Should I Bottle or Breastfeed? Or both?

By Babe | Illustration by Ana Hard

In our series The Debate, our community of real moms tackle the pros and cons around common parenting choices. The truth is, like so many decisions around child rearing, there is no right or wrong answer.  At HATCH, our job is to give voice to both sides of any debate, peppering real mom wisdom with the necessary facts so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.

Breastfeeding is one of those gigantic postpartum concepts, especially compared to how many of us grew up. Some of our moms felt strongly about it, some didn’t, and some were too busy smoking ciggs and doing Jane Fonda videos while we laid around in a playpen. (hey, it was the ‘80’s!). But now, the number of breastfed babies continues to rise year over year, which is amazing, yet has also become yet another topic for moms to feel shame over, especially for those unable or unwilling to breastfeed for a myriad of reasons. 

We know that breastfeeding has some awesome benefits, like essential nutrition, protection against common childhood infections and a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Research also shows that early skin-to-skin contact and suckling may have physical and emotional benefits. But some feel this research doesn’t account for links to socioeconomic factors, such as the idea that the majority of women who can stay home to breastfeed are generally wealthier, educated and thus have access to better medical care. Breastfeeding isn’t color blind either, as there’s a huge disparity and level of bias in breastfeeding among white and Black mothers. Anyway, it’s a loaded convo and here at Babe, it all goes back to you doing you. Want to breastfeed ‘til they’re riding a bike? Great. Not for you? Right on. Here, with their own stories to tell, are two moms from our community who share both experiences so you can decide what’s right for you.

All About that Boob

Elizabeth Cate
Sadie, 3 
Jacob, 10 months

“I always thought I would breastfeed. My mom was very interested and enthusiastic about it and she breastfed my sisters and me. I grew up around it and it felt natural. When my daughter was born, I was determined to do it with her. It worked but it was painful. It took six weeks to really feel comfortable physically and I had a lot of pain and couldn’t really get it right. I saw a lactation consultant who was really helpful. After that, it was a lot less painful, although I always felt like I struggled with my supply. I alway had just enough to satisfy her. When I went back to work, I pumped until she was a year and I felt like I was always pumping just enough for the next day. I never felt like I had a freezer stash or a lot of extra to give her. So that was stressful in terms of thinking about my supply and worrying that I didn’t have enough. She wasn’t chubby. She was tall and lean. I worried she wasn’t eating enough and I wasn’t giving her enough sustenance but I was determined to do it as opposed to formula. I was almost trying to prove something to myself by sticking it out and not giving her formula.

Should I take a breastfeeding class?

Looking back, it felt a little irrational, and it was definitely more emotional. I was around people who nursed all the time. I have older sisters who sent me the message from an early age that breastfeeding was more natural and the best thing, and that formula was artificial and processed. The message was that you should nurse your babies and that’s what you should do. So it felt like that’s what I had to do. But I’m glad I did what I did and I’m glad I stuck it out. I weaned her when she was 14 months. But with my son, I was much more relaxed. I felt like if it worked, it worked, but I’m not going crazy about giving him formula. It was a totally different journey. He was a really good eater, I had a ton of milk and there was no pain at all. The whole process was so smooth. But even having said that, I was still much more willing to give him formula. 

One thing I loved about breastfeeding was the bond it creates with your baby. It’s time you have to set aside to sit down in a chair and hold them and let them nurse, and it’s time you can just focus on the baby and have this special connection; especially when they get older and can make eye contact and smile. It always felt like they knew it was me and that I fed them. It’s a special bond. I also felt like my kids were very attached to me because I nursed them. I will say that I remember weaning my daughter because my husband and I were going to Greece and I was leaving her with my family. I felt really sad and nostalgic about it. I wish I knew how much my hormones were going to shift, because I was not prepared for how sad I felt about stopping.” 

Hittin’ that Bottle, Hard

Katie Shein 
Private wealth manager
Gemma, 18 months

“I went into the breastfeeding conversation thinking that I would try it and see how it went. I didn’t make any executive decisions regarding breastfeeding in advance and, while I totally see the upside as far as the vitamins and nutrients you’re giving to your newborn and the bonding that the act can create among mothers and babies, I also knew how big of a commitment it is based on what I saw from other friends and family members who became mothers before me. I work fulltime in a very demanding environment and I knew that pumping at work would also be a huge challenge, but during my pregnancy, I didn’t overstress the issue and figured that when the baby came is when I would decide what I was going to do. I wasn’t going to have this ‘I’m a martyr and I HAVE to do it’ take, because many babies are formula fed and they turn out just fine.

That first day in the hospital, I tried breastfeeding and I actually didn’t have much of a problem with it. My milk had come in and my daughter’s latch seemed to be working. That night, the nurse offered to leave her with me so I could nurse, or she could take her to the nursery and I could have her bottle fed. I was so exhausted from being up for nearly 48 hours from labor to delivery, so I totally took her up on it. I nursed a bit in the night and then called for them to take her to nursery, where they could give her a bottle if she started fussing.

Once we got home, I nursed a bit on and off and supplemented with formula. Over those first few days, I realized what a commitment breastfeeding was and I wasn’t sure it was for me. My husband also wanted to bond with the baby and do a feeding in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t imagine a world where I was the sole provider of her sustenance for the foreseeable future. I was exhausted and getting over the physical act of giving birth. I also felt like I had shared my body for the 10 months and I was kind of into the idea of having it to myself again. My boobs had grown enormous and I wasn’t sure I was down with the idea that I couldn’t run to the grocery store while my parents were with the baby because I had to come back to nurse. I wanted to regain a bit of independence, especially when you have zero independence anyway as a new parent. I also knew that in only 12 weeks I was going to have to go back to work and I wasn’t sure I could handle ‘round the clock pumping, freezing, storing and bringing it all back and forth. I know this might sound selfish to some, but it just wasn’t for me. My daughter and I are super close. She’s attached at the hip to me. She’s smart and well-cared for and healthy and thriving. I don’t think she’s any worse off because she was a formula-fed baby.”