Formula for the breastfeeding relationship

On Sunday night, I gave Talitha her first two ounces of formula.

I had said I was open to combination feeding if need be and after all the stress involved in making the decision to supplement with formula and expressed milk, I was actually surprised at what I felt giving her the bottle.

The guilt people mention – it didn’t rush over me. The grief over departure from exclusive breastfeeding was eerily absent.

In fact, what I felt was utter relief. Now I knew my daughter would be getting enough. Or at least a lot more than she had been. And I didn’t have to strain under the weight of being her sole source of food in a system that, between her unfocused tongue and my low milk supply, wasn’t working.

While drinking her first bottle she did the biggest poo ever. It was a poo to end mankind. It was a poo to make us need to change everything. It wasn’t linked to formula of course but it brought reassurance by reminding me that the single most difficult part of this experience has been wondering how much milk she’s actually getting.

After Laurence changed her (thank God for the weekends when it’s his turn), I brought her to the breast and she worked much more effectively, getting lots of glugs and falling off eventually in a drunken state. I know I should have breastfed first then supplemented rather than putting the supplement in the middle of the feed but I just felt she needed a bit to get her going as the half-hearted sucking she was doing before was getting us nowhere.

I was energised by exhilaration and started counting those chickens. We’d have actual discernible feeds, she’d fall off satisfield, I could put her down, I could go out without worrying about not being able to hear her swallows because she was now drawing milk so strongly.

Then yesterday happened.

She wouldn’t stop feeding, she wouldn’t sleep for a significant amount of time, she was even more insistent than usual. Even with the supplemented formula, she just would not settle. We were back in feedathon hell.

And I kind of lost it. I felt sorry for her and for myself. I was consumed with directionless anger. I had run out of everything: patience, perseverance, hope and, to an extent, love.

That’s when the guilt also kicked in. I felt guilty for needing to give my baby formula. And even as I felt it, I knew how ridiculous this was. It’s not my fault the tongue-tie wasn’t picked up when she was younger. It’s not my fault my supply is low. It’s not my fault things are still pretty crap.

Actually, I’m grateful that formula exists. What used to happen in situations like in the pre-formula era? And the lactation consultant made the fair point that if it’s a tool that can help keep the breastfeeding relationship going, that’s no bad thing.

But I guess my general pissed-off-ness was rooted in something much deeper. I was mourning things not working the way they were supposed to. Babies are supposed to live on human milk. I was supposed to be able to feed my baby. Just me.

Then again, I was supposed to bring her into the world in a peaceful, non-emergency setting, not hooked up to a drip feeding my bloodstream synthetic hormones in a procedure that caused her oxygen levels to dip numerous times .

Let’s face it, there are a lot of bigger things going wrong while I’m hyper-focused on this one thing. London is being ripped apart but I’m getting weepy in the process of accepting combination feeding.

I realise the more important bit of this little thing all my energy is spent on is that I am, simply, feeding my child.

My worry is whether breastfeeding can remain the most significant player in that. And so, I’m trying to explain domperidone to GPs so they keep prescribing it to me to increase my supply and we’ve just bought a Medela supplementary nursing system so the supplementing can happen at the breast too, while getting my breasts to send the right messages to the brain: send more please.

Who knows but that we may get to exclusive breastfeeding eventually. But I’m not going to get depressed over it. I feel I’ve missed out on enough of life with my baby by caning myself over the feeding thing and how skinny she is.

In the meantime, we’re praying for a stronger suck, a more consistent tongue, a few ounces added to her underfed frame and, for all our sakes, the restoration of rhythm, of peace, of sanity to this family.

I’m grateful that formula can nudge us on the way to getting there.

