File this under “blog posts I NEVER thought I would be writing.”
For one, I don’t think baby feeding is a particularly interesting topic to write about!?
Second, I have to admit, originally, I had not planned to publicly share my decision to formula feed June from day one because this is such a heated topic surrounded by SO much shame. For a long time, I was not in the right place emotionally to open myself up to that kind of criticism. (As soon as I got pregnant, I realized that mom shame is the hardest kind of criticism to take.)
But then I realized that literally NOBODY else is talking about feeding their baby formula by choice–and if I’m not going to–who will?!
Social media (not to mention, society in general) makes it seem like breastfeeding is the ONLY option. And while it is a great option, it’s not the ONLY one. We’re made to think it comes naturally for everyone, that it’s easy–and if not, you just aren’t trying hard enough! And that of course you should WANT to breastfeed, because if you don’t–there is something biologically wrong with you!
Of course, none of this is true. Many women want to and have success with it. But others don’t want to, period. Many women want to and can’t because of low supply, or because it’s excruciatingly painful. Many women try because they want to and end up dealing with PPA or PPD, which was brought on or exacerbated by breastfeeding or pumping. There are so many reasons why a woman would want to formula feed, and the fact that anyone would feel like less of a mother because of it is not okay with me.
Why We Decided to Formula Feed From Day One
The first time I shared openly about this topic and my decision on Instagram, I cannot tell you how many women FLOODED my DM’s saying “I’ve felt so alone all this time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way!” and I knew this was something I NEEDED to speak more openly about, because I never want anyone struggling alone if there is something I can do about it.
If I can be the validation you need to listen to your gut and make the parenting choice that is best for YOU and your family–(whatever that decision is) I will have made a difference, and to me, that is worth it!
There is no one-size-fits-all feeding method that is best for every family
Let me start by saying that breastfeeding is a fantastic choice for so many women. Formula feeding is also a fantastic choice for so many women. A combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding is also a fantastic choice for so many women! The choice that keeps you and your baby the happiest is the best choice for you!
We are all so different–there is never a one-size-fits-all answer to ANYTHING–especially as it pertains to raising kids. Why is everyone acting like there is a one-size-fits-all answer to feeding your baby? How absurd!
Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t DM me asking, “I’m so curious, why didn’t you want to breastfeed?” and to be honest, on one hand, it’s annoying. Because the reason is: “I didn’t want to.” Why is that not enough of a reason to satisfy people?
Let’s please stop asking any mother’s motives for whatever decisions she’s making. What’s your reasoning for not doing something? Because you didn’t want to. Nobody owes anyone else an explanation for anything they do, period, full stop.
On the other hand, I know that most people asking this question are asking because sometimes just hearing ONE other woman’s experience can help validate your own.
So really, why didn’t I want to?
When it comes to the nitty gritty of sharing the “why” behind my decision, I’ve hesitated to provide details, because I don’t want to talk anyone out of breastfeeding if they know that’s the best choice for them! Because it IS the best choice for so many women!
But I also think it could be important to share because it could help those struggling with their decision feel validated and seen and further empowered should they decide they’d like to skip it altogether. So here it goes:
I’ve never wanted to breastfeed, for as long as I can remember.
The concept has always made me feel trapped and given me a feeling of dread in my stomach. The idea of my body not being my own, of so so many lost hours of sleep due to feeding and/or pumping (and I NEED adequate sleep to be an emotionally well human being. Some people do totally fine on little sleep, I am NOT one of those people), the pressure of this tiny person being physically tied to my body 24/7, depending on my body to survive. It’s just too much. I know myself, and I know that would have a detrimental toll on me mentally.
It’s important to note that the same factors that were causing me distress are the same reasons that many women love breastfeeding. The concept that it’s something that ONLY you and your baby have–the sense of empowerment that *your body* is what is keeping this precious life alive, the special bonding experience. The fact that you never have to pack bottles or mix formula–you ARE the buffet–how convenient is that!? Not to mention–it’s free! The list goes on! I can absolutely see why for many people, all those things are a benefit instead of a drawback! And if that’s you–that is WONDERFUL! But it’s not for me. Again, we are ALL so individual!
We’ve talked a lot within our little community about feeling “ready” to have kids. (And how I never really did. More on that here). I think feeling that pressure to HAVE to breastfeed, something I inherently knew would cause me mental distress, was a lot of the reason why I never felt “ready” to have kids–despite always knowing I wanted to be a mom one day.
Listen to your gut
When I first got pregnant, I tried to convince myself that I should “try” because isn’t that what good moms do? Again with the societal shame and pressure! I tried to push the feelings of anxiousness and dread down, but skimming the (very few) baby books I read, anytime I would get to a section that encouraged breastfeeding, I would get SO upset and cry.
