When Breast Isn’t Best.

First of all, let me go ahead and preface this with: FED is always, ALWAYS best. It is no question that evidence and science proves that breastmilk is the most amazing and the most natural choice for a baby’s nutrition.

But guess what. Not all babies can breastfeed. Not all moms can make milk. Not all moms WANT to breastfeed, and not all babies can even tolerate breastmilk. And y’all, that’s more than okay! Whether by choice or by necessity, formula can be LIFE SAVING and SANITY SAVING. Ultimately a mother’s first and most important job is to feed, love, and protect her baby however she can. A baby who is fed and growing is a happy one, no matter what that looks like. So with that being said, here’s what our feeding journey with Owen has looked like.

Photo by Katya Vilchyk

I always wanted to breastfeed my babies. I knew I could choose how to feed Owen, and I just really wanted breastfeeding to work for us this time. It got off to a rocky start since he was in the NICU those first 8 days. They gave him bottles of my breastmilk when I couldn’t be with him which was obviously fine and necessary, but it definitely put us at a disadvantage because he got used to that type of sucking and that type of nipple. I went in to be with him as much as I could (obviously couldn’t be there 24/7 with a toddler and with living 30 minutes away). But I went and nursed him as much as possible. We got a lot of practice and attention from the consultants and nurses there.  

Photo by Katya Vilchyk

Looking back I’m really thankful for those few days of nursing when it actually felt beautiful and precious. I’ll always cherish those moments with him. In the hospital it seemed to go well, and I just assumed nursing would continue to go well once we got home.

So wrong. We got home with Owen and nursing him got harder and harder. His stomach became super sensitive and he became crazy fussy all the time. He would latch and drink for a quick minute but then would pull off screaming. He would cry and cry, try to latch, then get too mad to even eat. It was like my boob was physically hurting him, that’s how hard he would fight nursing. I don’t know why it went this way, but it broke my heart to feel like I was doing something wrong or that I was falling short. It was awful. Every nursing session would end with me bawling crying and Owen screaming mad. We tried EVERYTHING. Nipple shields, different positions, you name it. We went into see lactation consultants, we got on the phone with lactation support…it just continued to be hell.

Sidenote: MOMS. It is not your fault. You are not less-than. You are not weak. Breastfeeding is not the only way to be an excellent mother. It is not everything. Moms…please understand this. You are enough.

His tummy was also in dissaray. Constant reflux and sooo much painful gas that made him uncomfortable and upset all. day. long. Even at night! During his “sleep” he would grunt. push. cry. whimper….for hours. I tried cutting out dairy, caffeine, and eating less foods that would be gas inducing….to no avail. And honestly, overhauling my diet any more than that wasn’t going to happen. I’m already struggling mentally and emotionally, have another child as well, and it would be tooooo much.

So for about 4 weeks we kept trying and if he refused to latch, we’d give him breastmilk in a bottle. Because DUH the child needs to eat and I’m not going to starve him just because I want to nurse him directly. So I thought maybe bottles would be the solution for him and that he would do way better with those. I thought, “pumping won’t be so bad, we will make it work.”

So wrong. Pumping was HARD to do around the clock while juggling a 3 year old who is feeling the ramifications of all the chaos, and an angry baby.

Y’all, I will write more about this when I’ve had time to process it and to overcome it, but I’ve really dealt with Postpartum Depression during these 8 weeks. I’m sad to even say it and type it. It has been very scary and shocking to me. But that’s another post. Just know that while all these issues were happening, my sanity was also slowly slipping away (not kidding).

We visited the pediatrician 2 different times with our concerns for him. They kept telling me his stomach was fine, to just put him on stronger and stronger reflux meds every time. Well yes, he does have reflux, but I knew that couldn’t be all of it because no matter what reflux med we gave him, he was still in pain and still unable to eat. I asked for a referral to a GI specialist and they said no. They said give it a few more weeks….ugh.

