Breast v. Formula Feeding

I get tetchy about the topic of formula feeding babies. The kettle inside me boils and the hackles stand up. I then jump in feet first and have a go at the poor soul who dared to suggest that breast is best. I am incapable of remaining calm about the situation; push me and I will snap. I have massive guilt issues about it, always will and I cannot cope with the breast-feeding army.

At 3 weeks old my son was rushed to hospital in an ambulance, unconscious.

I watched while the paramedic held my child in her arms as I was incapable of holding him. I stood there in Accident & Emergency while three doctors and four nurses worked on my newborn baby. My mother (who's had four children) had to leave the room in tears as he screamed in fright. For a while I wasn't allowed to hold his hand. My husband and I just stood there watching our precious bundle on an adult bed surrounded by seven people trying, and failing, to get blood samples from him, to get fluids in him, to calm him, to work out what was the matter.

And to this day, I still don't know for sure.

My milk kicked in quickly, like really quickly. 38 weeks pregnant and I was a B cup, the following week I was up to a D and I was leaking milk in the shower! I was induced at 40+8 and gave birth to my 10lb 5oz son on Friday 12th June at 9.35am. Within a day I was trying to breast-feed, they were now an E cup. I hadn't wanted to feed but when I had The Boy, there was no way I wasn't going to. He was a lazy feeder, he'd latch on and fall asleep. I'd try everything but no, he was away with Mr. Sandman. In the end we came to an arrangement I was happy with.

Then one boiling hot Tuesday when he was a few weeks old he decided to feed 15 times in 8 hours, and only for a minute at a time. At midnight, I phoned my mum and sobbed about how I could no longer do it, it hurt so much. She reassured me that it wasn't a problem and that is what they made formula and bottles for. The next day, I breast-fed him for the last time, and then The Boy started on expressed milk in a bottle. He did so well and I was so proud of him. But by Friday, my breasts were rock-solid and blocked. I went to the doctor who said "just stop, you've got mastitus, it's not coming out, just stop." I was prescribed antibiotics and painkillers; they hurt so much I couldn't hold my son.

That's when it all went wrong. He had his first formula feed at 11am. It was a scorching hot, drowsy day and he fell asleep. He woke up a few hours later and had another bottle. He fell asleep again. So did I, the painkillers were strong. By midnight he had only woken up one other time for about an hour. He had more milk and fell asleep for the night.

And then he vomited it all up. In his sleep.

He didn't cry, he didn't open his eyes, he didn't anything. Mum, hubby and I looked at each other and phoned NHS Direct. The operator was asking if he was unconscious and I kept saying "no, he just won't wake up." To me unconscious meant something far worse, The Boy was just sleeping. Ok, he was unresponsive but surely he was just hot and tired. Newborns sleep don't they? She sent a paramedic out who was with us within three minutes. When he did a heel-prick test and The Boy screamed, I sobbed. It was the first sound from him in hours.

Fast-forward to my son being admitted to the Children's Hospital in Cardiff. He was ok now, responsive and fine. We spent three nights in hospital and when we left we were told he had had gastroenteritus. It's strange though they wouldn't entertain the concept that it could have been that brand of formula. He had it all Friday and ended up unconscious. On the Saturday I was told to try him with watered down formula which I did and he vomited everywhere and went unresponsive again. On the Sunday I tried Cow and Gate and he was fine! But no medical practitioner is going to admit that a brand of formula may have a negative effect on children.

So I beat myself up about it. If I had breast-fed him, if I hadn't used formula then this wouldn't have happened. I feel I failed my son and risked his life because my nipples hurt.

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  1. Mammywoo says

    Jesus. I'm so sorry for you having to go through that. It's not your fault. And you didn't stop because your breasts hurt, you stopped because he was feeding a minute at a time and you were worried he wasn't getting enough and your breasts hurt and your a mum who was doing her best.
    Great post. Made me cry. Your one in a million. X

    • says

      Thanks Lexy, it's all your fault I wrote it: you and your flipping formula affirmations! And thank you because I needed to verbalise this and have someone tell me that it wasn't my fault. I'll never believe them, but it's nice to be told.

      I need to try and write a funny ine after this. Anyone got a spare dog?

  2. says

    Please please dont do this to yourself. You did what you needed to do, parenting is such a crash course in compromise – you wanted to do it, you DID do it, you gave him your best and that is all any mother can do.
    My first child, i 'only' fed him for 8 weeks and at 11 weeks he got ill and ended up in surgery and i STILL blame myself. Ive been told and told my doctors it had nothing to do with bottles but i still feel it is my fault. I too think the brand of milk had something to do with it.

