What you feed your baby is a sensitive topic for most mothers. Even among adults, debates around the best diet can be as intense as religious discussions. I believe in the saying “the breast is best,” but there are circumstances that can prevent either mother and/or baby from participating in breastfeeding. Because of this, I firmly believe that no one should make a formula-feeding mother feel inadequate. Formula feeding is not an indication of bad parenting. Here’s why.
I am a brand new mother of a beautiful baby girl. Just like most new moms, I had no clue what it was going to be like caring for a newborn. One of the biggest challenges besides baby’s erratic sleeping and eating “patterns” was breastfeeding. I wanted to do everything as naturally as possible. I delivered vaginally by a midwife, with no painkillers. Of course I was determined to breastfeed 100%. But did it turn out that way? No. As I type this, I am hooked up to a noisy machine, pumping milk for my little one round the clock. Yes, I am an exclusive pumper.
I wanted breast milk to come directly from me. I wasn’t even going to give in to bottle feeding my little one, let alone giving her formula. I don’t know if it was pride or convenience, or that I so strongly believed that “breast is best.” Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to have it any other way. I was very La Leche League in that way, if you know what I mean. Yet, I was humbled by my experience and inability to breastfeed.
I fought long and hard for that one month I had of exclusively breastfeeding my girl before I had to start pumping exclusively. There was a short bit of formula supplementation there too during the transition. It was an emotional roller coaster with lots of physical pain I had to endure. I actually was preparing myself emotionally for the potential need to feed our baby formula if my milk supply didn’t recuperate from the milk transfer issue caused by our baby’s ineffective nursing.
But I knew I had to feed our baby. It didn’t matter if it came from my breast or from a bottle. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and so formula came extremely handy when my breasts did not respond well to the pump in the early days. She had to feed 8-12x in a day, and there was very little time to scout the Web for healthy breast milk donors. How could you really know for sure what you were getting anyway? Also, my husband preferred formula over someone else’s breast milk. After all, things like mercury and other toxic substances from a mother’s diet (or cavity fillings) inevitably get in her milk.
My childhood to now
I was a C-section baby, and my mother had a condition called threatened abortion. Also, I was completely formula fed. When I got slightly older, I was on powdered cow’s milk. In the Philippines, powdered milk was all we had readily available in terms of cow’s milk. Fresh milk was hard to find if you weren’t in the provinces. A lot of my meals growing up came from a can, which is also common in that country. The BPA overload probably explains why I had my period at 9. I was sickly as a child. I caught colds left and right, as my mother likes to remind me, as if being sickly either just came naturally to me or it was somehow my fault.
As a kid, I preferred canned meats (sardines, Spam, Vienna sausages, etc.) to homecooked meals at times, just like how many kids prefer junk food over the real deal. I was no different. Perhaps because that stuff was in the pantry all the time, easily available but somewhat forbidden. I was fat until about age 11, then later on I became anorexic out of insecurity. I had crazy craters on my face as a teenager from the hormonal upset and also caught tuberculosis. I was all over the place. I was vaccinated. And I was miserable as a child because of the bullies that made fun of my physical appearance. Of course, I never attributed that to anything but my (bad) luck.
In my late high school and college years, I started to eat again, though I was still slightly obsessed with calories. I was definitely a lot healthier from generally increasing my calories, but I wasn’t eating healthy food by any means. When I met Rob, he had eliminated soda, desserts, and sweets from his diet to help control his weight, but that was his only restriction. I eventually followed suit, except for special occasions where we shared our favorite treats as a new couple. We ate a lot of pancakes and waffles with sugar-free syrup (which is worse), too, because they weren’t technically dessert.
If you follow our blog, you’ll know that we lived in a moldy house for the first several years of our marriage. We were both miserable, getting sick a lot, gaining weight, and developing new allergies. I found out after a year or so of painful nights with stabbing pains in my abdomen and just bloating that I suddenly had a gluten allergy. So, my husband joined me in a gluten-free diet. We still were getting sick and gaining weight on that diet, though, minus the inflammation, and then we found out that the house was the cause of a lot of our troubles.
Sadly, leaving the moldy house didn’t fix things for Rob completely, because he had gotten so sick that he could barely eat anything due to his sensitivities. After some searching, he landed on a Paleo/Bulletproof diet, which I ultimately started to enjoy along with him. So, upon changing my diet drastically (thanks to my husband Rob and my own gluten allergy), I was not just better—I was thriving! I never got sick thereafter. Suddenly, there was no need for doctors, drugs, or dentists (from about 2013 until I had my babies).
The perfect pregnancy
Since I am now a mother, I thought I’d share how healthy my pregnancy was and how healthy our baby is today despite my upbringing and past diet/lifestyle. My pregnancy was beyond textbook perfect—it was better. I didn’t swell, didn’t crave or eat unhealthy food, didn’t get tired enough to need naps, didn’t have much of anything past the first few weeks of the first trimester. I didn’t gain weight much at all either. In fact, I lost weight at first from the food aversions. I was moving a lot for the whole pregnancy. I sat and slept on the floor, and was able to get up just fine off the ground until the very last weeks of the third trimester when I was heavy from the baby in the front! I didn’t always “show” like I was pregnant up until the very last weeks (depending on what I wore)! Rob had me do pregnancy vlogs on our YouTube about my symptoms—or lack thereof—and I talked about how diet plays a major role in all of it.
When breast is not always best
There are many reasons why some mothers choose exclusive pumping or formula instead of breastfeeding. Sure, some of them just do not know any better simply because they weren’t educated enough about breastfeeding. Who can blame them? I wasn’t taught this stuff by my Mom. I came into it totally unprepared. Some mothers’ reasons (including my own) for not breastfeeding are devastating to the health of the mother or the child. The most obvious case when breastfeeding isn’t always best is in the case of premature babies. Premature babies without the aid of supplementation would most likely die in nature due to their inability to control the muscles in their mouth.
Instead of using formula however, I was determined to pump as often as my baby ate to get that milk supply up and provide the real thing for her. I think exclusive pumping is the ultimate sacrifice you can make to feed your baby. It is the closest thing to the real thing you can provide, and it’s worth it to avoid any imbalances that formula might give them. But again, it is very difficult. Breastfeeding, once you have it down, is convenient and free, but pumping around the clock is a totally different ballgame. It is neither convenient nor completely free.
As far as formula goes, I will say this: I wouldn’t have been able to feed the baby while transitioning to exclusive pumping had it not been for the graces of formula. A formula-fed baby is not necessarily less healthy than a breastfed baby. My husband who was exclusively breastfed has multiple chemical, mold, and EMF sensitivities and cannot function well in today’s world. I on the other hand, exclusively on formula, am way healthier than he is without a doubt!
The moral of the story
If you start pumping breast milk and have to supplement with formula because your milk supply isn’t matching baby’s appetite, remember that some breast milk is better than none at all. The little dribbles of colostrum are the most essential part of that baby’s immunity. If you are on 100% formula like I was when I was a baby, do not fear. I am a very healthy woman today with the help of epigenetics (change of lifestyle, diet, and other environmental factors). Thank heavens for the good organic food God made and the knowledge we have now acquired in order to avoid the modern dangers of industry.
For awhile after finding out, I despised my mother for formula feeding all five of her kids, for believing she had low milk supply right after delivery. Now, I don’t really blame her for choosing formula or for thinking that way. A mother is a mother, no matter what she chooses to feed her baby. Most of the time, they are unaware of it anyway. A mother’s love and devotion to her baby is hard work. It really is the toughest job in the world.