The Complex World of Feeding Babies: A Conversation With 3 Moms
When it comes to feeding your baby, we’ve seen it all.
It seems like a simple choice at first: breastfeed or formula feed.
But the world of infant feeding is so much more complex than that. As postpartum doulas, we know how hard it can be to decide how to feed your baby, especially with the wealth of information available, access to Google, and unsolicited advice from other moms. It can be overwhelming to sort through it all on your own… which is why it’s a great idea to seek professional support by hiring a postpartum doula, infant feeding specialist or an IBCLC to help you figure it all out.
We know that feeling validated is an important part of this journey, so we put together this interview with moms who have been through it. We interviewed three moms with three different experiences: breastfeeding [BF], exclusive pumping [EP], and formula feeding [FF], and asked them about the choices they made and what it’s been like through their infant feeding journey.
Here’s what they said.
*all names have been changed for privacy
Before you gave birth, how did you plan to feed your baby?
Cara* (BF)- “I always planned to breastfeed, even long before I had kids. I honestly thought I would love it.”
Ashley* (EP)- “I always planned to exclusively breastfeed because you always hear ‘breast is best’ and as a new mom you want to do what is best for your baby. But they don’t tell you that there are other options, like combination feeding or that you can pump exclusively. I just wanted to do what was best.”
Jane* (FF)– “I planned to breastfeed. That’s just what it seemed like I should do.”
Did that change? Why?
Cara (BF)- “No, I ended up sticking with breastfeeding. Though I didn’t realize how hard it would be. My baby is 9 months old now, and I have struggled with some aspect [of feeding] or another the entire time. There have been a couple times where we’ve had to give her formula and many times when we fed her pumped milk, but in the end, breastfeeding just ended up being the right choice for both of us.”
Ashley (EP)- “It did. We started nursing immediately after birth, but there were a few reasons why it ended up not working. I had to use a nipple shield from day one, and my son had low blood sugar at birth, so I had to supplement with formula a little bit and with colostrum from a syringe too. We also had to do triple feeding and he struggled to latch on the breast and the bottle so, he wasn’t gaining enough weight either. We had a lot going on already and then around one month I got mastitis and ended up in the hospital for five days. During that time, I was away from my baby overnight and my supply dipped a lot and I just felt so sick that I had a hard time feeding him enough. When we got home, I knew something had to give so I decided not to nurse directly anymore. I still wanted him to get breast milk though, so I chose to exclusively pump, but we did do one bottle of formula at night because I wasn’t producing quite enough at first.”
Jane (FF)- “Yes it did. I tried to breastfeed, but I realized how hard and how painful it was and my baby wasn’t really latching right. After multiple lactation appointments and getting mastitis around one month old, I just decided to switch to formula for my own mental health. I was also in grad school and had to go back to work after six weeks, so I knew formula was going to work better.”
How did you feel at first when you solidified your choice?
Cara (BF)- “I felt good about it. I was really determined to make it work and I think that’s the only reason why we were able to continue.”
Ashley (EP)- “It was rough, I was really at war with myself about it at first. I missed the bond of breastfeeding and it was hard to let go of the idea I had in my head. I felt like I had failed at breastfeeding. I was also dealing with postpartum depression so I’m sure that made it harder.”
Jane (FF)- “I felt really relieved that I didn’t have to keep trying to breastfeed.”
How did you feel once you had been using that method for a few months?
Cara (BF)- “That’s a complicated answer! It really depends on the time period. I dealt with a tongue tie that we had to get revised, an unplanned c-section recovery that made things hard at first, a small baby who had trouble staying awake to eat, triple feeding, multiple lactation appointments, and at one point a nighttime nursing aversion. And that’s just besides the normal struggles that almost everyone who breastfeeds has, like learning how to help the baby latch. Sometimes I thought it would have been so much easier to just do bottles. But I always ended up deciding to keep going [with breastfeeding].”
Ashley (EP)- “It was great. Once I got into the rhythm of it, it really just worked so well for us. At this point I had also gotten some help for my postpartum depression and that helped a ton too. My husband was great about taking the baby when I had to pump, so that was nice when he could do that. It wasn’t without its challenges, but it had a lot of upsides too. I felt good that I was still able to give him breast milk.”
Jane (FF)- “I felt great, I was happy I switched.”
Did you ever feel self-conscious about feeding your baby the way you did? Why?
Cara (BF)- “Yeah, sometimes. I struggled a lot with positioning [of holding the baby while feeding] and almost always needed pillows or a special setup to feed my daughter. When I did that at someone else’s house or in public, I always felt like ‘Why can’t I just cradle her in my arm like most moms?’ I felt like I should be able to just do it easily and it was never easy, even still. It made me feel like I was failing somehow.”
