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Can Breast AND Bottle Be Best?

By Amalah

 Dear Amalah,

Like many other question askers, this one is coming from a long-time reader (even though I’ve only been a mom for 5 months).

So before I had my baby, I had the philosophy that more than anything, a happy mommy was more important than a dysfunctional breastfeeding relationship. That being said, I will also admit that I was also judgy of other women who used formula and wondered if they had really tried hard enough to make breastfeeding work. Boy did I get what was coming to me!

After my wonderful, beautiful, happy, large baby was born we immediately had problems. She would latch on correctly, but then promptly fall asleep, absolutely refusing to work for anything. We had a large weight loss and we needed to supplement with formula and pump after as many feedings as I could manage and still stay sane (my second lactation consultant was much more reasonable than the first, who suggested pumping after every feeding when my baby was eating every hour around the clock our first night home from the hospital).

She rebounded very quickly and we were exclusively breastfeeding and past birth weight within a week and a half.

Things continued to go well until about 2.5 months. I wondered if I was having supply issues but I wasn’t sure until I went back to work two weeks later and she was eating 15 ounces at daycare and I was coming home with 6 pumped ounces. My fears were confirmed when we met with the lactation consultant again and my baby had only put on 5 ounces between 2 and 3 months. I worked SOOOO hard to build up my supply. We supplemented with frozen breastmilk after nursing (until the freezer was empty, then on to formula), I was pumping after as many feedings as I could manage. Again, her weight rebounded very quickly. I got up to a point where I pumped over 9 ounces in a day at work. Still not enough, but much closer. The baby was also sleeping long enough for me to get in a pumping session before I went to bed too. I was taking all sorts of weird herbs, drinking weird smelling tea, drinking gatorade, anything I heard that could help. I was really worn out!

I decided I couldn’t live that way so I took a weekend off of pumping after feeds, we went away another weekend (with the baby, but how do you pump on a plane, or in a hotel room without a working fridge). Then I just wanted to be good to myself to fit with my earlier philosophy of a happy mom. Things went from bad to worse supply-wise. I made it to my revised 5-month goal and I also got to the point where I was pumping under 3 ounces in a day at work. I’m now leaving the pump at home. It’s taking too much time out of my day and not getting me anywhere. I went to talk to someone about my feelings, she helped me see things in a new light. The counselor basically said that it’s ok to be sad, I need to grieve the loss of the nursing relationship I wanted to have. Also, in a year from now, it’s really not going to matter! My baby is happy, healthy, and smart! The counselor also suggested I need to work on separating in my mind being a good mom with breastfeeding.

I’m not looking for advice on how to build up or even maintain my supply. I give up. I need to be happy and I would really like my daughter to remember me without a pump attached to me.

I wonder if you have some suggestions on making both breast and formula work. I would like to continue to breastfeed as long as there is something in there for her. Currently I nurse and then give her a bottle when I am around her, when she is at daycare she gets bottles. I do not want to pump at work anymore.

A good mom who is feeding her baby!

Oh, my goodness, your chosen sign-off name makes me so sad. I mean, I completely agree with it (and understand why you chose it), but I HATE that you even felt the pressure to reiterate that yes, you are a good mom, in spite of “giving up” on the pump and your supply. Because there’s a big difference between just “giving up” and admitting defeat after fighting the good, long fight.

Which is exactly what you did. (DEAR COMMENTERS: PLEASE NO “BUT DID YOU TRY <insert supply tip that yes, I’m guessing she already tried> COMMENTS. THANK YOU MUCHLY.) And man, have I been there, done that.

All of my children got both breastmilk and formula. All of them. It was the most painful compromise with Noah, my first, just as it is for you. You feel like this is your BIG! ONE! CHANCE! to get everything perfect and best-of-intentions and instead the reality that motherhood is All About The Compromises whallops you in the face while you’re still all weepy and postpartum. And it’s really not fair, or easy.

The longest “exclusive” nursing relationship I had was with Ezra, because I was the most successful at pumping with him. At first, anyway. After a few months of pumping like gangbusters, I suddenly couldn’t pump as much per session. Just like that, I went from being perfectly capable of supplying milk for my (limited) time away from him to barely enough for a once-a-month date night. So…what? Was I going to pledge to never, ever leave his side again? To drag him on every business trip or dinner out or hair appointment because he might get hungry? Go back to pumping around the clock in hopes that my meager ounce-or-two output would EVENTUALLY add up to a single eight-ounce bottle, driving myself crazy in the meantime?

