Formula did not always exist. Historically speaking, when a baby was undernourished or mothers couldn’t produce enough milk, a few different things happened— Either neighboring mothers would rally together as wet nurse support, or mothers would desperately feed babies cows milk or water with sugar, or the newborn wouldn’t survive.
Thank God, we don’t live at a time like that.
Humans have since then come up with a solution. Formula! Today there are a ton of formulas on the market and some of them are excellent.
Formula allows families to supplement, babies to thrive, parents to work without a freezer stash of breastmilk saved up, help babies with complicated allergies—among many other reasons.
Unfortunately with formula use, comes unfair judgement and unnecessary comments from strangers. Below is a friend’s story about formula.
It’s a beautiful reminder that your worth as a mother is not tied to how you feed your baby!
When I found out I was pregnant, I read everything I could about breastfeeding. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would breastfeed my daughter for as long as I could. I knew all the statistics about immunity and nutrition. I made sure my birth plan included skin-to-skin and feeding during the first hour after she was born. I made sure to request that a lactation consultant visit during those first precious hours to ensure we had a good latch. For me, breastfeeding was an important part of the experience of becoming a mother and one I desperately wanted. I told myself it’s what my body was designed to do. I couldn’t have been more thrilled at the thought of nourishing my baby.
When my daughter was born with a surprise cleft lip, the nurses and doctors assured me I could still pump and feed her, even if a good latch wasn’t possible. I spent so much of those first weeks pumping, only to get drops. I ate lactation cookies and had home visits from consultants who gave me pumping schedules and rotations of hot compresses and breast massage, but my daughter wasn’t gaining, and I inevitably had to supplement with formula.
I remember giving her that first bottle and feeling completely defeated. I felt, however irrationally, that I had somehow failed. That I couldn’t give my daughter the thing I believed she needed from me the most.
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I vowed to try harder. I was told it was the cleft that kept me from making milk he first time – that because she wasn’t able to nurse, my body was never signaled to produce. I read more about getting a good supply. I made a new birth plan with skin-to-skin and delayed bathing. This time was going to be different. This time I would get to experience how it felt to be everything my baby needed me to be.
When my second daughter was born, she latched right away. We nursed every 1-2 hours and charted diaper changes for days. I lived with her on my breasts, but something was wrong. She wasn’t gaining the way she should, either. I made copious amounts of oatmeal and drank Mother’s Milk Tea. I pumped in between nursing. I took hot showers and let my daughter sleep on my bare chest. I visited consultants who looked at my breasts and noticed a lack of tissue where milk production occurs. Still, I was given schedules and techniques to increase my supply.
Once again, I felt like a failure. I was angry at my body for failing. I convinced myself I was less of a mother somehow because I couldn’t do this thing I so wanted to be able to do. I was shamed by healthcare professionals who reminded me how breastfeeding would help my own body, in addition to my daughter’s. I was slammed with obesity risks and health statistics. I was told I just wasn’t trying the right methods. That women who can’t produce just don’t want it badly enough.
I sunk into a postpartum depression that I didn’t know how to escape. I let the disappointment of not being capable of breastfeeding be a dark cloud over my first months with my daughter.
I felt overwhelming waves of guilt every time I opened a container of formula, telling myself my children would be so much better off if I could feed them myself.
My oldest daughter is now 3 years old and my youngest is 11 months. While I will always regret not being able to breastfeed, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself.
Now that I’ve moved past postpartum depression (for the most part), I know that my worth as a mother is not tied to my ability to breastfeed. While we all know the benefits of breastmilk, my formula fears have subsided with time.
This is what I can say for my family: Neither of my girls have ever had an ear infection. My oldest daughter didn’t get sick for the first time until she was almost 2 years old. My 11 month old has only been sick once, and she recovered quickly and easily. My daughters are both developmentally advanced according to their pediatricians.
I don’t say this to downplay the benefits of breastmilk. I would’ve given anything to provide natural nutrition to my girls. But, I think it’s important for moms to know that, no matter what your reasons for formula feeding may be, your kids are going to be okay. My girls are okay. We are all just doing the best we can. Sometimes, for some of us, our best means that formula is a miracle of science that allows us to feed our kids when our own bodies can’t, and I am finally so grateful for this gift.