The b(r)east of both worlds — using formula AND breastfeeding

October 5 | Guest post by Nancy Cavillones
Photo by Aurimas, used with Creative Commons license.

I don't know if you remember but Hanna Rosin's article, The Case Against Breastfeeding, in The Atlantic caused quite the hullabaloo. Angry words were exchanged between mothers who felt judged for formula feeding and mothers who self-righteously claimed Breast is Best. I uneasily sided with the lactivists on this one. Their extreme message was off-putting but in general, I agreed: given the choice between breastmilk and formula, why wouldn't a mother pick breastmilk?

At the time, I was nursing my then-nine-months-old daughter. I hated pumping, and rarely did so, a luxurious benefit of being a stay-at-home mom. We were attached at the hip, Alice and I. My reasons for breastfeeding were simple: free, all-natural and convenient as all get out. I weaned Alice at thirteen months, with the idea that I'd go back to work soon after.

Fast-forward to the birth of my second daughter. Instead of going back to work, I got pregnant instead! (The best laid plans…) Again, I took up breastfeeding, since it had gone so well the first time. When Stella was four months old, I had the opportunity to go back to work, as a teacher. We'd moved to Massachusetts from New York a few months before Stella was born. We were carrying a mortgage on our apartment in New York, and paying rent on an apartment in Massachusetts. My husband had taken a significant pay cut when we moved, and we were barely getting by. The bills were mounting. So, when that opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it.

Overnight, I became a working mother. (Really! Interviewed on Tuesday morning, offered the job that afternoon and began work the next day.) I dutifully hauled my breastpump to work everyday. I felt guilty for leaving Stella so soon, and the prospect of weaning her to formula made me feel even worse!

After two weeks of pumping, I was done. As a teacher, I didn't have time during my day to pump every two hours. It was a huge time-suck and I fell behind on my work since I was using my only prep period (56 minutes) to pump. As the mother of two small children, I didn't have the time to pump at home either. It became this hugely stressful endeavor, in which I wasn't pumping enough milk to get Stella through the day and she was taking formula anyway, to make up the difference.

Happy Birthday Bob Sallin!!!
Photo by Michael Wade, used with Creative Commons license.

The last straw: I sat on my couch on a Sunday afternoon, trying to pump enough milk to get Stella through Monday, Alice demanding my attention while I tried to keep her grabby and curious hands off the pump. Alice was whining, Stella was waking up from a nap, my husband had stepped out of the house for a few minutes. I felt my blood pressure rising from agitation and stress. I looked down at the bottle I was holding and was dismayed to find that I hadn't even pumped an ounce. That was it. I was done. My husband came back into the house and I told him as much. He might've breathed a sigh of relief. It's not fun having a stressed out wife, I guess.

I planned to wean Stella to formula completely, consulting Google for advice. In the course of my research, I came upon a page on that said I could give Stella formula during the day and breastfeed exclusively while I was at home.

Oh, really? I could? I could have the best of both worlds? Stella would be happily fed while I was at work, and get the benefits of breastfeeding while I was at home? SIGN. ME. UP.

And so here I am. My stress levels have gone way down, I'm more productive at work and I relish the moment that I come home and get to feed my happy little Stella, after missing her all day. Alice doesn't have to hear "Mommy needs to pump first," when she asks me to play. Happy mommy=happy kids=happy family!

  1. awesome story and thanks for sharing! my sis is a teacher and we were just talking the other day about how difficult it would be to try and pump while teaching (well maybe not WHILE get the point!) I'll have to pass your story along to her 🙂

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  2. I give you serious props for finding out what works best for you.
    (I also have to add that you live in an awesome place :p)

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    • Yes, we do love it here! I was just thinking this morning that if I have to go to work, at least I'm surrounded by trees and mountains on my commute, and not smelly armpits on the subway!

