This morning I had my kids on my lap, and we were looking through old videos of them on my phone. My toddlers were laughing and bouncing up and down, giggling at the videos of themselves as “little babies.” My 3-year-old could understand that she saw herself, but my 1.5-year-old was delighted simply to see ‘babies.” It was pretty cute. As I watched the videos, I admired how precious and sweet our kids were back then. But more than that, I was struck at how much easier my life is now (even on the hard days). When I compare the first six months of my second child’s life to the time after that, I am amazed at how much easier my life became when we switched her from breastfeeding to formula feeding.
Our daughter’s painful first months.
There are many reasons why breastfeeding is great to do. But there are also many reasons why formula feeding can be a better choice for both you and your baby. For me, our second child had severe eczema and was in constant discomfort and pain. She was constantly scratching and had tiny cuts from her little fingernails. She was constantly wriggling her body to scratch her itchy back, and she cried—a lot. My daughter’s discomfort and tears kept me (and my husband when he was home from work) on edge for nearly 24 hours a day.
During this time, my heart was simultaneously breaking for her pain and my frayed nerves and exhaustion. Her doctor tried to help by prescribing us topical skin medications to reduce the redness, hives, and swelling. But my daughter’s skin condition was so severe that the cream hardly helped.
We determined that she likely had eczema and allergies to dairy and possibly gluten, corn, and nuts. The doctor told us that our daughter was too young to get full-on allergy testing since she was only an infant. So, when my daughter was three months old, my husband and I decided that, based on our research and a medical recommendation, it would make sense for me to try a dairy and gluten-free diet while continuing to breastfeed her.
But changing my diet wasn’t enough.
We assumed my breastmilk would be free and clear for our daughter if I could get off these allergens. Let me tell you, the diet change was awful for me and didn’t do much to help my daughter. It was hard for me to cook nutritious meals in general with two young daughters; adding a dramatic change to my diet was practically lethal.
I couldn’t figure out how to make yummy meals and what ingredients to buy to make food that I would actually want to eat. While I generally eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables, taking out dairy and gluten back then (think: pasta, bread, cheese, yogurt, milk, etc.) was a challenge. Doing a huge diet change without babies is hard enough! And for this mama, it was brutal. Needless to say, I did this dairy-free/gluten-free diet for almost three months until, what my husband and I refer to as, I had “the meltdown.”
At this point, my second daughter was about six months old. It was a Friday night. We had had a long day and an even longer week. All I wanted to do was order some pizza and kick back in front of the TV with my family. My husband agreed but patiently reminded me that I couldn’t eat pizza. But I wanted pizza, I insisted. Didn’t I deserve a delicious, piping hot, steaming, cheesy pizza? I asked him. I had been so good all this time and I NEEDED A PIZZA.
Feeling like a child, I broke down crying and was flooded by so many emotions that had built up over the weeks. I wanted to make life as healthy and happy as possible for my infant daughter, but I was having a hard time feeding myself nutritiously on a diet I had no idea how to cook for. I was hungry a lot, and I was already sleep-deprived. And so that evening, I just cried and cried.
After more tears and discussion, my husband embraced me in a big bear hug and said, “We’re getting you that pizza. We’ll figure this out.” We ordered two large, delicious pizzas with all the toppings. And he ran out to the grocery store to buy a canister of dairy-free baby formula that same night.
Our choices made me a better mother.
It was truly wonderful—the taste of the cheese, the chew of the gluten. My husband stirred up a formula bottle in the kitchen while I kicked back in the armchair. Honestly, I will never forget it. I savored those bites of pizza like they were a treasure. We made our daughter a soy-based bottle, and she eagerly drank it.
I know that for some babies, even soy formula can be an allergen. But for our daughter and our family’s situation, it has worked really well. I felt sad to stop breastfeeding because I loved the physical connection and bonding when she was nursing on my breast. But it was definitely the best choice for our family, given our circumstances. My friends reminded me not to feel guilty for giving up breastfeeding. I’m still grateful for their encouragement at the time.
Life got steadily easier after that. My husband could help with more feedings, and our daughter eventually learned how to take the bottle herself. I fed her on the breast one or two more times in the week following that night and then stopped altogether.
Once we started formula feeding, her skin got slightly better. (Especially after we consulted with a naturopathic doctor when she was one.) But one of the most significant benefits was that I was back on a diet I knew how to cook for. This meant I was eating better and feeling better. I could also sleep more at night because my husband would make a formula bottle quickly and feed her in the middle of the night so I could sleep. The cogs of our daily life turned more smoothly.
Do what’s best for your family, including you!
My advice to moms who may be struggling with deciding whether to breastfeed or start formula feeding is this: what makes you happier and more comfortable? In which scenario are you taking the best care of yourself?
I say this because I know when I was on the dairy-free/gluten-free diet, I felt miserable, which was not good for my infant or my family. When I went back to my old diet, I could function better. I was back to feeling like my old self, which benefitted our household’s overall functioning.
So, mama, whether you are debating formula feeding due to your child’s allergies, a work conflict, or simply a struggle to get your child to feed on the breast, first take a step back. Take a deep breath. Look at your overall situation and give yourself a big hug. You are amazing. You are a mom! Ask yourself, what makes you happiest while still providing for your baby? Because a truly happy mama is good for everyone.