When my daughter was 11-months-old, my breast milk supply couldn’t keep up with her demand. Though she was eating solids, she was still taking several bottles of pumped milk during the day, while I was at work, and nursing at night. And while she was right around the age when our pediatrician said it would be safe to start transitioning her to cow’s milk, I wanted her to make it to a full year before that happened. But as a breastfeeding mom starting to use formula, I was terrified of how my baby would react to this change, and how others would react to my decision.
As someone who didn’t start out with a ton of confidence, I was often second-guessing my decisions as a new mom. While I did try to listen to my gut, and conferred with my husband (who is thankfully pragmatic about most things) I rarely felt rock solid in my choices as I navigated my way through parenthood. As time went on, and I learned from my successes (and failures), I became more self-assured. But introducing formula to my baby, when we were having such a successful breastfeeding run, made me anxious.
I’m sure there are moms out there with much more chill than me and, as a result of their innate chillness, wouldn’t have been so worried about transitioning to formula. But I had never done this whole parenting thing before, and I had never used formula. I didn’t know if it would go well or become a nightmare. And worse, I was afraid to talk to others about it, for fear of judgment of being shamed for my choices. I have to wonder when society is going to stop asking moms to operate from a point of apology.
Until we can coast through parenthood without fear of being relentlessly judged, though, here are some of the cruelest things I think you could do to a breastfeeding mom just starting to use formula… you know… to keep her child healthy:
Judge Her Reasons Why
It’s no one's business what I feed my children, as long as they are thriving and not breaking out in hives after every meal, yet judgment of moms is a common practice. I’ve had people, mostly older ones, who I suppose were just trying to enlighten me with wisdom based on their own parenting practices from a generation ago, express surprise, and even disdain, when I was giving my kid a snack on the playground. Even if I was letting my daughter mainline Twinkies, would anyone ever know the whole story, based on witnessing that one moment?
Whatever my reasons were to switching up my daughter’s diet, they don’t deserve judgment, lest it’s an invitation for me to go off on how I feel about the amount of sweetener I see you putting in your coffee.
Tell Her Not To Feel Bad
First of all, don’t tell me how to feel. Second of all, what is “bad” about formula feeding? While it did take me a while to calibrate my brain to the idea that “fed is best,” I never thought formula feeding was inherently bad. I just wanted to make breastfeeding exclusively work for me and my baby, and did… until it didn’t, at which point formula literally saved our lives.
Make Her Worry That The Baby Won’t Like it
I was nervous that my daughter would reject the formula when we introduced it to her. But, instinctively, I knew her hunger would trump her taste preferences. Still, my partner and I started her off by painstakingly measuring the tiniest bit of formula and combining it with mostly breast milk in the bottle. We’d increase the ratio of formula to breast milk with each subsequent bottle until she was taking full portions of formula. I will have no idea if she could have switched to full formula immediately at the beginning of the process, but she had no problems toggling between breast milk and formula, as I’d alternate nursing her when I was home, too.
Comment On The Cost
Yes, my breast milk was free and formula is not. But not everything’s cost can be valued in dollars. There was the emotional cost of stressing out when my daughter’s demand exceeded my supply. There was the cost of time, when I would spend way too long pumping, hoping to eke out just one more ounce as my milk output dwindled. What my partner and I spent on formula more than made up for the peace of mind knowing my daughter was getting enough to eat and thrive.
Imply That She’s Lazy…
Breastfeeding and pumping is a lot of work. Bottlefeeding comparatively looks easier, but I never felt like I was doing less work by preparing formula for my kid. I still worried about getting the temperature and amounts right, and there were still a lot of things to wash. Feeding my baby formula was only easy in the sense that watching her fuss from hunger, due to my low supply, would be excruciatingly difficult.
… Or Has Failed In Some Way
For a minute, I did feel like a failure when I had to supplement with formula. I had fallen short of this arbitrary goal I had set, of only breastfeeding until my daughter was totally self-weaned. So I already felt bad about things, and once I realized that this negative feeling was not justified — after all, my daughter was now getting significantly fed and suffered no consequences from supplementing with formula — I was never going to let someone else make me feel like I’ve failed.
If I have learned anything from motherhood, it’s that I have to be flexible and able to adjust on the fly, as my kid is constantly changing and growing. What worked for us one day, may not work the next, and I can’t stop and feel bummed about it; I just have to move towards a solution and move on.
Delight In How, Finally, She Could Involve Her Partner In Feeding
While I did have a monopoly on the feeding aspect of my baby’s life, my husband didn’t feel excluded from raising our daughter at all. While formula feeding did afford him more opportunities to nurture her at mealtime, it wasn’t like he was missing out on bonding with her when I was breastfeeding.
Everyone has their own style of caregiving, and it was not a bad thing that our children are growing up in recognition of my partner’s and my unique skill sets. Now 9, our daughter knows to come to me for math problems, but to go to her dad to discuss all things Harry Potter.
Remark How She’s Now “Free”
While formula feeding meant that other people could give my daughter a bottle, I never felt truly imprisoned by breastfeeding. Sure, I was stuck on the couch for the hours I nursed my baby, but there was nothing else I felt I really needed to be doing in those moments other than caring for my child. I didn’t feel like a prisoner. I felt like a mother.
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