Formula: A Working Mom Reality Check

Formula: A Working Mom Reality CheckWhen I went back to work with Landon, we had nursing down pat. No more latch issues, a great 3 hour schedule and I was confident. I had never  been “overflowing” and barely got engorged those first few days but I fed him just fine. He was happy and healthy. I headed back to the office with my shiny new Pump in Style to use throughout the day. Very quickly I realized that I couldn’t keep up with bottles. One major reason was my daycare was dominated by formula babies and those bottles need to be bigger over time. Breastmilk changes density over time with fat content, not volume. It isn’t the same as they get older. They would tell me he needed more and I would look at my sad little bottles at the end of each day and panic. (I learned that he should have never been needing 7 oz breastmilk bottles after the fact) I added extra pumps at night. I went and saw more lactation consultants. I bought supplements. I power pumped. I pumped every 2 hours. I tried everything I could think of.  To put it lightly, I stressed to the point of anxiety attacks at “low supply” days. I wanted to make this breastfeeding thing work…but I was failing my baby…or so I thought.

After a particularly rough night, where my postpartum anxiety spiraled out of control, I took a day off work and pumped nothing. I was already freaking out from sleep deprivation and this didn’t help. I didn’t have enough for bottles the next day. I cried and cried. It was so hard to let go of the control but I found that can of Similac and made him a bedtime bottle of half breastmilk and half formula to make sure he could handle it. I had to feed my baby…period. He never batted an eye and chugged it down but I cried the whole time. I didn’t think formula was bad, I was just disappointed in myself for not being able to give him only breastmilk

Flash forward to his first birthday. I pumped what I could for that first year and even kept nursing mornings and bedtime until 15 months. We had a beautiful journey and the one major note  about breast milk was:

I gave him all I could.

After that first grieving period, I realized this fact. I was AWESOME for pumping all I could. There was literally no more I could pump but I did it. For 12 months, around the clock. Formula was there to fill in the gaps. He did just fine. He is now a super healthy 3.5 year old who, after his first year of daycare, is rarely sick.

This time around, with Oliver, formula came when my milk stopped letting down at night for some reason. We start giving him little bits to make sure he could tolerate it and now he has a few oz a day (3-5oz). I didn’t have the same decision making this time because I knew it would be just fine. Once again, he is getting everything I have and I am happy with that. I am still a person, not just a milk machine.

Once I had the formula as a backup, life got a little easier. If I was out on the weekend and couldn’t make it home for a feeding, I didn’t have to panic about “How am I going to pump??!” If I had a low pump day, it wasn’t a blow to my ego or a panicky evening of “what do I do?” I just made a small bottle and added to it. It has even relieved some long term plans. I am planning to leave the boys in April and the thought of being responsible for all that pumping while gone? Scary stuff , especially since I am going to meet Mrs. Overproducer Katherine. But now I know we are covered. It has taken a weight off and there is something to be said for that.

So I am here for that mom staring at the 4 oz she barely pumped all day and wondering how many more bags in the freezer are left, if any. It’s OK. I know it’s hard but your baby will be OK on formula. I promise. If you are stressed out and pumping is making you batty, it’s ok to stop. I know moms who can get away with nursing when with their baby and just giving formula bottles. Make it work for you. Give yourself a break. Step back and think about your sanity. You are amazing. You are a fabulous mother. Your baby is lucky to have such a dedicated mommy. Formula is there for a reason. Take the help. It will make a world of difference.

NOTE: Let’s all get on the same page. This post is not a pro formula or pro breastfeeding post. I am not here to address breastfeeding rates, formula marketing, or education around breastfeeding. So if you came here to beat your drum on your feeding platform, please realize this is post is for moms struggling with pumping at work. This is a place for community, not judging.

If you have questions about how to introduce formula to your breastfed baby, ask away. I am happy to answer anything. Also be sure to check out www.kellymom.com

49 Comments

  • Ruaidh says:

    AS an employer with recent deliveries in my staff, I always made sure that they had frequent breaks for pumping and a private, comfortable place to do so. I did, however, have to defend allowing this to happen to other staff. Oddly, it was other women that were complaining about the “extra” breaks to pump. Once I explained that it was going to happen with my permission, they stopped grousing about it, but one older employee still felt that the moms were getting preferential treatment.
    Ruaidh recently posted..Why guns? Here’s one theory.My Profile

    • Brandy says:

