Pumping and bottle-feeding saved us

Guest post by Karen
Forgotten bottle

I read through two whole parenting books without ever learning how much breast milk a newborn should consume. The oft-repeated advice, in pages and on the lips of professionals, was to let baby run the show: let her eat when she wanted for as long as she wanted, and she would naturally consume the right amount. Well, that advice rests on two factors: that you have a baby with functional breastfeeding instincts, and two working boobs. In my case, I had neither.

Well, let me clarify: the boobs were fine; the nipples weren’t. I had a “flat” left nipple, which our newborn didn’t like one bit, and she refused to keep it in her mouth. That would have been enough of a problem on its own, but she didn’t seem to be taking to the right nipple, either.

In the first few days, breastfeeding with her was an ordeal. Not only did she refuse to drink from Lefty, but I basically had to catch her in a good, calm mood in order for her to get a decent meal from Righty. If she was the least bit upset, impatient, or agitated (you know, like hungry babies are prone to be) she wouldn’t eat. Oh, sure, she’d try: she’d latch on, suck a few times, then throw her head back and cry. Or she’d latch on and start sucking but then fidget, flail her arms, and work herself right off the nipple, followed by even more crying.

I hand-expressed some to whet her appetite, I walked with her, I tried to coo her into calmness, and some times, if I was lucky, eventually she’d be serene enough to latch on and stay there. But the rest of the time, I was stuck in a mothering nightmare: our baby was hungry, but when I gave her even the good breast she would push herself away and wail.

My milk was due to come in at any moment, which meant she would no longer be counting on her fat stores for most of her caloric requirements. To top it off, she’d left the hospital with a common case of infant jaundice and she was going to need lots of food going through her system to help her body clear it out. The occasional feedings we were getting in were no longer going to be enough: she needed to be eating more, and eating more often.

In the haze of hormones and New Mother Guilt, wherein part of my otherwise rational brain was screaming at me that I HAD to be doing something wrong, that I MUST be a bad mom, I realized it was time to go back to the professionals and get some help. I had to either figure out breastfeeding or give up and start buying formula.

Enter our godsend pediatrician, a man who told me something that no book, no online forum, no hospital employee had suggested: that our baby just didn’t know how to breastfeed properly. Here’s how he explained it: colostrum and milk don’t come immediately when an infant starts sucking, but babies with good breastfeeding instincts, and/or experience, know that they have to keep working at it to get their meal. But if some babies (like ours) get agitated, they lose their patience: they fidget, they panic, they try to get off the obviously defective breast so they can get something that works in their mouth. He said that’s why she’d start sucking then push herself away. He said the same thing had happened to one of his own kids.

He and his wife had solved their problem by starting feeding sessions with a bottle of formula until the baby was satiated and calm, then they’d move him over to the breast. Eventually the baby figured out how breasts work and they were able to drop the formula appetizer. There were other ways — syringes and “Supplemental Nursing Systems” — to “train” a baby on proper breastfeeding, but with the jaundice getting worse and two feeding-related issues to overcome (the bad nipple and bad breastfeeding skills), I didn’t think I had time to train. So I decided to throw in the towel, live with the dreaded “nipple confusion” those books warned me about (that once she got hooked on bottles, there was no going back to the breast), and start Plan B: Pump and Bottle-feed.

The first time I gave our girl a bottle, she practically inhaled the contents. If she fidgeted or flailed her arms around (which she still did often), I was able to keep the nipple in her mouth and avoid a complete meltdown. And best of all, the pump finally allowed Lefty to join the feeding effort. Sure enough, after a week at the bottle she flat out rejected my breast, so the books were right on that count: I’ll probably never have our baby feeding directly off me ever again. But I’m not broken up about it. To see her fat, happy, and pink is worth it.

