On Formula, Failure, and Freedom

This post is going to be about formula, which unfortunately, means that I need to start with a disclaimer.   I know that “breast is best”.  I know that breastfeeding isn’t easy, and that there are dozens of resources available to help a struggling mom find her footing in the land of boobs and milk.  I know that there are many folks out there who feel that if you only try harder, pump more, pump less, eat oatmeal, take supplements, sleep more, get help, don’t listen to the help, go to La Leche League, stop going to playgroup, and so on….that you will be able to successfully breastfeed.  And I have mad respect for the women who do those things.  Especially because it didn’t work for me.  Breastfeeding didn’t work.  And I was pissed about it, and angry, and ashamed, and confused.  You know what added insult to injury?  Not being able to figure out what my next step was.  Because when you choose formula, you are branded with a scarlet F.  An F for failure, an F for “figure it out yourself, those formula companies shouldn’t be making your life so easy”.  So for all of you mamas who tried your best to breastfeed, and are now standing in the formula aisle at the grocery store with tears in your eyes because there are too many goddamn choices and how the hell am I ever supposed to figure this out?? well,  this post is for you.  This post is for you, and it’s for the adoptive and foster mamas, and it’s for the mamas who chose not to nurse to protect their own mental or physical health.  This post is for Beth Anne, who stood up for all of us by saying that she fed her son formula, and she is not ashamed.  This post is for the horribly mean-spirited people who vilified her on her blog (if that’s what happens to big-time bloggers, then I’ll keep my itty bitty unknown blog status thank you very much).  This post is even for the mamas who didn’t care about nursing, and CHOSE to use formula from the beginning.  Why?  Because they wanted to (gasp!).  This post is for those of you who have already made the decision to formula-feed.  For those of you who have decided that using human donor milk isn’t for you.  For those of you who have no milk in your boobies.  None. 

I have given Max formula since he was two days old.  I nursed Max, or tried to nurse Max, every day for four weeks.  OK, that’s a lie.  I know now that I probably didn’t nurse him much on his first day (completely drugged up from a c-section and all), and there were other days that I gave him a bottle instead of nursing because it hurt too damn much/my nipples were bleeding/I was exhausted/there wasn’t any milk in there anyway.   Max got about 30% breastmilk, and 70% formula, for four weeks.  After being a mother for four amazing, sleep-deprived, tear-filled weeks, I was mother enough to realize that I still still still was not producing enough any milk.  If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know all about my journey.  You know how hard I tried.  So I won’t re-hash it here.  But I will tell you, that ever since I first blogged about what happened next, I’ve had friends, acquaintances, and perfect strangers ask me how I figured out the great wide world of formula.  It is complicated.  It is not as easy as “buy, mix, serve”.  At all.  That would be like saying that breastfeeding is easy.  “Just pop your baby on your boob and feed them!” I thought.  Until I learned about block feeding and cluster feeding and hindmilk and foremilk and lactation consultants and La Leche League and improper latch and nursing pads and elimination diets and mastitis and plugged ducts and flat nipples and tongue tie and holy mother of god I thought that you just put your baby on your boob??  And don’t even get me started on the pumping and the hands-free bra and the three billion pump parts that all need to be hand-washed each time and sterilized and….ok…..I’m off-track here.  (But it’s a good time to add that if I could go back and start from the beginning, I’d create my own personal commune filled with the moms from my favorite online mom’s forum…hi BBB ladies!…and move in with them so they could help me with breastfeeding 24/7.  I think about this on a regular basis.  How I want to create a mom utopia with these very special friends.  Because they make me feel like I can do ANYthing.  And because for some of us, breastfeeding is truly THAT difficult).  My point is that there are a ton of choices and issues that go into formula feeding.  But once you cross over to the dark side and choose formula, there aren’t any places for you to go and ask questions.  I mean please, have you ever tried to talk to the meth freak teenagers who work at Babies R Us?  I have found a wonderful “home” in the accepting circles of many of my mom’s groups, but no one who can really answer my NON-nursing questions.

