Yes, that’s right I said the biggest taboo in mummy world! There is so much stigma attached to formula feeding, that I feel it’s important to post about this subject.
This is not about disputing the quality of breast milk, we all know that breast milk is of course the best milk to provide to your baby. However, there are so many mothers that cannot breastfeed, be it down to physical or circumstantial reasons, formula becomes the only choice, in this situation, breast is not always best! The guilt mothers carry by choosing formula for their babies adds so much pressure and as a result unneeded stress.
If you are formula feeding, do you? Burden yourself with guilt because you’re not doing right by your baby? Justify yourself to mums that have breastfed or are breastfeeding? Worry about the the judgements from people that you’re not trying hard enough? Think, if others persevered why didn’t you?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re not alone. Don’t let these thoughts bring you down, it’s a hard enough (but amazing) job raising a newborn as it is!
SO, WHY ARE MOTHERS CHOOSING TO FORMULA FEED?
They cannot produce enough milk: There really are a proportion of mothers that cannot produce enough milk. This can be down to many reasons such as stress, health reasons, post natal depression, struggling to get the baby to latch.
Struggle with getting the baby to latch: I don’t have statistical evidence to prove this fact, but my assumption is that this one is probably the most common. Some mothers and babies take to feeding like ducks to water (and this really is great) however some really do struggle. It’s not easy! If you’re not surrounded by people that can help you or guide you through this difficulty, then overcoming this hurdle can be extremely stressful. These ‘people’ could be midwives, lactation consultants, family or friends. In many circumstances, these people are invaluable, their (golden) advice and guidance is what gets mothers through! However, there are situations whereby no matter what ‘it’s just not working’. Persevering when you’re baby is hungry and crying hysterically for hours or even days, is much harder in practice than you think.
It hurts: Yes (and also connected to the above) but when the latch isn’t right it can be extremely painful. We all have different pain thresholds, some mothers will not experience any pain at all, others will experience some. Then there are the soldiers that find it unbearable but stick with it and get to the other side (when it’s no longer painful), these women need medals! However, some women cannot pull through and the more they preserve, the more painful it gets, making it really hard to continue.
Post Natal Depression: This really does exist and some mothers struggle to bond with their newborn as a result of it. Yes, breastfeeding can help overcome this state and again this is great. However, breastfeeding can also make the issue worse and this is not good for both the mother or baby long term.
Work: Some mothers may need to go back to work for financial reasons – they could be single mothers, they may really need the money, they may be the breadwinners of the family. In certain parts of the world (Middle East), mothers don’t always get the choice of having long maternity leave and therefore need to return back to work – in these cases their baby may only be a few weeks old. Yes, there is the option of expressing and again if mothers are able to do this then great. However, it’s completely understandable if they can’t.
Multiple Babies: This could be multiple babies such as twins, triplets etc, and if mothers are able to breastfeed their multiple brood, this truly is amazing. However, some mothers may revert to formula to help them manage. The second point here, is if the newborn is not the first baby of the family. The mother may chose to formula feed to help manage the family dynamics.
Health concerns: Some mothers may have other issues with their health and chose formula milk because breastfeeding is an added pressure . They may not always be physically well enough to feed themselves or express. This point is not linked to their ability to be able to produce milk.
These reasons may sound very obvious, simple or weak, but they are very real reasons why mothers may chose to formula feed.
WHEN MOTHERS ARE FORMULA FEEDING – WHAT ABOUT…
Bonding with the baby? Yes, breastfeeding of course encourages a baby to bond with it’s mother and vice versa. However, the bond between a mother and it’s baby is so strong. Formula feeding a baby does not stop a baby from bonding with it’s mother. I’ve not met one baby to this day that displays a weaker bond with it’s mother as a direct result of being formula fed.
The nutritional content of the milk? Breast milk will always be nutritionally better. However formula milk is not bad for your baby, it’s just that breast milk is better. Formula does have everything vital that a baby needs for healthy growth and formula milk has come a long way over the years. The other point I want to add here, is the importance of how good nutrition for a baby is for life. When a baby enters the weaning stage and beyond, the quality of food they eat is extremely important.
Overfeeding the baby? If the switch to formula is made very early on, then yes, allowing a baby to drink a whole ounce of milk in it’s first few days, will of course result in overfeeding. The size of the baby’s stomach of course needs to be understood and then ‘filled’ accordingly:
Protection against infections and disease? Yes, breast milk does provide better protection for a baby. However, formula fed babies are not walking around surrounded by snot or constantly falling ill as a sole result of being formula fed! Breast fed or formula fed – babies will catch colds and fall ill. I will make this point again, once a baby moves onto solids the quality of the food they are getting is also extremely important to help provide protection.
I have to stress, by no means am I encouraging babies to be formula fed over being breastfed. Breast milk is and always will be the better option. However, if mothers are deciding to formula feed for their own valid reasons, then it is ok and these babies are very likely to grow up just as healthy as a breast fed baby!
Breastfed or formula fed – whatever route you decided to go down, you would have had your reasons and they should be respected either way. There are lots of factors that go into being a good mother, it’s not just all about the milk.
For me personally I really wanted to breastfeed but felt that I couldn’t continue. For weeks I beat myself up about it and felt so bad. I was extremely upset about doing wrong by my daughter. Only after a few months of making the switch, did I accept the situation and realise – actually formula feeding my baby is ok! Would I still chose to breastfeed next time around – most definitely; however, if I needed to switch to formula, would I beat myself up about it next time around? Most certainly not.