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  3. This rings so true for me. I went back to work when the Bot was 4 months and have been pumping since (almost 9 mths now). But, oh, the frustration when I came home with only 4 or 6 ounces of milk. And I'd feel worse reading her journal and seeing the word formula formula formula formula formula at all her feedings and see the nanny (rarely but it happened) hadn't used any of it.

    Her doctor told me at her 6 month that it was normal to stop pumping and just breastfeed when we're around but I've resisted until now. This last week or so I've felt extra exhausted. I can't seem to drink enough water for her, I'm tired (even though she's sleeping through the night). I'm getting less and less every time I pump. Most exhausting is the twice a day search for a private place to pump in a not terribly conducive to pumping office and the way it makes me look like I'm slacking off for 30 minutes at a time.

    I have been thinking of giving it up and just feeding her when I'm home, but I'm sad to think that I will probably slowly not produce or cause her to wake in the night again as she prefers from the tap to formula.

    It does sound like a big relief and reading another who has done it makes me think maybe I should after all.

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  4. I can relate to this almost letter for letter. I started back at work as a teacher yesterday. My son, Atticus, is four months old and pumping at work has been a challenge. I use my prep periods to do it, but it also means that I can't accomplish anything in the way of grading or planning, so I'll be spending most days working past 5 or 6pm. I've debated switching the kid to formula (especially after my breast pump broke the DAY before I went back to work), but the guilt of leaving him with strangers was strong enough….I didn't want to add breastmilk deprivation to the mix. Perhaps your strategy is best and I'll give it a shot. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. Whew! This is great. Thank you.

    I've been starting to think about what happens when I go back to work after this baby (yeah, the baby's not due until February — I'm a planner), and the whole feeding thing freaks me out. I want to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, but I'll have to work much of that time. Trying to remember to be flexible about these parenting decisions: a blogger I like recently wrote something to the effect of, "If I don't judge another person for doing something a certain way, why do I judge myself so harshly?" Why *can't* I do both breastmilk and formula?

    I realize the answer to this is really dependent on the individual, but my concern about not pumping would be losing my milk. Can anyone speak to that?

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    • I worried about that, but I remembered two things:
      1. If you stop pumping after your supply is well-established, it doesn't take much to keep your supply up.
      2. When my older daughter was about 10 or 11 months old, she pretty much stopped nursing during the day and my supply adjusted to morning and evening nurses. So, I realized it would be the same thing with Stella, only a few months earlier! 🙂

      The trick is to not use ANY bottles when you're around. Nurse exclusively when you're at home. I leave the house at 6:30 and I'm home by 4:30. In all those hours, Stella only takes 2 or 3 bottles, so most of her feeds are still breastfeeds.

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  6. That is pretty much my story. Returning to work, and pumping ALL THE TIME for not much return other than huge amounts of stress and guilt. In the end , my son had formula when I worked and nursed with me when I was at home. By 10 months, my milk had pretty much gone and I would feed in the morning, a few months later he preferred playing in our bed to feeding so that was that. I wish we were told it is possible to do both because I was so stressed and guilty about making this decision and feeling like I was failing to give my boy the best start in life.

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  7. I love OBM because people are so much less inclined to take a hardline approach to things like this… every family is different and good for you for finding a way that works for you guys!

    I will add though, that the whole "breastmilk is free" concept is only true if you place zero value on a woman's time. The opportunity cost to many women makes breastfeeding an unaffordable luxury… which is why there needs to be more family-friendly workplaces and policies!

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  8. Great post. I pumped in the bathroom of my jobs until Miles was 8 months old — after that it was solids (he was a fat baby; he ate like a monster) and formula when I was at work. I had the same experience — tethered to my pump and getting nothing to show for it.

    He's still nursing at 19 months, so it's possible to meet extended breastfeeding goals and work without being attached to the pump. 😀

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  9. I love the articles on this web site and how accepting everyone is that leaves comments. It's great to read so many postive things.

