Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This indecision's bugging me...

When I started New Mom on the Blog, I did so because I figured (like me) there were other new moms who hit the blogging community for the answers to all of their burning questions.  In that vein, I also posted a link to my email address so that readers could send me questions about motherhood, life, babies, or useless trivia that I seemingly know all of the answers to.  (For example: Where did Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, graduate from high school?  Bishop DuBourg in St. Louis, MO.) (Side note:  You can totally tell that I am procrastinating about packing.  We leave on Friday, and I'm writing up long blog posts instead of doing anything that would help us move.  Meh, whatev.)

HOWEVER, I have never had even one, single question emailed to me from that link.  I assumed either everyone knew the answers or have been reading this blog long enough to know that I am not one to be trusted.

Until today.

I received a question from a reader named Becca who is mulling over a decision that most (if not all) women struggle with.  So, here goes the first installment of Advice for Other New Moms (it's a working title, I'm not sold on it, leave better suggestions in the comments.)

Hey, I've recently started reading your blog and I really love how funny and helpful it is! [Editor's Note: I left that part in because it makes me smile like I'm on crack.  If that's what happens when you're on crack.] I'm 16 weeks pregnant now and I have no idea what I'm doing really. [Editor's Note: I'm over 2 years postpartum and I don't either.  Welcome to motherhood.  You're in good company.] I've been going back and forth about breast feeding and formula feeding.  I read that breast feeding is more healthy for the baby, but I'm nervous about being in public and needing to feed him/her.  The whole concept kind of scares me, but I want to do what's best for my baby...help!

First of all, Becca, by the sheer virtue of you being worried about what is best for your baby, I can tell you this without a doubt - you are doing what is best for your baby.  That said, this is a huge decision and may be one that defines your first year of motherhood, so definitely don't take it lightly.

I'll start by shooting myself in the foot.  Stay off the Internet when you ask this question.
I'm only partially kidding.  You see, for every woman that says "Formula feeding is the only way to go," there is a woman with her boob ready to pop you in the face saying, "Breast is best."  And, though I'd love to be able to tell you that they're really nice about their difference in opinions - that is the furthest thing from the truth.  I have never felt like a worse mother than when I'm looking at some of the comment threads on the various mommy communities.  Stay away when you're feeling vulnerable.

The facts are pretty straightforward, while they continue year after year to refine the chemical make-up of formula to match some of the benefits of breast milk - the mechanism of breast feeding itself is worth a lot of benefits as well.  And, there are some enzymes found in breast milk that are never going to be able to be manufactured because breast milk is perfectly engineered (by nature) for your baby's exact needs.  So, for the most part, in the health column, there's a lot more research that supports breast feeding being the very best option for your child.

However, for a baby to get those health benefits, breast feeding has to work.  And this is not always the case.  I can tell you that for the first few weeks of breast feeding, I worked harder than I've ever worked in my life to get it to work.  That did include some days where I felt like the kid never left my arms.  (Don't worry, after that initial period, it came to be the most natural/easy thing I've ever done in my life.  I actually came to enjoy those times in a way I would have probably cringed about before I had a kid.)

If breast feeding isn't working (supply issues, latching issues, mother/baby illness, etc.) - obviously you've got to go to a Plan B which may mean supplementing with formula, pumping milk and then feeding it to the baby, a combination of those options, or deciding to formula feed exclusively.  Trust me when I say, I have had multiple friends who tried like hell to breast feed and were not able to do so. The minute the word "dehydration" is mentioned about your tiny infant, you will be the first person in line in the formula aisle.  Even the most devout breast feeding woman would be.  (Or should be, in my opinion.)

As for breast feeding in public: I am with you on that one.  It never worked for me.  It was super uncomfortable and something that was so simple for me to do at home became very complicated when I was in public feeling like strangers were judging me.  Having a baby will change your entire life and probably a lot about the person you are today, but at your very core you will still likely be someone who is not comfortable with even a limited amount of public nudity.  That does not have to change.   I probably would have never struggled with my decision to breast feed one bit if someone would have said, "You do not have to turn into some half-naked looney toon to be successful at this!"

