Now before I have parents jumping all over my ass for the title of my post, let me just say that I AM NOT knocking formula feeding moms!
I’m here to debunk this bullshit.
So all you formula feeding moms out there, calm your jets and unwad your panties. And all you lactivists out there, unwad yours as well and open your mind.
Before I get started, I’d like to tell you folks a little story and give you some of my own history.
I am a breastfeeding mom. I consider myself to be a lactivist. I breastfed my son for one year and my daughter is still going strong at 16 months.
So you may be wondering now, “If she breastfeeds, why in the hell is she supporting formula?”
Well, because I am also a formula feeding mom.
That’s right. You heard me. I used formula.
When my son hit 8 months, I brought him in to the docs because I felt like he hadn’t been gaining very well and because I felt like my supply was lower than normal. According to WHO standards, breastfed babies (6-12 months of age) should gain about 1.75-2.75 ounces per week and grow 1/2 inch per month. At that visit, I found that he had gained 2 ounces and grown 1/4 inch… over the course of a month. He had gained a quarter of what he should have over the course of a month.
Considering he was eating solids 2-3 times per day and nursing about 6 times a day at this point, he should have gained more than just 2 ounces.
For those of you lactivists out there who are probably rattling of the numerous methods I could have used to boost my supply, you can stop now. I know about the majority of those methods and gave several a try when I began seeing signs of my supply dropping. Pumping. Skin to skin. Herbs. Cookies. Teas. Beer…
At this point in MY life, I was dealing with a lot of stress in my relationship with his father and battling postpartum depression (PPD) as well. My stress and anxiety levels were through the roof and now I had to add my son’s weight gain and my supply to that list. If you didn’t already know this, stress can have a negative effect on your supply.
So I made the choice to supplement with formula. I continued breastfeeding – we just added in a few bottles of formula each day. Man! What a difference it made! My son gained a pound over the course of a month and continued with his healthy weight gain up until a year. But it didn’t only make a difference for him – it changed things for me as well.
I no longer had to dread feeding time and worry about whether or not I was making enough milk and I no longer had to wonder “is he getting enough?” My stress level decreased significantly and I felt better equipped to take on the monster called PPD. By the time he was 10 months old, I was able to stop taking my antidepressants, I felt the happiest I had in months, and I was enjoying my little boy more than ever and FINALLY enjoying nursing him!
Formula changed our lives and saved my sanity.
So now that you know my history with formula, let me continue on with the rest of this post.
When my son was about 20 months or so, I got pregnant again. I knew right off the bat that I wanted to breastfeed again. I was armed with more knowledge than I had with my son and in a much healthier and happier relationship. By this point, I had helped many other women battle their breastfeeding struggles and learned from there experiences as well. I had also researched the benefits of breast milk versus formula and, thanks to the pro-breastfeeding pages I have “Liked” on Facebook, been bombarded with information on how BAD formula was for baby.
Let’s just get this straight: formula is not “bad” for your baby. Pretty much everyone knows breast milk is the best thing for your baby. It contains all kinds of things that cannot be replicated in formula, the composition changes as your baby’s needs change and throughout the day, it lowers the risks of many illnesses and diseases, and it raises IQ levels. There is no denying that “breast is best.”
But formula is not bad.
Formula has come a hell of a long way since it first started being used. Hell, I know people who fed their babies Karo and condensed milk for crying out loud (their babies were born in the 1950s). You can now buy organic, soy based, made for sensitive tummies, cow’s milk based, goat’s milk based, hydrolysed protein formula, etc. They now add essential vitamins, minerals, and things like DHA, ARA, and even Lutein (which IS found is breast milk).
If you ask me, that doesn’t sound like it’s bad at all. Is it ideal? Maybe not. But it most certainly is not BAD.
With that being said, many breastfeeding mothers encounter issues at some point in their breastfeeding relationship. Sometimes these are minor issues that can be corrected with a simple adjustment and other times these issues require a lot of time and effort. I recommend speaking with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) any time you feel you are hitting a brick wall. They can encourage you and give you plenty of helpful tips.
If any of you are like me and run into an issue and someone says the word “formula,” it’s like someone walked up and deflated all of the air out of your balloon.
For whatever reason, formula is seen as “failure” or “defeat” within the breastfeeding community. There have been times that I’ve told people I supplemented formula with my son and instantly got a look that said, “Oooohhh… You’re one of those people. You’re not a true breastfeeder!” Nose in the air included.
Each time I see that look, I want to grab them by their stupid shoulders, smack them across the face, and shake them as hard as I can while I scream, “I AM A BREASTFEEDER!!! I made it one whole year. I did everything I could think of to regain my supply! I spent all night pumping, hours doing skin to skin, I stuffed my face full of cookies, dammit! I sacrificed MY happiness, sanity, and health. How DARE you look at me that way, as if I am less of a mother than you because I supplemented with formula!”
I want to pause there because I realize NOW that there is a very important statement made in that.
“I sacrificed MY happiness, sanity, and health.”
Each and every single one of us parents understand sacrifice. We sacrifice our time, sleep, schedules, hobbies, money, etc. All so our children will be happy. And if you’re a parent, you understand that those sacrifices are worth it in the end.
However, some things should not be considered “sacrifices” when it comes to our kids: happiness, sanity, and health.