    I have been breat feeding and formula feeding since my son as a few days old. He seemed SO hungry and my milk was slow to come in. So far I haven't had problems with supply, if I don't have enough I just give him a bottle. If I feel full I nurse.

    I have felt funny telling people I do both and always kind of feel judged for it, but it works for the both of us so I try to ignore the looks. It's so good to hear I'm not alone in the way I fed my baby! Thanks so much!!!

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    • I also did both. My milk supply was slow to come in, and then I rarely had enough milk to fill Monster up (I was in very bad shape post-pregnancy, I was having a lot of health and depression issues). I went back to work when she was two months old and pumped religiously, took herbal supplements, beer, oatmeal, everything I could to help me make more milk, but we always had to supplement with formula. I just banged away at it until Monster was 1, and she weened herself. I felt awful about it, especially since my mother nursed my brother and I for nearly 2 years each and had milk to spare. I'm hoping my next round of nursing goes better.

      I agree that it's really comforting to hear that you're not the only one who had to supplement with formula.

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  10. I didn't have the same problem, being a full-time stay at home mom, but my daughter did very suddenly decide to give up breastfeeding at 7 months. Since I had been quite lazy about pumping (and had returned the rental pump months earlier) –my boobs just didn't respond to pumping and I wasn't able to get enough breastmilk for her feedings. I despaired over going to formula. Eventually of course we had to — and even though I too believe that "breast is best" — you know what? It was fine. It wasn't what I envisioned, but it also had some benefits. I don't regret making the decision I did.

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  11. THANK YOU FOR THIS!!! I did the exact same thing with my daughter when I decided to be a working mom and go back to school. Since as a waitress, you don't get breaks, it's impossible to pump at work. You just can't do it. And I even had a self-righteous MAN on the internet tell me that it's against the law for them to not let me pump at work and I should be allowed. But logistically – it just doesn't work. "Excuse me ya'll, but I'm going to have to pop into the public bathroom for the next 15-30 minutes so that I can pump some breast milk. Hope you don't need anything until then. You good on your iced tea, sugar? OK then, bye-bye."
    And I nursed my daughter until she pretty much self-weaned at 11 months. I don't regret it one bit. I just wish there was more of a public opinion on this. You can do both – and your baby most likely won't flip out over it – like all those lactation experts tell you they will.
    So kudos to you! I'm glad it's working out for you.

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    • This is almost exactly my story. Got a job waitressing when my daughter was 5 weeks old because I was a single mom and needed to you know, EAT. Pumping at work was impossible! Squeezing it in between tables, pumping in the bathroom hoping none of my tables were like 'uh, hello?' leaking through my work shirt since I would have to cut pumping short – it was awful.

      I never bottle fed my daughter, I only breastfed her, I was the one with the breastmilk! But every time she was being watched (when I was at work and finishing college) she got formula. She breastfed until she was almost 2 so, it was worth it. I may do it with the next baby, but now I'm self employed and am going to try my hardest to be exclusive, but it's not worth the stress. Breast is best, and some is better than none.

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  12. So great to hear! I had so much stress trying to breastfeed exclusively that I started resenting my son. When I finally started giving both it was a huge relief. This past week my new nephew was born and I had the sad realization that I really missed out on enjoying my son those first few months. I don't remember snuggling with him or kissing him, just breastfeeding him for hours and when it was done I either put him done or passed him off to someone else because I need to get away from the little guy. I hate to admit it but when I stopped breastfeeding him and started formula exclusively I really started to bond with him and we got along much better.

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  13. I had a very similar experience…thanks for sharing in a even-toned, non-judgmental way :).

    In the end, though, I couldn't stomach feeding my wee one anything as processed as formula. We found a local farm with fresh goat's milk and gave her that with added blackstrap molasses.