    The thing is, guilt is so embedded in being a mother, you question every choice you make, you chase yourself round and round til you are exhausted. As hard as this is you need to let it go. It WASNT your fault.
    It WASNT your fault.
    It WASNT your fault.

    Really great post xx

      • says

        I want mine to be funny too! Doesnt seem to come out that way though – my last proper post made someone cry!

        Your blog is good though, i feel guilty deleting the email after ive read it! Just be you, its good x

        (and please dont lump all lactivists together – we arent all judgemental meanies, i promise x)

  3. Alli Marshall says

    OMG – now I have wiped the tears away I feel I have to tell you it is not your fault!

    It is oh so easy for the BF brigade to jump on their band wagon and tell us FF mum's why we are such bad mothers – when actually we are just as good as them if not better!

    I wanted to breast feed all 3 of my babies and I had limited success:

    Baby 1 – born 10lb and fed & fed & fed & fed – within 3 days I had cracked & bleeding nipples but I persevered to the point of I actually dreaded feeding time as I knew it was going to hurt – I was dreading spending time with my first born – how wrong is that? After 10 days my poor boy was starving and so I relented and gave him a bottle – he drank it & slept for 4 hours, from then on in I loved feeding my baby.

    Baby 2 – would NOT latch on despite numerous attempts and so she was bottle fed. 4 weeks after she was born I had a bath with her, laid her on my chest & she latched on beautifully – shame the milk had gone by then?!

    Baby 3 – born 11lb 8oz and just like his older brother all he wanted to do was feed, feed and then feed a little bit more – I permanantly had him attached to a boob and yet he continued to cry and would not settle – after 3 weeks of battling on & on and become more & more useless to anyone the midwife & the health visitor told me to stop being a martyr and to bottle feed him as he was a big baby and needed lots of food – and so he had a bottle (6oz) and slept for 4 hours just as his brother had done.

    I tried to BF and I couldn't.

    Formula feeding makes us no less of a mother than a BF mother – there should be no guilt – We are after all doing what is best for our Baby, which is the most important thing.

    You are a fantastic Mummy xx

  4. says

    Whilst I absolutely sympathise and send you millions of hugs and lots of love for going through what you went through I totally disagree that you are a bad mom and this happened because of that. I think you did your best, your very best and sometimes we all have to go through that trial and error to find what is best for our child and THAT is where you know you are a good mom, you pushed, you tried different things until you found one that worked.

    I had something similar with my boy, nothing as awful as what you had to endure but when he was born I breastfed too for a few days but he was ALWAYS on me so I had to switch. I chose a Aptamil because SMA made him sick (had SMA for my daughter) but then he developed spots and rashes all over his face big huge welts that went down to his neck and he scratched and scratched. The doctors couldn't/wouldn't do anything *oh he will grow out of it* they said when my mom just one day said…can you change his milk? So I went back to SMA as he was a bit bigger now and within days all the spots/marks had gone. Mom knows best and I firmly believe that you did all the right things for your son xxx

    • says

      It was Aptamil that was the original formula he was on, I didn't want to name it because I didn't want to scare any mummies considering using it. I do however know of three other mums who had a similar reaction to The Boy. I do feel like I almost kept drugging him with it, horrendous, the more formula he had, the sleepier he went.

      Thank you for your kind words, they mean a lot.

  5. Jenny paulin says

    Blimey you went through it, first with the birth and what you suffered after and then this! Poor you xxx
    Don't beat a yourself up though, you are a wonderful mother and a very brave woman and I can't imagine the horrors you went through. You did the best for you and your baby and it was just one of those things – you couldn't have known that would happen! The main thing is he got through it, as did you, and he is now a big, healthy boy. Hugs to you for sharing such a painful and emotional account with us xxxx

  6. says

    What a horrendous experience. You need to remember that we do what is right at the time given the circumstances and our emotional state. This means there is no such thing as a bad decision when you make it with the best interests of everyone in mind. None of us have hindsight ( I don't think so anyway) and as you say, how could you know he would react that way.
    I am so glad the story has a happy ending and please stop beating yourself up.