I’m sure some of you read this one and thought something like, “Oh how selfish of her!” and you know what? You are absolutely right. It is selfish, but it’s also necessary. If you aren’t happy, how on earth do you expect to be able to make someone else happy?! I don’t know about y’all, but in my house, if Momma ain’t happy, no one’s happy! Okay… not really. But if I’m in a crabby mood or feeling overworked, under appreciated, sad, angry, or anything other than happy, I’m much more likely to lose my temper when it comes to my kids. I’m also more likely to yell. I also have less patience for playing games like peek-a-boo, teaching them how to do something new, or answering a thousand questions in a row.
When my supply dropped, my happiness went with it. I became so stressed that it was all I could think about. I spent all my time worrying about how much I was producing. I spent hours online reading articles about low supply, how to boost it, how much weight gain was normal, how often he should be nursing, how often he should be eating solids… you get the point. I didn’t want to leave my house because he was easily distracted when nursing in public. And this all leads to my next point…
As I mentioned before, I was diagnosed with PPD after having my son. I struggled with it for months at first and finally came to terms with it when he was around 5 months old. I went to my doctor and spoke with her about how I had been feeling and we decided I would begin taking Prozac. It was like someone turned on a light, after the initial adjustment period. I wasn’t exactly happier, per se, I just felt… better. It was easier for me to recognize the things that were minor and somewhat easier for me to handle the things that were major. At least I felt much calmer than I had before.
Encountering low supply was really difficult for me. I was just starting to feel as though I had a good handle on the whole parenting thing and then my supply dropped and it was like someone came and tore down the walls holding in all of my anxiety. Everything crashed down and I was more stressed than I had been before. I spent a lot of time focusing on the issue of my supply. I didn’t want to talk to my friends, didn’t want to go out, didn’t want to do anything except hide somewhere until my supply went back to normal. I had trouble sleeping, trouble waking up, I ate too much, and just felt flat out bad.
So I’m sure by now you are getting a pretty good idea of just how much these three things go hand in hand. Because I was unhappy and stressed, my health began to suffer. I began gaining weight, felt sleepy all the time, and started getting sick more frequently. If you aren’t already aware, let me tell you right now: your health is important!!! As a parent, it’s your responsibility to set a good example when it comes to health and wellness. How can you do that if you’re over eating/skipping meals or constantly wearing yourself so thin that you get sick often? Besides that, how do you expect to keep up with your kid(s) when you are like that?
It’s just a downward spiral – or at least it was for me.
I am a firm believer of making sure you take good care of yourself. Yes it is our responsibility to take care of our children and do whatever it takes to ensure they are happy and healthy, but it’s also our responsibility to take care of ourselves.
One of the many things I have seen over and over again from parents is that we are all too hard on ourselves. We live busy lives, place unreasonable expectations on each other, hold ourselves to extreme standards, and because of all this, we have a tendency to get wrapped up in the little things. So much so that we miss the big picture.
Many of us lose sight of the big picture right off the bat. We come up with “birthing plans,” decide to breastfeed or use formula, organic foods or not, homegrown veggies or store bought, green, clean, perfect, pristine… we plan everything down to the moment they become adults with their own lives.
When something comes along and throws a kink in our plan, we freak. We don’t know how to handle it because it isn’t what we had “planned.” So when things don’t follow these “plans,” some of us feel like we have failed.
We compare ourselves to other parents who’s plans are still on track. We wonder, “How do they do it? They make it look so easy.” Or, “What did I do wrong? Why am I having such a hard time with my supply? I don’t want to stop breastfeeding!” I have seen moms struggle with these thoughts time and time again. Only thing is, they are so busy being concerned about their “failure” that they lose sight of the REAL issue at hand: feeding baby.
At some point, you have to stop focusing on those “goals” and “plans” you have made.
Just take them, ball them up, and throw them out the damn window.
Life is unpredictable. You can’t foresee every event. This is especially true when it comes to parenting!
We become so focused on OUR “goals” and “plans” (natural child birth, pain med free birth, home birth, being induced, not being induced, breastfeeding, pumping, blah, blah, blah) that we forget what our goal was back when we first got pregnant!
Unsure of what I’m talking about?
I’ll give you a hint:
“I just want him/her to be happy and healthy.“
THAT is the big picture!!!
So if you have ever been in a situation where you have had to supplement with formula or stop breastfeeding all together, don’t you ever feel as though you have “failed” as a parent. Kudos to you for keeping your focus on your child and their health and for taking care of yourself as well.
Breastfeeding CAN be difficult. It can present you with many challenges, but it can also be a lot easier than you expect. It is also one of the most rewarding things you can do for your child. But if you ever run into a situation where you have to supplement (short or long term) or even switch over all together, don’t beat yourself up over it. You are still doing the best you can for your baby.
And that makes you a wonderful parent.
To the lactivists out there: I understand how important it is to educate people on the benefits of breastfeeding. I do it all the time. But if you ever encounter a mom who is struggling with breastfeeding, don’t press the issue. Offer words of encouragement and if she asks for your help or advice, then help her. Give her the facts and allow her to do with them as she pleases. IF she chooses to use formula, for whatever reason, do not belittle her, shove statistics down her throat, or continue flood her with tips and information. Recognize that it is ultimately HER decision because it is HER baby. And also recognize that formula is NOT bad.
And formula does NOT equal failure.