How Formula Feeding Made Me a Better Mom

This post is dedicated to all of the other fearless formula feeders, and the ones who aren’t fearless yet, and to every mom who has been humbled by the experience of becoming a parent.

 

I was a smug breast-feeding mom. Of course, that was before I had kids.

To be clear, I don’t think that most breast-feeding moms are smug. Most of my friends who breast-feed are super cool and don’t seem to have an opinion one way or another about how other people should feed their babies (or at least they don’t broadcast it). I was not one of those moms.

When I was pregnant, I was 100% sure that my baby would be breast-fed. I read all the pro-breast-feeding articles and bought into the statistics that there were only a miniscule number of women who truly couldn’t breast-feed. I nodded along in pre-natal class as the instructor drilled into our heads that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. I heard the stories about how much breast-feeding could hurt, and quickly dismissed them. Thrush, mastitis, sore nipples? There was a treatment for all of that. Moms who quit breast-feeding because of the pain just didn’t try hard enough. Moms who chose not to even try breast-feeing were simply uneducated. I looked down my nose at moms in the store buying formula, and felt proud of the relationship that I was about to have with my baby.

Then he was born. I’ve written before about difficulties I had while breast-feeding: the dread I would feel as I saw his open mouth come towards me, the moments that I almost passed out or vomited when he latched due to the excruciating pain. I pushed through those moments for weeks and then months until finally, my body made the choice for me. I had to switch to formula.

I felt totally defeated. I was a quitter. I had one task as a new mom: feeding my baby, and I had failed at it. I was a bad mom. All of a sudden, every decision that I made seemed to feed into my self-condemnation. My baby sleeping in his own room at 3 months old? Should be co-sleeping. Bad mom. Pushing my baby in a stroller? Should be baby-wearing. Bad mom. Not feeling bonded with my three-month-old? Should be overwhelmed with all-consuming love. Bad mom. The refrain echoed though my head all day, and into the night as I gave my baby his bottle, and then looked disgustedly at my body which had failed me and my baby.

Around that time I started looking online for support. The dizzying world of online parenting groups can be tricky to navigate for moms who are in a good place, but for a new mom in the throws of post-partum depression, it was the final straw. I was met with a flood of judgment. Some of it was outright: I was told that I was poisoning my baby by giving him formula, that I didn’t love my baby enough to do what was best for him, and that I was stupid for letting the formula companies manipulate me into buying something that my baby didn’t need. Some of the judgment was more subtle: the oh-so-often repeated chorus of “breast is best”; the sly digs “formula-feeding moms can’t bond with their babies the way breast-feeding moms can”; the inaccurately quoted statistics about formula-fed babies being obese or less intelligent or sickly.

I was mired in that community for a long time, with other people’s judgments feeding into my own self-doubt. Then I read the book “Bottled Up” by Suzanne Barston and found some supportive online communities, and things started to turn around. I realized that there were other women out there who, like me, wanted to breast-feed but couldn’t. There were some who didn’t want to breast feed at all for various reasons. There were all kinds of different moms making different decisions, and I saw the hurt and vulnerability that they were experiencing from being judged. Learning that I was not alone was more than liberating. It was cathartic. It was like a slow dawn out of my depression. I started to look at my son differently. He was doing okay, wasn’t he? He was happy and healthy, and most importantly, he was fed. Maybe I wasn’t such a bad mom after all.

Not being successful at breast-feeding knocked me down a peg or two. Or a hundred. It was the single most humbling experience of my life. It was the first time I had really tried and failed at something. And it taught me my first important lesson of motherhood: my expectations aren’t always going to match with reality.

I have come out the other side of that darkness with a much more flexible approach to parenting. I have an idea in my head about the type of mom that I want to be, but it’s far less rigid than it used to be. I know that who my son is will dictate a lot of my decisions. I’ve given myself permission to change my mind about how I raise him. I’ve let go of most of my pre-conceived ideas and take each decision one at a time. And if something doesn’t work, I don’t beat myself up about it. I just try something else. I’ve relaxed. A lot.