Comments on Pumping and bottle-feeding saved us

  1. This is so similar to what we went through, including Lefty being, in my case, inverted, and my baby preferring Righty, but still not happy she was not getting anything. We stuck it out, but had to resort to “Supplemental Nursing Systems” and formula like your pediatrician did with his kid. We also gave in at one point with the bottle, and she sucked that down much like yours did, but when it resulted in potential for nipple confusion I ditched that and went back to SNS (this is not to judge you for sticking with the bottle, btw). I also ended up risking using nipple shields, which I feel worked to help her learn to latch onto me and eventually allowed me shift her back to my nipples au natural. It took about three weeks before things were working as I had been hoping for, and now she nurses like a pro. I have to say, it was not as easy as I had hoped it would be, but having seen other friends have similar problems helped me to know it was worth sticking it out. Oh, and to this day, Lefty still under performs in production, but that nipple is not longer inverted.

  2. Wonderful post! I was very pro boobies before my son was born, but he wasn’t. He refused to latch and the few times he did he shredded me up so bad he was probably drinking my blood over milk! In desperation moved onto pumping and bottling… and then to my horror my milk dried up at 2 weeks thanks to an undiagnosed thyroid problem.

    Other breastfeeding mummas and the midwives made me feel bad I couldn’t get the milk flowing… But at the end of the day my son is a happy, healthy little toddler now and I don’t think it matters he was a bottle/formula bub.

    I did find breastfeeding mummies criticised me for not ‘giving it a proper go’.. when they didnt know why I wasnt able to breastfeed.. they assumed it was a choice I’d made. Maybe our 2nd will prefer the breast, but I’m not going to beat myself up if it’s not something we can do again. 🙂

    • This is so much like what I went through, its really frustrating to have people judge you when they have NO IDEA what you went through, they just assume you “didn’t try hard enough.” I’m glad there are mothers out there who understand and are supportive. I am totally pro breastfeeding but I’m not ok with bullying people into it or guilting them about not!

      • amen. it can already be a difficult emotional thing to go through, without getting shite from people, or even the silent, look-down-the-nose condescension about not breastfeeding. ugh.

        i ended up strictly on formula … after THREE MONTHS of trying, pumping, supplemental feeding tricks, lactation consultants. he had tongue tie and was a bad latch, i had production problems, serious ones. not a good combo.

        looking back, i’m torn. once i stopped trying, things in general got sooo much better for us. on the other hand, if i hadn’t given it a good shot, would i feel guilty? i don’t feel guilty… but i think i’d stop much earlier if i had it to do again. if your boobs won’t make milk AND your baby won’t eat, it’s just not worth all the self torture, at an age when the baby needs you all the time — not to have you stuck on a breast pump.

    • You shouldn’t feel bad at all about not being able to breastfeed. My dad kept telling me that I would not let anyone feed me except for him. I flat out refused the nipple, would scream bloody murder if anyone but him held me, and was just an all around shit to everyone but my dad. I say now that I knew my mom was crazy, (she was schitzophrenic) but it’s not the mom’s fault that the baby is stubborn.

  3. This is exactly what I’m going through right now. Exactly. I am pumping around the clock and my baby seems to be getting fatter every day. As long as his healthy chunky self is satisfied, it works for me.

    I also found that giving him a meal in a bottle cuts time, so there is one bonus for me. Meal time went from 1.5 hours in the middle of the night to 10 minutes.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story Karen! It never occurred to me that a baby might not have the instinct to breastfeed. I’m going to be a new mom in a few months and I feel better now that I know how to deal with this should it happen.

    My favorite part of your whole article would have to be – “Fat, happy and pink” <3

  5. Love this post! I had such a hard time with my first son trying to get him to breast feed and it never did happen because he was jaundiced. In the end he became a formula baby because the breast pump didn’t fit quite right. But if you put my baby boy next to a kid that breast fed you wouldn’t know the difference at all, this pregnancy I’m not even close to having the same melt down and I’m glad to see more people are leaving behind the idea that their children have to breast feed.

  6. Awesome post! I have been going through a similar thing. My baby was a little early (5 lb 11 oz at birth) and we struggled too. I would pump then bottle feed and still try to breastfeed. Finally, a lactation consultant suggested a nipple shield given baby’s somewhat preemie status. The breastfeeding was still rough for 2 weeks. Baby is now a month old and still mostly using nipple shield, plus I do one to two bottles a day. But I dont care, he is growing and eating. I know I need to ween off the shield but I resent mommies passing judgement on my breastfeeding methods. This post should make all moms feel better- all that really matters is that the baby is growing and happy!!!!

