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. THANK YOU! This was word for word my experience with my son and I still find myself feeling somewhat guilty over “failing” at breastfeeding so it was WONDERFUL to hear someone with a similar story. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. I’m not a parent yet so I am by no means the law. My partner and I are just starting the process for IVF and ive been trying to do as much reading as possible when i came across this site.

    I feel for Karen, Im not even a parent yet and i already feel parents guilt. I want to give breast milk but im not keen on breast feeding and reading alot of these sites make me feel guilty for that. This is why i like this one i have been lurking for a while and the best thing about this one is there really isnt much of that holier than thou attitude and I love how all types of parenting is accepted. I shall continue to lurk

  3. Good job mama! After my son was born I had to go back to work for financial reasons. My son and I had difficulty breast feeding to begin with, and the situation just got worse after I went back to work full time. We kept trying for 6 months until he got fed up. We pumped the entire time, though, and I’m so happy to say I was able to still provide my son all the food he needed for 13 months! It wasn’t easy, and during the time I was an emotional mess, but looking back on it I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world (ok, I would trade the pumping for nursing full-time, but you do what you can do).

  4. This was almost exactly our story, except our docs pushed formula without mentioning pumping. It was my husband who stopped my maddening efforts to nurse and suggested exclusive pumping. I pumped for my daughter for two years. When my son came along, I worried that it would be the same. Not so! He latched right on after birth and even though we both had some learning to do, 7 weeks later we’re still going strong. You’re doing great – don’t you ever let anyone try to tell you any different!

  5. Me too! On almost every point, the flat lefty, jaundice baby, and resorting to exclusive pumping. The only difference was that instead of the baby not knowing how to nurse, she actually nursed like a shop-vac and shredded my poor nipples with every latch. She drank a ton of my blood while I struggled through the first three weeks of breastfeeding until I couldn’t take it any more and broke out the pump. It may be a bit more work having all the chores of breastfeeding and bottle feeding, but it’s so worth it. Although I do have a slight tinge of guilt that I couldn’t put up with the pain. I wish I had tried nipple shields, that may have worked but I guess there’s no way to know. She’s five months old now, and also happy, fat and pink. haha But I really wish that EPing was a more talked about option with moms. “bottle feeding” doesn’t have to mean formula.

  6. Is it possible that moms worry too much about nipple confusion? My experience was also very similar to yours. At each feeding, I would attempt to breastfeed but stop before anyone got too worked up, and then offer a bottle. At first, most feedings ended with a bottle, but slowly my daughter got the hang of it, and a few weeks later we were off the bottle, with no signs of nipple confusion

  7. I am currently pumping and feeding with a bottle. It is so much more relaxing then feeding my gal straight from the source and takes a lot less time. Plus I can share the responsibility with her father. Win win win!

  8. “To see her fat, happy, and pink is worth it.”
    Too true!
    You had a problem and you solved it for the benefit of your baby. <–No better use of mother skills then doing this! 😀

  9. Right on!

    I’m one of the fortunate ones who was able to breast feed both of my girls with no problems latching on or with milk supply. BUT nurses and LCs who say that your nipples won’t hurt if you’re breastfeeding “correctly” are full of shite! In my opinion, there is NO WAY you can prepare your nipples for how hard a baby actually sucks and it hurts like hell when they latch on for the first few weeks – like salt in an open wound. But if you can stick it out, the pain does go away eventually (or at least it did for me).

    I also work full time and so I breastfed when I was at home and gave my girls formula when they were at daycare (they wouldn’t take breast milk from a bottle, but took formula from a bottle just fine) – and I never felt guilty about it. My point of view is that they were getting the best of both worlds – immunity from mama, and added nutrition from formula if my diet wasn’t all that great that day.

    The most important thing is the end result of a happy, healthy baby AND mama.

  10. I’ve been thinking about doing this exactly. I want my baby to have the benefits of breast milk, but I’m not sure about letting him latch on and drink directly from me. Yes, I’m a wimp. I think it’s going to hurt and be awkward. I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I really want him to have breast milk and I also want my husband to be able to help out with feeding him. To me, pumping and bottle feeding sounds like the perfect solution.

    Also, I work full time so after my 12 weeks of maternity leave are up, he’s going to have to be bottle-fed anyway.

