Breastfeeding Troubles

Lillian is two weeks old today. To mark the occasion, I present to you a long and rambling story about infant feeding! If it’s too many words, feel free to scroll down to the end for some cute baby pictures.

Anyway, the story: Throughout my pregnancy with Lillian, I’d been reading a lot about the breast vs. formula debate. Everything I found suggested that breastfeeding was healthier for baby and mom — plus it’s a free and natural food source, whereas formula can be very pricey. It seemed like a complete no-brainer: if it’s both healthier and cheaper, why wouldn’t anyone choose the breast over the bottle?

So we got started with breastfeeding in the hospital right away, before I’d even been cleaned up after the delivery. Lillian latched on and suckled away like she knew exactly what to do, and throughout our hospital stay she nursed, nearly constantly at times. The nurses approved of her latch and my feeding technique, and they seemed amused by how often I was feeding the hungry little baby.

For their part, they did a great job of encouraging breastfeeding at the hospital. There were nurses available 24/7 to help with any issues, and no pressure at all to give formula — our baby didn’t taste a drop of formula during her entire hospital stay. Sure, she lost a little weight, and her bilirubin levels where a little high, but we were assured that all of this was within the normal range for breastfed babies.

The day after we left the hospital, we took Lillian to her first pediatrician’s appointment… and we got the jarring news that she had already lost more than 10% of her birth weight. Her skin was starting to take on a distinct yellow cast, much more obvious under the harsh flourescent lights of the exam room than it’d been at home. The doctor urged us to start supplementing with formula right away.

The realization that our daughter had spent the first two days of her life starving, all while I thought she’d been nursing plenty and “eating like a champ,” was kind of like a kick in the stomach. She got her first bottle of formula right there in the doctor’s office, and it was actually a huge relief watching her gulp it down. Seeing that formula disappear left no question as to how much nourishment she was getting.

Joe giving Lillian a bottle at the doctor's office.

Reading the various parenting blogs, you’d think supplementing with formula is the worst thing you could do, but at that moment I honestly couldn’t care less about the purported benefits of breastfeeding. I just wanted to fill her little tummy with food, and it didn’t matter what it was or where it came from.

But of course, the formula supplementation was intended to be temporary. Maybe Lillian wasn’t getting enough colostrum now, but once my milk came in full force we could phase out the formula and all would be well.

And the milk did come in, but over the next few days it became evident that the supply just wasn’t there. I spent hours upon hours nursing and pumping, but never produced more than an ounce — and Lillian was a hearty 9-pounder that would guzzle down a good three ounces with each feeding. I started taking fenugreek, a supplement that might help with lactation, at the doctor’s suggestion. The nursing and pumping continued, but days went by and nothing changed.

By this point I was stressed out, exhausted, and ready to throw in the towel with breastfeeding altogether. It just wasn’t working.

At some point I talked to my mom about all this, and I learned that I was a formula-fed baby because she’d had the exact same supply problems. This came as a big relief: maybe the tendency toward an insufficient milk supply just ran in my family, as opposed to the seemingly-common lactivist perspective that everyone can breastfeed, and those who fail are just doing it wrong, or not trying hard enough, or not getting enough support and education, or somehow being sabotaged by the establishment.

It also helped knowing that the science really doesn’t back up the notion that breastmilk is a magical substance that will make your child a genius with super powers and immunity to diseases. Or that formula is such poison that you might as well just give the baby a bottle of booze and a carton of cigarettes, because you’ve doomed them to be fat, stupid, and sickly for the rest of their life. According to this article, the actual benefits of breastfeeding are somewhere between inconclusive and small, especially for healthy full-term babies in first-world living conditions.

We had a good chat with Lillian’s doctor about what kind of formula to use, safe preparation techniques, etc. And he did say I could feel free to continue pumping, though he couldn’t in good conscious tell us that whatever pittance of breastmilk I got would confer any tangible health benefits to Lillian, or that it would outweigh the energy, time, and stress that such pumping would take. Once again, the science just isn’t there.

So I guess that’s the story of how we’ve ended up as formula-feeding parents. And even if it wasn’t in the original plan, I’m feeling pretty at peace with this. Lillian is back up to her birth weight, she’s well-fed and happy, and we’re just enjoying her arrival instead of stressing out over making breastfeeding work. And now for some cute baby pictures:

Guzzling a bottle.

Sleeping in mama's arms.

This looks suspiciously like a smile!


  1. Well, don’t feel bad. All three of mine were formula fed as well, and they have never had any health problems. I’m glad that Lillian is getting the nourishment she needs now because that is truly the most important thing anyway. As her PawPaw says, she’s a Hart so naturally she just needs more food!!! LOL

    I love the pictures! I’ve been showing everyone at work, and they all comment on what a beautiful baby she is. Love you all!

  2. I have so many thoughts on this topic, and on the insane competition and judgment surrounding motherhood in this country. I mean, talk about first-world problems! Suffice to say that, as a non-parent, I would totally support your decision to feed your kid formula for absolutely any reason at all. Your kid, your choice.

  3. The picture where Lillian has the lopsided smile…. Your Grandpa Morrison smiled like that!! It’s true what “they” say. You see the past in a brand new face! As for your decision to formula feed… all I can say is this: you followed your instincts. They’ll never let you down. No one is going to willingly stand by and let their child starve.

  4. From my mom and former monther-in-law, the push in the 50’s was to use formula, because it was “scientific” – to the point they gave women drugs to DRY UP their milk! This led to the problem of early introduction to cow’s milk (which has larger curds than human milk, thus harder to digest) giving many babies (like Joe’s dad) digestive problems. Plus in 3rd world countries, where clean water is a rarity, the powdered formula was often tainted. Of course, we don’t live in a 3rd world country, plus today’s formula is much closer to mother’s milk, but the backlash against the 50’s and 60’s makes some people seem to be extremists about breast-feeding. If your milk didn’t come in, there’s only so much you can do, and thankfully formula is one of those options. Back in the middle ages, you’d have to have found another mom with excess milk (a wet-nurse) to supplement your own!

  5. To me, the worst criticism against formula had to do with some mothers just propping up the bottle and going back to whatever they were doing before baby became hungry. So it’s not what baby is getting, but how. And the cool thing with formula is that dads can cuddle baby and give the bottle as well as moms!

  6. Thanks everyone, these comments are like a breath of fresh air. There definitely does seem to be a tendency toward extremism when it comes to breastfeeding these days, and I think Kim’s comment about the competition and judgment hit the nail on the head. (I should probably just stop reading so much online, haha…)

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