“Breast is best.” (Yes, we knoooow!) There is so much information out there about the benefits of breastfeeding, and every first-time mother I’ve met intends or intended to breastfeed exclusively in order to give her baby the “best.” But what happens when the best isn’t an option, or when what’s best for baby isn’t best for mom?
We are so fortunate to live in a time and place that offers an alternative: formula. Because we also have access to clean water (in this country), formula is perfectly safe for babies, and it can be a lifesaver for those unable to breastfeed. Unfortunately, many moms feel overwhelming guilt and shame when they turn to formula, feeling that they’ve failed their babies by being unable or unwilling to continue breastfeeding. No woman should have to feel this way, and as a former breast-feeder, former exclusive-pumper, and current formula feeder, I want to share the awesome benefits of formula feeding for any moms who may need or want to use formula.
Here are the top 4 advantages of formula-feeding, in my experience:
More sleep for mom
Here’s some great news: Men are equally capable as women of holding a bottle for an infant. This means that night feedings are an equal opportunity situation. No more “I would totally get up with the baby, but I can’t feed him!” from dads. I’ve enjoyed my husband’s increasingly creative excuses almost as much as I’ve enjoyed watching him give up and stumble out of bed while I burrow back under the blanket.
Some of my darkest memories from my son’s newborn days were being awoken from a tortuously brief slumber to be informed that the baby was hungry again. My husband and my mom did their best to let me sleep, but my son spent his first few weeks nursing every 2 hours. I think back on how much easier that time would have been if I had been able to share the burden of feeding with someone else.
Yes, pumping is an option, but newborns eat so frequently that I don’t see when you’re supposed to pump. You know what’s so much easier? Opening a can of formula and mixing a bottle – takes less than 30 seconds, and my husband can do it just as well as I can.
I never got to the blissfully easy level of breastfeeding where I could just lay in bed, pop out a boob, and rest as he nursed. Oh no, each nursing session required roughly the same level of preparation as a minor surgery. Water? Check. Boppy? Check. Blanket? Check. Snack? Check. Remote control? Check. Phone? Check. Extra pillows? Check. And then, once everything was prepared, I had to endure the pain of a minor surgery with only Netflix as my anesthesia, which brings me to my next point…
Less boob trauma
Breastfeeding is a battle which even the victors can’t escape unscathed. My friends who have successfully breastfed multiple children refer to their current mammary situation as “fried egg hanging on a fencepost,” which is as true as it is sad.
Aside from the universal after-effects of breastfeeding and the acute damage of breastfeeding gone bad, most moms deal with some sort of “chafing” or soreness (even if it doesn’t reach the level of truly horrific, it still sucks when also coping with sleep deprivation and postpartum recovery elsewhere). Lactation in general is somewhat uncomfortable and inconvenient for the female body: the pressure of full boobs, occasional clogged ducts, mastitis, and thrush, not to mention the lackluster, unsupportive, uni-boob-creating nursing bras to which women are subjected.
In contrast, formula is blessedly easy on your body. I have never, not once, hurt myself while mixing formula. Formula doesn’t require me to forgo underwires in my bras, and I don’t have to use any special cream or ointment to ease the discomfort of bottle-feeding my child… because there is none!
I’ve been told that breastfeeding has its own conveniences, but so does formula. If I want to, I can leave my son with my husband and run errands all day without a single thought about my boobs or a single worry about feeding my child. I’m not on the nursing clock or the pumping clock. I can (and have!) even leave for a girls’ weekend with my friends without having to make sure there’s enough milk in the freezer or traveling with a pump.
I didn’t go back to work after my son was born, but I’ve never heard a woman speak fondly of pumping at work. With formula, there’s no pumping! Anywhere!
I have also appreciated that with formula, I don’t have to worry about how what I eat or drink affects my child. I can have a few glasses of wine on date night without being concerned about how it will affect my milk, and I’ve never had to give up dairy or gluten for my baby’s health. I’ve sacrificed a lot for my child (boobs, sleep, hair, memory), and I’m thankful that formula has allowed me to at least retain my chosen diet.
For a while, I worried that I would regret switching to bottle-feeding (first with pumped milk, then with formula) because I was giving up the all-special “breastfeeding bond” with my child. However, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed feeding my son so much more since switching to the bottle. Feeding him is no longer accompanied by stress, pain, and resentment. I can simply relax and enjoy the warmth of his little body snuggled into my lap. I can listen to him happily sucking, feeling the contentment of knowing that my baby is well-fed and healthy.
Even more, my husband can enjoy this same experience. One of his favorite parts of the day is putting our baby to bed, and it’s one of my favorite times as well. I can have a moment to myself, and my husband gets a special time with the baby that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy otherwise.
I understand that breastfeeding has many benefits, but just for a moment, let’s acknowledge that not every woman can or wants to breastfeed. For those mothers, formula is a wonderful alternative with many of its own unique advantages. Let’s help every woman feel supported and proud of whatever option she chooses, because ultimately, a happy, healthy mama is the best gift we can give our babies!