09/05/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

Breast May Be Best But It's Not Always a Choice

I'm taking a break from my usual topic of college and the workforce to write about something deeply personal that's been weighing heavily on my mind. While many women are shamed for breastfeeding in public, other women are feverishly chiding their fellow mothers for feeding their babies formula. This anti-bottle contingent has become so extreme as to argue that hospitals should ban formula. While some women may feel embarrassment or shame for breastfeeding in public, I often felt other moms' judgmental eyes prey on me as I fed my baby formula in a bottle.

I never imagined I'd resort to formula. I always assumed breastfeeding would work out for me. I also never imagined spending over three years in time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining, body-altering fertility treatments, or all the complications that followed. I never imagined my first baby would come five weeks early, or require a two-week stay in the NICU. Now, 30 weeks pregnant with my second child, I can only hope for a healthy sibling for my almost-4-year-old boy.

Sure, breast milk would have been ideal. While my baby was in the NICU I pumped around the clock just as the lactation consultant instructed me to do. I grew to detest the humming sound of that hospital-grade pump (which, by the way, insurance did not cover despite it being a medical necessity). Pumping was painful, and I barely produced even an ounce each time. Not having skin-to-skin contact with my baby except for 20 minutes three times a day didn't help. Having to wake up every three hours at night is never easy, especially when there's no baby to wake you. I called the famed "Breast Whisperer" lactation consultant. Even she was baffled. She recommended some over-the-counter herbal supplements. They didn't work.

Eventually, my sweet Sammy came home, and after three months of pointless attempts at mixing an ounce of my milk here or there with formula, I came to realize my efforts were literally fruitless. We fed him exclusively with a formula that helped him gain weight, and even helped him spit up less and sleep better at night.

When asked now if I plan to breastfeed, I respond that I plan to try to breastfeed. But I recognize that things don't always turn out as you planned or imagined. And despite all the advances medicine has made, there is still no magic drug that will make me produce breast milk.

I've asked my OB/GYN if there's anything I could do to help prepare my body to produce breast milk. The answer is no. They do not know why I couldn't produce, just as they don't know why my water broke five weeks early. There could be a whole host of reasons for not producing breast milk. New moms often encounter difficulties they never expected. In my case, not producing breast milk could be related to the same conditions that caused me to need fertility treatment. There is still a lot that science can't explain. Ironically, I am receiving weekly progesterone shots during this pregnancy to prevent another pre-term delivery, which if anything, could reduce my breast milk supply.

This time around, I am still hopeful. Hopeful for a healthy baby who makes it to full-term. Hopeful I will be able to supply the baby with my own breast milk instead of resorting to expensive store-bought formula. At the same time, I won't sweat it. Maybe I shouldn't speak too soon, but my first kid, who was almost exclusively bottle fed, has only picked up colds and stomach bugs from daycare and preschool. I see no evidence that he is less healthy than those who were breastfed. He's a little on the small side, but that's his genetic destiny.

Sure, breastfeeding is my preference. But I'm not about to bank on Alicia Silverstone's unscreened breast milk; that won't make me a better mother. I'll do what I can, but if I must resort to formula, I know it won't be the end of the world -- there is so much more to mothering. And if other mothers at the playground want to judge me for feeding my baby formula, go ahead -- I won't judge anyone for breastfeeding in public.

abby miller