In my 12-months of breast feeding, I only breast fed in public a minimal number of times.  All of which I utilized a nursing cover, a quiet corner, and a down-turned gaze. (I found that if I couldn't see the other people, I could pretend they weren't there.)  The most public place I ever fed my son was on an airplane with my husband sitting in a way that blocked me from public viewing, the aforementioned nursing cover was used, and it resulted in my son sleeping through both 2 hour flights.  (Truly, I think anyone who doesn't like a screaming infant on a plane would have high-fived me for nursing during take off.)  Sometimes avoiding the nursing in public thing takes a little extra planning, but probably only marginally more than preparing bottles to bring with you for any outing as a formula feeding mom as well.

(Also, have to thank the folks at Luvs for this little bit of brilliance.  And thanks to Mommy Shorts for sharing it.)

It also has to be said that breast feeding saves a lot of money.  Even if you need to buy a top-of-the-line breast pump (to return to work, have a night away from your baby, or have a glass of wine because you will sure as hell need it), you are likely to save close to $1500.00 for the first year as compared to exclusively feeding with formula.  Generally, when I was hitting a rough patch with breast feeding (or feeling like I didn't want to do it anymore at all), I found that standing in the formula aisle and holding a can of $40.00 formula that wouldn't last a whole week was enough to send me straight back to the booby camp.  For some people?  This isn't a problem.  They'll make it work or feel that the expense is worth it.  For us?  We truly would have had difficulties affording it.

Additionally, my husband was very pro-breast feeding and did everything he could to be supportive throughout the 12 months I did it.  That is absolutely something that leads to the success of a breast feeding mom - a dad who thinks it's pretty swell as well.  Sure, dad can't really do much in the way of feeding the baby when you're breast feeding, but they can bring you cookies.  Which is even better.

I think the best way to go about it is to absolutely give it the old college try.  Give yourself a deadline:  "If I try this for 6 weeks and don't like it, I'm stopping."  I did this (and some days, I had to say, "Okay, I'm doing it until the end of the week/day/45 minute period and then I'm quitting.") and whenever my deadline came up I always found myself not even dreaming of stopping.  I would also really challenge you to not use formula during this time whatsoever just to get a good supply established.  In other words, don't give up on breast feeding before you've even really tried.  (If that's what you ultimately decide you want to do.)

I always say that whatever works best for you, for your values as a mother/person, and for your family is always the best way to go.  And after that?  You can't make a wrong decision.

Good luck, Becca.  And welcome to the New Mom Club!


I have to admit that this response is a little bit one-sided and that is only because I was able to breast feed successfully (as I had hoped to do) for 12 months.  I would really love to know other mom's perspectives and I'm sure Becca would too.  What made you decide to choose formula and why did it work better?  Was the cost a big deal?  Did your baby flat out refuse the breast?  Any advice you think would be helpful on this issue?  Don't you think more people should ask questions?! I AM SO GOOD AT QUESTIONS.

Here's a link to several of my favorite posts on the topic (a very popular one in my first year as a blogger!)


  1. I wanted to bf with my first son, and after him not being able to latch for several weeks, which in turn dropped his blood sugar, made him lethargic, etc i knew I had to do something. I pumped exclusively for three months and that was a lot of work but happy with my choice. After having to go out of town, and not wanting to cart a bread pump all over town, I made the decision to start using formula exclusively. I have never regretted any decision since I knew my sons tummy was happy and healthy!! You do what you have to do!! With my second son, he couldn't handle my flow and gagged to the point of throwing up and would lose interest. So after one week I went right to pumping. After some major tummy troubles, we had to switch to lactose free formula. So in both cases, the decision was made for me so it was a no brainier! Some people it's not as clear cut. But go with your gut and do what you want to do! My boys are healthy, smart, and totally awesome even though they were primarily formula babies!!

