Why I supplemented my child with infant formula

Before I go into this article, I have to say upfront that there is nothing I would love better than to be able to fully breastfeed my baby.

That is what I have always assumed I would be able to do, to breastfeed my baby for as long as I can. It doesn’t mean that this ‘aspiration’ is better than others. I mix-fed my baby till she was six months old before fully transitioning to formula.

Being a first-time mom, I took the ability to breastfeed for granted. I read up extensively on breastfeeding, attended countless breastfeeding seminars, joined breastfeeding groups on social media and talked to experienced friends months before Amber was born, so that I could prepare myself when she arrives.

Never has the thought of not having sufficient milk crossed my mind.

‘Your milk will come in’
From breastfeeding seminars and mummies in online groups, I was confident that my milk will come in and be sufficient for my baby, and that I will just have colostrum in the initial days. I should latch baby to stimulate milk production and ensure that baby has a certain number of wet and soiled diapers a day. Once the number of wet and soiled diapers are met, then it signifies that my colostrum/milk is enough for her tiny tummy.

All was fine in the hospital, although the pediatrician mentioned on the day of discharge that she would have preferred it if Amber had an additional wet diaper, but overall she was still fine. Upon discharge, Amber’s weight loss was still within the limit, so I went home happily, confident that my milk will come in in the next few days.

She wasn’t putting on weight well
We saw her pediatrician 3 days after she was discharged. In the three days, she was barely hitting her wet and soiled diaper count and I was starting to think if something wasn’t right. The PD monitored her weight gain and noticed she wasn’t putting on weight well. Her blood test also revealed a much higher jaundice level as compared to when she was discharged. Her doctor suggested I pump to see how much was available for her to drink.

I got the shock of my life when I produced less than 10ml, both sides combined, three hours after the last latch.

Well-meaning advice
‘Breastmilk jaundice is normal!’
Your pump output isn’t reflective of how much milk you produce’
‘Your doctor should never have asked you to pump!’
‘Just keep latching!’

Friends and readers offered comments and encouragement during my initial struggling days (or weeks). But I couldn’t have followed ‘text-book’ advice and gone by what worked for others when 1) my baby wasn’t putting on weight and 2) she wasn’t meeting her diaper count.

That was when I took the step to supplement her with formula feeding. It wasn’t a choice – my baby had to be fed.

I was determined not to give up
I continued latching and pumping while supplementing her with formula. I pumped eight times a day for 30 minutes each time, and remembered jumping for joy when I finally managed to yield 60ml combined, 4-5 weeks after she was born. It was tough, but I was determined not to give up.

But as months passed, the hope of fully breastfeeding her dwindled. I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t breastfeed her 100%, but as time went by, I learnt to let go of that guilt, because I know I have really tried my best. And no, I’ve never considered donor milk – it’s a personal choice.

50+ml was my average output before latching, 3 hours after the last pump, even six months down the road:

These were all the things I tried out:

Saw a massage lady to assess my boobs and clear blockage (if any)
I saw a massage lady during confinement when I was pumping probably 20ml both sides before latching. She assessed that I just didn’t have milk yet and there was nothing to clear. I saw her again when Amber was 2 months + old and I was still pumping 30ml, and I was told the same – there was no lump, blister, blocked ducts, etc – there was no blockage to clear.

Pumped eight times a day for 30 minutes each time

The only way I could get breastmilk into her was to pump several sessions a day and combining milk from these few sessions to make up one feed. If I had latched her, one latching session wouldn’t satisfy her and she would be screaming in frustration because there was just nothing coming out.

Power pumped
The most milk is produced in the middle of the night and that’s the best time to power pump to increase milk supply. Power pumping did help me increase my supply to 80ml in those sessions if I was lucky, but the amount wasn’t consistent.

Took milk boosters and supplements
Chinese herbs, salmon, Australian Milo, lactation cookies, doctor’s supplements, fenugreek, goat’s rue, more milk special blend… you name it, I’ve probably tried it. The only thing that remotely worked for me was the more milk special blend, but it basically helped me to get my supply up from 30ml to 55ml and stayed that way. Still thankful though!

