then, he was on solid food, introduced drinking cow milk as well and sleeping through the night, so my nighttime breast feeding had stopped months prior.
My breast milk production had dwindled so much by then that weaning was no issue… no pain, no engorgement.  That was one happy outcome of slowing my production over time.

Baby number two was my first experience as a stay at home mom.  She was a healthy baby, nursed well, but developed breast milk jaundice.  What is that you say?  Yeah, I’d never heard of it either.  Apparently my breast milk, the very thing of perfect nutrition and designed specifically for my baby, was making her jaundice!  The good part was that although it would take longer for her to get over it, it didn’t have the unhealthy side effects of prolonged normal jaundice.
The pediatrician did have me supplement formula for her to help get it out of her system faster than exclusively breastfeeding, but it was limited as I really wanted to exclusively breastfeed her since I knew I didn’t have a job to go back to and I had the availability to keep breastfeeding (and NEVER have to pump!)
No nipple confusion at all and she kept coming back to my breast no problem, which was awesome.  After just a couple weeks, she became my exclusively breastfed baby.  Luckily she latched well so there was limited pain or abuse to my nipples. We went almost a year.  She actually weaned herself!  Seriously, she’d drink when she wanted and turn away when she didn’t and the frequency became less and less.  Once again, a painless wean for me.

Enter baby number three.
Problems with her ability to nurse well started the first day.  She’d latch, let go, latch, let go and play that game for the first 5 minutes almost every time (not pleasant for mommy).  That, plus turning her head side to side and hitting my tender nipple each time with her mouth or nose – ouch.  In addition, when latched, she just wasn’t doing it correctly and not before long, my nipples were bleeding/cracked/scabbing.
But we kept at it.  At home, there were times she’d do the latching game on my already BEAT UP nipple and I’d wince in horrible pain and have to sometimes just swear out loud when she’d do that.  OMG painful.  JUST STAY LATCHED KID!  Ugh.
They had us come in for her first check-up (5 days old, 2 days out of the hospital) and her weight was going down more than they like.  I kept at the breastfeeding for 2 more days, then another check-up.  Nope, still losing too much weight.
Since I hadn’t pumped yet and didn’t have any supply, we had to start formula.  He suggested every time I feed her, I breastfeed, then offer a bottle of formula afterwards to fill her up.
I had a total breakdown about this (not in front of him… I held it together until I got to the car).  I felt like such a FAILURE.
I was once again a SAHM with the ability to breastfeed my baby and totally took for granted that I’d be able to do so and now this doctor is forcing me to introduce a bottle and I just KNEW that once she fed from a bottle, she wouldn’t go back to my breast.
So I fed my baby via my breast for what I just knew would most likely be the last time and was still very emotional about it (also the last time EVER as I have no intention of having any more children).

However, it was a blessing we had to make the switch because only then, I started pumping and came to realize how LITTLE my milk supply was!
My thoughts and emotions changed the MOMENT I saw my baby’s face when I gave her that first bottle of formula.  When that nipple hit her lips and milk flowed out so easily, her eyes opened wide and you would have thought this baby had NEVER eaten in the first week and a half of her life!!!  She went to town on it!
I felt so bad my baby was starving!  But more so relieved that now she was getting the food she needed… it didn’t matter HOW anymore.

Apparently with the horrible latching and general feeding issues, my baby had caused my milk production to get lower and lower (because trust me, day 2 and my milk had come in enough to feed twins!), but a few days of low quality eating, my breasts responded to the lack of “need” and just didn’t make as much anymore.
I barely got ¼ of an ounce out of either breast for my first pump!!!  Trust me, that’s really bad.  My poor baby was slowly starving to death and NEVER COMPLAINED.  Seriously, she’s the kind of baby that even if she was hungry, she could be rocked asleep and take a two hour nap anyway.  My first girl was the complete opposite – if she was hungry, EVERYONE knew and there was no distracting her with ANYTHING else… she HAD to be fed.  Because of this former experience, I therefore didn’t realize that my new baby girl was probably hungry often, but didn’t show it.

And as it turned out, my instinct was right about her not coming back to my breast.  She lost all ability to latch AT ALL after the very first bottle.  Breastfeeding was over.   I just became an exclusive pumper before my baby was even 2 weeks old.
Sure didn’t see that coming, but again, the feeling of relief that my baby was getting the food she needed overcame any feelings of inadequacy I had.
We did go to a lactation consultant who had a few terms (that I don’t remember the names of) for the incorrect behaviors leading to my baby girl’s bad latching (it wasn’t tongue or lip tie though).
She gave us a few exercises to do with her while I tried to bring my milk production back up so that maybe we could train her to eat slower, work on her tongue placement and increase my supply so that perhaps we could be able to go back to breastfeeding.
I had a follow-up a week and 2 days later when we were supposed to start breastfeeding again.  I cancelled it.
My baby was eating 18-20 ounces a day and I was only producing 10-12 ounces per day (and being at home alone with an infant and toddler meant there was just no way I could manage pumping more than 3 times per day at best).  There was still no way I could sustain her all day with my production.  Plus, after over a week of exclusively eating from a bottle and getting used to that nipple, there was no way she’d “work” for her meal as much as she’d have to on my nipple.
It was really, officially over… but I’d made peace with it.
I especially made peace with it when I realized how much easier it was NOT to breastfeed.