Even worse, when you venture out into the land of moms who you DON’T know (um, hello blogosphere and the park down the street), formula feeding moms are treated like selfish rejects who are forced to sit by themselves at recess.  We whisper questions to each other like “Which formula should I buy?” and “What bottles help with reflux?” and “Is the more expensive formula really the best one?” because god forbid someone should hear us and think that we just weren’t trying hard enough.

So this morning, when I got yet another email from yet another sweet, brave mama friend asking about formula, I decided that enough was enough.  I don’t care what anyone else thinks of us.  I don’t care that I debated all morning about standing up for another blogger who was being harassed.  I am embarassed to say that as much as I wanted to write this post, I was afraid of what people would think of me.  I didn’t want to draw attention to my own Scarlet F.  But it’s time to say “me too”.  It’s time to say that I don’t care what anyone else thinks.  I do care about how alone my fellow formula-moms feel.  It’s not fair that formula moms have to struggle all alone when nursing moms get La Leche League and the cover of Time Magazine (OK…that’s a joke.  I’m being funny.)  So here’s the scoop…the real scoop.  The real tiny scoop that comes in the formula container and is never small enough to actually fit in the damn bottle so instead you spill formula on the counter every time you attempt to feed your child.  One more way that the universe conspires against us formula moms, I suppose.

**I am not a medical professional.  This is my personal experience with using formula, and the safest way to make these decisions is to talk to your child’s pediatrician. **

Choosing A Formula:

There are major brands of formula (Gerber, Enfamil, Similac) and smaller store brands (including organic).  Each brand has various types of formula, for every age and stage of your baby’s development.  Confused yet? Not every baby will digest every formula in the same way.  The easiest way to make your first formula choice is to ask yourself a few questions.

1.  How old is my baby?  Start with an “infant” formula if your baby is still very young.  They are often easier to digest than formula that is made for older babies.  Some formulas contain DHA, pro or prebiotics, or iron.  You may want to choose a formula that contains something “extra”, but all formulas are supposed to be “nutritionally complete”.  Talk to your pediatrician about what your baby might need.

2.  Has my baby had any problems with digestion/reflux/colic/allergies/eczema?  Some formulas are made especially for “sensitive” or “allergic” babies.  If your baby is having a reaction to something, you can probably find a formula that will eliminate that “something”.  If you had been nursing, you would slowly eliminate all possible allergens from your diet anyway.  You can do something similar with formula.  Talk to your doctor about this.  Some babies don’t do well on soy.  Some can’t tolerate dairy.  Some are allergic to corn-based formulas.  More on this below.

3.  How will I be serving the formula?  Formula comes in powder form (either in large containers or small single serve packets) and liquid form (ready-to-feed in cans that you can store in the refrigerator, or in tiny little disposable bottles that you can open at each feeding).  The ready-to-feed kind is very expensive.  We also found that it is pretty thick and syrupy.  Babies can have a hard time digesting the ready-to-feed liquid version of a powdered formula that they were previously doing fine with.  We found this out the hard way when Max yakked an entire bottle of pricey, ready-to-feed Enfamil formula exorcist-style over my mom’s shoulder and onto a rocking chair.  Again, just our personal experience, but I think that the formula companies prey on exhausted moms who think it will be easier to just pop open a tiny bottle and go.  Think about how they preserve that liquid for so long.  They’ve added shit that they don’t need to.

4.  What can I afford?  Formula is pricey.  It’s another kick in the ass for those of us who had wanted/tried to breastfeed.  It is possible to find tons of formula coupons.  Babies R Us and Target have frequent sales, or buy-one get-one discounts.  Look online and consider having formula shipped to your home.  By the time you are shopping for formula at the grocery store, you’re usually almost out.  Target, Wal-Mart, K-mart, and baby stores will have much better deals (and a larger selection).

