Before your baby was born, how many of you planned on breastfeeding exclusively? And how many, at some point, had things you never expected like mastitis, bleeding nipples, supply issues, or latching troubles come bursting onto the scene with flying colors? Probably, most of you. Some moms soldier through these hurdles, others get to a point where formula is needed. As someone who suffered from latching difficulties and a severely low milk supply from day one, I know that deciding when and how to use formula can be a very emotional decision. My son would drain me dry of what little milk I had and then scream because he was still hungry. I felt guilty, I felt like a failure, I felt that I was doing something wrong by being unable to feed my baby solely breastmilk. But I realized, over time, that I was not alone. You are not alone. According to the CDC, 60% of mothers supplemented with formula by the time their baby was 3 months, and by 6 months that number rose to over 80%.
If you suddenly find yourself going an unplanned formula route, here are some ideas to prepare yourself and make feeding time easier.
• Seek out free samples. Formula is ridiculously expensive, however, if you go to companies’ websites you can often find coupons or request free samples. Also, ask your pediatrician or OB if they have samples, or find other moms who got samples and don’t need them.
• Formula is not nearly as temperamental as people think. I dumped a lot of perfectly good, barely drank bottles in the first month because I was so afraid of the milk going bad. Bottles do fine in the fridge or coolers. Treat it like regular milk – as long as it’s cold it should be fine for a while. When in doubt, give it the “sniff test” – bad formula is not a smell that is easily missed.
• To make nighttime feedings easier, premeasure everything ahead of time. Fill the bottles you’ll need for the night with water, and fill the same amount of containers with the right amount of formula powder (the breast milk storage cylinders make great formula receptacles, as do the compartmentalized snack holders). Then when Baby wakes at night, all you have to do is dump the powder into the bottles, shake and feed. No more trips to the kitchen. It’s also a good idea to bring a cooler with several ice packs up at night to store made-up bottles in the event that Baby doesn’t drink everything – money saved.
• And on that same page – try to get your baby used to drinking formula at any temperature. Warming up bottles a) takes a lot of time, no matter what method you use, and b) can be inconvenient if you need to feed on the go. I got my boy used to having cold bottles from the beginning (in part because he so instantaneously demanded food that I never made it through a full warm-up process, and realized that he didn’t seem to care whether it was warm or not), and he soon would drink them straight out of the refrigerator. This meant that we could keep partially-used bottles in a cooler or fridge until he was hungry. Less work, money saved.
• There are many different formula brands. Soy-based, organic, for supplementing only, newborn, infant, toddler transitional, allergy formula, the list goes on and on. If one brand seems to upset Baby’s tummy or cause them to spit-up more than normal, try another.
• The same way people seem to comment on breastfeeding mothers – people are going to comment about formula feeding. Lots of people. Complete strangers. People love to ask whether you’re breastfeeding. My husband didn’t believe it was as prevalent as I said it was until we took a vacation when my son was 4 months and stranger after stranger asked about breastfeeding. Passing in the parking lot, waitresses, anyone. Most do not like to hear that you aren’t breastfeeding exclusively (though, ironically, people don’t seem to want to SEE breastfeeding…they just want to know it’s happening. At home. Away from any public place). I’ve had people tell me that formula would cause my son to be hyperactive, sickly, have weight issues, be slower in school, and – harshest of all – that he would not bond to me. The older your baby is, the less comments you will get, but until that time come up with a one-liner that you can repeat every time. It can be snarky – “Actually I don’t feed my baby at all, he just keeps growing, we think it’s photosynthesis”. Vague – “He really is a hungry one, loves to eat!” Shocking – “I hope to breastfeed until he’s at least 9 or 10”. Or truthful, “We’ve had problems nursing and I’d really rather not discuss it with you”. I always went into a guilt-ridden explanation of how I tried to breastfeed and couldn’t make it work – it’s really none of anyone’s business. Pick a preplanned response and stick with it.
• There will be times when you feel guilty or depressed, like you failed for not being able to master breastfeeding. Especially when your infant is very small, especially when you’re surrounded by friends who all seem to have it figured out. This was one of the rare times that I found reassurance on the internet. Googling “supply issues”, or “guilt about formula feeding” gave me forums and webpages letting me know I was not alone, that many other moms were going through the same thing, and that I had not done anything “wrong”.
• You will get lots of ideas and advice on breastfeeding troubleshooting – Fenugreek! Warm beer! Pasta water! Pump after every feeding! Some may work, some may not. For my friend, Fenugreek solved all her problems. For me, none of them worked. If you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked…you are not alone.
• Celebrate what you are able to give your baby. By 3 months, an entire days worth of pumping every two hours was lucky to net me 2 oz. of breast milk. I would repeat to myself over and over – “I’m giving him what I can”. If you cannot give any milk – give love, give comfort, give giggles and snuggle time.
• Formula is not poison, it is not “giving up”. It is another avenue, another method in doing what we can to keep our babies healthy, fed and growing. Formula may not be what you planned, it may not be as pure as breast milk, but it’s feeding your baby and giving them nutrients. Did you know that before formula was created, 1 out of every 5 babies died of malnutrition? It was made for mothers like me, maybe like you too, and it can literally be a lifesaver.
• Make bottle time as much of a bonding time as breastfeeding. You might feel a sense of freedom that you can prop your baby up with a bottle, but try to keep this time special for you two. Cuddle your baby close, hold their little hand, smell them, kiss their head, look into their eyes and tell them you love them. When my friends were posting breastfeeding selfies for Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I took a picture of my own of me bottle-feeding my baby, snuggled under a blanket, our eyes locked, his hand cupped around my face, just as bonded and in love as any other mommy and baby.
The bottom line – we are all doing what we can to make our babies as strong and loved as possible. If you baby is happy, healthy and thriving then you are doing your job. And the next time you feed your baby, however that may be, look in their eyes, and pat yourself on the back, and know that you are doing a darn good job.
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