Saw a lactation consultant
I saw a lactation consultant when Amber was seven weeks old. She said that my baby’s latch was good, and also determined that I had no blockage to clear. We even did weighed feeding, where my baby was weighed before and after a latching session. It confirmed that she was hardly taking in enough milk. The lactation consultant introduced a supplementary feeding system where formula milk is fed through a tiny tube while my baby latched, so that she could stimulate milk production by latching while being fed at the same time. In theory, it should work. But the system was frustrating to use – you had to tape the bottle/tube to your body while trying to get the other end of the tube into her mouth and STAY in her mouth WHILE she latched. It just didn’t work out for me.

Doing my best
And so, I decided to continue doing my best. By then, Amber was already drinking 160ml per feed, 6 times a day. There was no way that my 400ml a day pump output would be enough for her. As my supply further dwindled when my period came back at the 6-month mark, I knew it was time to transit her fully to formula. The time I spend on pumping every day could have been better spent on cuddling and playing with her. I also still let her latch on until my supply totally ran out, and that was when she fully weaned too.

Looking back, I still would have spent all the time and dedicated all the resources and money on trying to breastfeed her. It was a trying period, but I have no regrets because I know I have done my best.

And to my readers: Thank you for your words of encouragement during those tough times!

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9 Comments

  1. Catherlien

    Hiya just dropping a note to you.
    My LO is coming to 3months old and he is on mix feeding as well. He got to be formula fed when he is born due to low sugar level. I was same like you.I took Breastmilk for granted and I thought i will definitely have milk in a matter of time. I have too tried all the milk boaster but it just didn’t work! After day and night of pumping, i only yield 50ml max on both sides while my LO is already drinking 80ml per feed.
    I fell into depression shortly and all i could hear is breastmilk is gold, so even though he is supplement with fm, i feel yucky cause my inner thoughts tell me fm is poison. I cried for the entire one month just cause of this issue, instead of spending my time cuddling my LO, i scolded him and keep asking him why do you drink so much when mummy can’t give you so much at all! Looking back, i am really guilty of this. It didnt help at all when my mil told me why am i not fully breastfeeding him cause my sister in law is doing that for my niece. I got the ‘so you breastfeeding? Why arent u doing so? ‘ question all the time. I so much wanted to giveup but my confinement nanny keep putting negative thoughts on me and ask me to continue.Then my depression got worse and i threaten to jump down or throw my baby down.

    Finally into 2nd month, my confinement nanny left and my friends talk to me for some time. I let it go. My LO is getting responsive and it finally dwell on me that he is onli young once and I should spend whatever time i have with him instead of bothering about breastmilk. I am also formula fed when i was young! Soon i became happier and understand the meaning of fed is breast. Till date i just give whatever breastmilk i have to him and mix with formula if he isnt satisfied.

    Thanks for this article. It is speaking my inner thoughts as well and make me feel i am not alone :)

    • Chris-budgetpantry

      Hello Catherlien :) your comment means a lot because I can still remember those same emotions you described, even as my baby is already 15 months old. I just hope that new mummies would know that they’re not alone in their journey, and that it doesn’t make them less of a mom in any way. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Joan

    Hi, thanks for sharing. I would also like to share mine, to clear my thoughts as well as to help other mummies out there. I’m still somewhere in the woods as my Daughter is 7 weeks+ old.
    I have decided to stop breastfeeding completely a week+ ago, and am reducing the number of pumps (am down to three, yielding about 30ml-50ml each time).

    Here’s my story:
    As with many, and following the rhetoric of breast is best, I wanted to breastfeed.
    However, I had been of the opinion that my daughter has to first and foremost be fed. So that was my stance from the beginning. So easy to say.
    When the time came, and my Daughter was first brought to me to suckle, for the first time during delivery, I felt a sense of happiness.
    As we had the choice at the hospital whether to supplement with formula if baby is hungry, we did so from day one since she still looked hungry after suckling.
    It was soon evident that my milk/colostrum wasn’t coming in fast enough, and she was really frustrated, biting my nipples too. By day 2, I had blisters and my nipples bled.