    1. Great job, mommy!
      Thank you so much for sharing your success story.

  2. I was dreading breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my daughter, but determined to give it a try since I know it's really good for the baby. I totally agree to setting short-term goals, mine were always 2 weeks. All the way up to now... she just turned 1 three weeks ago. Now I'm having a hard time stopping completely (though I will soon, cause mommy's really getting close to almost being ready to be done). :) I'm not going to lie, it's hard work. Especially in the beginning. And there is nothing wrong with supplementing or switching completely to formula if it just doesn't work. But for us it worked out really well (finances were also an incentive for us and my husband was also extremely supportive) and I'm so glad I gave myself those two week goals or I just always would have wondered. Oh, and public bf was never for me either. I spent some quality time nursing in my car when we had to travel, etc.

    1. Ah, yes. The "back of the car" feed was popular for me too.

      I don't think I mentioned it in the post, but I had never planned to breast feed exclusively for 12 full months. It just happened that way. Even lactation consultants (who can be off their rockers at times) agree that ANY amount of breast milk is better than none at all.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you!! This has all been very helpful :)

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  5. I also was terrified. All the nurses said I was great st it but it never felt right. Long story short my BFF showed
    Up with a pump and helped me use it. Did it for
    Nine months and then did formula. Just go into knowing that everything will be fine. Setting the small goals and constantly redvaluating what works for YOU is what's most important. If your happy baby will be happy. Good luck!!

  6. That video is hysterical! I had forgotten what a wrestling match it is to feed a new baby without flashing your lady lumps to the whole world. Becca, most mom stuff starts out tough. But you get better at it, and pretty soon you're just kicking @$$ all around.

    Thanks for this honest post; I'm so glad I'm not the only one who wanted to quit every. single. night. We finally got the hang of things around six weeks, and now I wouldn't trade that time with my Lamb for anything.

  7. For me, my first baby didn't latch well. She kept getting on, then disattaching and screaming. I also had a pediatrician that recommended supplementing breast milk with formula from the get-go. That, combined with in-law family members standing over me and giving out their patented advice made me one stressed-out mommy. I did the best I could, but after 2 weeks I was ready to throw in the towel.

    With my 2nd daughter, I felt more confident. It helped that I had an electric pump instead of a manual one. (The manual was exhausting!!!!!) Since I had such a traumatizing experience, I only breast-fed from the breast a couple of times and pumped the rest. I also took Organic tea with Fenugreek in order to keep the milk coming. I made it to one month but gradually threw in the towel after that because I had to return to work and I was uncomfortable with pumping at work. Because I chose to pump exclusively, I never had a moment where my daughter was dehydrated or when she had to 24/7 be feeding. I also never breast-fed in public because I pumped enough milk to carry. I will say, though, that making sure I had enough milk supply to take with me for outings was stressful. I was always afraid that I would run out of milk. This is because I had no idea how to breast-feed in public modestly, and also because I was traumatized about actual breast-feeding based on a previous experience.

    I also felt a TON of pressure to breast-feed and I think this pressure from other women in my life made me feel like a failure as a mom if I couldn't guarantee that my daughter was feeding correctly and well. I was easily discouraged and resentful if I could get a latch-on right away or if my daughter didn't take enough milk that she needed so that I didn't have to have her attached all day long. But then again, I'm also a woman who seriously values her personal freedom and eventually I gave up because I just wanted to feel like a normal person again. It's my opinion that breast is scientifically best, but your emotional health is also super important. You're not doing your child any favors if you're headed toward post-partum depression from sleep-deprivation and lack of nutrition. Sorry such a long post, but I just wanted to share that not all women have the same experience. Breast-feeding is hard, and although it is "natural," it can feel really "unnatural" at times. (kind of like pregnancy!!) Some women find it a super fulfilling and bonding experience, and some (like me) feel that it actually hurt the bonding moments with their babies due to the stress it caused. If you have support and you plan ahead, you should be able to give your baby what he/she needs without a ton of public breast-feeding moments. Also, when your baby needs to feed, your instincts will kick in and you will do what you need to do without worrying about what other people think about it.

