Both of my children received formula within three days of birth. For my second child, it was because her blood sugar had dipped to dangerously low levels and she needed something to perk her up quickly. In the case of my son, homeboy had been nursing literally every 20 minutes for a duration of 20 minutes per session for two days straight. We were both a hot mess. In a tearful and delirious fit of exhaustion, I gave him several milliliters of formula after his eleventy-millionth feeding that day just to top him off… and never looked back.
At the time, the decision to supplement his insatiable appetite with even those few drops of formula was wrapped up in a lot of guilt and fear. I feared sabotaging my breastfeeding plans. I wanted to nurse for at least a year, but by giving him this bottle, I was afraid he would succumb to the oft-mentioned, deeply dreaded “nipple confusion”and reject the breast completely. I also felt guilty for “giving up” and for giving formula at all, because everyone (including myself) had been extolling the many benefits of breastmilk.
While there are those whose babies do develop nipple confusion, or mothers who are unable to establish their milk supply if they supplement with formula, I found that I was able to use formula as an occasional tool. Supplementing helped me as I got a handle on nursing in the first few weeks. Then, when my son was about 10 months old, I used it again when I decided I could no longer stand pumping at work. I provided formula during the workday rather than bottles of pumped breastmilk, and continued to nurse when he and I were together for the next seven months. Again, this turned out to be a decision that saved me a ton of stress and struggle, which — I think pretty much any mom can attest — is endlessly more beneficial to my kid than whether he gets formula or breastmilk.
Absolutely no one can make me feel guilty about any of the decisions I made about giving my children formula, from medical necessity to my personal preference. It’s my sincere hope that one magical day, no one will A) feel guilty about choosing formula, either exclusively or in conjunction with breast milk, and B) no one will try to make anyone else feel guilty about choosing formula. Until then, I encourage a Zero Apologies Policy on the subject. Here’s why.
Despite those who speak about formula as though it’s chemically on par with rat poison, millions and millions of babies thrive on formula every day. This doesn’t mean breastfeeding isn’t healthy or that the good things you’ve heard about nursing are any less true. It just means that there are multiple ways to nurture an infant and formula feeding is one of them! Hooray for options!
Speaking as a breastfeeding mother, I can assure you that being physically tied to either a baby or a breast pump 24/7 for however long you choose to nurse (in my case, about a year and a half per child) can get old. Like… really old. Formula-feeding moms? You don’t have to worry so much about the logistics of making sure your kid is fed if you, say, go away for a weekend, or go to work, or even just go out for an evening. It’s like, “Here’s the formula, trusted caretaker. Put it in the bottle, mix it with water, feed baby.” It’s pretty straightforward and can be a task assigned to other people. Breastfeeding moms? Even if you have a sweet freezer stash of breastmilk for your baby (#reallyjealous, by the way. My pump and I were not friends and my children were voracious, so I could never manage this.), you have things to worry about, like engorgement which is crazy uncomfortable and can lead to leaky boobs (which is embarrassing) or, if you go long enough without relief, mastitis (which feels like… hell on earth basically).
There are lots of ways your partner can (and will) bond with your baby. So if you do exclusively breastfeed (and therefore handle all the feedings for a while), don’t sweat it — your kid isn’t going to grow up thinking your partner is some distant stranger. But no matter how you feed your wee one, the time you spend doing it is also wonderful bonding time. Formula feeding generally presents more opportunities for your partner to get in on those moments than breastfeeding does. Also, can we say shared responsibility?! Formula feeding gives you the benefit of very easily splitting this particular job right down the middle instead of everything falling to one breastfeeding parent.
The latest CDC data shows that 79% of new mothers breastfeed at some point, but most fall short of their intended breastfeeding goals. That number drops to 40.7% at six months, and it’s no wonder. Between lack of professional assistance (the CDC report card shows fewer than 4 certified lactation consultants available per 1,000 births on average; in some states it’s less than 1), the lack of peer assistance, and abysmal maternity leave policies that often mean a woman might be heading back to work before she and her baby have properly established a breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding can be hard, y’all!
Breastfeeding proponents (myself included!) often describe nursing as a “relationship.” Like any relationship, if it’s not working out for one person, it’s not working out period. Whether physically or emotionally, breastfeeding can take a definite toll on a mother, negatively affecting her overall well-being. It’s far, far better for everyone involved to have a happy mom feeding her baby formula than a distressed, depressed, hurting mother breastfeeding.
Whether you choose to breastfeed or choose not to, that decision is absolutely no one else’s business. Frankly this article could, for all intents and purposes, have started and ended here, because this is what the whole discussion ultimately boils down to. Even though there are a lot of perfectly valid reasons a woman would not choose to formula feed (including, “I just don’t want to breastfeed.”) there is no reason she should be obligated to share those reasons to defend her choice. Her choice does not need defending.
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