We know, we know: Breast is best for your baby. (World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics and nosy strangers everywhere: Yup, we got the message!) But there are many situations when “the best” just isn’t an option. From feeling like a bad mom to the increased flexibility, here's what we wish we'd known about formula feeding.
You're not a bad mom. The breast-is-best message is omnipresent. And that's great. But with the surge in awareness about the many benefits of breastfeeding comes the flip side: guilt, feelings of failure and even shame in moms who can't—or don't want to—breastfeed or breastfeed exclusively. And that can translate into bucket-loads of unnecessary tears.
So we're going to say it and we'd like you to read it at least three times: "Feeding my baby formula does not make me a bad mom." Whatever your reason—whether your work schedule is not compatible with pumping, your baby isn't able to nurse effectively, you're having health issues or insert your reason here—formula-feeding is not a crime. There are many terrible things that can contribute to a bad-mom status. Feeding and nurturing your child does not qualify.
You won't be on the clock. The beautiful thing about the bottle is the ability to pass it around. Your hubs can feed the baby. So can your mom, your dad and your best friend. That little ol' bottle can magically take you, dear, sweet, sleepy mama, off the clock, and it eases that I'm-the-only-one-on-the-planet-who-can-feed-this-child pressure. And that means you can get some much-needed shut-eye. Of course, we know that you can feed a baby with bottles of breast milk, too. (Woot to the breast pump!) But that bottle of formula can sometimes be a new mom's ticket to rest and recovery. (If you are nursing, just be sure your milk supply is well-established before you replace a nursing session with a bottle of formula—it is a supply and demand game after all!)
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. They may not be shouting it out from the rooftops, but many (many!) breastfeeding moms also use formula. In fact, 42.6 percent of breastfed 6-month-olds are supplemented with the stuff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So know this: You can breastfeed and give your baby formula. Regardless of what the lactation consultant says, you don’t have to choose.
You'll feel self-conscious mixing formula in public. Guess what: Breastfeeding mamas aren't the only ones who feel like the world is watching and judging their every public feed. There will surely be a time when you'll be struggling to shake up a packet of powdered baby formula and water in a bottle, your baby will be crying and you'll feel weirdly outed. Try your best to stop caring about the lady at Target who (you think) is giving you the stink eye. That sweet baby is yours, not hers, and you know how best to feed her. And for all you know, she’s watching you because she’s been there and she feels for you.
You can drink and eat whatever! Wine, coffee, spicy foods, dairy—anything and everything is on the menu when you're not breastfeeding! Since none of what you eat or drink gets into your baby's system you don't have to worry. So go ahead and indulge in all the things you missed during your nine months of pregnancy.
There's a lot of stuff to lug. Breastfeeders only need to bring their boobs to feed their baby—and a cover-up, if they're modest. The milk is always there, always fresh and always the perfect temperature! Formula-feeders, however, need to remember the supplies, like pre-made bottles, a cooler, extra formula, clean bottles and bottled water. It's a pain. And inevitably you'll space on something. You won't pack enough. You'll be out and about with a screaming, hungry baby and you'll need to hightail it home or to the store ASAP.
Going back to work will be easier. Leaving your baby at home after maternity leave is over is never easy. But if you’re formula feeding you won’t need to spend your work day scrambling to pump two or three times a day. Yes, pumping is totally doable for some moms. For others, it adds another layer of stress to the already stressful period of new-momdom and back-to-workdom. Formula, like it or not, can ease that burden.
You'll still feel close to your baby. Feeding a baby, whether with a breast or bottle, is a warm, nurturing experience. Snuggle that baby right into the crook of your arm. Gaze into those I'm-so-happy-to-be-eating eyes. Smell that sweet baby smell as you burp her over your shoulder. Watch her nod off in your arms after her belly is full. Breastfeeding moms don't corner the market on warm-and-fuzzy-feeds—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Dads can play a bigger role. When there are two brand-new parents who don't know anything about anything, it’s pretty overwhelming to have just one be 100-percent in charge of feeding the baby. Bottles allow both exhausted, love-struck, overwhelmed parents to share in the responsibility and the joy of feeding their new bundle. Yes, Dad can feed breast milk (we’re not saying he can’t) but with formula, one person isn’t the designated milk maker.
You'll need support, too. Today, a new mama can find breastfeeding support any which way she looks, thanks to La Leche League, lactation consultants, online message boards and local moms' groups. But when a formula-feeding mama needs some support, she'll likely be met with some head-scratching. The truth is, all new moms need support. Women aren't born knowing the best angle to hold the baby to feed, what temperature the bottle needs to be, which formula to select, or how to burp. And she may just want to connect, talk and bond with other moms who either could not breastfeed or decided not to. Or just get some support for the choice she made—without being made to feel guilty about it. A good place to start: The site and community Fearless Formula Feeder started by mom Suzanne Barston.
There's no guess work. One incredibly reassuring thing about filling a bottle and watching your baby drink it is that you know exactly, down to the very last fraction of an ounce, how much she has consumed. A huge worry among breastfeeding moms is simply not knowing how much the baby has eaten. Boobs aren't transparent. There are no lines of measure to gauge. With bottles, you know.
It's expensive! Pretend your baby is 6 months old. She's likely drinking about 32 ounces of formula daily. Say you're using powdered formula (the most affordable kind) and you picked, say, Similac Advance Powder, which runs about $37 for a 34-ounce tub (Diapers.com pricing) which makes about 30 8-ounce bottles. That gets you a little over a week in bottles. That adds up to some serious dough. Maybe formula should be called liquid gold, too! The good news is that many companies will send you valuable coupons to help with the cost—so sign up on their web site. And once your baby is a year old, you can switch to plain milk.
Others will make you feel bad. Whether they mean to or not, chances are at one time or another a friend, a member of your family or a complete stranger will say something that'll make you feel less-than-awesome about formula-feeding your baby. Heck, sometimes they don't even have to say a thing. You may be at a playdate where everyone else is breastfeeding and you're the odd bottle-feeder out. Your BFF may innocently say, "Oh, I thought you were breastfeeding." Your well-meaning MIL may flat out say, "Breast is best, you know." It's going to happen. Be prepared to hear it and move on.
It's about your health, too. Breastfeeding is fantastic for babies. Not one single person on Earth can dispute that fact. But many people seem to forget that breastfeeding can be less fantastic for some moms. Breastfeeding can be exhausting and stressful. It can be painful. It can be frustrating. In the end, the decision to opt out of breastfeeding (or half-and-half it), can be the best thing for mom's mental and physical health. Always remember the oxygen mask rule: Place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others. You can't be the best mom to your baby if you're completely stressed out and unhealthy yourself.
Bottles are temporary. When you're a new mom, it can seem like the bottlefeeding stage will last for eons. It doesn't. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends you trade the bottle for a cup by 18 months. While, um, that may not happen right on schedule, it's good to know that soon—very soon—the bottle will go the way of the bassinet, the swaddle and the sling and the way you chose to feed your child will no longer be on display all of the time. Plus you can introduce milk at 12 months, so you won't be mixing formula even if your baby is still using a bottle.
Being a mom is about more than feeding your baby. It's easy to let it breast-or-bottle define what kind of a mother you are. Try your very best to not let that happen. What makes you a good mom is the love, affection and attention you show your child. Are her basic needs covered? Is she safe? Is she warm? Is she fed? Is she loved? Then you, my friend, are doing a fantastic job. Period.
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Mom of two Holly Pevzner is a writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter and Google +.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.