  7. KatieB says

    That must have been a horrendous experience but how would you ever ever know that formula would have that affect! Lots of babies are fed formula and thrive on it with no problems at all.
    Making the decision to stop breastfeeding is a very difficult one and I think you were very brave to decide to stop the first place, much better that your boy have a mummy who is not being caused pain and agony while feeding because that stress affects them too! Feeding should be an enjoyable, bonding experience and whether it be breast or bottle feeding that doesn't matter.
    My little boy wouldn't latch on/feed because he was so sleepy all the time, I could even give him a bath asleep so breastfeeding was absolutely impossible. I ended up expressing for ages because I felt guilty that I couldn't feed him and thought that while I had breastmilk that's what he should be having. In hindsight I put way too much pressure on myself and now think maybe my time would have been better spent playing/cuddling him etc and he would have done just as well on formula.
    I actually managed to feed my little girl but to be honest was quite relieved when she decided she no longer wanted to breastfeed (due to being too bloody nosy, her not me!) because I was fed up of being the only one on nightduty and just wanted my body back!
    ps. just because this isn't a funny post doesn't mean that it isn't brilliantly written, I love the way you write šŸ™‚

  8. says

    Please do not beat yourself up about this. As Mums we all try our best and sometimes plans have to change. What an awful experience this was for you all to go through.

    Your boy is there with you, he is well and thriving. Leave the past in the past I say.

    Have a fab Christmas with your little man.

    Mich x

  9. Hannah says

    Don't blame yourself. It's not your fault at all. Given the circumstance, I would have done the same. I was lucky to not suffer Mastitis, but a close friend did and it was horrendous for her.

    What an awful experience. i can't begin to imagine how that would have felt, but whatever happened – your son is safe, well and with you.

    I know I couldn't ask for more.

    Thank you for sharing your story, and Merry Christmas x

    • says

      Thank you for your kind words, it was horrendous. I'll never shake those images from my memory. But I'm watching him playing with his stickle-bricks at the moment, and that surpresses them šŸ™‚

  10. Nicole says

    I am so sorry you had to go through what you went through, but I don't think formula is to blame.

    I made the decison to formula feed as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I did so because I have a history of depression and knew I didn't want my child feeling like I resented what I was doing because I know I would have and I know she would have sensed it.

    I must say I know at least 5 breast fed babies who have been sicker than my daughter and (knock on wood), way more ear infections (my daughter has had one in her 2.5 years) there has got to be something said about that!

    • says

      Thanks for your support, I have to say that he settled onto Cow & Gate really well and has been a very healthy little boy. He's just had his first ear infection at 17 months, but in both ears šŸ™ My sister's two were breast-fed for over a year and both are sickly, one had terrible food allergies in her infancy. I'm not suggesting that's because of breast-feeding, more to do with general healthiness.

      I do believe it to be the brand of formula. I know of at least three other babies who have had a similar reaction to my son on the same stuff. Also if it wasn't the formula then it means that it was something I did that put him in hospital. So can we blame the formula?

  11. says

    Repeating everyone else's comments here! The minute we become mothers we feel guilty. I wouldn't wish your experience on anyone, that sounds like pure hell, but what you did that day was the right thing to do at the time, and many mothers give their babies formula every day.

    Yes breast is best in theory, but in reality it isn't always.

    My first baby fed beautifully, so I thought it was all very easy. Baby number 2 was another story – it was a great lesson for me.

    Lots of love – and let that guilt go! Well, try to anyway.

  12. Deliciousnessy says

    Not your fault, not your fault, not your fault…I could write that a million times. Some babies have allergic reactions to breastmilk too. Babie develop allergies to all kinds of things so please don't beat yourself up over it.
    You have done what is best for you and your son. He wasn't feeding as well as he could when breastfeeding so you did something about it. It was an unfortunate incident!
    I stopped BF Sam at 2 months, he was feeding ALL THE TIME as he's a hungry bunny. So we put him on hungry baby formula. He still feeds every 3 hours on that!

  13. says

    What a scary experience! I'm glad everything turned out fine in the end. I used Aptamil with my first born as he was a lazy breastfeeder, prefering to snooze and he was fine with it. All babies are different though, it's just a shame that you had to go through such a horrific experience to find something to suit him.

  14. Jennykate says

    Through tears I just want to say,it's not your fault ,please don't think that!!!,you went through a terrible time,I can't imagine how frantic you must have felt,being a loving and good mummy has nothing to do with breast feeding,he is your precious little boy & you are his precious mummy,X

  15. says

    I want to thank all of you who took the time to read and comment on this post.

