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Why Transitioning to Formula When Returning to Work was the Best Thing I’ve Done for Myself

Why do we feel like less of a mom for feeding our baby from a bottle?

When my daughter, Sloane, turned 5-months-old, and I was preparing to return to work, I transitioned her to formula. Though I was one of the lucky few with a workplace supportive of pumping, my patience was wearing thin. As an exclusive pumper, the thought of continuing my pumping regime while commuting and working felt like too much for me to handle. But the pressure to breastfeed consumed me throughout my exclusive pumping journey, and I struggled with the guilt of “giving up” and introducing formula.

In the end, introducing formula in that moment was one of the best decisions I’ve made, for myself and for my daughter. So I’m sharing a perspective on feeding our children—why we should stop loading up on mom guilt and shame, and instead do what’s best for our families (while thinking about our sanity for once too!). Breastfeeding moms, pumping moms and formula moms … We’re all amazing moms. So let’s stop the pressure, stop the judgment, and start supporting one another.

As the mom of a preemie who ate from a feeding tube for the first days of her life, I began pumping immediately after childbirth. This meant strapping myself into a pump eight times a day to build up my supply for my tiny daughter. While in the NICU, we focused on mastering the bottle, as it was our quickest ticket home, and said we’d figure out breastfeeding following our discharge. It couldn’t be that hard.

Once Sloane was strong enough to ditch her feeding tube, we were sent home with a perfect baby and my pump in tow. I wanted to start breastfeeding, but Sloane and I couldn’t quite figure it out. So I hired a lactation consultant. When she was around, she made it look easy. Sloane and I would be in a groove. Once she left, it was like we had two left feet, and neither of us could get it quite right.

But my determined personality wouldn’t let me quit. And so began my transformation from human being into feeding machine. My day was spent repeating an endless three-hour cycle: 30 minutes of failed breastfeeding, followed by 20 minutes of bottle feeding a hungry baby, rounded out by a 30-minute pump sesh. Oh, and then there was the washing of pump parts, sorting and storing pumped milk, and maybe finding a few scraps of food for myself. Rinse and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I was exhausted and emotional. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do something that seemed to come naturally to everyone else. But I persisted, because breastfeeding is what all good moms do, right?

One evening, after being a passenger on my emotional roller coaster, my husband came to my rescue with the truth bomb that I needed: “Who cares if you can’t breastfeed? Pumping is working. Just do that.” That uncomplicated male perspective can be surprisingly refreshing. And he was right. So from that moment on, we stopped trying to breastfeed and I went “all in” on exclusive pumping.

We finally found our groove. Pumping and bottles were working for us, and Sloane was thriving. However, a new struggle emerged, and I felt judged every time I pulled out a bottle for my hungry baby. I made it a point to tell anyone within a 50-foot radius that there was BREAST MILK in my bottle. I don’t know why I cared so much about what other moms thought, but I did. I had worked really damn hard to pump that milk; it felt offensive to me if someone thought it was formula.

I’ll never forget a time when I was feeding Sloane a bottle at a park, and a little girl came up to me, curious about my baby and her bottle. I leaned down and said playfully, “I bet you had a bottle like this when you were a baby!” Her mom turned and quickly intervened, “No, sweetie, you never had a bottle like this as a baby, you only drank from Mommy.” My heart sank immediately. While I assume it was not her intention, I instantly felt minimized. My mom guilt leapt in, and I judged myself. But why? How was I any less of a mom for feeding my baby from a bottle? Quite often, we are our harshest critics.

I wound up exclusively pumping for five months. Five. Long. Months. I was exhausted, and was growing sick of being tethered to my pump. On top of it all, I was getting ready to return to work full-time, and was a mess over the thought of leaving my baby. Add in the stress of my demanding workload, long commute, and new world order, the thought of maintaining my pumping routine on top of it all felt impossible.

Finally, for the sake of my sanity—yes, I finally stopped to think about ME for once—I made a decision. I decided the stress of pumping while returning to work would be too much for me to handle. So I committed to weaning and introducing formula in my final weeks of maternity leave. Half of me felt elated! And the other half felt selfish and guilty.

And then I weaned. Truth be told, transitioning to formula was one of the best things I ever did for myself. And guess what? Sloane didn’t skip a beat. The world didn’t end. In fact, I felt great. I finally started feeling like myself again.

Once I weaned and Sloane was drinking formula, I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. The ease, the relief, the reduced stress. The fact that it had no impact whatsoever on my daughter’s health or wellbeing. It signified to me that so much of my commitment to keep up exclusive pumping for five months was because of the external pressures I felt, which drove my internal monologue. Not necessarily what was best for me or for my family.

I’ve come out this experience stronger and less worried about what others think. When I have another child, I hope breastfeeding works for us. But if it doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll hesitate to introduce formula much earlier. And I’ll loudly and proudly declare that there is FORMULA in my baby’s bottle. I’ll know that I’m a great mom, and my baby will too.

If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, you’re an amazing mom. If you’ve chosen to pump for your baby, you’re an amazing mom. If you’ve chosen to formula feed your baby, you’re an amazing mom.

Written by Lindsay Mitchell for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Working Mother