      Bless you! I am lucky in that I have never had to even approach my employer or any manager up the chain about my pumping. I have an office with a door. I pump while I work…so nothing lost to anyone. I also use my lunch break to walk to daycare and nurse my son there. It is a fantastic benefit. So happy you are sticking up for your employees! I equate pumping breaks to the numerous “breaks” people take to chat and whatnot. We just have another job to do!
      Twitter: mannlymama

    • Jeez. Smokers everywhere I’ve ever worked have taken at least a half hour worth of extra breaks without consulting anyone (in five min. chunks) and no one complained about it.
      Christa the BabbyMama recently posted..I’m Not a Bad Mom, But I’m Occasionally a Bad PersonMy Profile
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  • Susan says:

    THANK YOU for posting this perspective. So much of the advice out there is all or nothing. Your journey mirrors mine, and I wish I could have read this when I was agonizing over how many ounces I pumped per day.
    Susan recently posted..Crock Pot Recipe: West African Spicy Peanut StewMy Profile
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  • Melissa says:

    This was totally me. I exclusively breastfed until my daughter was 6 months. Since her father stayed at home to keep her, I didn’t have to worry about pumping days ahead, and I was even able to keep up with her demand using the single breast pump that only does one breast at a time. I felt like a rock star, until she was 8 months, and then I couldn’t keep up with her demand. I started pumping before work, during work, when I got home, after she went to bed, all while nursing her when she needed. There were some afternoons when my husband would bring the baby to my job so I could nurse her during my lunch break because I hadn’t pumped enough for the day. I was freaking out, crying, and felt like a failure. Finally I did some internet research about which formula would be best. I too cried when I gave it to her, but she liked it. And once I got over feeling like I let her down, my anxiety was replaced with relief, for the same reasons the author mentioned. I’m still nursing now at 23 months, and it’s BECAUSE formula was there as an option. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

    • Brandy says:

      Go mama! I have just been surprised with all the questions I have gotten about it. So many people didn’t know you could do both. There really isn’t much out there about it.
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Sarah says:

    My daughter was fed formula in the hospital against my wishes before I even got a chance to TRY nursing so she was never exclusively breastfed. Luckily, I didn’t have to struggle with the decision to introduce formula because unfortunately that decision was made for me. But I did work very hard to give her every drop of breastmilk possible and while I packed up the pump shortly after her 1st birthday, we were able to maintain a nursing relationship until 15 months.

    I’m a huge supporter of getting the most breastmilk you can to your child…whether that’s all they ever get or if they only get 1oz/day. Each drop has its benefits!!
    Sarah recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Girl’s WeekendMy Profile
    Twitter: tiredmommytales

  • Kat says:

    Girl, you know what’s awesome about this? That you’re doing what needs to be done and what is best for YOUR family and situation.

    I love that you put these “tough things” out there so that other moms know they’re not alone.

    I love you long time, friend.
    Kat recently posted..My heart goes pitter-patterMy Profile
    Twitter: lilmissrysmama

  • Mary Beth says:

    I sooo needed this post about 4 years ago when I had to start supplementing for my daughter! I cried in the formula aisle. I cried when the daycare told me they needed more breastmilk – milk I couldn’t produce. Logically I knew formula was perfectly fine…. but looking back, I realize now what a gift it was. I gave my kids all I could.
    Mary Beth recently posted..Bye Bye Baby YearsMy Profile
    Twitter: bloombing

    • Brandy says:

      exactly. I have no beef with formula…it was my own ideal and goal. I hated not meeting my goals but in the long run, it was perfectly fine.
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • cayley rice says:

    I also could have used this a few years ago. I would set my alarm in he middle of the night to get an extra pumping in, becasue though my daughter slept through the night starting at 3 months, I felt like I wasn’t allowed unless there was enough milk to make it through the next day. It sounds crazy, but it wounds from this post that I wasn’t alone. Feeding her was my biggest job. How could I let her down? We did start supplementing at 11 months w/ cow milk when I finely have in to the reality that I couldn’t produce enough. I’d like to believe that if we have another I would be more laid back, but i’m honestly not sure. It’s hard to give yourself a break, even when it’s ridiculous not to.

    • Brandy says:

      Oh I feel ya. I am actually pumping in the wee hours right now. He is starting to sleep through the night every few nights but I am trying to keep up the night time supply until he is sleeping through more consistently. Honestly, the little extra makes me feel a little better. Then on the weekends, I can actually freeze about 3-4 bottles worth! But yeah…it’s amazing what we give.
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • I wish I’d been more open to some formula, especially toward the end of the year I nursed the kid. It was such a pain in the neck trying to pump enough, although some of it was that I had a kid who preferred milk to solids and didn’t feel like weaning as soon as she probably needed to (and she still prefers milk at almost 5… sheesh). The guilt around “exclusively breastfed” is too much. Happy babies are fed babies, and a little formula isn’t poison.
    Ms. Future PharmD recently posted..Balancing parentingMy Profile
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  • daddyyells says:

    This is a great post. My wife pumped when she returned to work, but ran into these same problems. On days when she hadn’t pumped enough I would take the baby into Manhattan on the train for the last feeding of the day (fortunately her employer was okay with this.)