Ashley (EP)- “You know, so many moms get flak for breastfeeding in public, but I remember pumping at a table inside of a store once and I felt so much more self-conscious about it than I did breastfeeding early on. To me, it sounded like the pump was as loud as a freight train and people were turning around looking for what the sound was. But I had to do it to feed my baby! I felt secure about it, but it was definitely awkward. The same sort of thing would happen at family gatherings too, but I just got used to it.”
Jane (FF)- “I guess I feel like there’s still a stigma [around formula feeding] because people just expect you to breastfeed. There wasn’t anyone in my life though who made me feel bad about it. At the beginning I questioned my choice a little bit, but bottle-feeding formula was really just the best for us.”
Are there any products that really helped with your chosen feeding method?
Cara (BF)– “YES! The My Brest Friend nursing pillow** was a lifesaver in the early weeks and months. I usually needed like seven pillows to be comfortable feeding her, but once I got that pillow it literally changed my life. It was so much more supportive. Especially with a small baby and having a c-section, it helped so much. I truly believe it saved our breastfeeding relationship.”
Ashley (EP)- “Yes, I rented a Medela Symphony pump** which is a hospital grade pump and that was really good in the beginning. After a while, I got a mobile pump so I wasn’t tied to a wall and I would highly recommend getting one of those if you’re going to exclusively pump. Oh, and a hands-free nursing bra is a must-have!”
Jane (FF)- “Yes, about a month after we started formula, I got a Baby Brezza** and it was a life changer. You just put the formula in and new water like once a day and it just makes the formula for you and it’s already warmed up. It’s amazing.”
What has been the most overwhelming part?
Cara (BF)– “I think my struggle with positioning has really been the hardest on me. They only taught me two ways to hold her [while nursing] in the hospital and they worked fine at first, but I wish I had learned some other ways to use as she grew. It was really uncomfortable a lot of the time, and I had a hard time figuring it out even after watching videos and looking up articles online. My body was always sore, and I hated how hard it was to just try to get comfortable. Also, triple feeding for the first six weeks was very overwhelming and took a lot out of me.
Oh, and the nursing aversion too. I had never heard of it and wasn’t prepared for the feeling of wanting to push my baby away while she ate. We were able to find ways to overcome it and keep nursing, but it took doing night bottles for a while, having my husband help a lot more, and setting boundaries with breastfeeding. I think if the aversion had continued, I may have weaned [to pumping or formula] already.”
Ashley (EP)- “Probably just learning the whole process of storing the milk with bags and dating them and everything else. We had to buy a chest freezer because we didn’t have enough room for all the milk I needed to store. That and figuring out how to take care of a baby while I was physically pumping. That was really tough.”
Jane (FF)- “Not really overwhelming, but the worst part has probably just been the cost. And having to remember to pack up everything for bottles if we go on a trip can be stressful too.”
What has been the best part?
Cara (BF)- “I think the best part for me has been having the ability to feed my daughter anywhere at any time with little or no prep. And no extra dishes! It’s also been a really easy way to comfort her when she is fussy or in pain.”
Ashley (EP)- “I think the best part was just being really proud of my body for keeping up with the demand because I was told by my doctors that I wouldn’t be able to make enough if I pumped exclusively.”
Jane (FF)- “I didn’t have to be the only one feeding her. It was nice to have help and it also meant that I got more sleep which is a nice perk.”
Do you feel like the way you chose to feed your baby negatively affected how much you bonded with them?
Cara (BF)- “Not at all. I think that nursing her has helped create special bonding moments for us most of the time. It definitely also created struggles that were really hard to get through, but I don’t think those struggles lessened our closeness at all.”
Ashley (EP)- “Oh, not at all. I thought it would, and sometimes I miss nursing, but there’s still such a closeness between us. I held him to bottle feed him for a long time and he would grab my face and make eye contact, so we definitely still have that close bond.”
Jane (FF)- “No, I actually feel like it was more of a positive because with the breastfeeding I was just getting so stressed out that I feel like it was making things worse as far as bonding with her. So, I think switching to formula actually improved our bond.”
As you can see, there is no one right way to feed your baby and every family is unique in what works for them. And because you’re the parent, you can change your mind at any time.
Our postpartum doulas and infant feeding specialists are professionally trained to help you navigate (both in-person and virtually) all your options yet know when it’s best to add the support and expertise of an IBCLC. Together we can establish a plan that is tailored exactly to the needs of you and your baby.
As a new mom, feeding your baby is your priority… and look at you, you’re doing just that! Great job!
Caitlyn Webster is a Certified Postpartum & Infant Care Doula and a member of the Family Tree Doula Services team of doulas. She is the Assistant to CEO, Sheryl Cooksley, and also supports parents as a Newborn Care Educator. Caitlyn enjoys baking and decorating cookies at home with her husband, daughter and dog, Petey..
**Note: Please research the pros and cons of all products mentioned to determine if they are a good fit for you and your baby.