No. I was going to keep a freakin’ container of freakin’ formula in the pantry.

So I did. ANDHEWASFINE. We still nursed until almost 11 months. If we were together, he nursed. If we were apart, he got formula. If he was hungry after nursing, he got formula. If he was biting me at every feeding and I felt my sanity drifting somewhere south of normal, I took a break and he got formula. That’s all there was to it.

With Ike, the same thing happened. Pumping started out great, then took a precipitous nosedive RIGHT when I actually needed pumping to work. (Even though I work from home, I work about 30 solid hours a week and use a sitter. I spent about four months working with Ike at my side or strapped to my body, then handed him over to join the sitter and his brother(s).) It wasn’t fair to the older boys to insist that Ike be brought to me to nurse every time — they wanted to go out to playgrounds, zoos, activities. So…Ike got formula while they were out, breastmilk at home, and eventually I got so happy with this arrangement that I, too, pushed the pump under the bed and stopped using it.

We’re still nursing. Only about twice a day, but still. Nursing. Not long after I stopped using the pump, I stopped all of the supply boosters — no more teas or herbs or pills. I just nursed when I could, with as much milk as I had. Morning, night, after he fell or hurt himself and wanted comfort. My supply is pretty low now, but for us, for now, breastfeeding is much more about bonding and closeness than nutrition. And I’m fine with that, too.

Anyway, sorry to make this so long and All About Me (AS USUAL), but point is: You absolutely, positively CAN do both. Breastfeeding doesn’t HAVE to be exclusive to “count.” Or to “matter.” Once breastfeeding is established — even shakily and with supplementation — you don’t really have to worry about things like nipple confusion or sudden, overnight weaning. At least not as much as you might be worrying about those things (says the mother who worried about those things). I’ve left Ike behind on business trips and come back to a completely NOT WEANED baby. Babies CAN move quite easily from breast to bottle and back to breast without drama.

(I think the only hitch we had was that I fell into a routine of breast, then bottle, at bedtime. After a few months he started getting impatient for the bottle and refused to nurse first. I thought that meant we’d completely eliminated the nighttime feeding. But then he turned a year and the bottle went away, and then wouldn’t you know it, he suddenly was a fan of nursing at night again.)

The hardest part about going breast and bottle is probably letting yourself be okay with going breast and bottle. I didn’t reach that point with Noah, which probably played a part in how early we stopped nursing (five months). I had so much disappointment and negative emotions tied up in breastfeeding by that point (low supply, pump trauma, thrush, nursing strikes, conflicted feelings about going back to work, just to name a FEW of the obstacles we faced), that it honestly felt better to just stop fighting it all together and let Noah wean.

With Ezra and Ike, I had a better, healthier perspective on the breastfeeding relationship and what it “meant.” (And what it DIDN’T mean, i.e. whether I was a good mom or not.) So there was not as much sturm und drang over the formula compromise. If I wanted to nurse exclusively, I was going to fail. Probably spectacularly. If I wanted to nurse my babies — my happy, healthy, thriving babies — and be happy and relaxed myself, I was going to need a little help from the Similac people. You probably accept help from people and baby products all the time. Formula can be one of those things.

Your therapist is right: Let yourself mourn the loss of the relationship you had pictured in your head. Then you can learn to accept the relationship you DO have. And then full-on embrace your role as your daughter’s mother (as opposed to just her food source).

That last bit gets easier with time and distance from the early-breastfeeding trenches, when the stakes seem SO HIGH AND TERRIBLE, and your baby doesn’t honestly *do* that much besides eat, sleep and poop. When one of those three things seems to not be going so well, it’s easy to FREAK OUT and think that you’re messing everything up and doing things all wrong. Then your baby starts moving and doing things and talking and learning, and then you blink and you’re in the Target aisle, buying school supplies for FIRST GRADE. Or JUNIOR HIGH. Or COLLEGE. And suddenly the breastfeeding wars seem very, very small and so far away.

Enjoy nursing your baby. And enjoy your freedom from the pump and the guilt and the anxiety. Best of both worlds, if you ask me.

Photo source: Wavebreak Media/ Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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