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, choose ONE brand and ONE type of formula that you feel good about.  Start there.  It can upset your baby’s belly to switch formulas too often, and it can sometimes take a week or more for them to adjust to a new one.

Most importantly, don’t believe everything you read.  Formula is marketed in a very particular way, because (duh) they want you to buy it.  The formula companies want you to be terrified and stressed out because you don’t know which one to feed your baby.  Start simple.  Most formulas are created exactly the same, but with different labels.  Formula will not make your baby sleep through the night.  Babies shouldn’t sleep through the night.  They need to wake up to be fed (their bellies are tiny) and to be close to you.  Formula isn’t magic, it’s nutrition.

Babies With Special Bellies:

If your baby is having trouble digesting formula, or you’re concerned that they are in pain (gassy, bloated, beyond awful diapers, hiccups, reflux, colic, pulling their knees up to their chest in pain, severe trouble calming down or sleeping), PLEASE talk to your pediatrician about trying a hypoallergenic formula.  We spent many months trying every.single.formula on the shelf, when ultimately Max needed a hypoallergenic formula.  You can start with something like Gentlease, but personally, I feel like if your baby is that uncomfortable, it’s worth spending the money on a hypoallergenic formula.   These specialized formulas are completely broken down, so that they are easily digested.  Nutramigen and Alimentum can be bought in stores, and are a great place to start.  If your pediatrician thinks that you need the “big guns”, you may need to try a prescription formula like Neocate.  This is often done in conjunction with a reflux medication, so please work closely with your doctor on this one.  Some moms swear by putting a dose of Mylicon or Colic Calm in their baby’s bottle, to prevent gas and stomach upset.

Remember, it can take a full week or more for your baby to adjust to a formula change.  You may not see a difference in your baby’s symptoms right away, as it can take a while for the previous formula to clear their bodies.

Just Shake and Go, Right?

One of the things that inspired me to write this post was a comment that was left over at The Heir To Blair the other day.  Someone said that formula was so easy, because all you had to do was “mix and serve”.  That made me furious.  If only it were that easy.

Pay close attention to the amount of powder per amount of water.  When you mix them together and then shake the hell out of it, it creates bubbles.  Bubbles that your baby drinks.  You may want to use a large pitcher and mix the day’s formula ahead of time and leave it in the fridge.  Or just mix as you go, but give the bottle a few minutes for the bubbles to settle before serving.  Personally, I’m not a fan of heating or chilling bottles, which means that I mix the powder for each serving.  It makes it easier to feed your baby on the go if they aren’t expecting their bottle to be hot or cold.  You are not a Starbucks barista, and nursing moms always give their baby room temperature milk, right?

Keep in mind that once your baby has had a sip of a prepared bottle, that bottle is only good for an hour (even if you refrigerate it).  And if you accidently leave your baby’s bedtime bottle on the nightstand at 6 pm, and then feed it to him at 10 am the next day because you thought it was the fresh one that your husband just made for you, your baby will not die.  Don’t ask me how I know that.

Bottles, Gadgets, Gear and Storage:  You do not need the little electronic mixer thing to blend your formula.  You do however, need:

1. A shitload of bottles in all sizes.  Some moms swear by the pricey Dr. Brown’s bottles.  I am not kidding when I say that we bought the packs of Gerber cheapie bottles (Hello, $2.49 for FOUR?!) and Max did just fine.  And he was a reflux baby, big time.  The issue was his formula, not his bottle.  If your baby is still nursing, or was nursing before, you may want a bottle with a nipple that has a similar shape to your breast.  If you’re a green mama, you may want to use glass bottles.  Most plastic bottles are BPA free now.

2.  A nipple/small parts basket for your dishwasher.  If your baby is tiny or has a weakened immune system, you will need to hand wash and sterilize your bottles.  For older babies, we found that the dishwasher worked just fine.  Because we’re lazy.

