Battle of the bottle vs breast

Well, you probably could guess it was coming. At some point, I had to talk about boobs, right? I mean, babies don’t just feed themselves.

Believe me though, sometimes I wish they would.

So, feeding hasn’t exactly gone as planned with the twins. But to be honest, I don’t think there ever really was a plan.  I just sort of expected that things would work. Sure, I knew it was going to be awkward to get the hang of, but it was totally doable. I breastfed Ellis for almost the full first year, so I had a little prior experience. My friend Rachel gave me this really great twin feeding pillow, which I even remembered to bring to the hospital and dutifully pulled out every three hours when it was time for the girls to eat.

I. Was. Doing this. <insert Rocky theme song here>


indexIt’s interesting (okay, I think it is anyways) that how a woman feeds her baby gets a lot of hype. This is a little strange since babies HAVE to eat in order to survive, and there are really only two options for that – bottle, or breast. You’d think it wouldn’t have to be that big a deal. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve surreptitiously been asked, “So, are you breastfeeding?” knowing that the answer was going to result in some sort of judgment, spoken or not.

I recently found an interesting article called “Why breastfeeding is a feminist issue” and this line in particular caught my attention:

“We live in an era when motherhood is hyper-competitive and driven by perfectionism. Everyone is trying to Get It Super Right Or Terrible Consequences Will Happen For Their Children, and everything seems to come down to mothers and their choices.”

I heartily agree with this (even if the reality of it makes me a little queasy), except for the last line.

Because sometimes, breastfeeding isn’t a choice. In fact, it’s a pretty stark reality: sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, we all better dang well be thankful there’s an aisle in Target, or Kroger, or Safeway that has at least seven or eight different options to help ensure our babies don’t starve.

After all, that’s the whole point of feeding a baby, right?


Meanwhile, no matter how psyched up I was to breastfeed my twins, I couldn’t get around one small detail. I had no milk.

For six days after the girls were born, I breastfed, I pumped, and I even tried the Stanford University hand expression method that the lactation consultant was so gung ho about.

I got jack squat. Once in a while, a little colostrum would magically appear, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. But after six days, I felt a little like a broken down old Holstein cow ready for retirement on the back forty.

detail_1255_medela_supplemental_nursing_system_00901Enter, the Medela SNS. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a stranger contraption. This little plastic bottle of formula hangs around your neck by a white nylon string. The bottom of the bottle has a little gauge on in that’s connected to two teeeeeeny little plastic tubes (think angel hair spaghetti) which are supposed to magically find their way into the baby’s mouth at the same time he or she is latching on to the breast. Open the gauge, and voila. While the baby nurses, a tiny stream of formula also makes its way into the baby’s mouth.

The point is to maintain breastfeeding patterns AND insure that the baby is actually getting a measurable amount of formula alongside. It’s great, in theory. Go Medela.

But in reality, at home on my couch, I found myself wanting to tear my ears off. Every feeding felt like huge production of screaming (me included) and stress. Are the girls positioned right? How about the tubes? Oh wait. Lucy spit hers out and dribbles of formula were streaming towards my armpits. Get it back in. Wipe armpit. Then Gabby moves. Her tube comes out. Ellis hollers “MAMA” for the hundredth time.

Relaxing was a joke. Bonding was not even on the table.

Meanwhile, the babies seemed hungry all the time, so by day four I quit scouring the books, searching online, and talking to friends. I threw away the SNS. I moved the special pillow. I busted into a tin of formula, found a couple of bottles, and bam. We fed the babies.

Afterwards, there was silence. Blessed, glorious, silence. The girls were like rag dolls, warm, snugly and totally not hungry.


When I had Ellis, I refused to use formula. She should be totally fine with whatever my body was producing, right? Except that we (family and friends included) all remember Ellis as the baby with the set of lungs that could rattle kettle lids. She was an adorable bundle of pure rage, mainly because she was hungry for the first two months of her life.

I didn’t know that though. I was blissfully ignorant in my thinking that breastfeeding was THE only option. Formula was BAD. I didn’t really have a reason, but I had basically been told I was superwoman if I breastfed, and sub-par if I didn’t by every birthing pamphlet, documentary, and mothering magazine. That was enough.dunce

Besides. If I didn’t breastfeed exclusively (all the freaking time) the baby wouldn’t get any of those really helpful antibodies and immune boosters and vitamins and nutrients that would ensure her status as a brilliant Mensa girl and her ability to calculate the circumference of each of Saturn’s rings.

This all changed rapidly when I had the twins.

The second I realized the twins were hungry, I had no qualms about feeding them formula. They had to eat SOMETHING, and I was, apparently, still broken.

You know what that decision felt like? Working up the courage to jump off the high dive for the first time. Liberating. Exhilarating. Shockingly Fresh. The babies were happy. I was no longer stressed that they weren’t getting enough to eat. My chest was getting a chance to heal. All of these were good things.

Meanwhile, I kept pumping in hopes that somehow my body would remember that it was actually supposed to be doing something. And on day six, my milk came. Not by the gallon or anything, but it was something. So I mixed it in with a little formula, and made sure that both babies got at least three ounces every time they ate.

A month later, I decided it was time to try breastfeeding again. Things had settled into a little bit of a pattern, and maybe we could make it work? Wrong again. The girls didn’t mind the switch, but they did mind staying awake long enough to eat. They also minded having to be efficient eaters. They’d nurse for half an hour each, fall asleep, and then wake up in an hour hungry again. I could fast see that exclusive nursing meant my butt might as well put roots down in the couch cushions.

So I kept up the pumping and bottle feeding, added formula whenever I came up a little short, and nursed every couple of days to make sure the girls would maintain that skill too. And here we are. Two and half months later, working the routine. Key word: Working.


images birdsIs my program perfect? Most definitely not. Sometimes I want to throw all the bottles and pump parts out the back door and run screaming away down the road because I’m so sick of washing everything. Talk about liberating.

But it works for us. The girls are growing. They are calm between feedings, and I never have to wonder if they got enough to eat. We’re up to around four or five ounces for each of them at every feeding now, most of the time exclusively breast milk. Each feeding time (including feeding, diapering, burping, pumping, and washing the dishes) takes about 45 minutes, which is about how long it would take if I were breast-feeding each baby separately.

This routine also works well with my toddler, who can “help” me feed the babies their bottles. Pumping is the only part that gets tricky with her around, since when I’m sitting down she wants to be on my lap, but whatever. We make do. We read books. We watch shows. We play blocks, play princesses, have tea parties, eat breakfast, or do whatever allows me to keep my torso mostly upright and near an outlet.

And the best part? I don’t feel guilty about it. Because no matter how politically charged the argument about breastfeeding is, it all boils down to helping my little ones thrive. If I can do that by breastfeeding, great. If I can do that by pumping and bottle feeding, awesome. If I can do that by using formula, splendid.

The end result should always and forever ONLY be about the BABY(IES). End of story.

PS – this quote kills me.



4 thoughts on “Battle of the bottle vs breast

  1. I also had issues will wanting, needing, striving to breast feed my 3rd child. While there was much stress in my life at the time(divorce), I quickly learned that I could not compare myself to the”perfect”moms around me. It seems to me, in the church, that the competition is fierce! Shouldn’t it be the opposite? Encouraging and loving each other through some of the toughest times; lack of sleep, crying babies, and sore boobs! Love ya sister!:)


Join the conversation. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s