    It was the most horrendous experience of my life, I never thought I'd be able to express it in words properly, but it seems I have. Writing about it made me cry. Reading your comments made me cry. And also made me realise that I didn't do the wrong thing. I've needed these comments to show me that. Affirmation from other mums can be so important, and you've all helped with the healing process. (cliches over)

    Thanks you lot šŸ™‚

  16. @somethingblue_2 says

    This post made me cry. I just have to say (even though it's already been said) that it WAS NOT your fault. You DID NOT fail the boy. And YOU ARE a brilliant mummy. It may have been nothing to do with the formula. Although I do think different types suit different babies. My boy suffered with dreadful constipation when on Cow & Gate but as soon as we switched to Hipp Organic he was fine. I've heard of other mums experiencing difficulties with a brand of formula only to change it & notice a big difference. But, I repeat, whatever happened it WAS NOT your fault. *hugs* for you. And now please give the boy a hug from me. Altho, obviously not if he's asleep. It can wait till the morning! xx

    • says

      Sorry, didn't mean to make you cry! Thank you for your kind comments, if you can understand this I actually need to believe the reason was the formula because otherwise it means that I allowed him to get gastroenteritus by not cleaning the bottles properly, or not washing my hands thoroughly enough, or or or… countless other reasons. Aside from that, I do think he reacted to it, it wasn't just a one-off occurence.

      I'll give him a huge squeezy cuddle!

  17. clarelouisies says

    How awful for you….. The awful guilt we feel as Mothers, when they fall,cry are ill, we always blame ourselves. I think its because they are so much a part of us and the maternal link is so strong, we would literally want to die rather than them feel any pain.
    Luke has slight webbing between two of his fingers and i blame myself for that. I dont know why, its completely irrational but i do. And when he has surgery to correct it i will no doubt blame myself for that too.
    Because i grew him in my tummy and for some reason that bit went wrong.

    Big hugs to you both xxx

  18. Mcai7td3 says

    It's so true every baby is different and it's not your fault! You made the decision because he wasn't feeding properly, it's what any mum would have done. It sounds so awful what you've been through but I hope you have managed to let that guilt go, because you don't have anything to feel guilty about! look at him now, bloody gorgeous!!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you. Through the kindness of complete strangers (via this post) I have been able to see that it just happened, and sometimes these things do. I still blame myself for.not protecting him more, but then I think that's the job of a mum isn't it? Thank you for reading.

  19. says

    What an astonishing post. Very, very emotional. It never ceases to amaze me how mothers blame themselves for everything. It's like the word Guilt was invented especially for mums. Thanks for sending this to me in response to my question about the heart monitor. It must have been a truly terrifying time, but so glad the little lad is thriving now.

  20. says

    What a very emotional post. Of course we all know the breast is best mantra and we put huge pressure on ourselves from the moment we become pregnant (perhaps even before we conceive) to do everything perfectly right. But sometimes things just don't work out that way. I desperately wanted to breastfeed both children but, due to my lack of coat hook nipples, there was not much for the poor girls to latch onto. I ended up with black cracked nipples, crying babies, crying mummy. I bottle fed both. They are both normal, healthy human beings, who catch bits and bobs like any other child. I was bottle fed, I am still here, alive, thriving, with a degree and a job, a husband, children, so I'm not dumb and unhealthy like people (some health visitors and midwives) make you believe. I will never forget a midwife pulling at my boobs, forcing the nipple in my screaming childs mouth and saying you will do this Joanne! It was horrendous. Your experience was far worse. But it's been and gone. He is alive and well (after a little trip to A&E recently), you can put it to bed and know that sometimes these things happen. Don't blame yourself. You have a boy you love very much. You'd be surprised by how many people don't have that. He is so lucky to have you as a mummy xxx

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and comment. When I wrote it, I still had a lot of baggage. Through all the lovely comments, I realised that I did nothing wrong and it was just one of those things. There is a small (er) part of me that will always blame myself, because I'm his mum, but not so much anymore. If/when I'm lucky enough to have another child, I will do what is best for us straightaway without any grief from anyone.

      I'm lucky beyond all belief, I know this.

  21. says

    Sorry, didn't mean to make it sound all snotty – you're lucky to have a child – although of course we know we are, I meant, he's so lucky to have a mummy who loves him so much and worries so much about him…I don't know if the baggage ever goes. When I took my little girl for her 1 year check to the doctors she looked at her records and asked me, 'Can I ask you why you didn't breast feed her?' And I felt like I had to justify myself all over again. I burst into tears when I left the surgery šŸ™

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      No you didn't at all! I knew exactly what you meant šŸ™‚

      That's outrageous that the doctor did that, how appalling. It's absolutely no-one business whether your child is breast or formula fed, as long as they are cared for. I really appreciated you commenting.