  11. Thank you SO MUCH for this post! I wanted desperately to exclusively breast feed, but that dream died when they whisked my baby away to the NICU minutes after being delivered (via c-section I might add). I couldn’t even hold her in the NICU, let alone breast feed, due to catheters in her umbilical cord. We found out she had a heart defect and would be in NICU for at least a week, so I started pumping. We fed her bottles in the NICU until she came home, then I switched to exclusively breast feeding.

    No one told me that newborns with heart defects need more calories than other newborns AND are exhausted easily by the effort of breast feeding. Two weeks later, she had lost 10 % of her birth weight and our cardiologist wanted to check her back in to the hospital. There was no way I was letting my precious baby go back in to the hospital if there was something I could do at home to prevent it. So out came the pump and bottles.

    Two month later, she is still breast feeding, but we use a bottle to “top her off” and to feed her when she is too sleepy to breast feed. She is growing steadily, which means she probably won’t need heart surgery for another 6 months. I know that at some point she might refuse to breast feed, preferring the ease of bottle feeding, and so I am cherishing every minute she is at the breast.

    While the logical part of my brain tells me that I am doing everything I can for my baby with unique needs, I still feel guilt about not “trying harder” to make breast feeding work. I was so exhausted from the c-section, the daily trips to the NICU, and the anxiety of learning about her heart defects that the pump and bottle felt like the “easy” way out. I appreciate everyone who replied to this post and am reminded that each baby and each mother are unique. As mothers, we do what we must for the health and well-being of our babies. There is no shame in that!

  12. Im still pregnant with my first and have been thinking about this for the last week or so. I just now realized that breast feeding is a CHOICE. So many push it as the one and only way to do things. Its my baby and my body, so why do I HAVE to listen to all these other busybodies? Im now trying to decide if I even want to bf or if I want to pump, use formula whathaveyou. I do know that at least while Im at the hospital its going to either be pumped milk or formula. If I just pushed a 6-10lb creature from my groin, I doubt Im going to be up for a bf session. Give daddy time to bond. lol

    At home, in a comfortable stressfree setting Ill practice bfing in our leasiure. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Its no one elses business what I chose to do with my body. Im not one for being told that I HAVE to do something.

  13. It seems like a lot of mamas have had luck with pumping. Does anyone have any suggestions for which pump to buy? Or should I rent?

  14. Your comment about “the good boob” cracks me up – because I’ve said the same thing. Actually, my left breast has a flat nipple, produces nearly twice as much as the right, and lets down too fast. Since it produces more (and my right produces barely enough) I have to feed him on it, but it took some strategizing to keep him from choking and screaming every time! This has, at times, included pumping the left and nursing the right. You do what keeps you sane and your baby healthy, and apologize to no one.

  15. I want to thank every poster on here for their words. I am loving my four week old boy but he just doesn’t get breastfeeding. beginning with a six day hospital stay where he fed from a bottleagainst my wishes, inverted nipples and supply problems, the last month has only been tears from me and screams from him. I thank you for giving me some validationfor feeding my son in the way that makes sense for us!

  16. Thank you so much for this post! My son was born a month early and had to be fed formula from the beginning because he had really low blood sugar. We had a rough start that got rougher because he couldn’t latch. We ended up being put on a horrific schedule of breastfeed 10 min then bottle feed then pump, with this repeating every 2 hours. While it was great for my son to help him grow and for my milk supply, I wasn’t able to get any sleep and ended up with really bad postpartum depression where I couldn’t sleep even though I was exhausted. I realize and appreciate the wonders of breastmilk for my baby but sometimes I think that lactation consultants don’t realize (or care?) about the trauma that can happen to the mama when breastfeeding is rough. I think the idea of a baby needs a happy and caring mama sometimes gets lost in the whole “breast is best” mantra. My baby is now almost 6 months and is doing great, but he is horrible at breastfeeding, so I pump and supplement as needed with formula. But looking back on his newborn experience I think it would have been a lot smoother if my lactation consultant had eased up on me with my responsibility to breastfeed.

  17. Author here with a follow-up for anyone who found this article. I now have a second kid, and he has none of the feeding issues his sister did. He latches like a champ to both boobs and sucks away until my letdown reflex kicks in. Amazing how different your kids can be…

  18. I read this article when I was pregnant and now with a 5 month old I’m revisiting. My 5 month old has self weened almost completely. I basically have to trick him into breast feeding when he’s asleep. I just couldn’t keep going through every feeding session being a battle and a fight and am pumping and bottle feeding which has been a emotionally difficult decision. This is really hard stuff! He breasted relatively normally until about 4 months and then it’s pretty much as many of you have described. Reading everyone’s comments brings some support.

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