Photo by Katya Vilchyk

By week 7, we had reached the end of our rope. Owen was constantly miserable. Couldn’t sleep very long, wasn’t soothed by food or being held, and his body and stomach were always stiff. I texted my cousin to ask her what kind of formula her son used because he had a sensitive tummy as a baby. She came right over with some for me to try out, because at this point we needed to find what could work.
We gave him formula for all of his evening and nighttime feedings that night. When we turned the light on at 7am for his first morning meal, I could NOT believe how he looked. He was completely broken out in hives all over his little face and chest and stomach. His eyes were all swollen shut. It SUCKED. I was so sad, and had a freaking breakdown. What would we feed this poor baby and what is he allergic to?!? Breastmilk wasn’t working. This formula wasn’t working. HELP.

Back to the doctor. We finally got the GI referral I asked the first doctor for, and we got sent home with a special broken down kind of formula that is hypoallergenic and for babies who have these issues.
It’s been 4 days on this formula now and he is a completely different baby. He is eating and not screaming with every feeding. He’s MUCH more comfortable, not in pain, and he’s able to have regular bowels. His skin is completely cleared up. He is smiling and cooing and sleeping WAY better. He’s finally not drinking poison to his body! I’m so relieved.

We still need to figure out what exactly caused his allergic reaction and what it is his body cannot tolerate. But right now….finally at 8 weeks old, he’s getting the nutrition and food that HE needs, that’s best for HIS body.
And this is why “breast is best” is just not a statement I can say. Because it really isn’t best for everyone or for every baby. My son is thriving finally. And it looks different than I thought it would (heck, my 3 year old thrives with her tube and that’s even MORE different!)

I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed and make it work. Seeing Owen doing so well after so much time struggling to figure out what he needed…it’s such a relief.

However your kids are fed, be proud, and be grateful for it!! 

I’d love to hear your story. Share it all. Breastfeeding triumphs or struggles, allergy stories, and any advice for this mama, bring it my way.

xox. Ansley

Katya and more of her beautiful work can be found at www.katyavilchyk.com

19 thoughts on “When Breast Isn’t Best.

  1. Hi Ansley! Can I just tell you that my “babies” are in their 30’s and I still carry the guilt of breast feeding failure with the 1st and not even attempting with the second?
    Keep up the good work! Your family is beautiful! Love you all!

    1. Aw thank you!! I wish we didn’t have such hard times letting things like this go, but I guess as moms we feel things so deeply. Xoxo

  2. Hey dear! You know I always love reading your posts though my baby days are far behind me. ? As always – your photos melt me – so beautiful and filled with love. I also love the last one bc it’s not perfect – showing your freckles and tired mom eyes. ? I’m so proud of you realizing again that FED is best. My last 2 kids were BF quite smoothly other than several bouts of mastitis and Selah absolutely raging if I ate any chocolate – so I dutifully avoided that for over a year. With Koben my first … I writhed in pain with every latch and cried so much the first month and to this day have a scar! My girlie doc always asks about the mark – yes an old nursing wound. ? That was nearly 17 years ago and I was the first of my friends to have a baby, long before FB, blogs and online communities so I didn’t know what to do. My mom didn’t BF and hubs wasn’t sure how to best support me. Thankfully I had one friend that had pumped. So I rented one from the hospital and low and behold it worked! I ended up buying the big one and exclusively pumped til his first bday. I was glad the other 2 nursed fine bc I can’t imagine trying to pump with a toddler and newborn! That’s my story in a nutshell.

  3. Oh mama just wow. I can relate to the PPD …shoot I still struggle with depression. If it were not for my clinging to Jesus for dear life I don’t know if I would still be here. I dreamt of breastfeeding too and enjoyed it slightly but by the time the twins came along (yes I breast fed them both for a few months) I finally realized I was not crazy and had a condition called D-MER. ..basically everytime I nursed I would get major hopelessness, depressed feelings when my milk let down. It would only last while my milk let down but knowing it was coming for every nursing session and then enduring it was rough. I was miserable and eventually stopped breastfeeding. I agree…fed is best.

