'I'm a Mom Running Out of Baby Formula—Don't Tell Me To Breastfeed'

Throughout my pregnancy I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I was really looking forward to it. I knew I might have a hard time and I promised not to beat myself up if it didn't work out. That is easier said than done.

When Jeremiah was born on March 4, 2022 he had to go to the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) for about 36 hours because he was induced and came out so fast that he got fluid in his lungs. He recovered really quickly, but because we were separated he had to have baby formula and breast milk during those 36 hours, and that lasted for about a week after he came home from hospital. After that we were able to just breastfeed and we were doing super well. I was really proud of myself.

I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), so getting pregnant was hard. It took my husband and I about 18 months and fertility medication. Breastfeeding felt like one thing that was going super well for me. Until it wasn't.

When Jeremiah was around 7 weeks old, my husband lost his job in South Carolina and we had to move back to Florida and move in with my in-laws. Losing money and losing our apartment was extremely stressful. I think my milk supply started to reduce because of the stress.

Julie Heglund Gives Baby Jeremiah Formula
Baby Jeremiah now has baby formula. Julie Heglund

As that happened, Jeremiah naturally became less interested in breastfeeding. He wouldn't latch as well and he would cry. I would think he was getting food but I would put him down and he'd cry. Then he would end up chugging 6 ounces out of a bottle like he hadn't got anything while I was breastfeeding him. A few times, his diapers were dry overnight which can mean babies are starting to get dehydrated.

There was lots of crying, stress and guilt. I tried three different supplements to increase my milk supply and was pumping for hours at night after he went to sleep. I wasn't seeing enough coming out and was crying while I was pumping. In early May, I talked to my husband and said that I had to move to formula. I felt that if I tried to do both, every time I fed him and it wasn't enough and I had to give him formula, I was going to feel guilty. It didn't make sense to some people that I would feel guilty, but it felt that each time I had to make a bottle of formula when breastfeeding hadn't worked, I was failing and my body wasn't working.

I also felt like everyone online and on social media was constantly pushing breastfeeding as the best possible thing ever for your baby; as life changing and the best bonding experience ever. It was a good bonding experience but I didn't feel like it was the be-all and end-all. I was 100 percent formula fed. I didn't have a drop of breast milk and my mom is an awesome mom. We have a great relationship.

I noticed the baby formula shortage starting to happen a couple of months before Jeremiah was born. After he was born, I wasn't going to the formula aisle at first, but I would see pictures on social media of empty shelves and see posts from my friends who were struggling to find baby formula. That's terrifying. And, I noticed people started getting more intense about breastfeeding as formula was running out, saying things like: ''If moms would just breastfeed this wouldn't be a problem!" and "Why do you give your kids formula anyway, why don't you get donor milk?" Donor milk comes with its own risks.

My husband and my family were really supportive. Family even said they would help us pay for the formula and help us find it. I think most of the pressure came from what I was reading online and in social media posts. But some of it also came from the medical field. One of the first questions I was asked at my first prenatal appointment was how I plan on feeding my son. I said I was planning to breastfeed and they were so happy and praised me up and down for that. The same thing happened at the hospital; they asked the same question before Jeremiah was born and were so happy when I said I was breastfeeding. I kind of wonder what the reaction would have been if I had said I was going straight to formula? Would it have been the total opposite and would they have been upset?

Julie Heglund Gives Baby Jeremiah Formula
Julie Heglund with her husband and their baby son, Jeremiah. Julie Heglund

After we started with baby formula, I started seeing the empty shelves first hand. Jeremiah started on a normal infant formula but began spitting up a lot so we decided to switch to a more gentle formula. That's worked pretty well so far, but those can be harder to find because they're more specialized. I have been online recently and seen the brand we use completely sold out on Amazon. They had smaller cans available on another retailer's websites, but most were out of stock. Then, a friend told me she had an extra can of the formula we use. She's up in Ohio, but because I didn't know if I'd be able to find it when he needs a new can, I bought it from her. She's shipping that out so that's where our next can is coming from. It's scary. We are really lucky to have financial support from family to get formula right now, but I guess if I absolutely could not find his formula, I'd drive as far as I had to to find what I needed.

The shortage also makes me second guess all the time if I should start breastfeeding again. Because I stopped recently, I am still producing milk, but not a lot. I wonder if I should just sit on the pump for a few hours again.

I would have considered going to see a lactation consultant, but with my husband being out of a job right now, that's difficult because it costs a lot of money and I would have to have multiple visits. Do we want to spend a lot of money on lactation consultants, supplements and different pumps that might work, or do we want to spend money on formula that we know Jeremiah is going to eat and that works. Right now it's an issue of access to health for us, because we can't really afford it.

Hearing comments men have made on Twitter about how women should just try harder to breastfeed makes me angry. Why would they try to insert themselves into a situation that has nothing to do with them? Worry about your own kid and how they get fed. If you don't have any experience breastfeeding, especially if you're a guy and you've never had to go through it, I think it's important to remember that what works for your wife isn't going to work for everybody.

Julie Heglund Gives Baby Jeremiah Formula
Julie Heglund Gives Baby Jeremiah Formula

It seems to me like some people will definitely latch on to what is easy for them and kind of use it as a weapon against other moms in order to feel like a better mom. The judgment sucks. I'll even admit that before I started having a hard time breastfeeding, I'd think: "Why doesn't she try this? She should try this?" Now that I've actually gone through it myself, I can't judge people any more. Watching your pump come up dry for two hours straight of pumping takes a mental toll.

I would like people to just be more supportive. I think there should be less giving advice, and more, "you do you." If you see something you don't agree with and the child is obviously not in any danger, just scroll past it. Not everyone needs to hear you. My husband says that a huge problem with our generation is that people think they need to share their opinion on every single thing.

I've wanted to be a mom since I was 5 years old and started playing with baby dolls. I know that it's always been my thing. I was never super good at sports, or school, art, acting or singing, but I always knew I'd be a really good mom.

The hard days are hard and sometimes, I still think I suck because he's crying and I can't figure out why. But most of the time, I think: I'm really good at this. And I really enjoy it. I love watching Jeremiah grow up. He's started smiling recently and that's the best part of my day. I love him.

Julie Heglund lives in Florida with her husband and son Jeremiah. You can follow her on Twitter @napqueentweets.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.