Sometimes, life gives you lemons. When it comes to breastfeeding David the 9th, I got a big old pile of lemons. I breastfed him for 2 months, but had to stop due to my own life-threatening medical issues.
If I could control the universe, I would still be breastfeeding my son. Even with all these "honorable mentions." I wanted to breastfeed him SO badly that I ended up in the hospital! I will probably always feel guilty that my health cost my son and I our breastfeeding relationship, and if I could, I would be breastfeeding now, despite its challenges.
This is not a list of "10 reasons not to breastfeed", although it could be read that way. I try to live by that silly saying, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade" - this list is my lemonade.
It is meant to be lemonade for other women like me who constantly feel guilt or sadness over feeding woes, to not just come to terms with formula-feeding, but enjoy what we have. I hope breastfeeding moms can appreciate this in the spirit in which it was written. My next post will be all about why I support nursing in public and why I'm boycotting Nestle. I plan to breastfeed my next child, if my body will allow it.
Also - because the subject has come up - I contacted 2 milk banks and found that not only was the milk $3-$4 per ounce, it was only available to the sickest preemies. My son is healthy, and I did not qualify. I also posted on MilkShare's board, and sent money for "shipping" to someone who never sent me any milk. That scared me off of milk donation from strangers; if I couldn't trust someone on the board not to steal my money, how could I trust them not to do drugs, drink, take medicines, or eat onions and garlic? I don't have any friends or family who are lactating. In addition to better support for nursing moms, I would deeply appreciate open access to clean, safe, donated breast milk. I would much rather be using that than formula.
The Lemonade of Formula Feeding
We all know that “Breast is Best”, but for some women, myself included, it’s either not possible or not appropriate, and we instead feed our babies formula. The benefits of breast milk are well-documented, there’s a ton of information online about the benefits, and I am in no way underplaying them. I support breastfeeding moms.
Nonetheless, when I stopped breastfeeding, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are real plusses to formula feeding for my family – and while they might not stack up, they certainly are worth honorable mention.
A note – many of these benefits can be achieved with pumped breast milk, and should be if it is possible. A little bit of breast milk is better than none at all; if you can feed your baby breast milk, please do!
1. I know exactly how much food my son is getting.
I constantly struggled with supply while breastfeeding. My son always seemed hungry, and there was no easy way for me to tell if he was getting “enough”. I counted wet and dirty diapers, but I never felt confident that he was getting enough food. Pumping yielded 1-2oz per breast, but I was regularly told that pumping was a poor indicator of production. Once a week, we went to the doctor for a weigh-in, but these results were varied. I tried every method known to raise my supply with no luck (herbs and galactalogs and 9-hour pumping/nursing sessions, you name it). I probably had these supply problems because of my serious health issues.
With formula, I know if he is getting enough to eat; there is no fear of dehydration or poor weight gain due to poor supply. I know if he’s only had 2oz and will be hungry again soon, or if he’s filled up and will be good for a while.
2. Daddy can feed the baby. So can anyone else.
My husband was happy when I stopped breastfeeding for a number of reasons (mostly because I didn't die), but one of the biggest was that he was able to feed our son. When we switched to formula, we went to a split-night system; from 2am to sunrise, he was the “primary parent”. I got to catch up on sleep, and he was in charge. No handing baby to mama with “he’s hungry”; there was no excuse. He became a better parent and a better husband.
Feeding my son is now a community activity. He has been fed by his great-grandfather, his 8-year-old cousin, and our minister, and it is a joyful experience for everyone. It is absolutely a bonding experience – not one that is restricted to just mommy.
3. I can feed my baby anywhere.
I support nursing in public - anywhere. Unfortunately, not everyone else does (though they should, prudish morons). I can happily feed my son in a restaurant, park, church, or anywhere else, and the only funny looks I get are from people who think formula is evil. I did nurse in public while I was breastfeeding, but I was always (unfairly) uncomfortable exposing my breasts for the world to see, even if it was only an inch. The bias against breastfeeding isn’t fair….but it’s nice not to have to deal with it.