  4. Oh man, Im so sorry you’re going through all this with your sweet boy! It can be so hard sometimes. Thanks so much for being willing to share your experience so openly–I know this is an area that people can have really strong opinions about sometimes.
    I feel like I’ve had a super-similar experience with my youngest son who is currently just over 4mo old. If you ever need someone to talk to who can relate to what you’re going through or want someone to bounce questions off of, I’m happy to help and share what I’ve learned with our little guy.
    When he was born the same thing happened…he’d latch, pull off and scream, try and latch again, repeat the whole process. It was awful and broke my heart. I exclusively breastfed both of my older 2 boys, so I knew something was off with my baby’s reaction. After a few long nights of screaming and him seaming to be in pain I drove straight to the store, bought an anti-colic bottle, pumped and tried to feed him that way. Thankfully it seemed to help him, so I embarked on my exclusive pumping journey. Holy crap was that hard!! Thank the Lord my husband had 12weeks of paternity leave or theres no way I would hae been able to keep that pumping/bottle feeding schedule, let alone with 2 older kids. Then, at 2mo old I noticed he had blood in his stool, which totally freaked me out. Thankfully our ped was on it and immediately suspected a milk protein allergy. So I went on an elimination diet of absolutely no dairy or soy and continued to pump & bottle feed, but the blood didn’t completely clear from his stool. That’s when my ped said we should try switching him to a formula. Broke my heart because I felt like I was failing my 3rd son and i’d worked SO hard to build a pump supply, nevermind the bout of mastitis. Good grief. So we started him on Nutramigen, which is an extensively hydrolyzed formula…which means the milk protein is so broken down that 90% of babies with a milk protein allergy dont react to it. Well, my little guy’s symptoms immediately flared! His skin was covered with eczema, he was gassy, fussy, and a bad diaper rash. That’s when I started researching formulas (because, who knew there were different types?!) and found Elecare. I bought a can and started him on it and he was like a totally different kid, praise the Lord! We’re still troubleshooting some issues with him, but it’s been about 1.5mo and he is doing so much better. And I don’t know if you’ve had any issues with the cost of formula or coverage, but for us that was a big hurdle we struggled with, too! Thankfully I found some tips and tricks to help with that, so if you have any questions about that I’d be happy to share. Our insurance denied us “nutrition coverage” so we were left to pay for it all out of pocket. Thankfully, we ended up getting our formula supplied to us for a year for free, which was a giant blessing! It can be such a confusing, hard road so hang in there! As moms we need to be there for each other because kids are a crazy, crazy ride.

    1. Girl thank you SO much for sharing this. I’d LOVE to hear how you got your formula paid for?? Share your wisdom haha!! It’s so expensive, I cannot believe it. Thank you for reading this and taking the time to respond. We just recently added aspiration to our little guy’s diagnosis sadly 🙁 So we are also thickening the Elecare at this point. SUCH A MESS

      1. I’m sorry your little man is still having some complications, that is so hard! Hang in there…everything has its season.
        About Elecare: it’s manufactured by Abbott Nutrition, which has a patient assistance program for families that meet their elegibility requirements. For our family, our insurance wouldn’t cover it (even though we had a prescription from our dr) and we weren’t eligible for WIC, so I followed Abbott’s application process and got us approved. HUGE blessing! On their program we receive my son’s Elecare free for 1 year…and after the year mark of our first application passes, I can reapply for another year, if necessary. You should definitely check it out! Here’s the link: http://pathwayreimbursement.com/patient-assistance-program

  5. oh sweet girl! i wish we had talked before seeing this! my olivia sounds EXACTLY like your Owen…and she is now 26! All the same….Phil would come in from work, I would say take her…she cried and cried….would pull off of me while nursing and just scream. We would bicycle her legs, gave those little pink drops and nothing helped. We tried formula and then she began to projectile vomit. I was so depressed and felt helpless. But then we tried another formula for babies with issues (not bc my pediatrician recommended but a mom i met) and voila it was like magic. She began to be the happiest baby and in turn I became myself again. We began when she was six weeks old. When I read her baby book I can still remember those days like they were yesterday. I’m so proud of the mom you are! Those babies are so blessed! love you! xoxo

    1. MO! I love ya tons lady! Thank you for sharing that. It has been almost 4 months now for us, and we are still troubleshooting a lot of his issues. We also got a special formula and that seems to have helped, just a few more kinks to get under control…you’re right though. It feels so helpless. I miss you!!!