    • You actually don’t necessarily need to wean off the nipple shields. I know many lactation consultants are really negative about them, but I’ve been using them with my daughter for five and a half months and we’re going strong. It’s a bit of a pain to wash/sterilize them and to keep one with me when we go out, but every time we stop using them the pain increases rapidly again (despite endless sessions with LCs to work on latch etc.). She’s happier with them, it hurts less for me with them, and she has gained weight like a champion. If something works for you, don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom!

      • The same thing happened to me! Every time we tried to go without the nipple shield the pain was excruciating. Not that you haven’t already tried this, but I just kept with it, and after about a week of pain, it just stopped hurting and hasn’t hurt since. I don’t know if we had to get used to each other slowly or what, but aside for a few times when he just couldn’t get the hang of the bare nipple that day, we were shield-free a few weeks later.

  7. I’m so glad you wrote this. This is exactly (even with the malfunctioning left breast) what I went through with my son. After seven months of pumping and bottle feeding, I’m finally done. I’ve got a fat, happy baby, too.

  8. NIPPLE SHIELDS! seriously. Bottling is great, if you want to pump and bottle constantly, but my baby had a similar latching problem on my ridiculously tiny nipples, and nipple shields means that I could still feed her straight from the breast, but with something to help make my nipples bigger. You can even get them at Target.

    • Thanks for writing this. Yes, breastfeeding is very hard, and you gotta do what you gotta do for you, your baby, and your sanity. Good for you! We had similar issues: two flat nipples, a small baby who didn’t have great instincts, and I ended up with lacerated nipples and he in a bilirubin bed for extremely bad jaundice for three entire days. I pumped that entire week and he got the milk from a syringe. Then, when I was healed and he was “retrained” we tried again — and once again agonizing pain. My lactation consultant told me it was a risk but brought in a nipple shield, and by golly, it worked. I was scared to wean from it — if we have another I will try a lot harder to avoid it — but we used that nipple shield for 13 months. I had four and rotated through them so I didn’t always have to clean a fresh one. I know this wasn’t what I was “supposed” to do and wasn’t really “natural,” but it got him the milk without me pumping all the time, and it still enabled us to nurse. I am so grateful for that shield! And for the pump that helped bring my milk in that first week.

      Breastfeeding is so much harder than anybody ever tells you. It frustrates me. There needs to be more honesty so that people are prepared. The best advice I got was from a friend for whom breastfeeding did not work out, and she told me to be prepared for problems. Because of her, I had already made a connection with a lactation consultant, and wow did that come in handy when crisis hit!

  9. We overcame a lot to make breastfeeding work (NICU, 2 days of separation, nipple confusion). The thing that won it over for us was using a syringe. He’d screamscreamscream at my boobs, so my husband would feed him a bottle while I pumped (and cried). Until one day we said F THIS, swore off bottles until we got it right, and had him feed from a syringe if he wouldn’t take the boob. We’d squirt a little in his mouth, then put him on my nipple (and sometimes use the syringe while on the nipple), and keep trying that til he was either full or eating from the boob. It was not fun (and it was OMG messy), but it didn’t take long for my son to realize my boobs were a lot more friendly than getting milk squirted in his mouth with a syringe.

  10. Good post! If anyone is expecting a baby, I would recommend finding a breastfeeding class, given by a LC, and bring your partner. Take the class *before* the baby is born. They go over all the little things that seem to go wrong, so when it happens to you, you think. “Oh, this was talked about in class. It’s going to be ok…”

    It seems like everyone I talk to has had a “problem” and it turns out it’s totally normal, and things work out.

    • i found breastfeeding class profoundly useless. (i took a class at a suuper-pro-breastfeeding, hippie-ish, very Southeast Portland mama-baby center, so it might be different at a normal clinic or hospital.) there was very little about what would happen if things didn’t go right, if all their techniques (which i dutifully memorized) simply wouldn’t work. they had about 90 seconds on “some women have to use a nipple shield” and nothing about supplementing…

      your class-taking mileage may vary, of course!