  8. Sorry to add more, but just wanted to make sure that you also knew this. If you're going to switch from breast-milk to formula, be prepared to make a VERY gradual transition until you find the right formula. Very rarely can you just start giving your child a full bottle of formula after breast milk without trying 1/2 oz at a time, and also very rarely does the first choice of formula work out. Formula is harder for babies to digest and requires experimentation to avoid complications such as reflux, colic, constipation, vomiting, etc. At the beginning, it's not really the "Easy way out" of anything. Right now, my 1 month old is on a specialized anti-colic formula and it took the purchase of 3 different small cans just to find the one that "worked." And she still has more problems with gases than she did with breast milk.

  9. I just found your blog. And I will definitely be reading it. Thank you so much for posting advice and information without being judgmental. And being willing to see lots of different angles to an issue. The world of new moms needs more people like you!

  10. Thanks, Rachel. I definitely try to keep this a "safe place" for all moms. Hopefully I will have more content soon!

  11. I am a new mom of a 5 week old boy. I planned to bf and bought everything to do it, but I never got enough milk. I pumped until I thought they'd fall off, so contraryto the lactation consultant, its not just a matter of supply and demand. when your newborn loses weight because you aren't nourishing him, alarm bells go off in your head and you definitely run for formula. I felt really guilty and frustrated when bf didn't work, but in the end, I realized that plenty of people I know grew up on formula and turned out just fine. :)

  12. It can take a few weeks at least for breastfeeding to stop feeling uncomfortable and even after that it is hard work, but as far as we are concerned the pros seriously out weigh the cons so if you are not sure, we would say try to do it, get as much support as you can and try to stick with it during the hard times. If you can't breastfeed after this then at least you have tried. And you should be proud of yourself. Your baby certainly will be.

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  14. Just found your blog site and wanted to share my story in case there is anyone else out there going through the same thing (and crying over nearly every day) and is just now finding this blog.
    In an attempt to get to the point as quickly as possible... TRY breast feeding you can always switch to formula and at least you can say you tried. In addition to your breast milk having all the right things making it easier for you baby to digest, your baby’s bowl movement will be more regular. And trust me when you become a mom poop becomes very important to you. Had I known what I know now I MIGHT have continued to pump a while longer no matter how little I was getting and how much time it took to pump.
    If you need/want to go the formula route… before baby comes make sure you do some research (which will confuse the crap out you) on the formula that you want to use. Most formulas on the market contain corn syrup - form of carbohydrate (aka "fuel"). I know, shocked me too. You hear so much about how our kids are overweight and to avoid food with corn syrup. My son was 6 weeks premature and continues on a "preemie" formula that has extra of everything making it harder for him to have a bowl movement (in my opinion since he can’t tell me how it’s going). I have talked with is pediatrician and she say this is what he needs - it just seems like such a text book answer it pissed me off. I have done some research on organic baby formula - all of the have some form of sugar/syrup (i.e. glucose, brown rice). I am now seeking other opinions regarding his formula because as with all moms – you want a happy baby. I know my son will survive and grow to be an adult no matter what formula he is on, but when you want the best for your kid you feel like you are failing when you see "corn syrup" on your formula can. You will never find the ideal formula (most also contain soy – someone else to avoid) but you can choose your lesser evil.

    1. Thank you for your perspective! I do agree we consume waaaaayyy too much corn syrup than we are intended to and I actually didn't even think it might be in baby formulas as well!

      As with every decision for your baby, research is the most important thing you can do. Any informed decision you make from there is absolutely the right one.

  15. I would breast feed if at all possible, but if that would not be an option I would make my own homemade formula so I could control the ingredients and avoid all the icky stuff the add into commercial formula. also keep in mind that the health of the mother also effects the quality of the breast milk! Good Luck


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