    Back home, i had continued with formula feeding, and began pumping to stimulate the milk flow. I had stopped latching for a few days since the blisters hurt.
    At this point, i had to deal with being judged by family for not breastfeeding, which was the last thing i needed.
    Even though i knew that formula was just as good, i couldnt get past the family and societal pressure, and had engaged a lactation consultant and drank fenugreek etc to ensure that i have done all i could.
    The pressure and emotional blackmail of breastfeeding (if you are not breastfeeding you are not a good mom), dealing with living with someone else (confinement nanny), both sides of my family dictating what i should or should not do, pumping every 3 hours got to me. Emotions went all haywire and i cried almost every day for 2 weeks, and my head was in a daze.
    I knew i had to do something – To get back some sanity and rest, i stopped pumping at night, and went to see a psychiatrist who prescribed some meds.

    Things slowly improved – My head cleared, i got into a routine, and felt much better. I’d pump about 4-5 times a day, and latched a few times a day.
    It didnt last for long. In her fifth week, my daughter developed colic and reflux. She stopped drinking the amounts she could usually stomach since week 2 (90ml)
    She also started crying while drinking, arching her back, merlion, etc. I was worried sick.
    The natural reaction was to stop latching, since i had no idea whether she was drinking. And since she was drinking less each time, she could feed every hour.
    Her feeding patterns, coupled with the fact that i started reading more about the benefits of breastfeeding compared to formula made me resolutely decide to stop.
    The research in fact is very skimpy on whether breastmilk will lead to better health and intelligence. For interest, read this http://www.skepticalob.com/2013/06/two-crappy-new-breastfeeding-studies-make-irresponsible-claims-of-benefits.html
    Further, anecdotally im sure we know of exclusively formula fed friends whose health and intelligence surpasses many.

    So to mummies berating themselves for not breastfeeding, dont. It doesnt make you less of a mother. Instead, focus on enjoying and nurturing your little one.

    • Chris-budgetpantry

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Joan! You’re absolutely right – not having the ability to breastfeed doesn’t make anyone less of a mother. Time spent with our little ones mean much more to me!

  3. VC

    Hi there, read abt ur struggles when u wrote abt it from the early days. I went thru the same w my #1 4yrs ago. The PD went as far as telling me to “starve” my week-old baby bcos “a hungry baby will latch and feed!”, or so he thought. Both baby and I spent 2 days crying our eyes out. guilt, tears, supplements, research, donor milk (from a close Friend), been there done tt. To cut the Long story short, I really wonder if this “debate” abt BM vs FM because #1 seems to be a lot healthier and more resistant to illness than #2 who was on EBM for 6mths; #3 is 10mths old and still on full breast milk for now, shall see if she’s any different. And yes, the milk did come in, 1-2 babies later. I can only say, a well-fed baby is a happy baby.

    • Chris-budgetpantry

      Wow 1-2 babies later? I guess I would never find out ;)

  4. Sara

    When I read your post, I felt so emotional because I gone through every single thing you mentioned. Seeing a lactation consultant, eating fenugreek/lactation cookies, drowning myself with milo/soya bean/whatever milk boosters people suggested, pumping once every 3 hours even when I am so tired at night that I have to slap myself to keep myself awake, only to have a yield of about 400ml a day, with the lowest at 30ml, and only able to provide 3 out of 7 feeds my LO has daily.

    I was very frustrated things did not improve and my LO is turning 3 months soon. One afternoon, after frustration rose from a bad pump session, I asked my husband, “Why is God so unfair? There are women who have so much milk they do not know what to do with it. But here I am struggling with low supply.” My husband replied, “God gave us a beautiful baby and with that, we are so much luckier than many others.”

    I may not have breastfed my baby exclusively but I have breastfed her to the best of my ability. And you have too. Thanks for sharing:)

    • Chris-budgetpantry

      Thanks for leaving me a comment Sara.. yes I felt compelled to write about my experience because from breastfeeding groups, I see mummies with a freezer full of breastmilk and advice to increase supply was always ‘keep latching’. But how to keep latching when baby is screaming at the breast due to extremely slow flow? Let the baby go hungry with the insistence to keep latching? Only we know if we’ve done our best. And I know we have :)

  5. GT

    Yes i had the same issue as u did but i nvr persisted like u..i gave up exaxtly after one month. The govt and those who were fortunate enough to exclusively BF will nvr understand our struggles and the initial guilt we felt when we are unable to meet demand.

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