What?  Really?  (You would have NEVER caught me saying that at any point earlier in my life)

I used to think ‘oh what a pain to bottle feed’ instead of breastfeed.  Breastfeeding was free, formula was expensive (true).  Instead of taking time to measure the powder, water, mix the bottle or warm the bottle while your baby screams, you just put them on your boob – instant satisfaction.
Well, turns out things have changed in the formula world.  They now have bottles of premade formula that are ready to go and require no heating (wha???).
You literally shake it, open the bottle, pop a nipple on it and voila, baby is eating.  It could be argued that it is quicker than starting breastfeeding because there isn’t the positioning/placement involved.

I can’t tell you how AWESOME this is for being out and about when baby is hungry.  So damn convenient!
I could never breastfeed in public [not a shame thing, just a logistic thing… I’m plus sized and my breasts are huge and nipples face more down than they do up and breastfeeding is more involved than those smaller moms with smaller boobs who can feed their babies while wearing them… nope, that’s not me… never been able to do that.  I literally have to hold my breast back above the nipple so it doesn’t cover over the baby’s nose and suffocate them… seriously.  I’ve tried letting it go (because of an insistent nurse in the hospital) and witnessed my baby react by moving their head side to side and having to eventually unlatch and pull back and gasp for air… so yes, I HAVE to hold my breast while feeding which means my other hand is busy holding the baby and since I’m usually exhausted, my hand gets lazy and I start not putting enough pressure on my breast to hold it back and if I don’t have the ability to look down and watch what I’m doing periodically, it starts going down to the suffocation position and I readjust, so I can’t use a blanket or any of those fancy, pretty covers for feeding].
So not having to sit in the back of my tinted window van to feed while out and make everyone else wait for us while doing so… what a very freeing thing.  Also, MORE NAPS!  For breastfeeding it is all mom, all the time.  I was there and awake for EVERY. SINGLE. FEEDING.  That was one thing daddy couldn’t do for me.
Well, with bottle feeding, I am free to take a nap longer than an hour during those first few crucial weeks.  What a sanity saver.  Mommy loves her sleep.  Mommy NEEDS her sleep.  Someone ELSE can do it!
I do pump 2-3 times per day, but only produce enough to feed her about 3-4 times per day (depending on how many ounces she feels like eating).  I do have to heat the “booby milk” before eating, so I have to endure her impatience (now that she’s had the experience of instant bottle feeding, she gets annoyed if she has to wait).   Yes, pumping is a pain, but for the freedom of methods to feed her and more naps for mommy it is totally worth it.
We also found a cheaper, powder formula that is the same stuff as the premade (once mixed, it can be at room temperature and does not need to be heated) and takes the cost per ounce from 50 cents to 15 cents.
However, we’ve discovered that breastmilk and the powder version of the formula both give her worse gas.  I think this baby has expensive tastes seeming she prefers the most expensive way to feed her!
No matter how I change my diet, she cries and fusses through gas & pooping after eating my breast milk.
Just a diet of the premade stuff?  No screaming… just a change in her facial expression and it comes out peacefully.
It almost makes me want to stop bothering to pump and stop breast milk all together, but
1) I know she’s getting immunities and other good stuff via my breast milk,
2) I’m capable and
3) it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay less expensive.
So these reasons usually outweigh my thoughts of stopping before she’s a year old… or at least 6 months old.
So I’ll only give her breast milk during the day when she should have more awake time anyway and I can help rub her belly, pat her butt, rock her and give gas drops to help her through the discomfort, and the premade bottles at night (I start after 6pm) so she’s not uncomfortable and sleeps better at night (which she does… no complaints of discomfort at all).
She’s now just over 6 weeks old, so I can’t contribute my weaning story yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be painless as well via just lowering my pumping amount until I don’t need to.

I would know none of this bottle/formula experience if it weren’t for my baby.  I would actually like to thank her for her lazy latch so that I could experience this different life with an infant.  I am so grateful for this different experience. I feel way more capable and productive in her first 6 weeks of life than I ever managed with my other 2 kiddos.  All because I can sleep more and even when awake, not have to be the one feeding the baby so I can get other ‘mommy’ things done seeming I have 2 other kids to think about and do things with.

So there you have it… I’ve been the mom who worked full-time and did the breastfeeding and the pumping and the formula.  I have been the SAHM who exclusively breastfed.  And now, the SAHM whose baby gets formula and pumped breast milk and only drinks from a bottle.
Three kids and three completely different experiences and I’m grateful for all of them.

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About personinprogress

A 30-something woman on a mission of self-improvement and lifelong healthy habits. A new 365/50 Project starts Nov 15th 2016!
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