I look at other parents differently too. I used to think that I had an idea of the ideal parent. Now I know that each family defines their own ideal. It’s not my place to decide for them how they should raise their kids. I could look at another mom who raises her child differently than me and think, “She’s wrong”. Or I could have empathy for a fellow mom and appreciate that I don’t know her, her baby, or why she made that decision. I can realize that it’s ridiculous to judge a parent based on a handful of their choices or a few moments of observation.

It’s hard. Sometimes I see a mom making a choice that I wouldn’t, and I catch myself thinking, “I would never…” Then I remember that there was a time when I thought the same thing while looking at a can of formula. I remember myself as a pregnant mom, so adamantly opposed to formula that I refused to even have any in the house when my baby was born, and I remember the hot-faced shame that I felt having to make a midnight run for formula and bottles because my baby was hungry and I couldn’t feed him. I never say never. Things that I’m not doing today might be the answer for tomorrow’s problems.

Several months ago I discovered that my son has a severe lip tie. It makes breast-feeding incredibly difficult and painful. It doesn’t matter how hard I tried, it never would have gotten better. It may have been able to be fixed, if all of the experts that I consulted hadn’t missed it. But you know what? It’s okay. It’s taken me a long time to get to the place where I can say that it is truly okay. I’m sorry that my transition to motherhood wasn’t smoother, but I’m thankful for the experience. It’s helped me look at my value and worth as a mother as more than an equation. I’m more than the difference between what I’m doing “right” and what I’m doing “wrong”. My son is a beautiful and complex human being who is more than a function of what he was fed. I like to have faith that even if breast-feeding had worked for me, that I would have lost my smugness and judgment towards other moms, but I can say for sure that the experience I had made me more compassionate and forgiving towards myself, to others, and to my son. And that has made me a better mom.

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The Big Question

P question

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Are you nursing?”

I’ve been asked that question more times and by more people than I can count. It usually comes right after, “How old is he?” and right before, “How does he sleep?” It’s not just people I’m acquainted with who want to know if I’m breastfeeding. Many random strangers also seem quite curious about how I’m feeding my baby. Here is a shortlist of people who have asked me if I nurse my son:

  • Most of my friends
  • Some of my coworkers
  • My son’s doctor
  • The cashier at the thrift store across the street from my house
  • Cashiers (plural) at the grocery store
  • The hairdresser that I went to one time
  • A staff member at my gym when I went in to cancel my membership
  • Strangers that we encounter on our walks

And this list is by no means exhaustive.

Some people have a legitimate reason to ask. For example, during my son’s two month checkup, the doctor noticed that his weight was a bit low. Naturally, she’d follow up by asking what he was eating. I get that. But when someone comes up to us on the street to comment on how cute he is, why do they need to know if he eats from a breast or a bottle?

When my son was very young and I was still struggling with the fact that I had to formula-feed him, I used to hate it when people asked. It came at me like an accusation and I felt like a little kid about to be punished as I stammered out a reply, “Uh, no..I mean, yeah, we did in the beginning. I guess he did for about three months, but it just didn’t work, so, uh, now I don’t…but he’s okay…” I tried so hard to justify how I fed him. Now, when people ask, I just offer a simple, “No.” I guess a more appropriate reply might be, “Why do you ask?” but I don’t want to make a big deal about it. I give them a quick answer and move on.

I find it kind of weird. It’s like when I was pregnant and people used to come up to me and touch my belly uninvited. Once you conceive a child, is your body now part of the common collective, free to touch and everyone’s business? Or maybe I’m just thinking about this too much.

Do people ask you how you feed your baby? Is it weird?

It’s Time to Get Used to It

There is a video making its way around social media. It’s entitled Embarrassed and it’s a spoken word poem by a woman named Hollie McNish. In it, she expresses her frustration with the stigma surrounding breastfeeding in public and how she’s tired of having to feed her infant daughter in dirty bathrooms just so that she doesn’t offend anyone.