  11. I just want to say, me too. I was (and am) very pro-breastfeeding, but I had twins who latched just fine but were much like you describe — easily frustrated. Plus, hello, twins! Who were born healthy but a little underweight, and weren’t gaining by their first check-up. It turned out I didn’t have the milk supply. I pumped for eight months and supplemented with formula, and it saved my sanity at the very least.

  12. This is exactly what happened to my daughter and I. I ditched the boob after about a week and switched to pumping and bottle feeding which I did for a year. The joke of it was, I wound up being Elsie the freaking cow! I swear I had enough milk for triplets. I just didn’t have the properly shaped equipment for her to get it out of me. It wound up working well for us. My husband got to feed her as often as I did and nighttime feedings were a breeze. The only person who ever gave me grief about my decision was my mother-in-law and I never listen to what she says anyway! 😉

  13. Great post! I never expected so many problems breast feeding, but we had a hell of a time nursing for the first month. I had LC’s out the wazzu coming over constantly, trying to help the latch, then the pain, then the blood, then…At one month I decided to stop and exclusively pump. As much as I hate to be tied to the pump 8 (yes 8!) times a day (and middle of the night) I’m glad that my daughter is fat and happy on mommy’s milk, now at 5 months old. I was prepared to have to supplement with formula but luckily so far, I’m producing enough and I hope that continues. I’ve just recently re-introduced nursing to her and she’s doing it once a day, just for “fun”. Even after 4 months, there’s no nipple confusion and the pain isn’t there like it used to be. 🙂

  14. THANK YOU!! I am one of those women who did not “try hard enough” I gave up after three weeks because simply put it was a horrible experience and there was no milk. Ofcourse everyone had an opinion on what i could have done differently blah blah blah.
    when it came down to it the only reason i felt so bad about it was because of everyone else being such jjudgemental jerks about me not breastfeeding. the great thing for me about not being able to breastfeed was the fact that i came to terms early that i was not going to be the mother i had envisioned i would be.

    funny that i read this on a day where my toddler (after seeing a counterpart nom down on her mama) tried to lift up my shirt. she didn’t believe me when i said i didn’t have any milk.

    thank you offbeatmama for featuring this article.

  15. Breat feeding is hard!!! Everything is going ok and I still feel/worry that I’m doing something wrong. I appreaciate this article a lot because its nice to know if I had to switch to just pumping the world would not end.

  16. This is exactly how my daughter acted (she is 18mnths now). I had no real nipple issues, but she didnt take to it well. She was kind of small, and i have large breasts, so it just wasnt a great match. We struggled for a month, had it going pretty well for about 2 months, and then another month of it not going well, and then she had just had enough at 5 mnths old. No matter what i did, she just wouldnt have it. and i just couldnt pump enough to keep up with her. it really made me sad, and i even tried like a mnth later because i still had milk, but by then she wouldnt latch at all. But I am happy now that she is a happy and healthy baby. I am really hoping with my next (we are trying to concieve at the moment) will go at least a year, and hopefully longer as i did really like the snuggly time with my baby. Thats probably another reason she disliked breastfeeding, she just doesn’t like to snuggle alot

  17. Breast feeding IS hard! I HATE all the propaganda that tells new moms that the baby will just know what to do, it shouldn’t be painful at all, etc. My son is almost 4 months now and he feeds like a champ but it was an unpleasant battle to get here. He never had a problem with my left breast but something about my right breast caused problems. No idea what. My nipples were both normal, everything seemed to function the same except that nursing on the right was agony. So so so painful!

    There was never any major identifiable problem so it was hard to figure out how to fix it. A lactation consultant spent hours with us trying to figure it out, but in the end she was stumped too. Which made me feel weirdly better. If the pro couldn’t identify why it wasn’t working, then there probably wasn’t anything I was doing specifically wrong. It stayed painful on and off, some days were better than others for almost two months. You do what you gotta do! Screw the recommended procedures: sometimes things just aren’t working! And then you do what works for you!

    • I’ve heard over and over again from midwives, lactation consultants and the australian breast feeding association “if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”, but then almost all the women I know who have successfully bfed (so must be doing it right?) says it does hurt for the first few weeks but you just gotta push through it.