    I know that she was always stressed about her production, but hesitant add formula our daughter’s diet. I was also unsure about formula (hence my willingness to take the ride into the big city for feedings.) I also wanted to be supportive and keep her from stressing out about this, so I tried to remain positive and encouraging and realistic. If we needed to get formula, we would.

    Then the day came that we realized we needed formula (or else I would need to live at her office, which I’m pretty sure her employer would not ave been okay with.) We began supplementing the breast milk with formula, and everyone survived.

    Looking back, I think that the biggest cause of concern for her was the feeling of failure, of admitting defeat by using formula. There’s already enough pressure on mothers (especially working moms), there’s no need to pile on with guilt about formula. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    daddyyells recently posted..…at the Berenstain BearsMy Profile
    Twitter: daddyyells

    • Brandy says:

      Yes…the defeat. That was it. You try so hard in those first weeks to get it right. You go through A LOT of pain and stress to get it right. Then to have to admit defeat later? Awful. I thought with the second time around I wouldn’t have the same defeat feeling but it was still there. Not as strong but still a blow to the ego. My goal had been 6 months but i fell just short. To be fair though, my goal was to make it until he was on solids. The original plan was to wait for that until 6 months but the little bugger started early…so in a way I still met my goal. His first formula was with his cereal…so I made it :)

      And hats off to you for taking her in to the office! Go Daddy! And I imagine it was a great memory for you and her…
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Suzanne says:

    Great post Brandy. Like Kat said, I know there are so many moms reading this feeling so much better & more relaxed about their own stresses & feelings of defeat.

    I’m dealing with a lower production now too but so so thankful that I still have a freezer full from my round the clock pumping this summer. But crazy enough, I feel almost guilty when I make half their bottles with my thawed breast milk.

    Motherhood & breastfeeding is weird & stressful. I’m once again thankful to you & others who put it all out there to reassure newbie moms like myself.
    Suzanne recently posted..Zoey’s Attic {review & giveaway}My Profile
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  • jsmmlm says:

    This was me. Oh my gosh, I thought for sure I was failing my girl. It took me a while to get my mind around the mere idea that formula was ok. I knew it wasn’t bad, I was just feeling like a failure. When the simple fact “my baby needs to eat and survive” rang loudly in my head, the stress started to melt away, and I stopped feeling like a failure. I started feeling like a mom who loved her baby so much and I knew I needed to make good choices for her. My daughter will be 2 in March. She’s a smart kid, eats like a champ (except for carrots and green vegetables), and I take the experience I had and share it with other moms. Your post is so amazingly spot on. Thank you for writing it.

    • Brandy says:

      You are very welcome. I knew there was a army of moms out there with this same feeling. I immediately wanted to get this post out to reassure the next wave. ::fistbump::
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Tahoeduckfan says:

    This post is literally the best thing that has happened to me! I’m exclusively breastfeeding my 5 month old and working 12 hours a day at a very stressful job! Even though my employer has amazing facilities set up for us moms, I barely have time to leave my desk and get down there. Suddenly, in the last few weeks my production has gone way down, and my daughter is up at night hungry… clearly she’s not getting enough to eat. I have a stockpile in the freezer from my maternity leave, but I still feel like a failure! When I asked the doctor about introducing formula, her solution was “breastfeed for 15 minutes a side at least 2-3 times a day, wake up at 3am to feed, and pump at 9, 12, and 3 at work, and then try to pump on your commute to and from work.” Ugh… that’s really not a solution for me, and now I feel even more guilty for considering formula. But this post is giving me the confidence to just do it and not stress about it. I do think it will give me much more happiness overall!

    I have a question, though. I’m trying to figure out which formula to try, and I’m really freaked out by the ingredients in them… seems like they are filled with preservatives and chemicals. Do you have any suggestions? Perhaps something more natural and wholistic?

    Thanks for all your posts! I look forward to reading your blog; it’s the first thing I do in the morning (after pumping, of course!)