I know that I can get up on my soapbox about how formula-feeding moms can be treated, but I’m not blind to the fact that breastfeeding moms have their own challenges. I’ve never been asked to leave a restaurant for feeding my baby. I’ve never chosen to feed him in a stinky bathroom because I didn’t want anyone to see him eating. When people see him drinking from a bottle at 8 months old, they aren’t compelled to ask me if he’s too old for it. If he’s still drinking from a bottle at two years old, I won’t have to worry that people will call me a pedophile.

It’s really time that we end the double standard of being bombarded by advertising images of half-naked women, yet getting puritanical over the tiny bit of flesh exposed when a woman feeds her baby.

If this is okay:

Bra model

Image courtesy of victoriassecret.com

Then this is okay:

Breastfeeding mom

Image courtesy of acutezmedia.com

Check out the video and share it with your mom friends. Because no one should feel compelled to give their baby a meal in a stinky public bathroom sitting on a cold toilet seat lid.

 

Baby Food: Winter Squash

Winter SquashWinter squash is far and away my baby’s favourite food. It’s pretty much a staple in our house now; whenever he’s unsure about a new food, I just mix it in with a bit of squash and he eats it right up. The mellow flavour and soft texture of squash make it perfect for mixing with other fruits and vegetables, and, like most other baby foods, it is super easy to make.

There are many varieties of winter squash, most of which you’re probably already familiar with. The most popular ones include pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and spaghetti squash. The picture above is from a Kabocha squash, which looks like a flat, green pumpkin. I’ve tried most varieties as baby food (except for spaghetti squash), and they all make a delicious purée.

Like the sweet potato, the most time-intensive part of making winter squash as baby food is waiting for it to cook. You’ll want to make sure that you give it enough time so that it’s soft and easy to blend (usually about 30-60 min, depending on the size of the squash).

A standard disclaimer: I am not a doctor. You should check with your pediatrician before starting solids, and if you have any questions about what foods are appropriate for your baby, your health professional is the best resource. It is recommended that you only introduce new foods to your baby one at a time, and wait at least 3 or 4 days before introducing a new food. Check for allergies after introducing a new food: symptoms like diarrhea, rash, gas, or swelling of the lips should alert you to contact your medical professional right away.

Stage: First foods

Health Benefits: Winter squash are an excellent source of carotenes; the deeper the colour of the squash, the higher it is in nutrients. They are also a good source of vitamins C, B1, folic acid, potassium and fibre. Diets high in carotenes may offer protection against developing type 2 diabetes.

Try it mixed with: apples, carrots, chicken, pears, spinach, sweet potatoes. It blends well with almost everything! I haven’t found a combination yet that my baby doesn’t like.

Directions:

1 winter squash
1/4 –  1 cup water (depending on the size of your squash)

Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, making sure the centre cavity is well cleaned. Place about 1/2″ of water in a shallow baking dish and place the cut squash face down in the water. Bake in a 400°F oven until soft all the way through, about 30-45 minutes.

Once cooked, scrape the soft flesh from the peel and add the flesh only to a food processor or blender, along with the desired amount of water to create the consistency that your baby likes. Blend until smooth.

Kabocha Squash

Kabocha Squash

Baby Food: Green Peas

PeasGreen peas were the first solid food that we fed to baby P and he loved them immediately. They’re a pretty standard first food for babies. I like them because they’re sweet tasting yet high in protein, and they mix well with most other foods. Versatile and delicious!

For ease and convenience, I use frozen peas. I buy a bag of them and keep them in the freezer. That way, if it’s dinner time and I realize that I don’t have any fresh vegetables on hand, I can pop some peas on the stove and have a meal ready for the baby in minutes.

A standard disclaimer: I am not a doctor. You should check with your pediatrician before starting solids, and if you have any questions about what foods are appropriate for your baby, your health professional is the best resource. It is recommended that you only introduce new foods to your baby one at a time, and wait at least 3 or 4 days before introducing a new food. Check for allergies after introducing a new food: symptoms like diarrhea, rash, gas, or swelling of the lips should alert you to contact your medical professional right away.