3.  A travel container for your formula, and a diaper bag or purse that can hold a few bottles full of water.  You will grow to loathe your diaper bag.  You will buy at least 6 of them over the next year, to make yourself feel better about having to lug this very unfashionable accessory everywhere.  No?  Maybe it was just me.  But bring it.  You never know when you will be stuck in traffic with a hungry baby, or when you might accidentally pour your last bottle into the street while trying to mix it on the side of the road.  Good times.

Feed With Love, Feed With Pride:

There will be a time in your not so distant future, when you are cuddling your squishy new baby close to you.  You will position them perfectly in your lap, look into their sleepy eyes, and realize it doesn’t matter if their milk is coming from a bottle or your breasts.  Babies need love.  Babies need a healthy and happy caregiver.  Babies needs snuggles and smiles and soft arms to sleep in.  When your baby walks into his first day of kindergarten, NONE of the other mommies will ask you how you fed him.  You are not the only formula mom in your playgroup (look again….you’re really not).  You are not the only mom who has cried when you go to dump the scoop in the bottle and you miss, and powder gets everywhere and you look like a cocaine addict.  You are not the only mom who has let a bottle roll under the backseat of your car and then decided to throw it away when you found a green forest growing in it three weeks later (like I said, buy the cheap ones!).  Brave, bold, mamas.  Loving mamas who are filled with regret and sadness.  Strong mamas who are conflicted and frustrated, yet overwhelmed with love for their babies.  You are not the only mom who is reading this and wondering why on earth I just wrote it FOR YOU.  Because who else formula feeds but YOU?  I didn’t write this just for you my friend.  I wrote it for all of us.

 

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Comments:

  1. My son is now 29 months and this brought tears to my eyes because it is a topic that still brings me such “regret and sadness”. Thank you. 🙂

  2. GOOD FOR YOU!!!! These kinds of judgments are for nameless faceless people. I do think breast is best and I blog about nursing – my struggles and my joys – and even my hesitance to continue past a year.

    But listen, you and I have more in common (I gather from the entirety of your posts) than most women on the corner. So why would I want to hand you some scarlet F and say we could never be friends? It’s insane, yet I’ve seen it with my own two eyes (on both sides of the fence).

    I am SO glad you wrote this post. THIS is why I like you. You tell it like it is and keep it positive. There’s no hate in this post – only help. You get my respect day in and day out!!!!

  3. The land of moms. Dem bitches be illin’. I’m all judged out. Do this, don’t do this. If you don’t do this, you’re a bad mom, but if you do the alternative you aren’t a creative mom. Try this, eat this, don’t drink this. Hold your baby this way, feed your baby this way, Ferberize, pacifiers, walkers, crib bumpers, bathing, lotions, sunscreen, haircuts, nail polish, bras, blah blah blah. Our only goal should be doing what’s best for OUR family.

    I’m so proud of you for writing this, writing it well, judgment free, embracing the similarities AND differences in us all.

  4. Hey there!
    Just discovered your blog today from comment you made to the Judging Mom on BlogHer and I love it. This has been my favorite post so far : ) I wrote something about our crazy formula experiences with my son and then my daughter here, that sounded a little like your experiences. Thanks for standing up for the formula ladies! Formula Friends…UNITE! http://jennysblogorama.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/manic-mealtimes-part-1/

  5. fearlessformulafeeder says:

    Hey – one of my followers alerted me to this awesomesauce post and I’m so thrilled she did. I don’t know if you’re aware of my blog but I’ve been writing all about formula feeding/formula feeding guilt for about 3 years now, and I absolutely adored your “disclaimer” at the beginning, because it takes balls to call people out on their (not-so-secret) inner judgment. This is an excellent post, and I think the more of us in the blogosphere who speak out about this stuff, the better it will be for the next mom who goes through the hell of breastfeeding “failure” – because as you so wisely noted, the internet has a grand old way of making us formula feeders feel like social pariahs as well as terrible mothers. Which, as evidenced by this post and by people like you, were are most definitely NOT.