  22. says

    Oh My God. What a horrible experience. The thing is, you'll probably never know for sure why and how it happened. Even if it was the type of formula, you'd have moved from breastfeeding to bottle feeding eventually and this could have happened then. As someone who gave up because breastfeeding had her in agony and was driving her crazy (literally) please don't beat yourself up about it. We do our best x

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thanks for commenting. You've hit the nail on the head: I will never know whether it was the formula or not. The hospital are never going to admit a type of formula makes children ill, but likewise I need someone to say 'yes, it wasn't you!'. It was a (much-older) friend's husband who pointed this out to me; I would still have gone for the same formula and he would therefore have still had the same reaction.

      But I'll never know.

  23. says

    Every choice you make as a parent makes you feel guilty. "If I hadn't been putting the washing on he wouldn't have fallen", "If I hadn't been having my haircut, both of us would have been watching him". If you'd kept feeding him and he was only feeding for a minute at a time he would have been poorly that way round too, then you'd be kicking yourself for not giving him formula.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you. I maintain that he had a reaction to the brand of formula as I know a few other babies who did. A friend pointed out to me that if that was the case then it would always have happened because I was always going to move over to formula at some point and that is the formula I would have chosen. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  24. says

    I just found this post after you mentioned it on Twitter, and I had to comment. Please don't beat yourself up about this stuff – sometimes things just happen and it's not your fault.

    I couldn't breast feed either of my children (I tried both times, but they just couldn't latch). Both were bottle fed, both with the same brand of formula. My daughter, my first born, was fine. My son, born second, when I knew all about how to sterilise bottles and make formula up correctly, was hospitalised at the age of two weeks with viral gastroenteritis. Sometimes it just happens, we get hit with curved balls as parents all the time, and we just have to cope as best we can.

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I will always blame myself but I don't beat myself up about it anymore. I've learnt now that these things happen, but as a new mum it was the most horrendous experience.

  25. says

    My heart really went out to you reading this post from start to finish. What a horrendous time of it you had. And all I could think is that you should have been better supported, every step of the way. You mustn't blame yourself. Each of us does what we can for our children.

    My daughter was always on me for the first six weeks of her life. It was the most stressful experience of my life. She was never content. But everyone I spoke to kept telling me it was normal. I think I wasn't empathic enough that she was feeding ALL the time. All day and night, I passed her from breast to breast. Then it became apparent that she wasn't gaining weight.

    It turned out that she had a tongue-tie which meant she wasn't physically able to remove enough milk from my breasts. That seriously compromised my milk supply in turn. So I supplemented for months with formula and expressed milk and finally got my supply up in the end.

    But instead of feeling proud of getting through hell, that victory is marred by feeling guilty that she was hungry those first weeks. Why didn't I know? Shouldn't a mother know? Yet I did know something was wrong so why didn't I push the health professionals harder for an answer sooner?

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that guilt goes hand in hand with motherhood. It keeps is from seeing the good things we do. No matter what happens to The Boy, he has he has you. Keep sight of that.

  26. says

    When you get pregnant, they should give you a book with all the things they DONT tell you. The guilt, the emotion, the feelings of all the things you think you SHOULD be doing but in the end you have to do what's right for you and your baby.

    I cannot begin to imagine how hard this was for you. I breastfed my first with ease and struggled with my second. No two children are ever the same and no two mothers.

    Following your instinct is all we can ever do!

    • TheBoyAndMe says

      Thank you for your comment. Despite a few near miss-accidents with The Boy since, this remains the worst moment of my life. I will always question whether I did something wrong.

  27. says

    What a terrifying experience. You definitely didn't fail your son but you were failed! The worst thing you can do when you have mastitis is stop feeding and you should have been given urgent, good breastfeeding support. Breastfeeding shouldn't be painful at any point and as a Mum who wanted to give it a go, you were let down. The fact that the formula provoked a horrendous reaction in your son, made you feel worse about the breastfeeding situation but you have nothing to feel guilty about. We do out best in these situations with the information available at the time.
    Scarily the production of formula isn't regulated adequately and we assume, as the companies keep telling us, that it is safe to use. Have a look at the work Baby Milk Action do. They are campaigningnot just to protect breastfeeding but also formula fed babies from episodes like this.


  1. […] hearts were in our mouths at the dramatic story of how TheBoyandMe's son was rushed to hospital, unconsciousĀ in her post about breast vs formula feeding. Another heartbreaking tale of a mother who did her […]

  2. […] hearts were in our mouths at the dramatic story of how TheBoyandMe's son was rushed to hospital, unconsciousĀ in her post about breast vs formula feeding. Another heartbreaking tale of a mother who did her […]

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