      Not sure which one it is…

      • I breastfed both my kids from birth, and never had any of the pain or troubles – I realize I’m lucky, and I’m not judging anyone for how things work out for them, but just wanted to say it /can/ be painless… though that certainly doesn’t seem like the norm.

    • I’ve just given birth to a beautiful baby girl 6 days ago and she has the sucking strength of a vaccuum cleaner! Even with a good supply and baby with massive sucking instinct breastfeeding has been so much harder than I ever imagined and I’ve already found myself in tears wanting to give up.

      Like you, one of my boobs seems to cope okay. It hurts when she feeds but the pain is managable…the other side however is excruciating! As in bite down on my hand for most of the feed type pain (and I’m still on pain killers from my emergency c-section!)

      On the fourth day, after I’d seen 15 different hospy midwives and a lactation consultant who have approved my technique and couldnt find the cause of the pain, trying all the different holds, nipple shields etc, I suggested I could feed her directly from the “good” nipple and pump/bottle with the other.

      The concensus from them was that wouldn’t work long term and basically I should just suck it up and push through the agonizing pain (despite the emotional impact it has on my relationship with her).

      At the moment I am “pushing through” but if this pain doesnt become managable in the next few days it will be pumping for me too. It can’t be healthy for me to dread her waking up when its time for that side.

      It’s good to be able to come to OBM and read stories like this where it has worked for people.

  18. I’ve been pumping and bottle feeding for nearly TEN months. We tried everything: SNS, nipple shields, every single hold the lactation consultant suggesting… and she just never would latch. I’m still a little sad about it, but my almost ten month old is fat and happy and I did that. I worked damn hard ot do it, and so can you.

    Keep pumping, mama!

    • I am so happy to hear of other moms that are in my situation. My daughter was born on 4/8 and we have been struggling with breastfeeding. I have paid for a lactation consultant twice, bought every pillow recommended, and still nothing. We just cant get the latch right. I cried for two days and so did my baby. We are now pumping and bottle feeding and it makes me happy to hear that its working for you…it gives me hope for myself!

  19. I sympathise completely with the fustration of not being able to breast feed. My daughter was diognosed with a type of tumour at my 20 week scan so I knew she would be taken away and operated on pretty soon after her birth.
    I was still detirmined to try and breast feed but like above, she didnt like the idea of my breasts in any way, shape or form. Screaming at them was the closest we got!
    We were apart for about 36 hours after birth and even then i didnt get to be with her 24hours a day untill she was 5 weeks old and had recover from the operation.
    Expressing using a breast pump for the first month was the only way she got my milk and all the goodness that entails. Although I felt slightly like a cow, I know she got the best start to help her through the operation and her recovery.
    I was obviously upset when breast feeding didnt work, but Faye does love her formula now and is healthy and growing well.
    After her operation, this is all I could hope for!

  20. I tell my patients to look for hunger cues instead of waiting until the baby is flailing and when my son was born, I realized that it was especially helpful that I knew how to spot them. I do not agree with the statement that some children do not know how to breastfeed, because no child is born knowing how to breastfeed, just like no mother knows how to breastfeed before she tries it and it’s all trial and error. Breastfeeding for both parties is a learned behavior. A newborn knows innately how to suckle, not what to suckle on, a nipple is a nipple is a nipple, is a thumb, is a pacifier – all baby knows is that suckling makes him/her happy and nature knows that baby will be fed this way. Baby can however choose that one is preferable over the other once they’ve also tried, which is where nipple shields come in handy! All that being said, it’s awesome that you pumped for your child as most mother’s would give up! And it’s awesome that your doctor didn’t just push formula on you, AMA is notorious for that!