    I hope we get a chance to meet up at BlogHer – I’m actually reading a post from my blog at the VOTY thing and I’m scared to death of being chased by angry villagers after they hear what I have to say. I hope to god you will be there because I need a friendly ear in the audience who “gets” where the heck I am coming from…

    Regardless, thanks for being brave enough to write this, and for putting good stuff out on the interwebz for folks to stumble across in their darkest online hours….

    – The Fearless Formula Feeder (Suzanne)
    http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com

    • Suzanne,

      I am so honored and touched by your comment on my blog!! OF COURSE I know who you are 😉 Your blog was the first thing I found online after I stopped nursing my son a few years ago, and I devoured every single post you had written. I was shocked and amazed that there were other moms out there who had struggled with nursing. I absolutely thought I was alone in my experience, and finding FFF was like opening the door on a room of new friends. You saved me many, many times. You made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Your strength and your honesty helped me to heal. I have sent many “formula friends” your way over the years, and they have all reported back that finding your “safe place” was life-changing for them.

      So WOW…I am floored by your comment here, and so incredibly grateful! I would love to meet you at BlogHer, and you can bet I’ll be cheering you on when you read your piece at VOTY. Screw the Angry Villagers, us formula moms are ass-kickers…not to mention I can be kinda loud, so I’m happy to simply drown out the naysayers. I love that you will be reading about “my” truth, and I am positive that there will be dozens (hundreds?) of other moms in the audience who will stand up and say “me too”. I’ll start, I don’t mind 😉

      Your comment (and the FB group that my friend Amy started) are a great reminder to me that I need to have a “Formula” link on my blog. Max is 3 now, so it’s not always in the front of my mind, but it should be, so that other moms can see their story reflected back to them as many times as possible. I’ll work on that today, and put some of my posts all in one easy-to-find place. Of course I’d love to link to your blog as well, with your permission.

      Thank you!!!

  6. Thank you so so much for writing this. My little one is 4 months old now and I had to figure this all out on my own when I didn’t produce enough milk. It’s such a relief to know that there are others out there who have gone through or are going through the same thing.

    It’s hard enough going to the process of acceptance and feelings of loss that you won’t be able to breast feed but to add on the confusing, expensive world of formula feeding during what is supposed to be a magical bonding time… What a nightmare. I’m so thankful for your blog!

  7. Quick ‘thank you’ for your mention of foster/adopt moms!!

  8. Also a quick “thank you”. A couple weeks ago I got the news that after four weeks of breastfeeding, my girl wasn’t gaining enough from my milk, and that her evening crying wasn’t her being “fussy”…it was her starving.

    Even knowing this, it absolutely tore me up to go buy her a bucket of powdered formula. A lot of what you stated, I felt — in particular, the anger at myself and my body (for not making enough milk, for having to have a c-section to give birth). I’m more or less over it, and like you say — when I’m feeding her and she’s looking up at me, it doesn’t so much matter if it’s a boob or a bottle, or if I’m carrying around a boatload of guilt while I do it. She loves me and needs me to look out for her, and that’s what matters.

  9. When my daughter was born 30 yrs ago, I had read everything on breastfeeding, been to a LeLeche meeting or two, faithfully rubbed my nipples with a washcloth (recommended at that time) I was gonna NURSE. She was born…and she wouldnt do it. She wouldnt latch on. I got tons of advice, all of it useless. “Just keep trying, she is getting more milk than you think” She was not, because she wouldnt suck. I turned to bottles with huge guilt. Now 30 years later i realize how silly this all is. Some babies dont nurse well or at all. She is fine and healthy and my second child, her brother, nursed heartily from the beginning. He of course had all the allergies, ear infections and things they say the breast fed babies dont get LOL…..relax Mamas. Do what you want to in feeding your little one. You know best!

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