“I have made up my mind to feed my baby formula”. It was the first time I have had a client tell me she has chosen to bottle-feed over breastfeed before her baby was born. As a dietitian and certified lactation counselor, my knee-jerk reaction in my head was to say nooooo!!!! Just try it!!!! There are so many benefits!!!! But I didn’t do it. I didn’t go there. I know that this is an educated woman who is under the care of an OBGYN who is a breastfeeding advocate. Additionally, my client is planning on giving birth at a certified Baby-Friendly hospital. She has been educated on ALL of the benefits of breastfeeding up until baby’s birth and beyond. In fact, her doctor has brought up the topic twice with her already.
She did not ask me for my opinion when she shared this decision with me. She was simply telling me about her plans. I quickly jumped into support mode. The last thing I wanted to do is put pressure or guilt on her; I could tell by her tone that she has heard it all before. My role as a clinician is to support mom and baby to be the healthiest they can be no matter the circumstance.
If this woman is choosing to bottle feed, I think that my role is to help her navigate through the world of formula and bottles in a way that is healthiest for her baby. Not to tell her that she needs to play by my rules or else she is on her own. She has made an educated decision for herself and for her family, and ultimately “fed” is best for everyone involved.
Why I Stopped Breastfeeding
I thought back to when my daughter was an infant and I had a very tricky breastfeeding experience. It got to the point where my daughter was falling off of the growth chart. She was screaming bloody murder most of the day, and I was a zombie. Whenever I mentioned the word formula to a doctor, the response always had an undertone of shame. Shame that I was considering a breastmilk alternative. When I asked specific formula-related questions, the response shifted to breastfeeding benefits instead of aiding me in making the best “plan B” decision for my baby. After trying everything under the sun (and both my baby and I losing way too much weight and sleep), I made up my mind that I was done. A dietitian/lactation counselor was ready to stop nursing.
And in her heart, only she knows that it is the best decision for all players.
Formula, My Best Plan “B”
When I shared this news with my health care providers, not one person supported me in making the best “plan B” decision for my child. Thankfully, I had a background in the world of infant formula, but most people do not. They end up playing formula roulette until something sticks. They choose formula based on which samples they get in the mail or which formula they were given in the hospital instead of truly knowing the features and benefits of each formula. (PS-often formulas provided in the hospital are based on financial decisions and not which formula is “the best”).
Instruction on proper formula mixing and feeding is absolutely not as extensive as breastfeeding instruction. The instructions may appear basic. But, I have seen way too many exhausted moms misunderstand certain aspects of formula-feeding a baby after glancing at a label. Names of different formulas can be misleading and confusing, and in some cases choosing one formula over another can lead to some pretty harsh consequences for the baby.
I Support Your Decision
My client will have my support when she has her baby. She has made a decision for herself and for her family. Although I am not entitled to an explanation, I am already aware of her motivation to formula feed. And in her heart, she knows that it is the best decision for all players. What I will be to her are a resource and a support system.
There are many circumstances that require a woman to consider formula feeding her infant. From becoming a mother through surrogacy to being a breast cancer survivor, formula feeding is a very strong contender in infant feeding options.
I will be the “formula Dr. Google” that many others wish they had and explain to her what a hydrolyzed protein is if she asks. I will make sure she is aware of how to safely store, mix, and clean. I will explain bottle feeding techniques if she needs help. And most of all, I will enjoy watching a loving mother nourish her new baby in the way that she knows is the best choice for her.
Bottle Feeding 101
Some things that bottle feeding families need to remember:
- If using powder formula, do not add more water to “stretch” the formula if you are running low or trying to save some money. Not only will the baby not get the nutrition she needs, but the electrolyte balance will not be appropriate. This may result in seizures. The mixing recipes on formulas are calculated very carefully. Follow the experts’ advice.
- If you are making the investment to use a formula that contains probiotics, make extra-certain that you do not heat the formula above 100 degrees (Fahrenheit). This will kill off the live probiotics and you just wasted your money!
- On the topic of heating formula, do not boil formula. And as convenient as microwaves may be, they are not to be used to heat formula. Microwave heating may cause the formula to develop “hot spots” that you will likely not be able to detect when you test the milk yourself. Slowly heat the milk in a pot of warm water instead.
- If the first formula your baby is drinking just isn’t working and you want to make a change, pick one formula and stick with it for 5-7 days. It typically takes a few days for baby’s tummy to adjust to a new formula. So, if you are switching formulas daily you will not be able to determine what is working. Unless there is major intolerance going on, like blood in the stool, give your baby’s tummy time to adjust.
- Not only are there formula decisions to be made, but there are bottle decisions to be made as well! When trying either a new bottle, give baby 6 tries before you decide it is not working and you want to try a new brand.
- Do not save formula from a bottle that your baby previously drank from and add it to a new bottle for a later feeding. Bacteria can grow in “recycled” formula. It is best to discard any unused formula that has previously potentially touched baby’s lips.