    See –

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  14. It's nice to read that you decided to do both instead of giving up the breastfeeding. Unfortunately, I find that many women don't realize you can do both AND be happy. I never had enough milk, and I tried OH how I tried to produce more. I pumped, took 16 domperidone a day, took the herbs, saw consultants and did everything I could, but it was never enough. At that point many women just say "Fine, I don't have enough, I will just give a bottle" but you don't have to do that. I breastfed each feeding and when she was done nursing she'd get topped up with formula. It took a while to accept this, but once I did we were happy. And now? I have a 14month old who crawls up to me and pulls on my shirt to have a quick boobie snack and then toddles off 🙂 She is a happy nurser day and night, and I'm a happy mommy! So to women out there that are disappointed about the bottle and thinking of just switching to it – you don't have to. ANY breast is better than none!

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  15. It seems that there is so much GUILT wrapped up in these feeding decisions. My story is similar:

    I started out with a more-than-ample milk supply (even banking a bunch for later in the freezer). I returned to work after 3 months, and pumped with no problem (aside from the hassle) for 5 or 6 months. I was also fortunate enough that my daughter's father was able and willing to bring her to work a few times a week to breastfeed.

    Then, around 9 months, my milk suddenly dried up, almost completely. The guilt and stress this caused was intense. How could I continue to be a good mother without my milk? (I was dealing with some post-partum depression that I wasn't aware of at the time, still struggling to bond with my daughter, and the fact that my body fed her was a reassurance I clung to.)

    As I kept trying to eke out a few ounces, we began using up the freezer stash. Eventually, it ran out and we had no choice but to buy our first can of formula. Just remembering that first formula feeding still makes me tear up, it was so shameful.

    Eventually, I went on medication that helped my milk supply somewhat. We were able to continue with the dual approach of breastmilk and formula. And to my surprise, the world didn't end! My daughter continued to be healthy and happy (and well-fed), and she weaned herself around 14 months, sparing me that decision.

    In retrospect, I felt so much unwarranted guilt and expectation around the whole issue (and that's not even getting into my problems getting started with breastfeeding). I think our society has put so much emphasis on encouraging breastfeeding that the mothers who don't do it (for whatever reason) can really suffer. Sure, I do think breastfeeding is best, all things being equal. But all things are never equal, and for many families that equation works out differently. And that is fine, because having happy and less-stressed parents is just as good for the child, if not better, than the composition of the milk.

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  16. We've been doing this almost since birth. Pumping was like torture for me, and I could never produce enough anyway. So he gets both formula AND nursing. I love it!! I get to nurse my son, he gets the nice benefits of breastmilk, my pump is getting dusty sitting in the corner, and I couldn't be more happy!
    *kicks a sidelong glare at the hateful thing* – the pump, not the baby. 😉

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  17. I did the formula during the day, breastmilk at night with both my kids when I went back to work, and realized that the reality of combining pumping and work was not as simple as the medela ads made it work.

    The kids were fine, I was fine and it all worked out!

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  18. Thanks Nancy, you have given great food for thought. My partner and I have been wondering what we will do when I return o work due to our 'career' choices' its makes more sense, financially, for me to work and him to be the stay home daddy. I love the idea that there is another option for us besides to breastfeed or not.

    May I ask how long have you been doing it for now? And any more 'tricks' you can think of that worked for you?

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    • I've been doing it for about two weeks now, I guess?

      I can't think of any tricks but just that I make sure to never, ever use a bottle. Only other people can give Stella a bottle and never when I'm around. I really think thats the key to keeping my supply steady.

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  19. It's crazy to me the amount of judgement there can be around breastfeeding issues. I breastfed my son until he was 14 months old, but started supplementing with formula in his evening bottle pretty early on, just so my husband could do the evening feeding to give me a break. Like many of you, I did not have great success with pumping. It just seemed like a whole lot of work for not much result.

    I think that the level of anxiety and expectation of judgement around our personal decisions is something we could all learn to let go of. Women who exclusively breast feed their children to not love their kids any more or less than women who use formula. We are all just trying to get by, trying to find a way to make our lives work with these new little creatures added to it.

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  20. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this article!