    • Brandy says:

      WEll with Landon, it was what I had in the pantry. Simple enough. With Oliver, I talked to the ped long before we needed it to know what to look for because we had issues with milk intolerance early on (I am just NOW having cheese and sweet Lord, it’s good). She recommended a “gentle” formula for that reason. So I chose Gerber. I have no idea why. Sadly, I think most formulas are chemical. I mean…that is it…they are synthesized…not organic because they are trying to reproduce something they really can’t. I know Earth’s Best makes a formula and I trust them in the baby food world. Worth a shot? Talk to your ped again and find out her thoughts. i don’t know your situation.

      Thanks so much! Ya makin me blush
      Brandy recently posted..Formula: You Aren’t Failing Your KidMy Profile
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Melissa says:

    You’re awesome. I could never get DS to latch so I pumped and supplemented with formula from the beginning. Our pediatrician and home nurse always cheered me on. The nurse encouraged me to freeze a lot of my BM and only give him 1 or 2 bottles of BM a day so the supple would last longer. I stopped pumping around 5 months. I have a private office but I would forget to pump until I was engorged and in pain. I would have liked to have done it longer but was grateful for the time I was able to give it to him. I think I had enough of a stash to give him a bottle of BM a day until he was 7 months.

  • Megan says:

    Why couldn’t I have read this months ago?? I eventually had to supplement with formula because of this exact reason. I did feel guilty, though,because I totally bought into that formula is evil campaign. I’m so gonna rock the motherhood thing on my next kid! I’ll have so much more mom confidence!

  • MarMat says:

    Thank you.
    I needed this today. I’m zombie, just started a new position at my job. I am so tired, but the guilt is not easy, so I’m surviving.
    She’s my second and my first has allergies, so I’m double encouraged to continue.3.5 months so far.

    • Brandy says:

      Go mama, go. I can respect wanting to keep it going. I am thinking of doing a follow up post on tips for more pumping AND rules for introducing formula. One thing I would recommend is talkign to your pediatrician proactively about IF you needed formula, what you would need. If you hit that time like I did, you don’t want to be standing in the aisle trying to make a game time decision. There are formulas for allergies (Nutramigen being one of the first ones they would suggest, I imagine). Hang in there!
      Twitter: mannlymama

      • MarMat says:

        Update:
        2 months later and we did it!! I still managed to EP for all this time.
        We are getting closer to the 6 month mark wich was my first goal.

        I came back to read your article again, because I wanted to quit by that mark. I started giving her Althera (highly hidrolized formula) this weekend but she was not having it. It helped to mix it with BM, but still she is not drinking all of it. So today I gave her only formula and she throwed up. I panicked because with BM she no longer has reflux issues. So I thought new formula = reflux again, and then I started questioning if I should quit BF all along.

        I spoke with her gastropediatrician and he explained to me it was normal. She needs to adapt to a new kind of food and introduce it slowly. *Sigh*

        I will pump 4 times a day and see how do I feel with that and keep as long as I can and complement with formula as needed.

        I need to remind myself. Do not stress about it. She’ll continue to grow, she is loved, you are a wonderful mom.

        Thanks again for it! Came by to let you know it continues to be so useful.

  • riapots says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. What a great post and clearly it has helped so many of us. I think this issue has been the single most stressful part of becoming a mother for me so far. Even though I have not yet returned to work, the odds were against us exclusively breastfeeding from the start. Baby was given formula in the NICU even before I could try feeding him, I have PCOS so I am biologically predisposed to low-supply issues, and my pediatrician must be BFFs with his formula-manufacturer rep. Not to mention, baby is a preemie and was born so small that he didn’t have the strength to suck enough for his needs. From the start, I struggled with breastfeeding and spent way too much money on lactation consultants, pumped around the clock, and cried all the time, mourning the nursing relationship I expected to have with my son. One night, after literally crying over spilled milk, it just clicked: it’s ok and I am a great mom. Phew. What a weight off my shoulders (and heck, my supply actually increased a teeny bit!) Now that he is a bit bigger and is better at nursing, we are growing into a different kind of nursing relationship and I am looking forward to doing what I can for as long as possible. BTW, we use Baby’s Only Lactose Free Organic Formula. Relieves a bit of the Mom guilt, but also after trying out almost everything out there, it’s what he likes the best.

  • Jessica M. says:

    I’m reading this while pumping for my 6 week old. We’ve been pumping and bottle feeding the pumped milk since day 1 because he was 5 weeks early and hasn’t gotten the hang of breastfeeding. I had a drop in supply recently and we’ve had to supplement while I try to get my supply back up. Thank you for this: I’ve cried so much over pumping and not wanting to exclusively pump. I’m still doing my best to pump 8 times a day, but I’m not going to stress if I need to continue to supplement.