Not a DAY has gone by these past 5 weeks where I’m not thankful that I listened to my gut. The postpartum emotions alone have been hard enough, I can’t imagine forcing myself to do something that made me feel trapped and upset. I would liken that to pouring gasoline on a fire. But listening to your gut isn’t always that easy, is it? Especially when there is so much outside pressure that is opposite to what your gut is telling you.
Things that helped me validate my decision:
Discuss it with supportive moms you trust:
After talking it through with some very close friends and my mom, openly sharing how I felt, and feeling their support, I decided to stop kidding myself. What especially helped was my amazing friend Ailsa, who is a nurse and midwife. I fully expected her to try and convince me to breastfeed (since there is so much pressure in the medical field to do so), and she said the complete opposite! She said, “I am not *pro* breastfeeding! I am pro *whatever feeding choice feels right to YOU!*” She told me to listen to my gut, that if I want to try, I should try! If I don’t, then don’t! That both are great options and all that matters is that baby is fed, and that both of us are happy and healthy.
Second, the data:
I’m sure someone is going to come at me for this but despite what we’re led to believe about how the benefits of breastfeeding FAR outweighs formula feeding, the data says otherwise.
I cannot recommend the books Expecting better and Cribsheet by Emily Oster enough. (These were books recommended to me by my doctor). Oster is an economist who basically dissects all the available studies and data out there about the big controversial topics of pregnancy and parenting, and breaks them all down for you to further empower you to make your own decisions on what’s best for you.
If you haven’t read the books yet, I will point you to this article she wrote for FiveThirtyEight entitled, “Everybody calm down about breastfeeding” which sums up what is presented in her book Cribsheet. The findings: all those “breast is best” studies are extremely skewed, and when the “least biased” studies are analyzed–the health benefits of breastfeeding aren’t what they’re made out to be. Here is an excerpt:
“Many women find breastfeeding to be an enjoyable way to bond with their babies. There is certainly no evidence that breastfeeding is any worse for a baby than formula. And maybe there are some early-life benefits in terms of digestion and rashes, which you may or may not think are important. But what the evidence says is that the popular perception that breast milk is some kind of magical substance that will lead your child to be healthy and brilliant is simply not correct.”
To further reiterate this point–think about this. When you take your kid to the doctor for a cold, or the flu, do they ask, “OH well, was she formula fed?” No. They do not. Giving your baby formula is NOT a pre-existing condition, and society needs to stop treating it that way!
All of this to say–the *potential* short term benefits of breastfeeding were not worth my sanity and mental health. My baby needs a mentally healthy mother far more than she needs one less rash. (Which, by the way, her digestion and skin are great anyway.)
Other benefits to formula feeding:
Okay, we’ve successfully beaten a dead horse as to why I knew this wasn’t the right decision for me, which in and of itself, is enough of a reason. However, there are a lot of additional benefits to formula feeding that I thought would be helpful to list here! Keep in mind, you get a lot of these benefits with supplementing too!
It allows Neal the ability to be just as involved as I am
By far the biggest benefit of them all is that Neal is able to split caring for her with me 50/50, and I attribute so much of our positive experience with a newborn to this fact. It was really wonderful for us both to be able to feed her right after she was born in the hospital and it’s continued to be just as wonderful (and sanity saving!) This has definitely helped me avoid becoming too overwhelmed!
Perhaps equally as important–formula feeding=more sleep for BOTH of us! Because we can take equal turns getting up with her and caring for her and feeding her. In the beginning while I was recovering, Neal took the whole night shift on nights we didn’t have our night nurse (she comes Monday, Wednesday, Friday). That allowed me to get full nights of sleep (I would relieve him to take the early morning shifts) and I think this really helped with recovery, and also helped me to get back to feeling like my normal self a lot more quickly.
Can lead to faster weight gain for baby
Also related to sleep, because you know exactly how much baby is getting when feeding formula (and you don’t have to worry about supply), it can lead to faster weight gain. And faster weight gain often leads to sleeping in longer stretches, which leads to more sleep for parents, too!
I can be away from her as long as I want/need to be
Because anyone can feed her, and because I also don’t have to be tied to a pump if I’m out of the house for more than a few hours, it’s much easier to make plans, hang out with friends, and do things that make my feel like myself, without having to worry about rushing home to feed her or to pump. Because I’m someone who struggles when I don’t feel like I have a lot of freedom, this was a big one for me as well.
My body is my own
Like I mentioned in the upfront, I knew I would really struggle with my body feeling like it didn’t belong to me. It’s common to feel that way during pregnancy too! (And I definitely did at times). If this is something you struggle with too, it can be a big benefit to formula feeding! Your body belongs to you again, and you alone!
More things to know if you decide that formula feeding is right for you:
Own your decision, be firm, and don’t take shit from anyone:
Repeat after me: ONLY YOU KNOW THE BEST CHOICE FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY.
Also, you owe nobody an explanation. Not friends, not family, not your doctor.