Image by Enokson

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  • Ahh there is always something to feel guilty about, it seems to be as much a part of motherhood as sleepless nights and baby brain.  My little one never took a bottle so I had no choice but to breastfeed but she is 9 months now and feeding as much as she did when she was a newborn so at some point I know I would have introduced some formula. Try not to feel guilty, it is just lucky that we have options these days and if it does mean that you can find a way to breastfeed that works for you then it will have been worth it. Do you think she is having a growth spurt? My LO used to feed constantly when she was. Have you tried taking Fenugreek? It’s a herb that increases milk, it works amazingly, I have taken it. You can get it in tablets from healthfood shops x

    • Actually she’s catching up on three missed growth spurts, in theory, as her tongue-tie meant she was getting less than she needed since she was a week and a bit. She’s fed constantly every day between then and now (she’s 8 weeks) but now she’s finally getting milk. I take fenugreek, actually, but needed a stronger drug as my supply is severely diminished by getting the wrong message for all those weeks. Thanks for the comment. It’s true, we always have something to feel guilty about! Hope your babe takes a bottle when you need her to.

  • Don’t beat yourself up for any of these feelings.  Talitha is likely still adjusting to feeding without the tongue tie…also from what I have seen some babies are more consistently contented feeders than others.  It is frustrating when they don’t cooperate with food – just wait until you cook her some food once she is on solids and she tosses the lot on the floor!  But you persevere just as you are doing now, and you will get there.

  • Adele, good to see you are feeling better. Definitely don’t beat yourself up. As I told you on twitter, my friend had great success with the SNS. Once baby got used to solid foods,she cut the formula and only breastfed,  still bfing at 3 years old now and I now a lot of other people who had a rough start, added formula, then kept bfing. It’s very important you, as a mother, feel good overall. I firmly believe that worrying too much over your supply, affects it adversely. Try to relax, sleep when baby sleeps,go out and see friends etc. Have a good

    • Love hearing a success story. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep going. Starting to go out again this week and just thinking about it makes me feel better. Thank you. Hope you’re having a good weekend too.

  • Amazing post. Well done you (and Talitha) for persevering through all of the challenges. Formula is not a bad thing. Accepting that is half of the battle!


  • I know exactly how you feel. If it helps, I’m a few weeks further on in the supplementing, and the relief of seeing my daughter looking more healthily plump is really quite a consolation now.

    And, I was musing the other day, perhaps because I couldn’t feed my son exclusively, that’s why I fed him breastmilk for longer and why he has an obnoxiously healthy diet now, to the point where he actually prefers fruit to sweets in the main. Although not liking fish fingers is just wrong.

    Anyway, Mrs B at Crankymonkeys has just been writing about her experience with tongue tie and it seems that while you may not have managed to avert all the problems associated with it completely, you have caught it early to avoid one of them:

    Best of luck with the SMS feeding.

  • You’re so right. In the whole scheme of things, the thing that matters most is that your baby is fed – whether that be from boob or bottle.

    I was dead-set on breastfeeding and just giving expressed breast milk. But the expressed thing never happened and the baby never took a bottle. Ever. So I spent three months before a loan training shift at work crying and feeling frustrated that she wouldn’t take a bottle – I was terrified at how she would feed if I wasn’t there to do it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, with babies there are always times when things don’t go according to plan, but you’re right to just stop and get things into perspective. I wish I’d had your head on my shoulders a year ago!

    • I have a couple of friends whose babies won’t take bottles. That must be annoying. Wish I could pump enough to not need formula but whatever I do, my output is just an ounce at a time. Thanks, I partly get perspective by reading blogs like yours to see what comes next!

  • I had to supplement while breastfeeding with all my children. Unfortunately my milk came in great but always dropped. With my last child I actually talked to a lactation consultant and she told me to try herbs. These did help and eventually I didn’t have to supplement with formula. It takes A LOT of patience and time.

    I used breastea from and it did help me to increase my milk supply. 

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Showing up as myself

[image description: Adele and her youngest child sit in the greenhouse, looking at the camera] You may have noticed that I’ve changed this website’s name and URL to my own: Adele Jarrett-Kerr. When I started this blog nine years ago, it...