Stage: First foods

Health Benefits:  Green peas are a good source of protein and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins C and K and carotenes.

Try them mixed with: asparagus, carrots, chicken, ham, pork, potatoes, spinach

Directions:

1 cup of peas
2-4 Tbsp. water

Put the frozen peas directly into the steaming basket and bring the water to a boil. Steam for 5-10 minutes, or until the peas are soft and cooked. Add to a food processor or blender, along with the desired amount of water to create the consistency that your baby likes. Peas have a thick skin, so blend well to avoid large chunks of skin in the purée.

peas

Formula Feeding Myth #3 – We’re Stupid

In a blog post entitled “Is Pushing Formula Evil?“, Dr. Darcia Narvaez makes the following statement regarding formula-feeding moms:

Too many [moms] have fallen for the hype from the pharmaceutical companies (who make formula) telling them that formula is good enough for normal babies and best for digestive problems. These are ignorant mistruths.

Even if it’s not overtly stated, this is a common accusation made of formula-feeding moms. The assumption is that we’re misinformed and somehow didn’t get the message that breast-feeding is recommended for our babies. Take a read through the comments section of any formula-feeding support post on Facebook, and you’ll see countless people spouting, “Breast is best!” and detailing the benefits of breast milk over formula.

Of all of the misconceptions regarding moms who don’t breast-feed, this one is the least true, if only for the reason that in this day it is virtually impossible to not get the “breast is best” message. From the time that we find out that we’re pregnant, the advice that we should be breast-feeding is transmitted loud and clear: on parenting websites, in pregnancy books, in our prenatal classes, from our health-care providers, and from our friends and family. Hell, it’s even written on the side of the formula containers. When I sent away for my free diaper bag from Nestlé, they sent me a barrage of pamphlets, each of them prominently displaying the message that I should be breast-feeding. And if we somehow didn’t get the information before we started formula-feeding, there’s a lineup of people to tell us now.

I think I can speak for most formula-feeding moms when I say: we get it. We’ve heard the arguments for breast-feeding. When you lecture us that breast-feeding is best, or inform us of the supposed dangers of formula, it’s insulting. It implies that the decision on how we feed our babies was made out of ignorance rather than necessity or choice. We aren’t stupid. We made an informed decision that works for us and our families, and that’s the best that we can do for our babies.

This, along with being labelled as lazy and selfish, are the three most common misconceptions that I have heard about formula-feeding moms. Are there any others that you’ve encountered?

Formula Feeding Myth #2 – We’re Selfish

The following is an excerpt from a comment left on the Fearless Formula Feeder website:

“…It is a scientifically proven fact that breastmilk is hands down, better for babies than formula. Moms can come up with any excuse why they don’t or won’t nurse. But it all comes down to selfishness. Nipples bleeding, mastisitis, drying up, etc. It’s all excuses. Why would one promote formula feeding knowing it doesn’t compare to the nutrition in breastmilk? I don’t get it. It seems like this website is a bunch of moms trying to justify themselves for not nursing because they feel guilty, as they should. If a mom isn’t willing to do the best possible thing for her baby, then why even have a baby. It’s really sad because there are so many women who would love to have a baby that they could nurse and nourish, but its not possible for them to have children. Then there is women telling stories on here that won’t even give their newborn baby colostrum??? So selfish and sickening. Poor little babies.”

This is obviously the opinion of one person, whom I don’t even know, who decided to spout off a bunch of judgemental nonsense on a website. I get that. But this person is not alone. I’ve heard the word “selfish” tossed around often when it comes to describing moms who don’t breast-feed.

It’s confusing to me. Of all the moms that I know who formula-feed, and in the countless number of stories that I’ve read online and in books, no one chose formula without seriously considering what the consequences would be for their babies. In the end, the choice was either made for them (they were physically unable to breast-feed), or the ramifications of breast-feeding their infants were negative enough that it was prohibitive to try or keep trying.