    My son is almost 3 months old. He was exclusively BF for 2 months, then I went back to work. At first I could pump enough for him during the day, but eventually he needed more than I could pump. My supply was fine, but I couldn't be away from my desk for 30+ minutes 3 times a day!

    We started giving him some formula at daycare but I still pump at work to keep my supply up. It's a relief to know I can back off the pumping if I have to and I will still be able to nurse him when I'm home.

    Thanks so much!

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    • Before I stopped pumping, I was only pumping once a day, really. I tried to nurse Stella in the mornings before I left for work (she wasn't always awake!), and I would nurse her as soon as I got home. When I dropped the one pumping session, I was engorged for two or three days, then my supply levelled off, to meet her needs. I'm a little full by the time I get home, so there's definitely enough milk for her, even without pumping.

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  21. I could have written your article for you!! When Morgan was 10 months old I started school. Only 2 days of pumping occurred, it was hell. There is no way I can juggle books and pumping and getting it in the fridge… So now its formula when she is home with dad and boobs when I'm done with school (for the day)

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  22. I did this and it worked out great for me. I went back to work at 13 weeks. I had just moved from Florida to Illinois and was starting a job with a completely new company post maternity leave. To have to pump several times a day was awkward at best even in my own office. I was always scared someone would walk in and I didn't know these people well enough to laugh it off. I lasted six weeks pumping and then threw in the towel.

    I nursed morning and night until he decided he was done nursing between 10 and 11 months. It worked great for us and I'm so glad I didn't approach nursing with an all or nothing attitude.

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  23. Thanks for sharing your story Nancy! I've always believed that how to feed your baby doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. Yes, of course you can give formula and breastfeed, but I don't think many women know how common this arrangement is. There's this feeling that if you have to or choose to give formula, you might as well completely throw in the towel on breastfeeding; or, if you choose to breastfeed, you must believe that "breast is best" and giving formula would be hypocritical.

    I breastfed my son until he was a year old, but also, by choice, gave him formula when I couldn't or didn't want to breastfeed. Because I'm a SAHM, I didn't buy a fancy pump (just a manual one) and I quickly discovered that trying to pump enough milk to prepare to leave the baby for any length of time was a time-consuming process. Oh, and despite being a SAHM, I didn't have that kind of time to sit around pumping. And then there were the times I just needed a break, especially in those early weeks/months when the baby is feeding all the time, round the clock. I was exhausted.

    I really identified with the woman who wrote about being able to bond better with her baby after switching to formula. I would like to add to that by saying that my relationship with my husband improved when I was able to hand off the baby to him with a bottle of formula and take a break from breastfeeding/holding the baby/sitting in the same position on the couch. I had been growing resentful of what looked like freedom to me. After a few months, I stopped trying to pump and stopped feeling guilty about any formula my son got. I ended up with the best of both worlds – being able to choose between breastfeeding or formula feeding based on which was most feasible.

  24. This post is awesome. We've discussed the combo-feeding concept on my blog quite a bit, and I honestly feel it is doing such a disservice to women that this option is not talked about. I's so glad you are putting this information out there. As a former exclusive pumper, I can't even imagine having to pump in the midst of a school day or when my toddler was wanting attention. You figured out a way to have the best of both worlds, and you should feel really proud of that!

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  25. This was my plan when I had to go back to work at 4 months and couldn't find the time to pump at work. I breastfed at home and my fiance formula fed while I was at work. Unfortunately this didn't work for me for long, as my milk supply starting decreasing almost immediately. By 6 months I was dry and feeling pretty depressed and guilty about it. I'm not sure what I would have done differently if I could do it again, but I would have loved it I could have breastfed longer.

  26. I had read this post several months ago and just reread it. It could not have come at a better time! It's a great article and the comments are wonderful. It's reassuring to know that so many other women share the same struggles.

