About a month ago, after umming and ah ing for quite a while, I made the decision to move from breastfeeding to formula feeding. It wasn’t a easy decision but for us it was definitely the right one.
Why we moved from breastfeeding to formula
When Little Miss was born, she latched on straight away and fed really well from the get go. In complete contrast to the difficult journey I had with Monkey I was so relieved and very optimistic about being able to feed her until around 6 months, much as I had been able to do with Monkey. But within a couple of weeks the problems had started. LM was spending hours every night screaming, she was a nightmare to burp and she developed colic, far worse than Monkey had ever had it.
I had an oversupply of milk and every time I letdown I was in agony, but also it was almost drowning her. She would choke and splutter and it made feeding a nightmare. I tried numerous methods to reduce my supply, which helped with some of the pain and speed but still the problems continued and the screaming worsened. I was still getting soaked at every feeding with the excess milk and it was all incredibly stressful.
LM was then diagnosed with reflux in addition to colic and was prescribed Gaviscon to be given at every feed. They came in sachets which had to be mixed with water or milk and given from a syringe or bottle before every feed. It hugely helped her reflux and pain and made nighttimes bearable all of a sudden… but getting her to actually take the Gaviscon was a bit of a nightmare. She hated it in water and for a while we syringed it in, until she learned to store it in her mouth and spit it back out again. I then got some great medicine dispenser teats*, which definitely helped, but again she would often spit it out or just refuse to drink it.
So then I started collecting some of my excess milk in a shell at every feed so that I could store it and mix it with Gaviscon to give her at the next feed. Bearing in mind she was feeding 6 or 7 times a day and we only had 2 shells and 3 medicine dispensers, there was a huge amount of washing and sterilising going on. Plus the fact that I still had an oversupply of milk meaning I was walking round half the day wet and she still bobbed on and off the boob at every feed and was often coughing and spluttering. Never mind the times I forgot to take the shell out and spilt all of the milk all over myself thereby wasting it completely!
She also still had terrible colic. The reflux was hugely improved but the colic was still there. I had noticed early on that her colic was always much, much worse whenever I had had any milk, so I cut that out of my diet. Then followed anything with dairy in. So no cheese, chocolate and, well it’s amazing how many things contain dairy. Then followed eggs as she seemed to react badly to them also.
It affected our family mealtimes. Because Monkey has always been a fussy eater we always eat the same meals as a family and the rule is that we all have the same, you either eat it or go hungry. Obviously I didn’t want to cut dairy or eggs out of his diet so all of a sudden we were having to prepare 2 separate meals some days, 1 for me, and another for hubs and Monkey. Confusing for him but also miserable for me having to limit my diet so much. It was a bit tortuous seeing all the foods I loved but couldn’t eat and I began to eat really quite poorly, often resorting to toast or pasta because I just didn’t have the energy to work out what else I could eat. It was worth not eating any of those foods for her sake but it was, very, very hard
I was not very happy in general and I actually began to hate breastfeeding. I think because although everything we did lessened some of the problems, none went away entirely and there were still others. The Gaviscon helped with the reflux, cutting out dairy helped with the colic, reducing my supply helped with feeding, but none of them were a miracle solution and all of it was hard work. Every feed felt like a rigmarole trying to get her to take the Gaviscon, making sure I had a shell sterilised to collect more milk, trying to feed her without choking her on my supply and without soaking both myself and her. Then having to prepare the gaviscon for the next feed and wash and sterilise another shell. The cycle continued.
It was exhausting. I wasn’t enjoying being a mummy and I wasn’t enjoying LM’s early months.
Hubs was very keen for us to move to formula. With all the sterilising and preparation going on, breastfeeding was actually more time-consuming than preparing formula would be. The Gaviscon could be mixed straight into her bottle so there would be no need for extra dispensers. Using formula would also mean I wasn’t limiting my diet and I think that was hubs’s biggest motivation. He was worried about me and what I was eating and worried that I wasn’t taking care of myself.
I could understand the rationale but I was worried.
Worried that we would be no better off with formula.
Worried she would still have all of the problems she had.
Worried how her system would react to formula.
Worried how she would take to the bottle.
Worried about the pain and engorgement stopping feeding would bring.
Worried that I would have given up breastfeeding without a good enough reason.
Worried that I was taking away the best available nutrition for my baby and that our hopes of a solution would be dashed.
Worried that it would all be for nothing and that there would be no going back.
Worried about the judgement I would get for feeding her formula.
Worried people would think I hadn’t tried hard enough to breastfeed.
Worried that if I talked it through with any healthcare professionals that they would tell me that I should carry on breastfeeding, even though I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t what was best for me and my baby.
In truth I was a mess. I knew that many of LM’s problems were probably temporary, that she would grow out of them after a few months, but at only 6 weeks old, I couldn’t bear the thought of going through it all for another 6-8 weeks. We talked about expressing, but I didn’t feel I could manage it. I had expressed some feeds with Monkey and I found it exhausting and double the work as you have to express every feed as well as actually feed them and I felt I would be spending all of my time doing that when I also have a toddler to look after. We talked about trying colief to help her digest the lactose and hopefully help with colic, but it is another remedy that needs to be mixed up and given at each feed and I didn’t have the energy to do that twice at every feed!