How we feed our babies is just one of the thousands of decisions that we make as parents. Our babies need nutrition to thrive. They also need a caretaker that is happy, healthy, and able to engage. Putting aside our own egos and admitting that breast-feeding isn’t working, or doesn’t work in our situation, is not selfish. Ensuring that we, as mothers, are healthy and whole is for the benefit of our babies. Making the decision to feed our babies formula, in spite of the criticism and judgement that we receive, is a decision made out of love. And it’s just about the most selfless thing we can do.

Strong Moms Empowered

Similac (a company that makes formula) has come out with a new advertising campaign. It is called “Strong Moms Empower”, and is a call to remove the stigma and judgement associated with formula feeding. This is how the company describes it:

It’s time for moms to feel good about the decisions they make for their children and their families. The StrongMoms Empower campaign, brought to you by Similac, is a call-to-action to create a more supportive and less judgmental environment, online and off.

You can go online, “sign” a pledge, and then add a badge to your blog or website to show your solidarity with the cause. There is also a discussion on twitter under the hashtag #strongmomsempower.

I have so many mixed feelings about this campaign. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a strong advocate for infant feeding choice. I actively fight to dispel the misconceptions that surround formula feeding. Any support that I can get in spreading that message is more than welcome.

I’m concerned that it’s a formula company who is initiating this message. I’d like to think that they are doing this out of an altruistic concern for our mental health, but I suspect that it has more to do with the bottom line. Formula feeding moms already take so much crap for being “in the back pocket of the formula companies”. It’s commonly assumed that our decision to formula feed is influenced (or solely decided) by advertising. It takes away from the power and autonomy that we used to make our decisions. I know that this campaign will be wielded as a weapon by those who choose to condemn us for our choice. I’m also worried that the validity of the message will be challenged due to where it originated. There will be those who ignore it altogether; the thinking being that because it came from a formula manufacturer, it must be wrong.

Strong Moms EmpowerOn the other hand, I do use formula (not Similac, but another national brand). Why not have the industry that I have entrusted to provide my baby with nutrition stand up for me and my rights? Regardless of their motivation, the message is an important one. Although formula companies have a shady past when it comes to their marketing practices, I don’t think that they are all inherently evil.

I’ve written posts about the massive amounts of judgement that moms receive in regards to every parenting choice they make. It’s ridiculous. We all complain about it, but we do it to each other. The day that I wrote my post about being nice to each other, I took a personal pledge to support other moms more and judge less. I encouraged others to share my post and to take some time to say something nice to a mom every day. I think that Similac has the same idea, just on a much larger scale.

Do I think that this campaign will make a difference? I don’t know if it will make anyone judge less, but perhaps it will make moms who have been judged feel more validated in their choices. Regardless of where the message is coming from, that will be a good thing. And, like it or hate it, this marketing initiative has people talking. It is a concept that resonates deeply with parents. Do I like it that Similac is exploiting that for financial gain? Maybe this is a case where the ends do justify the means. So, for now, I will display the badge on my blog in solidarity. I will align myself not with a corporation, but with the idea of a judgement-free parenting community where everyone can feel accepted.

Formula Feeding Myth #1 – We’re Lazy

breastfeeding memeLast week, the website Babble.com featured an article about the benefits of formula-feeding. Predictably, in the comments section were a number of judgemental responses that insulted moms who formula feed. For any new readers to this blog, I am a formula-feeding mom, although that was never my intention. You can read earlier posts on the subject of formula feeding here and here.

I think my earlier posts quite succinctly covered my opinion on the breast vs. bottle debate, but for the benefit of myself and the other formula-feeding moms out there, I would like to publicly refute some of the stereotypes of moms who don’t or can’t breast-feed their babies.

Something that I’ve heard over and over (and have even beaten myself up about) is that moms who weren’t able to breast-feed just didn’t try hard enough. We’ve been labelled as lazy quitters who are uncommitted to our babies’ best interests.

I can’t speak for other women, but I can tell you that I have never worked as hard at anything as I have at trying to breast-feed. I never, ever thought to myself that I wanted to quit because it was too much work. I saw countless lactation experts, read every resource that I could find on breast-feeding and latching, watched every video on the La Leche League website, and kept on trying until I literally could not stand the pain any longer.

