To say I never planned to formula-feed my babies is a huge understatement. As a new mom I was adamant that they never receive even a drop of formula. I planned to exclusively breastfeed, wean them when they were ready, and avoid formula altogether. Then I learned that how you plan to feed your baby and how you actually feed your baby are two entirely different things. I also learned that there were so many things I got wrong about formula before I ended up using it to help my babies thrive.
As someone who had always planned to breastfeed, I didn't learn a thing about formula-feeding ahead of time. When I was mixing my first bottle I had so many misconceptions about formula that I was legitimately scared that what I was going to give my baby would eventually hurt her. I was also exhausted, so I had no idea what I was doing. There was also a general lack of information available to formula-feeding parents, so while I was willfully naive I was also at a loss as to where to even find the information I needed. Sadly, the internet wasn't much help, either. Almost every site I visited told me how important it was to breastfeed, and the rest tried to sell me their brand of infant formula as "the next best thing." I was exhausted, I was in over my head, and I was lost.
I also think that in a well-intentioned attempt to promote breastfeeding, formula has been demonized as a result. I mean, I have always thought that formula was something "lazy" moms used — like the fast food of infant-feeding. So, I was going to commit myself 100 percent to breastfeeding and give my babies that "liquid gold" not only because it's beneficial, but because I didn't want to be one of "those" moms. Then I watched my baby thrive on formula, and in a way she couldn't when I was giving her breast milk, and I started to shift my views about formula entirely. Turns out, it was the best thing I could give my baby. Before I had that realization, though, I had to navigate the following assumptions I had about formula that proved out to be wrong:
I Thought It Would Ruin Breastfeeding
Because I had been told that supplementing with formula could impact my supply, give my baby "nipple confusion," and ruin my chances of breastfeeding, I was terrified when my daughter needed formula in order to thrive. I later learned that supplementing doesn't have to mean an end to breastfeeding. In fact, when my son was born, I learned about combo-feeding and went on to successfully breastfeed and formula-feed him in the long term. It was amazing.
I Thought It Would Be Hard
All of my breastfeeding friends told me how hard it would be to be a formula-feeding mom. From washing bottles to fixing formula to being able to afford formula, I was terrified of what feeding my baby formula would mean.
Turns out, using formula isn't all that difficult. I mean, once you figure out what you are doing, of course. For me, the hardest part of formula-feeding was shaming from other moms. The actual feeding itself was pretty straightforward.
I Thought I Had To Hide It
I was so ashamed to feed my baby formula that I hid in the bathroom when I had to feed her. And while I was proud to breastfeed my son I public, I was terrified to feed him his supplemental bottle of formula afterwards.
Thankfully, I got over my shame when my third child was born and he needed hypoallergenic formula. If you take issue with me formula-feeding my baby it's your problem, not ours.
I Thought It Would Be Super-Expensive
I was always under the assumption that formula was prohibitively expensive and breastfeeding was always free. But, in my experience, breastfeeding is only free if your time, the food that you eat, and the pump, accessories, and clothing you purchase to facilitate nursing don't cost anything or have any value. In other words, breastfeeding isn't free.
Now, I am not saying that formula isn't expensive for some families (because it is and we have to change that), but I spent more money trying to breastfeed my baby exclusively for three months than I spent for the rest of the year on formula.
I Thought It Was Second Best
I think we, as a parenting culture, focus so much on how amazing breast milk is that some people assume formula is automatically bad for babies. It isn't.
I Though Brand Name Meant Better
When my daughter needed formula I bought her the most expensive, brand name option in the formula aisle. I had no idea that store brand formula is just as good. In his A Formula for Success: The Ultimate Guide to Infant Formulas, Pediatrician Chad Hayes, MD, explains that all formula in the U.S. has to meet the same guidelines. So, most babies — baring special nutritional needs — do just fine on the cheaper versions that don't advertise or send you samples in the mail.
I Thought It Was Bad For Babies
If you spend any time on social media you will probably hear a thing or two about formula. In my experience, someone will compare formula to the "bare minimum" you can do for your baby, as if choosing formula will harm them or ruin their chances of being their best.
Formula is amazing. Full stop. It's nutritionally-balanced, regulated, and safe. Since many families rely on formula to feed their babies for hundreds of reasons, it's time we stopped demonizing it.
I Thought It Would Be Time-Consuming
I feared that having to use formula would mean mixing bottles in the middle of the night and washing them all day long. It really didn't. Making bottles and feeding my baby formula was actually less time-consuming than breastfeeding, and way less so than pumping at work. I learned to mix a pitcher of formula in the morning and to keep chilled bottles in a cooler pack by the bed for nighttime feedings. Everything went in the dishwasher at the end of the day. It was no big deal.
I Thought It Would Make Me A Bad Mom
It's impossible for you to tell which one of my children received more breast milk than formula, or visa versa, by looking at them or spending time with them. Hell, I can't even tell. How you feed your baby, in the end, is never as important as the fact that you simply feed your baby. And, for a lot of families, choosing formula is a great way to give their babies what they need. It definitely doesn't make you a bad mom.