Thankfully we had a very supportive health visitor who happened to come for a check-up on a day when LM had been screaming for 5 straight hours that morning. When she arrived I had just got LM off to sleep in her bouncer with the white noise on full and we had this as a soundtrack to our meeting. I cried a few times as we talked about all of the problems we were having and she was hugely supportive. She didn’t try to tell me I should continue with breastfeeding as I had feared. She said that formula may not solve all of our problems, but she put forward the same argument that hubs did, that even if she still had colic and reflux, that at least by not breastfeeding anymore I would be able to eat what I wanted and could look after myself better, putting me in a better position to look after LM, and Monkey for that matter.
We talked through different formulas and though I had heard of formulas with less lactose in, I hadn’t heard of any with no lactose in, which she did advise me were available. This helped lessen some of my fears. The Dr early on suspected some of her problems were caused by a (hopefully temporary) lactose intolerance, which seemed to match with her adverse reaction to dairy in my diet. With the lactose in formulas I was concerned that this may make things worse rather than better. With the potential of giving her a lactose free formula I was hopeful this would help her.
How we moved from breastfeeding to formula
So when LM was 7 weeks old, we started the process. Substituting a formula feed for a breast feed one at a time, seeing how she got on for a couple of days before moving onto the next. We started with a feed in the evening, then one in the morning, alternating feeds so that my body could adjust and get used to producing less milk, without too much of the engorgement that cutting off entirely would have caused. We felt it would be better for LM this way too, to allow her digestive system a bit of time to adjust. She took the bottle with ease and didn’t seem to have any problems digesting the formula.
Over the course of the next week or so, we stopped breastfeeding entirely. It wasn’t totally plain sailing, though I didn’t suffer with engorgement and pain to the extent I had when I weaned Monkey at 7 months, it was still painful and it took a good few weeks after we had stopped before my breasts felt normal again.
As for LM, she was like a different baby. We still had some sleep troubles with her but the colic basically disappeared and she fed so so so much better on the bottle than she ever had from the breast. She was just so much calmer at feeds and a lot more contented afterwards.
Moving forward with Formula
Over a month on, she has suffered a bit with constipation – due to the combination of Lactose Free Milk (which is high in casein apparently) and the Gaviscon. Over the past few days we have been reducing her Gaviscon to see if her reflux has improved to the point where she needs it less, as that should help lessen the constipation. It is early days with it but so far, so good on both fronts. The idea is that once her reflux is manageable without Gaviscon, then we will at some point introduce a normal formula, to see whether she can handle the lactose better.
As for me, I am eating better and feeling a lot better in myself. I have had to deal with some hormonal ups and downs now that I have stopped breastfeeding, my hair (which stops falling out during pregnancy) is now shedding. I have a lot of hair so unlike some women do I am not worried about it all falling out, but I still hate it because it is so knotted and tangled it feels like I have a bird’s nest in there! I spent about 15 minute this morning just trying to de-tangle it all and pulled out a huge wad of hair! Plus there is hair everywhere in the house! My monthlies have reappeared now too with all of the hormonal ups and downs they bring with them but things should hopefully start to settle down from here on in.
Formula feeding itself is a whole different ballgame to breastfeeding – we are much more aware of how much she is feeding and constantly trying to work out how much milk she would like at feeds. There is a lot of faff with the cleaning, sterilising and preparation of bottles (though a lot less faff than we were experiencing previously). There are different guidelines from the NHS and WHO about how long you can store formula for in the fridge, with the NHS stating that you must always prepare a bottle fresh for every feed, and the WHO saying you can store them in the fridge for up to 24 hours. We have found the NHS rules completely impractical if you ever want to leave your house so are following the WHO guidelines and getting used to having to prepare with freezer packs and flasks of hot water whenever we go anywhere! We are getting into a bit of a routine with it all now thankfully!
As for judgement, I guess I have just had to get over it a little. Friends and family have all been completely supportive as they knew what a hard time we were having. If anything I was constantly trying to justify it to myself as I felt guilty and that I was somehow failing as a mother for not coping with all of the problems in order for her to have breast milk. Like I should sacrifice myself for her sake. But then I realise how much it was affecting the rest of my family. Hubs and Monkey matter too. And actually, having seen her on formula, she is so much better on it. I cannot feel guilty about choosing the option that causes her less pain.
As for people who don’t know us, whenever I see judgement in someone’s eyes, it is tempting to explain the reasons but I don’t because it’s not worth it. It just isn’t their business after all. At a postnatal yoga class (post to follow about how good it was!) that I attended recently, I was the only formula feeding mum there. There is a little residual discomfort I have to be honest as I want to say “I tried, I really did!” but again I keep it to myself, I am sure they aren’t judging me, just as I never judged other formula feeding mums, it is just me, judging myself.
Though I did internally chuckle, the instructor, who was very lovely, made a big thing about how ok it was to formula feed and how it was proven that you could still bond just as well with bottle as with breast, and she was very kind, but also she went a bit ott about how fine she was with it. Do you know what I mean? I think I would have believed she was ok with it a bit more if she actually hadn’t made quite such a point of how ok she was about it. I’m not criticising her as I know it must be hard to find a balance but I did chuckle and I guess proved to myself that I am ok with it, as it didn’t bother me that much.
I am obviously not recommending bottle over breastfeeding but wanted to share my experience as there are times when it is worth considering it as an alternative. I wish I could have breastfed LM for longer than 7 weeks but I know that this was the right decision for us as a family and that is all that matters.