That being said, I really expected to encounter more resistance to my choice, but I really haven’t. I especially expected to get shamed at the hospital (I’ve heard stories about hospital staff being very pushy about breastfeeding) but I didn’t at all! In the delivery room, my L&D nurse asked how I planned to feed, and I said “exclusively formula” and she was like “cool cool, I’ll put that on your chart!” and she gave us a bottle of formula a few minutes after she was born, we fed it to her, and the rest was history! None of the other nurses blinked our entire stay, either! Just be direct–you’ll be just fine!
Find practitioners who support all of your parenting decisions:
On that note, if you DO encounter some resistance from any of your doctors or medical providers, it’s time to fire them immediately and find someone who does support your choices. There are so many fantastic, non-biased medical professionals out there, and finding one that shares your POV on how you plan to raise your baby is crucial.
I LOVE our pediatrician, and at intake, they asked, “are you breastfeeding or formula feeding?” which I loved–so intentionally phrased and inclusive. Our pediatrician also told us she formula fed both of her kids, that tons of science goes into developing these formulas to give babies exactly what they need, so they’re all a great choice!
What happens at the hospital?
Every hospital is different, but most supply formula to you in little single serve disposable bottles filled with liquid formula. (You may want to call ahead to confirm though!) We fed June her first bottle pretty quickly after she was born, and they kept us stocked with formula during our entire stay. They also told us it’s not a big deal to transition to whatever formula you’d like once you get home, and to not worry about bringing your own formula to the hospital.
How to prevent your milk from coming in when exclusively formula feeding (or drying up when weaning!)
I found that it was super hard to find any good information out there about how to prevent milk coming in/drying up supply, so here is what worked for me! It took about 10 days after June was born for my boobs to totally feel back to normal, and everyone is curious to know this so I will share–they were back to being my pre-pregnancy boobs, they did not stay as large as they were when I was pregnant! (Though, not exactly the same…consistency? Definitely less…dense feeling? Just being honest!)
Super tight sports bra + ace bandage:
This tip came from Ailsa (she’s a midwife, so she knows what she’s talking about!) Get a very tight sports bra and an ace bandage (this is the one I ordered from Amazon–I ordered the 4′ size and it’s great because it has velcro and you don’t need those pokey clips!)
Starting the day after baby is born, wear a very tight sports bra and wrap your boobs with an ace bandage as tight as it will go but isn’t cutting off your circulation or uncomfortable. (Try and hold them “up” as much as you can when you’re wrapping so they’re smushed up vs. down–have your partner help you if you need to!) Your milk will probably “come in” around day 3 or 4 but it’s very common for it to take longer–you will be able to tell when it does. Your boobs will get hard and mine were painful but not unbearable (and it won’t “let down”).
It helped that the pain of pre-epidural contractions were fresh in my mind–it was NOTHING compared to those. ???? There were only about 1-2 days where they actually *hurt*–but it wasn’t terrible. After, they stayed pretty hard in places for several days after that, but they didn’t hurt after that initial period.
I texted my girlfriend (who also has a newborn she’s formula feeding) saying that my boobs looked like a smushed package of Hawaiian rolls that had been sitting on the bottom of shelf. ???? So heads up, they will look odd and smushed (and square?!) because of the ace bandage. It’s fine, it will pass.
Many women swear by putting cold cabbage leaves in your bra (apparently there are some tannins or something that help with pain and milk reduction?) but I discovered this cream called Cabocreme on Amazon that does the same thing (it was invented by OB’s!). I applied it about every 3-4 hours. Order two tubes! (Note: I used the extra strength kind, which is out of stock on Amazon and I can only find on this random website, but they also make a regular strength, which I’m sure still works great!)
No more milk tea:
I feel like this tea was VERY effective for me, but I didn’t start drinking it until about day 4 after she was born. I wish I’d started drinking it in the hospital and the day I got home, because it may have even prevented it from coming in altogether!? And I would use about 5-6 teabags and make a pitcher of it once per day and then drink it throughout the day. I went through two full packages. It’s got a hibiscus flavor and tastes really good iced! (I’ve never tried it hot though!)
I don’t know how well this worked for me, but other women swear by it! Just make sure you’re factoring in the amount of Ibuprofen in the Sudafed so you don’t take too much!
Over the counter pain meds:
Which brings me to my next and final point, you will likely be taking extra strength Tylenol and Ibuprofen anyway for your delivery recovery (whether that was via c-section or vaginal), but if not, you’ll want to take it for your boobs! Tip: Alternate the times you take the Ibuprofen and the Tylenol, so you are never completely *off* one pain medication–it helps make those “in between” times more manageable when one would typically be wearing off.
I think that just about covers everything I have to say on this topic! I hope this was helpful and a good reminder to trust your gut, whatever it’s telling you–and know that you are doing an INCREDIBLE job! More questions? My DM’s are always open on Instagram!