It may seem a small benefit, but I can also feed my son in a moving car (while someone else drives, obviously). This may seem trivial, but when you’re 30 minutes from your destination and stuck in traffic, it is a lifesaver! I can mix up a bottle in the middle of a store without looking for a place to set up. It is very convenient.
4. I can eat or drink whatever I want. I can take whatever medicines I need to take.
If my son develops a food sensitivity or allergy, I will simply switch to a different formula. If I want to have a margarita night with the girls, I can, without fear of damaging my baby or having to ‘pump and dump’.
Most importantly for me, I can take the medicines I need to take to stay healthy. Not all medicine is safe for breastfeeding mothers, and there is not always an adequate alternative (in my case, I am on 6-mercaptopurine, methotrexate and Remicade, category X drugs that pregnant women can't even touch).
Mom’s health is more important than her boobs. Period.
5. I have more freedom.
I can work outside of the home, and I don’t have to take 3 pumping breaks in my car. I can head out to the grocery store to pick up eggs without looking at the clock. My husband and I can go on a “date night” and leave baby with his doting Grammy without worrying about pumping or supply.
6. My boobs don’t hurt.
I read everywhere during my pregnancy, “if breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” Then I actually did it, and found out that the books were lying. Breastfeeding was excruciatingly painful. My nipples bled, blistered, and literally fell apart – even though our latch was fine. My breasts would become engorged and ache. I had bouts with thrush, clogged ducts and mastitis. It wasn’t always painful – I had a lovely 2 week stint before my hospital stay where I didn’t cry during feedings – but I spent 2 months in hell, literally screaming when he first latched on, dreading his hunger cries.
There is no pain in feeding formula (unless you count the emotional pain, of which I've had a LOT). None. I was delighted to see my son’s first teeth, not terrified!
7. My boobs don’t leak.
I made a quick trip to the store while breastfeeding. A baby cried in the next aisle over, and I soaked through my nursing pads and straight through my shirt. I was horrified, and my husband told me not to worry at all… it really was not a big deal.
I’m still glad I don’t have to worry about leaking through my white shirt during my next performance of “Messiah.” I also don’t leak anymore during sex.
8. My son sleeps longer and better.
There. I said it. I know, research shows that on average, breastfed and formula-fed babies sleep the same, but my baby slept better with a full belly of formula. Again, this was probably because of my supply problems, which most moms can work through with proper support.
The first day that my son was exclusively formula-fed, he slept through the night. 8pm until 6am. Previously, he was up every 2 hours like clockwork. We thought it was a fluke. It was not – unless he is teething, in a growth spurt, or otherwise upset, he sleeps “like a baby”, and that phrase is no longer a sick joke. So – not only does he sleep better, but obviously so do his parents!
9. Formula’s not that expensive. For me, it was cheaper than breastfeeding.
Luckily, my son isn’t a picky eater. He likes Target Up & Up Organic formula, which costs $15 per can when you buy in bulk. Each can makes about a week’s worth of bottles, for a cost of around $2 a day. We spent $30 on bottles, for a total annual expense of $760, or less than my daily visit to Starbucks. If you’re eligible for WIC, formula is even less expensive (though in my opinion WIC should also cover any and all breastfeeding expenses and it is a travesty that they do not).
Conversely, I spent $350 on a breast pump, $50 on the special bottles that work with it, $600 on 3 visits to a lactation consultant, $90 on prescriptions for thrush and mastitis, $50 on lanolin creams and special ice packs, $30 on a breastfeeding pillow, and $200 on nursing bras and tops, for a whopping total of $1360. I spent this in 2 months.
10. I am a happier, healthier, and better mother.
This is the biggest and most important benefit for me. Instead of being sleep-deprived, in pain, and anxious, I am confidently enjoying being a mother. I do not dread feeding my son; I look forward to it. I am healthy, taking the medicines my body needs to be strong. I am enjoying him more, and I am a better mother for it. I thank formula for saving my life, and for improving its quality.
UPDATE: I have reached out (thanks to the wonderful commentators on this blog) to my local Eats on Feets organization, asking for donor milk. No bites yet, but I am hopeful. Huge thanks to Emma Kwasnica for her hard work in creating this new organization - I look eagerly forward to seeing this take off.