Shawn Johnson East and her 3-month-old daughter Drew Hazel have gotten a rhythm down when it comes to feedings, but it wasn’t an easy journey.
The Olympic gold medalist, 28, opens up to PEOPLE for this week’s issue about the process she and husband Andrew East went through that led them to supplement with formula for their baby girl, after she initially breastfed for the week they were in the hospital following Johnson East’s cesarean section.
“It was a wrestling match every time,” says Johnson East, who was recently named the first-ever spokesperson for Enfamil. “I would be bawling, she would be bawling and screaming ’cause she was hungry, but she wouldn’t eat and she wouldn’t latch anymore.”
The new parents even called in reinforcements in the form of a lactation consultant — a decision that didn’t exactly go the way Johnson East and her former NFL player husband, 28, had hoped.
“I had a really bad experience with a lactation consultant and I all but kicked her out of my house because she basically said that I had ruined my child’s life because I gave her a bottle and formula,” she says of being “shamed” by the consultant. “I was like, ‘You know what? I can’t listen to this anymore.’ “
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Johnson East recalls the feelings being a “baffling experience of a desperate mom trying to take the best care of her child and getting shamed for it,” compounded by “guilt” and “innate fear” of doing it wrong as a first-time mom.
“You have this natural feeling of responsibility that you have to provide for your baby and part of it is supplying milk, and when you can’t give that to your child in whatever way or reason, you already feel a little guilty,” she tells PEOPLE. “You feel like you’re not setting them up for life, and when people give their opinions and say ‘breast is best,’ it just makes you feel like a failure. I hated that.”
Eventually, Johnson East switched to a mix of pumping breast milk (“my body makes literally to the ounce what Drew needs,” she says) and Enfamil Enspire formula.
“When it comes to traveling and working and doing everything, it’s really hard to keep caught up, so I started doing at least two bottles a day that are half and half breast milk and formula so I can save up breast milk in the freezer and just keep things on rotation, give myself some freedom,” the retired professional gymnast explains.
Another big silver lining for East? He gets to play a much bigger part in his daughter’s mealtimes than he initially anticipated.
“Before Drew was born, I received a lot of advice from my close friends. They told me that I probably wouldn’t have a huge role in the first few months because Shawn would be doing a lot of the feeding,” he says. “But since our situation required us to bottle-feed and supplement with Enspire, I’m playing an equal role. I also get to spend feeding time bonding with Drew, which I love.”
As for the mom shaming comments Johnson East has received both online and in person since welcoming her baby girl on Oct. 29, she’s learning how to roll with the punches and “trust [my] gut opinions that, as a mom, I’m doing the right thing for my kid” — plus soaking up every moment of new motherhood in the meantime.
“It’s just insane how much you love your baby … every single day, being able to see her grow and change and learn. She’s just a tiny human,” Johnson East says. “It’s so cool to think that we made her. It’s the greatest job I’ve ever been given in my life.”
For more from Andrew and Shawn Johnson East, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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