I never thought I would need to use formula. As a child, I was nursed until I was two and a half years old; my younger siblings were nursed just as long. I grew up seeing babies and toddlers breastfed, on demand, in a variety of public places. Sure, I saw bottle-fed babies, but most of our friends who bottle-fed had adopted their children. I was never taught that formula was evil or that formula feeding was wrong; it was just that formula feeding happened if you could not breastfeed.
When PuddinPie was born at 35 weeks, I was told by the hospital staff that there was “no way” I could produce enough milk for him. They said a pre-term infant’s calorie needs were higher than that of a normal newborn because they not only had to grow, but they had to work harder doing normal things like eating and breathing, thus using more calories. Knowing how important breastmilk is to premature babies, I armed myself with knowledge and pumped around the clock. Even though we had to supplement with bottles, he never had a drop of formula. By the time he was two months old, he was refusing bottles of expressed milk and was eating only at the breast.
Then when he was eight months old, I became pregnant with his younger sibling. I was terrified I would have to wean. Big Brother and Princess are only 21 months apart, and my breasts were so tender and sore during her pregnancy, nursing BigBrother through the pregnancy would not have been an option even if I had wanted to tandem nurse. I was worried this would happen again or that my already irritable uterus would respond to the nipple stimulation of a sucking baby by contracting. Thankfully, my doctor is very experienced dealing with mothers who have large families with closely spaced children and who nurse during a pregnancy. He said that unless the breastfeeding was causing contractions, I was free to nurse as long as I wanted.
Sadly, PuddinPie had other ideas. When I was eight weeks pregnant, he went on a nursing strike. After three days, I was able to get him back to the breast, but my supply had dropped. He would nurse as long as he wanted, then fuss because he was still hungry. I offered him a few ounces of formula to top him off, and then he was satisfied. Because I didn’t want to go to full-time formula feeding, I spoke to several La Leche League Leaders about increasing my supply. Most herbs and medicines to boost supply are contraindicated for pregnancy, so all I could do was make sure I was eating and drinking well. I did this but my supply had dropped enough that PuddinPie was losing interest. Quickly, he went to nursing before bed and in the morning; he took formula from a bottle and solid foods during the day.
Then one morning he slept in late and we brought him to bed to nurse and cuddle. He latched on, but his then three-year-old sister accidently distracted him. I tried to get him to latch on again, but he bit me and refused to go near the breast again; his sister and a TV show were much more interesting. That was the last time he ever attempted to nurse. I knew our nursing relationship had come to an end. That day, we replaced every nursing session with a bottle of formula.
We chose to use commercial formula for a variety of reasons. I didn’t think to explore the option of donor milk, and I didn’t have the time or energy to make my own formula. I liked that, for us, formula was readily available at local stores. Because he was young, I knew he needed the comfort of sucking, so we opted to use a bottle to replace nursing sessions instead of going straight to a sippy cup. (The bottle was in place of breastfeeding; sippy cups of water were offered during meals, just like when he had nursed.) At a year, we switched him to toddler formula, because we felt he still needed the added calories and nutrition of formula.
Although I was sad that he weaned, I chose to focus on the positive. We had beaten the odds, and when he needed breastmilk the most (while in the NICU and during the first winter), he had it! We had a really good, loving nursing relationship, and it ended on a positive note. I missed nursing him, but I celebrated nine hard-won months of breastfeeding.
PuddinPie was sixteen months old when BabyBear was born. I offered the breast to my toddler a couple times, but he wasn’t interested. He seemed to think that nursing was for the baby and the bottle was for big boys, like himself. Because I was pumping for the baby, I would give PuddinPie the leftover breastmilk in a bottle or put a “shot” of breastmilk into his formula. Every little bit helps, and he never noticed that there was EBM in his formula.
We approached bottle feeding in the same way we approached breastfeeding — just because he was over a year old didn’t mean he was ready to wean from either the bottle or formula. I also didn’t want to transition him from a source of comfort in his life (the bottle) when he was facing an even bigger transition (the birth of his brother). I knew that PuddinPie would show us when he was ready to give up the bottle. He was 21 months old when he weaned from his bottles, although now at three, he still asks for a sippy cup of cow’s milk for comfort.
It’s been two years since PuddinPie weaned from the breast and about fifteen months since he weaned from his “ba-ba.” He is a very healthy, very attached little boy.
Need to formula feed? Here are some guidelines:
- Pick a formula that is right for you and your baby. Speak to your healthcare provider about which to use and if homemade formula is right for you. We used powdered formula for its ease in storage and availability.
- Follow safe preparation guidelines. Formula needs to be prepared in a safe and sterile manner [PDF]. (Here are the WHO guidelines on preparing formula.)
- Mimic breastfeeding. For young infants, you may want to feed them using skin-to-skin contact. Older babies will still enjoy cuddling and snuggling with you while they have their bottle. Never leave a baby alone with a bottle or “bottle prop.”
- Follow your baby’s cues. Feed them on demand and don’t force your baby to finish a bottle if they are sending cues that they are no longer hungry.
- Don’t let your baby sleep with a bottle of formula or milk in her mouth. Doing so may cause dental problems. Allow your baby to have a bottle before bed and on-demand at night but not to sleep with.
- Wean from the bottle as you would from the breast — gently and gradually.
- Ignore the naysayers. Sometimes breastfeeding mothers catch flak for nursing, and sometimes bottle-feeding mother catch flak for using formula. Ignore them. Only you know the reasons for formula feeding your baby. Remember you are feeding your baby, and that is what matters the most.
- Enjoy bottle feeding your baby! It’s okay to mourn the loss of a breastfeeding relationship, but enjoy the silly things your bottle-fed baby does. Maybe they have a special word for the bottle or like to tell you that their pet needs a “ba” too. PuddinPie used to have a “ba ba” dance; when he wanted one his bottles, he would point to them and dance around saying, “ABABA!” until we made one up. It was silly, and we all loved it. I miss the “ba ba” dance!
- Enjoy your baby. In the early days, it might seem like all you do is feed your baby. While feeding your child is vital, it is really just a peice of parenting. There is so much more to parenting than milk — coos, giggles, smiles, and laughter will fill your days. Enjoy them!