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

Guest post by Nancy Cavillones

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!!!

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!

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation