Breast is Best, But Guilt is the Worst

me and my baby

“Breast is best” is ingrained in our culture, and for many new moms who aren’t able to nurse for any number of reasons, there’s a heavy weight that comes along with realizing that you’ll have to feed your child formula.

Chances are, you already know that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish an infant, and it has a slough of health and emotional benefits for both mom and baby. If breastfeeding was your plan and it gets derailed, it can be heartbreaking, and it doesn’t help that people seem to be very judgmental when you are feeding formula to your little one.

I was at Target picking up bottles of formula for my son when I heard another woman asking an employee there if they carried pumping bras. I had just seen these on a shelf nearby, so I told them where they were, and that’s when the employee looked into my basket and said, “I like it when moms breastfeed their kids. That’s the best thing to do.” I almost had a breakdown right there in the store.

When I was pregnant there was no question in my mind that I would nurse my baby. Breast milk is free, it’s healthier, and I don’t like the way the formula companies do business. Breastfeeding felt like a natural choice, and I couldn’t wait to meet this baby and nourish him through my breast milk with all of the healthy things I was eating. Unfortunately, that dream may not happen for me, and I hope that by sharing a bit of my story I can help other moms in a similar situation know that they’re not alone.

When Breastfeeding Plans go Awry

There are tons of issues that can come between a mother and breastfeeding. For me, it was an incredibly traumatic birth – which I’m not going to get into here – that culminated in a somewhat botched cesarean. During my recovery in the hospital, my baby and I were separated a lot, mostly while I was wheeled around for tests and procedures. The stress and the separation delayed my milk coming in, and in the meantime my sweet baby boy got used to the formula that the nurses were feeding him.

When we got home from the hospital, I spent the next weeks working closely with an amazing lactation consultant. I pumped every hour. We gave him lots of opportunities to nurse. I bought all kinds of tools to help me teach him to get back to the breast. We were making slow progress, but in the meantime I was getting even more stressed out, my son was stressed, and I wasn’t really getting the chance to enjoy our precious bundle of baby.

What’s Best for Your Family is Best

I haven’t completely given up on breastfeeding, but what I have finally realized is that if it doesn’t happen, then it just doesn’t happen, and people like that woman at Target can take their judgment and shove it – they have no idea what my situation is. Maybe I’ll be able to supplement my son’s formula with the small amount of milk that I pump, and maybe he’ll latch occasionally and get some breast milk that way. What’s important is that now I’m able to spend time with him and not feel so guilty about something that I can’t fully control.

We talk a lot around here about food and health, and I guess my point is that things aren’t always as cut and dry as we’d like them to be. Formula feeding might not have been my plan, but I think it’s important to weigh every factor and decide what’s best for you and your growing family. For me, my baby, and my husband, that stress began to outweigh the benefits of the constant pumping.

Since backing off of my pumping schedule, I’ve noticed that I don’t get as much milk when I do pump, but for me it’s worth that sacrifice to have more time with my son and have that time feel more relaxed. What’s most important to me is that my baby grows up knowing that I love him and that I will do whatever I can to keep him happy and safe, and I can do that whether I feed him from my breast or from a bottle.

I know I’m not the only new mom that’s dealt with breastfeeding challenges, and I know it’s kind of a personal topic. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share my story like this, but if I can help other moms having similar struggles feel a little bit less guilty about what they’re going through, it’s worth it to put this out there.

  1. luminousvegans

    I can’t believe that employee said that to you! That is so rude. I bet she doesn’t even have kids. My sister had trouble breastfeeding with her first child and I think it is a very, very common thing. It’s too bad that meanies like that lady at Target make mothers feel bad about it. Good for you for bringing this subject up because I am sure their are other mothers out there who appreciate another perspective besides the typical judge-y view.

    1. Becky Striepe

      Right?? I was shocked and furious. I’m sorry to hear that your sister had trouble with breast feeding. It’s such a letdown, and feeling judged doesn’t help at all!

  2. Zach

    Hang in there, Becky. We all know you’re the best! Just don’t take their misunderstandings & such to heart.

    But really, this never crossed my mind, and is great to see you writing a good post about this for all those in the same boat!

    And even beyond all of them, this is a very useful post for more people to understand the complexities of life.

    Hope all is well!

  3. Mary Gerush

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we all judged ourselves instead of judging others? Thanks for sharing this Becky. On a funny note, when I saw your post’s title, I was looking forward to learning something about chicken breasts. :-) Then saw the awesome pic and realized I was way off base! I’m glad the pain and suffering brought about such an adorable result…

  4. Leslie Hart

    I have to say that I was totally stressed while nursing our first born and thought many times with number two on the way that I might not nurse this time around…and who knows what will work out. Each person, baby and and birth is different. We just don’t know what’s in store for us, we have ideas and plans and expectations but no real idea of the reality of the moment. So, with that said, I will wait and see what God has in store for us as parents and do the best we can. That’s all that you can do, the best that you can and give the most love that you have to that little one that looks to you for support and love. I’m glad you tried to nurse Becky but no one has the right to judge a parent, I learned that the second day I had Clarissa and still remind myself of that every day! As a parent we can’t judge each other because, like I said before, all babies are different and we don’t know the situations. Life goes on and I’m glad everything is working out for you and your family no matter if you nurse or not!

  5. emily

    I never thought of the complications one could encounter breast feeding, it makes total sense though. Now I’ll think about breast vs formula differently, otherwise i’d be just like that woman in the store (though hopefully i wouldn’t say it out loud). so don’t worry about her, if she was aware I’m certain she wouldn’t judge! (:

  6. Ally Malick

    Becky, you’re so awesome for opening up about this. Screw that Target employee. Can’t wait to see you guys! xoxo

  7. Nina

    Your article brought me to tears. I was in a similar situation when I had my two kids. No milk despite pumping, herbs, latching, lactation consultants, …stressing. I consider it my biggest failure in life. You’re article made me feel better, knowing there are others out there who experienced a similar disappointment. I tried, I really tried, for 3 months w each baby. But you were right, the stress was keeping me from enjoying my babies. I am thankful for two beautiful healthy girls. Thank you for sharing.

  8. elizabeth

    It was a mess for me, too. In order to stay on my pumping schedule, I’d sit there hooked up to the machine even when my baby was screaming and poop was creeping up her outfit. I knew if I stopped pumping every time she pooped/cried, I’d never fit in the 10 pump sessions per day that supposedly guaranteed my milk supply would increase (my baby was underweight). Guess what? My supply didn’t increase. All that happened was I got desensitized to my baby’s crying, and she got used to having an unresponsive mom. So awesome. After two weeks of feeding on demand and two weeks of frantic pumping, my husband asked to see what I’d produced for a 20-minute session. It didn’t even cover the bottom of the bottle.

    I feel like I’ve been sold a bill of goods. I don’t even want to have another baby because breastfeeding was the most punishing experience of my life. I cried more over this than I did over my parents’ divorce.

    1. Becky Striepe

      I am so sorry it was so traumatic for you! I cried quite a bit about not being able to nurse my baby boy, too. I was lucky to have help while I was doing the 10x/day pumping, so family members could hold and change him while I was strapped to the pump. What finally convinced me to talk to my LC about backing off on pumping was realizing that my mom was going home in a few days and there was no way I could pump that much and care for my baby. It felt like I was failing him, but she and my husband were both really supportive. I hate that you had to go through those guilty feelings, too.

  9. Tanya Sitton


    Having a baby is stressful, just by itself… a difficult birth scenario on top of just the plain old pregnancy/ whole-new-person-making thing is enough to make a gal’s head explode! I’m so glad you’re finding ways to enjoy more time with the bambino, vs. getting progressively even MORE stressed out about things not within your control… we can all only do the best we can do; and kids whose parents do their best usually thrive, whether breast or bottle fed. :)

    It never ceases to amaze me the liberties total strangers take, re: pregnant women or new moms… In what world would that be an appropriate thing to say, to a total stranger (or anyone else, for that matter)??!! Gah, humans!

    Thanks for sharing this experience, and congrats on that ‘bundle of baby’! :)

  10. Fearless Formula Feeder

    Becky – this is a beautiful post. Someone shared it on my Facebook page and I’m so grateful that they did.

    I relate to so much of what you say here… and have had quite a few similar experiences to the one you had in Target. :( But you are so right – what’s best for your family is “best”. You adjusted to the situation you were in. And there is no reason to feel guilty about it.

    Still, I think feeling grief over the loss of something you wanted (breastfeeding) is normal and unavoidable. It helps, I think, to focus on the fact that you have already learned the most valuable lesson of parenthood – that expectations are worthless. :) It’s all about hoping for the best, and then making the best of what you actually get. Which you have so obviously done here, by taking care of your child AND writing a post which has helped others.

    If you ever want support, I hope you’ll stop by my blog or Facebook community (facebook.com/fearlessformulafeeder).

    With much love, from one vegan formula feeder to another….:)

    1. Becky Striepe

      Thank you! I joined your group earlier this week – a friend recommended it, and I’m so glad to find a community of moms in situations like mine.

  11. Private

    I agree. Love is best, breast is preferred but we have had wet nurses and formula for a reason. That being said, I was a formula baby.

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