    • your comment denying that “some babies can’t breastfeed” is untrue, and your assertion that all babies like to suckle, is untrue. historically, some babies have not wanted to suckle and their parents have had to try other things to get them fed, such as cup method, which i’m sure you know about if you can start a paragraph with “my patients” – i guess i’m wondering if you do know about cup method, why you would think that ALL babies can learn to breastfeed properly? some died because of it, too.

      many mothers can’t bfeed, either, and while that wasn’t the only reason for wet nurses, it was surely one of them.

      also, babies with tongue-tie sometimes don’t come out of the snipping operation with the ability to latch. my son got the snip at about 3 weeks. about every 2 weeks he’d actually breastfeed for a few minutes, i’d think “oh! maybe we got a latch?”

      but when he was almost 6 months old? i saw him actually latch properly for the first time, using the tongue. finally. on a bottle unfortunately, but it made it clear to me: he just couldn’t get the hang of it earlier. (despite lactation consultants, pumping, 3 months, nipple shields, and on and on.) i hope your comment wasn’t meant in the “you’re not trying hard enough” spirit, but it kind of sounded like it to me…

  21. I had a similar issue. My nipples were too small and my daughter just couldn’t latch. I was given shields, SNS, and tried every possible way to get her to breastfeed. Every LC had a different opinion and none of them could get my daughter feeding. I was sent home with my husband finger feeding, me still trying to breastfeed, and a “good luck” from the LC’s. Two weeks in and the sight of my boobs would make my daughter scream. At that point in all of my frustration I said, “screw it, hand me the pump.” I was able to pump some, but on top of my shotty nipples I had very little milk. I pumped 10 times a day to get 2 ounces. My daughter has been formula fed since she was a month old and is wonderfully healthy. I was just so hard on myself not being able to breastfeed and all of the mommy guilt that comes with that. When in reality, my baby girl is just fine how she is.

    • pumping all day for 2 ounces – honey, i relate! i finally got to 4 whole ounces a day… oh dear!

  22. OMG! I can absolutely relate! My son was a c-section. Combine Flat nipples, fidgety anxious eater, carpal tunnel, and a BIG hungry baby and that’s what I’ve been going thru. I’ve been pumping from day 2 and he just seemed so traumatized by the nurses at the hospital (who tried shoving his head on to my flat nipples) that I gave up trying to get him latched. Keep up the good work on pumping and feeding!!!
    *hugs* from a Momma who understands!

  23. I had a similar situation… except… I had inverted nipples which my DD could not fit in her mouth due to there size and could not suck hard enough the pull them out… The pump was a godsend to us… it corrected the nipple problem and allowed me to feed my DD breast milk… I was never tore up about it either… I did what I had to do.. And it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done!

  24. I don’t have kids yet. I don’t even know if I want to have kids yet, but I am a woman, and I support women, and I find it important to be educated on the topics of parenting, because even if I weren’t a woman, I was once a child, and I have parents. That being said, I know that my mom breast fed through her VERY brief maternity leave (in fact, I honestly don’t know if she really had any to speak of), and that she pumped like it was her 2nd job once she had to go back to work.
    I happen to have turned out beautifully. 😀

    Thing is, in every scenario in which I imagine what it will be like if I decide to become a mother, I see a pump. Maybe it’s sad, and a sign of oppression, but my fiance and I both come from a long line of barely making ends meet. The only reason I have the Internet to tell you this right now is because I came with what I affectionately refer to as “my dowry,” which consists of what I’m very sure is every penny of my parents’ savings. I am no stranger to food stamps or asking for help, and I’m no fan of it, either.
    So when I see myself as a mother, I see myself working–like a dog–to provide for my child. I see myself befriending a stay-at-home mom or a retired couple or begging a friend or relative to come watch my child during the day so that I can pay the electric bill at night. I see myself walking out of meetings and setting up the a contraption that will ensure that my kid gets fed by me no matter who has to hold the bottle. I did not realize until today that pumping is so ingrained in me, or that people were so vehemently opposed.

    I remember watching Teen Mom (guilty as charged), and watching girls quit breast feeding, giving their only reasoning that “it hurt.” That made me mad, I’ll admit, but what made me even more mad was that these young women either didn’t consider, weren’t willing, or hadn’t had the idea planted that they could PUMP their breast milk, ensure all the positives about nutrition that go along with it, and save all that precious money they were always so concerned about.Unless your baby had some sort of issue with your breast milk, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to at least give pumping the old college try.

    It’s a bit rambling, yes, but the bottom line is that I appreciate sites like these that raise these issues in ways that allow people to consider ALL the possibilities on a topic.

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