    I went back to work unexpectedly six weeks ago when my second daughter was five months old. She was breastfed exclusively and I had every intention of continuing to give her breastmilk only for the first year. Well, since my return to work was sudden, I didn't have a freezer stash of milk, and I didn't pump regularly for that matter. I didn't even own a double-electric pump. So I ordered a decent pump, but for the first few weeks of work I used a single-electric and a manual. It was horrible. I was lucky to get 3 oz total per session, and my daughter takes 18 oz per day at school! Even when I began using the double-electric, my output did not improve. I was sending mostly formula with the baby to school. I made the decision to quit pumping but to continue to nurse at home. Whew! What a relief to not stress over my supply issues!

    Now I pump at work only if I'm feeling engorged, which is rare, or when I get home if the baby has just been fed. It's not much, but I do it more for my comfort and to help maintain my supply. I nurse 3 – 4 times a day, and I feel like it's more of a bonding experience because I appreciate that time with the baby.

  27. Thank you so much for this article; it really came at the right time! I'm about to go back to work fulltime and pumping is definitely a concern.

    I breastfeed my 5-month-old daughter, give her bottles of milk and formula (not together, of course), and feed her solids. I pump when I can, take the Fenugreek, drink the beer and hope for the best. I do think that breast is best, but for some of us (so many of us!) it's just not a feasible choice when things like work, trouble with nursing, low milk supply, etc. come up. I take comfort in knowing that I am doing all I can for my daughter and that she is thriving!

    Thanks again!

  28. Like some of the women that have commented here, I also did both. I had to supplement since my daughter was always hungry (she was 8 lbs 8 oz at birth and I am a petite person) even though I tried to produce more milk by drinking more water, being relaxed, herbs, beer, etc, etc… going back to work at 3 mos I pumped twice a day but it was never enough to fill her bottles for the next day so I mixed them with formula. At home, I breastfed as much as I could and sometimes she was still hungry AFTER. My pediatrician told me that I could give her formula AFTER I breastfed her so that she could take as much milk as I could produce first. Since I started this 2-3 mos after her birth, she never had nipple confusion and happily accepted breast or bottle. I successfully combined breast milk and formula until she was 10 mos and decided she did not want to breastfeed anymore… sniff, sniff… however, I feel that because I combined both my breast milk and formula, she was able to receive the benefit of breast milk until 10 mos. If I thought it was one way or the other (as some people tried to tell me), I would have given up so early! Thanks for putting this story. So many women (working on not) can relate and see that it is not always ALL or NOTHING… great job!

  29. I'm so glad to read this article. I too had to do both, from the start in fact. My little one was in the special care nursery (where care is almost totally out of the mother's hands) and they were giving him a supplement before my milk came in to be sure he was getting enough fluids which of course, slowed things down and I ended up never producing enough to feed him on breast entirely; add to that my return to work at 8-weeks (best financial choice for our family) and i've been a pumping machine ever since just to be sure he gets at least 2-oz of breast at every feeding. It's so hard to intellectually know you're doing the right thing (feeding the baby, period) but emotionally i can't seem to shake this tiny voice that still says, "you failed a bit kiddo." It's nice to hear everyone's stories here and helps me to reaffirm that nursing, pumping and formula has made for a healthy, happy baby who is gonna be just fine!

  30. This article just popped up on the front page, and I honestly am close to tears because it's such a relief to find someone in my situation who doesn't apologize for it. I breastfeed my daughter AND I formula feed her. It makes it possible for me to have that breastfeeding relationship, but also to go to school and to work. As always, Offbeat Mama provides a place to see our experiences reflected and to learn about others who do things a different way, without judgment. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this!

  31. When I went back to work there were many times when my husband didn't have enough of my milk to give our son, and I WISH he would have taken formula. He just didn't like it, and most of it went down the drain. I felt sooo guilty about all the stress the two of them had to suffer.

  32. Hey guys, I am a new mother and I'm desperately to get my five month little one to sleep through the night. At the moment I'm lucky to get four hours rest per night. Best wishes

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