Breastmilk vs. formula is one of those topics that is highly controversial on the internet. When my daughter was of breastfeeding age, I was scared to even broach the topic on this blog. However, she's almost three now, which is an age where I would probably be given a lot of funny looks for breastfeeding, so I feel safe talking about it without being accused of child abuse.
I think most women would agree that breastfeeding is better than formula. However, there's a culture of women (very vocal on the internet) that will yell at any mother who does not breastfeed. You must at least try to breastfeed. Any woman who doesn't breastfeed is selfish. Formula is full of chemicals and is harmful to your baby.
But for a physician mother, especially one still in training, it can be hard to provide exclusive breastmilk for a baby. I know women who are great mothers who just couldn't swing it with their schedule. Giving your baby formula is not child abuse. Saying that is an insult to babies who actually ARE neglected or abused, of which there sadly are many.
I struggled with breastfeeding initially. I wanted to do it very much, but it was not one of those things that came instantly and easily to me. I had a very hungry, jaundiced baby who wanted to suckle nonstop, which was becoming more and more painful. With a rising bilirubin level, I consented for my daughter to have a couple of ounces formula in the hospital, which she sucked down in about five seconds. I felt guilty about this, because people told me that if she was given formula, she'd get nipple confusion and it would hurt my supply.
When I brought her home, I was determined to feed her only breastmilk straight from the source. She had a voracious appetite (she was at the 50th percentile for height/weight at birth, but was at 95th percentile by two months and stayed there) and I didn't get much pumping done, so we had no supply tucked away early on, which meant that I had to be up for every single feeding. I was stubborn and wanted to do it all myself. But when I was hospitalized with 103F fever at two weeks postpartum, my husband and I decided that he would give her one bottle of formula per night so that I could have the luxury of four straight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
I told this to a friend of mine who had been giving me advice about breastfeeding, and she belittled me for allowing my daughter to have a bottle of formula per night for the sake of my sleep. I was being selfish. Once again, I felt guilty.
When I went back to work, I was attached at the hip to my pump. I would hook it up while I returned pages on my cell phone, praying nothing would come up that couldn't be put off for fifteen minutes. When I came home from work and saw a bottle of breastmilk on the counter that was half empty, I'd be furious about the wasted two ounces of milk. We did have a can of formula in the cupboard, but I was proud of the fact that we rarely used it.
At six months, I moved on to a much more demanding rotation where I was the only resident looking after twenty patients. I put away my pump and just nursed in the morning and at night (until one year, when my daughter self-weaned).
When I look back on all the stress I had worrying about my daughter getting a few ounces of formula, I feel angry at myself. I was a loving mother. I cared about my baby and took very good care of her. It was stressful enough to manage residency and a baby without feeling like an ogre because my daughter was getting a few ounces of formula. Whenever a working mother tells me she gave up nursing because it was too hard, I immediately give her my sympathy. I would never say anything judgmental, because I'm sure she gets enough of that, most of all from herself.
If I have another baby, I don't know if I will do anything differently. I loved nursing and I think I stopped at the right time. But I definitely will keep a can of formula in the cupboard and not allow myself to feel guilty if I need to use it.