My new friend Michelle wrote an awesome piece on choosing formula as a method of feeding for maternal mental health! This is a post in an ongoing series called Choosing Mental Health. Check out her blog, One Grateful Girl!
The Formula for Choice
I remember a time when I was young seeing my aunt breastfeed her son. Right there in my grandparents living room. It was shocking to me. I’d never seen a human do such a thing!
I’d spent time on a farm, I understood how this worked, mommas feed their babies – no big deal, it was completely natural. But still, we were a modest bunch. Shorts and swimsuits were rarely worn, so an exposed nipple in the living room was kind of a big deal.
My mom was a single mother in every sense of the word. There was no support or co-parenting. She was an independent career woman and while I’ve never asked her, I’m guessing breastfeeding would’ve been a challenging choice for her in a male dominated 1971 workplace. There were no lactation rooms. Even if there were, I don’t think she would’ve been accepted as an equal in the workplace taking those “extra breaks.”
Fast forward four plus decades and as far as I know, I turned out pretty well.
You Have a Choice
When I was pregnant with my son I gave this feeding choice a lot of thought. There is tremendous pressure to breastfeed. Of course, the societal pressure coupled with the desire to give your child what is best for them would seem to make the choice obvious.
But it wasn’t so clear for me. I had a strong hunch that breastfeeding wasn’t the right choice for me. I decided that formula was going to be our choice but knew when the time came I might change my mind. If for some reason our son needed to be breastfed, I would’ve done it gladly, just as I would give him a kidney or my right arm today.
As we anticipated his birth I mentally prepared myself for the hospital staff to make me feel guilty for my decision. After a labor that went less than smoothly a nurse asked if I was going to breastfeed or use formula. The choice to use formula was supported and I was relieved.
The first year of my son’s life was the hardest year of my life to this point. I lost both of my grandparents, to whom I was very close. Since sending our son to daycare to go to a job I hated went against everything in me I left the security of a good paying job to spend more time with our son. I started a new company. All the while, my husband that I adore had the opportunity to pursue a dream, but it involved frequent travel.
Like any new mom, I was exhausted. Alone a lot and stressed like never before. I was giving all that I had to give every day and some days it didn’t feel there was enough of me to go around.
Choosing Formula Was Freedom
Early on it that first year it was a relief to have chosen formula. It was one less thing I had to provide. It was one less piece of myself to give away. When someone else watched him it was convenient to mix the powder with water and walk away for a wee little bit.
By far the best part of that year was holding my baby boy snug against me. I would hold that bottle and gaze into his blue eyes and find respite there. He was everything good in the world.
There were a few instances in the first days when my milk had come in and my body was ready to feed him and my heart wondered if I was missing out on something special. In the dark of night, I would rock him and think maybe I should try it. I hoped I wasn’t letting him down in some way. The first flashes of mom guilt made me question myself.
Sleep deprivation and mom guilt and irrational doubt, they team up to tell powerful lies to mommas.
Because the truth is I can’t imagine having a closer bond with my son that we had during that first year. It did not matter what the food was or where it came from. He was fed when he was hungry. He was held, snuggled, prayed over, and loved. Certainly, that is the best nourishment a child can receive.
That baby is now a nine-year-old and he turned out pretty great.
For me, formula offered a little bit of freedom. I felt there were a lot of demands on me at that time. Somehow, the formula was food, but it wasn’t me. Yes, I had to get up, mix formula, and feed him. But, because it wasn’t from me it felt it was less of a demand of me.
Feel Good About Your Choice
It would be easy to declare my choice as selfish. It was easier for me to juggle my life at that time without the constant awareness that I was my child’s food source. Here’s the deal, I don’t think to make a choice that takes care of yourself is selfish. This choice was the right one for me.
The thing I want any mommas-to-be who are struggling with this choice to know, both options are good and the choice is yours to make. Make the one that you feel is best for you. Your baby will flourish if you are happy.
You feeling good about it that is the key. If you feel good you can give the best of yourself to your family. Your milk is good stuff, but it isn’t the only thing you have to offer. For me using formula allowed me to feel a bit more like myself and I needed that. At that moment in time when it felt like everything in my world was changing I needed something to stay the same even if it was just my bras.
For me, choosing formula allowed me to feel a bit more like myself and I needed that. At that moment in time when it felt like everything in my world was changing I needed something to stay the same even if it was just my bras.
There will be years full of opportunities to unknowingly mess up our kids. Seriously, this may be a big decision but there will be countless more. Many of which your kids will be old enough to argue with, question, and remember. Not breastfeeding is not going to result in therapy, so let some of that pressure go.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “breast is best” well I would change that to “love is best.” That’s what it boils down to. We are fortunate to live in a time when we have choices and options. It is my hope that you will find support for whatever choice you make and support others in the choices they make.
Either choice results in the same result for babies, they will eat and grow and love you.
Share your support for either choice in the comments.
Moms- which did you choose to feed your baby? Do you have any thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments below!