    • Brandy says:

      If you are exclusively pumping, supplementing is even easier. You set how much you pump. I hope everything works out…just remember you don’t need to be a milk machine. You are still a woman…not just a mommy.
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Sara Annie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was lucky enough to be able to stay home with my son while he was nursing, so i can’t completely relate. However, I’m a volunteer facilitator for a mom’s support group, and there area a few moms in the group that just started back at work and are going through this difficulty. I shared your story with them-please know you just made a group of about 20 first time moms feel better and almost”gave them permission”to do what is best for their unique situations when it comes to feeding their precious babies :)

  • Janelle says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. With my first, we had latch difficulties. I went to the lactation professionals and honestly gave it my best, but it was not enough once she was introduced to the bottle when I returned to work. I’m really proud of myself for pumping for six months so she could get breast milk. Yet, formula was a wonderful supplement (and eventually, primary form) of nourishment. This article helped me feel understood. We are all doing our best, right?

  • Michelle says:

    Great article :-)

    When my baby was born we knew she’d need an op and so my milk didn’t come in properly. The tears I shed trying to pump enough milk for her – I pumped for an hour solidly every 3 hours because I didn’t realise you should pump for that long!

    When we moved from NICU to Transitional Care the nurses kept saying she was hungry even though I was (by now) EBF and gave her formula. After one night when I woke to find a nurse had taken her and fed her a bottle I demanded to just EBF for 24 hrs to see what happened. My clever girl fed solidly, I didn’t sleep, but she increased my supply. Sometimes you have to follow your instincts.

    Because she was on formula in hospital she’s had the odd bottle, to give me a break and also because she wasnt putting on weight.

    At 3.5 months she’s going once a week to childcare and at 6 months I’ll be full time back at work. I had been stressing as when I pump I don’t get enough per session so I was totally relieved when I discovered a product called Milkies. It’s fab, when I feed on one side it collects milk the other. In a day I can catch almost a whole feeds worth which is enough to top up the three expressed sessions to make three full feeds. Hope this tip helps.

    I love this website, it’s really inspiring when in the UK the press constantly print negative stories about working mothers. And as a first time mum it’s difficult enough dealing with the guilt!

    • Brandy says:

      So glad you fought! We had an issue at babout 2 weeks where a nipple shield screwed my supply. He was dropping weight and I had no idea. I had to supplement him for a little over a week to get his weight back up but I was SO relieved that my pediatrician’s FIRST comment was “you can pump immediately after you feed him and this will increase supply and get that extra oz to feed him via syringe”. Only AFTER he did that did he say formula could be used. I was given a can incase my supply was super low right then and I couldn’t make enough to supplement. I had enough and we beefed right back up and my supply came back. But the syringe feeding was a PAIN so at about 2.5 weeks old, i threw up my hands and made him a TINY bottle and handed to my husband. For a week I had nursed for 45 minutes, then fought the syringe to then pump. I was exhausted and couldn’t do it anymore. Happily he took the bottle of nursed just fine. I took a big risk but it ended up fine.

      I wish the milkies would have worked for me. I NEVER leaked. Ever. :) I only used nursing pads to protect bras from lanolin in the early days :)

      So glad the UK has found us! Please spread the word. We are here to help. Also would love some guest posts from across the post for a different perspective!
      Twitter: mannlymama

  • Such a great reminder. Thank you for giving awesome mamas “permission” to let go! Sometimes that’s all you need to hear.
    Kelly @ IdealistMom.com recently posted..Here’s a Recipe for High-Quality Bonding With Your KidsMy Profile

  • Melissa says:

    I am so glad I found this. I have recently been struggling with pumping at work . I was getting close to 7 ounces a day and that includes me pumping in the middle of the night since my son had been sleeping through the night. But recently he started waking about twice a night leaving me with no time to pump. And my pumped amount at work went down to 3 ounces. After talks with a lactation consultant and kellymom.com it helped a little but not enough since he eats about 8-10oz a day. So I am forced to use formula and it is so hard for me to accept. This article really helped me look at it differently. It will still be hard but I am sure we will adjust.

  • Jen says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I have tears streaming down my face because I randomly stumbled on this website on a different issue and found this which speaks to me so much right now as I am not producing enough for my almost 9 month old these past two weeks. I have run myself ragged trying to pump every spare moment. And I’ve been exhausted and miserable. So thank you for these words. I needed to hear them.

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