  6. Honestly no matter how they get fed as long as they are fed. I have been strong willed about breastfeeding my lil one and have made it to 15 weeks. Now my supplu just cant keep up with him and Ive sadly (for myself because I want to breast feed longer) have started supplementing. Im just glad he is happy and growing even though my body couldnt do what i wanted

    1. thanks for reading and responding lady. You are an awesome mom. They need us to do what is best for them even if it wasn’t in our original plans! You’re doing amazing.

  7. Ansley, I’m so sorry you’ve been going through this! Our situation is SO similar. My little guy spent five days in the NICU and we “successfully” transitioned to 100% BF’ing, but since 3 weeks old he literally cries constantly. If he’s awake, he’s screaming, kicking, locking his arms and legs out and passing a ton of gas which appears to be extremely painful. He also thrashed during feedings. Latching and unlatching, kicking, rearing his head back, crying while swallowing. He doesn’t spit up, but burps constantly and after four trips to the pediatrician, we finally got reflux meds, but the pediatrician absolutely refuses to entertain the idea of an allergy or GI issue. They are so pro-breast that they won’t even consider alternatives and it’s wearing on me. They insist that he’s just colicky while I believe he’s in pain. He won’t sleep for more than 30 or 45 mins and even then only if he’s held. Refuses to be on his back. I’m curious if your little one has/was gaining weight during all of this? I ask because that seems to be the ONLY measure by which my pediatrician gauges his overall health, which seems ludicrous to me. He’s been gaining steadily albeit he’s always been on the small side, but because he’s gaining at all, they insist there cannot be an allergy or GI related issue. Lastly, I change no fewer than 20-30 dirty diapers a day, which my Ped also said is “no big deal.” Yeah, but his associated diaper rash is! I’m at my breaking point.
    So glad you guys are on the right track! I’m feeling in my heart and gut that something just isn’t right over here.
    Thank you for sharing so openly. You’re doing everything right by your little man!
    Hugs to you!

    1. Ashlee, switch peds and get to the GI girl!! That sounds EXACTLY like our situation and exactly like the way Owen was behaving before we switched to formula (one called Alimentum right now). I want you to know from one mama to another who felt the SAME ways…go with your instinct and find someone who will help you and support your decisions. Breastfeeding may not be what’s best and that’s okay!! But you are not crazy. I reached my breaking point as well and I totally get you.

    2. Oh Ashlee, I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through that! If it helps you at all, my little guy who is currently 4mo responded very similarly to what you’re describing with your baby. He gained weight steadily, had the normal amount of dirty diapers, and even slept for decent stretches of time. But he seemed to have eczema that wouldn’t go away, a constant diaper rash, lots of gas, and fuss quite a bit after feeding. The only thing that turned us on to a deeper issue was around 2mo when he started having spots of blood in his stool. Ended up he seems to have a pretty sever milk protein allergy. I think you know your baby best and have a mama’s intuition, so don’t be afraid to push for more answers if you think something more is up! I hope you get the answers you’re looking for 🙂

      1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing that!! I feel the same way, that gut feeling as mothers is hard to shake especially when you see your babe uncomfortable. Thanks again love!!

  8. My newborn and I were good at breastfeeding. Like, really really good. Never had the first issue with latching, reflux or allergies. And my supply was so high I could have fed 3 newborns. But I just did not like it. I felt confined to my house. Nothing anyone said made me feel comfortable breastfeeding in front of them. Or outside of my home period. I felt extremely guilty for weeks, so I just kept on. But the confinement of my home mixed with th postpartum blues was a terrible combination. I finally tried formula for a nighttime feeding and never looked back. It just made me happier to feel like I could go off with my baby and not to stay within a certain distance of my home. I was happier, and my baby never even noticed the distance. Fed is best.

    1. Hey Kait! Thank you for commenting girl. I completely agree! these babies do not care, they just want to get fed and feel secure! They don’t care about the way it gets done like society seems to ?

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