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.
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!)