When I made the decision to switch from breast-feeding to pumping and bottle-feeding, it was because breast-feeding wasn’t working. It was because I was miserable and my family was suffering for it. And pumping was no easy way out. First thing in the morning I would feed my baby a bottle as I leaked all over my shirt, then hook myself up to the pump and try to simultaneously comfort my baby (who was whining to be held) and pump enough milk for the next feeding. I would hook myself up to that pump every two hours, and my baby hated it. As soon as he heard the whir of the motor he would start crying. I felt so guilty as I tried to hold the pump and bottle with one hand and rock him with the other. When my milk supply dried up, I tried to double my pumping to every hour, while downing upwards of 12 pills a day.

Now that I am formula feeding, it is no easier. As soon as my baby lays down for a nap, I’m in the kitchen washing and sterilizing bottles and mixing up formula for the rest of the day. I always need to make sure that I have a full kettle of boiled water ready so that I can make a bottle if I need to. When my baby cries, instead of being able to put him to the breast, I have to grab a bottle, put it together, and warm it up while trying to comfort him and not feel guilty about making him wait so long to eat. If I’m leaving the house, I must gauge how much formula to bring with me. If I bring too much, it will spoil before I can use it. If I don’t bring enough, I’m making an emergency trip back home or finding a store to buy some ready-to-feed bottles.

I’ve heard many women chastise those of us who tried to breast-feed, citing themselves as an example. “It was hard in the beginning, but I stuck with it and I’m so glad I did, because it got better and now I’ve exclusively breast-fed my baby for a year. You shouldn’t give up just because it’s hard.” I think stories like that are great. I wish that I had a story like that. But the fact that it worked for one mom because she stuck with it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone if they stick with it. Sometimes the negative side-effects of “sticking with it” aren’t worth it. Sometimes, physiologically, breast-feeding just isn’t possible for some women or babies. And sometimes women choose formula feeding for their own reasons, reasons that don’t include “I’m too lazy.”

Yes, breast-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, formula-feeding is a lot of work. Yes, pumping is a lot of work. Regardless of how we feed our babies, this is one area in which no mom is lazy.

Baby Food: Banana

banana

Bananas are a favourite first baby food. They’re sweet and they mix well with almost everything. The best part is that they couldn’t be easier to prepare. You don’t have to cook them and you really don’t even have to blend them. So easy!

Once you mash or purée the banana, you’ll notice that it will start to turn brown almost immediately. After a couple of hours, it will have turned from a creamy yellow colour to a dark brown. This is fine. It’s simply the flesh of the fruit reacting to the oxygen in the air. It doesn’t mean that the food is rotten or unsafe to eat. I also noticed that the banana kind of separates once it’s been sitting for a while. I just stir it up a little before I serve it.

A standard disclaimer: I am not a doctor. You should check with your pediatrician before starting solids, and if you have any questions about what foods are appropriate for your baby, your health professional is the best resource. It is recommended that you only introduce new foods to your baby one at a time, and wait at least 3 or 4 days before introducing a new food. Check for allergies after introducing a new food: symptoms like diarrhea, rash, gas, or swelling of the lips should alert you to contact your medical professional right away.

Stage: First foods. The amount of water in the recipe below will create a banana purée as shown in the picture above. If you have an older baby, you can mash the banana and leave lumps in it, or cut it up and serve it as finger food.banana

Health Benefits: Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, which helps to regulate heart function and fluid balance. They are soothing to the stomach, and can help prevent both constipation and diarrhea.

Try it mixed with: Apricots, avocado, blueberries, dates, figs,  kiwi, mango, oatmeal, papaya, pineapple, rice cereal, sweet potatoes.

Directions:

1 ripe banana
2-4 Tbsp. water (for purée)

Peel the banana. Add to a food processor or blender, along with the desired amount of water to create the consistency that your baby likes. Blend until smooth. If you want a thicker texture, mash by hand or cut into bite-size pieces.