Let’s talk about the “F” word. No, not the one that we hope our toddler doesn’t repeat as it escapes our lips accidentally! I’m talking about one that causes even more controversy . . . feeding! It seems that one of the main topics of motherhood is how women decide to feed their babies. For something that is a universal part of caring for children, it feels like an obvious bond mothers share. But it really isn’t. And it can’t be because each mother’s experience is unique.
Each Feeding Journey is Unique
Each mother has such a unique experience in their feeding journey; it is impossible to compare situations. Mothers make decisions based on their baby’s needs, what works in their family’s daily life, and their milk supply vs. the baby’s demand. Choosing how to feed your baby can become one of the hardest first decisions you have to make. I had to make it three different times, and none looked the same!
When I was pregnant with my first child six years ago, I was a young newlywed with stars in my eyes about entering motherhood. I bought all the books and signed up for all the classes, and my body confidence and abilities were running super high. But, I was naive and unassuming, so I didn’t quite understand the big deal around this topic.
Like many new mothers, I had been inundated with the propaganda that “breast is best.” I was told that breastfeeding is a natural ability we have as women, so of course, that was what I was going to do. I never gave any other situation a thought. However, after an unexpected, early birth while I was out of state, I quickly realized that my planning was instantly thrown out of the window. My feeding journey with my son was everything I didn’t expect, but it was beautiful, nonetheless.
My formula-feeding journey came first.
We had a rocky start in our partnership, my son and me. I thought breastfeeding was a natural bond we would share, but I learned it wasn’t happening that way on day five of his life. He was lethargic, his diaper was dry, and we were flying to the pediatrician’s office. He was dehydrated, he had lost weight, and he was hungry.
My wonderful pediatrician decided we were going to feed him right there. I started to cry, realizing I wasn’t in a state emotionally to unhook my nursing bra and feed him. He sensed my hesitation (honestly, dread) and asked if I had ever heard of supplemental formula. The suggestion stung; I won’t lie. Of course, I’ve heard of formula. But wasn’t my son not old enough for it? Doesn’t he need my breast milk? I racked my brain silently through all the pages of the books I had read, preparing for this baby, and I was coming up blank on this topic.
As I fumbled to get my son on my breast, my nipples were as dry as my poor baby’s diaper. There was nothing there at that moment to nourish him. Except, there was! There was a wonderful bottle of nutritious formula, specially created by award-winning scientists, waiting to feed him. Guess what? He ate it all, burped, and smiled. His overall state, physically and emotionally, changed in an instant.
My son was hungry, and I was unable to feed him, despite my best efforts. After meeting with lactation consultants and my doctors and watching my son’s cues and weight gain, we decided to switch to exclusive formula feeding a few weeks later. Not only did he change, but I did too. A weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I felt like I could breathe easier. I measured out amounts, kept track of his feeds, and visually saw the bottle emptying into his hungry tummy. He was thriving. And the predictability and stability of formula feeding helped me thrive as well.
Sure, there were moments I was sad that I wasn’t breastfeeding. But it was fabulous to get to share the feeding responsibilities with family and friends. Formula feeding my son helped me feel powerful and in control, and I felt like I could truly nourish him with my decision.
My breastfeeding journey surprised me.
Just as each mother has to make a different decision for her family, sometimes the same mom has to make different decisions for each of her children!
When my formula-fed son was two, we had our first daughter. Our experience with her, and my experience with my body, was completely foreign from our first go. My daughter seemed to naturally and easily eat from my breasts. She showed all signs that I was producing enough for her, and she was gaining weight. I was in shock because, so far, I had only been a formula-feeding mom. Now, here I am, an exclusively breastfeeding mom.
The breastfeeding struggles still ensued, though. Even though I was happy about this, there were things we didn’t expect. She wouldn’t eat from a bottle when we needed her to, making me the only one who could feed her. That was a really tough part of my feeding journey because it kept her and me together one hundred percent of the time. She was very attached to me, which weighed on my husband since he was used to feeding our first baby.
My daughter truly seemed to enjoy feeding this way. She was comforted easily and thriving in her development. Even though I couldn’t see the amount of milk she was getting, I learned to trust her cues, and we got into a nice rhythm. My breastfeeding journey was a life change, and it helped me realize that things will never be the same between my children. I have to be ready to adapt and change and make what they need work. Breastfeeding my daughter helped me to feel powerful and in control. I felt like I was able to truly nourish her with my decision.
I came to learn that “fed is best.”
My experience breastfeeding one baby and formula feeding another (and combining the two for my third) were life-changing events. As a mother who has done both, I can really ride the center of the fence when giving advice or lending a listening ear to mothers trying to make this decision. I have caught the criticism and praise on both ends of the spectrum.
There have been other women who praise me for choosing my mental health by leaning on formula. Then there are the women who tell me I should have worked harder to feed him myself and that I was lazy for leaning on formula. Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t please everyone. I didn’t have the energy to worry about it and honestly didn’t care what they thought.
Whether you are formula or breastfeeding your child, you are feeding them. They are growing because of your love and affection, holding them close as they drink down their meals. “Fed is best” is the most accurate saying I’ve ever come across in parenting. We wish you the best of luck in your individual feeding experiences.