The first time that I gave my son formula, I cried out of fear of the formula I was giving him.
That day had started with a trip to the lactation consultant. At the end of our two hours together that morning, she put her hand on my shoulder, looked at me with a sympathetic smile and kind eyes. She said, “Sometimes, despite all of our best efforts, it just doesn’t work. It isn’t your fault. You’ve done everything you could. It is out of your hands. It is time to consider supplementing.”
In one hand, I held a bottle of formula. In the other, my hungry baby. There was a part of my brain that knew we had tried everything humanly possible to make breast feeding work. There was nothing left to try. But another part of me desperately scanned the thousands of articles and advice in my mind, hoping for the miracle cure to my body’s inability to produce milk. Anything to avoid formula.
Before I even learned I was pregnant, I knew that I would breast feed. I’d been told “breast is best,” but more importantly, I’d been told that was because formula is poison. I was so terrified of feeding my baby poison that, in that moment, seconds before his first formula-filled bottle, I was choosing not to feed him at all. I was physically torturing him and myself out of my fear of formula and what it would do to me precious little one.
What a silly fear. I’d been formula fed. My husband was formula fed. As it turns out, our weight, health, and intelligence may have more to do with genetics, environment, and opportunity than with how we were fed as babies. Breast may still be best. But formula sure isn’t bad.
The first time that I gave my son formula, I also cried from relief.
As my hungry baby ferociously sucked down his first bottle, I looked into his eyes through the tears in mine. I felt the joy that I’d felt in those early nursing sessions. I remembered how special and indescribable that bonding time is. I watched him happily fill his tummy before drifting off into that tell-tale milk coma that follows a good meal. I felt my entire body relax. My mind relaxed. In that moment, I knew I’d made the right choice for both of us.
After the lactation consultant that day, we’d visited little man’s pediatrician for a weight check. Weeks after birth, he still wasn’t up to his birth weight. He’d gained a frighteningly little amount. His diaper outputs were scarily low, and we frequently found orange urate crystals in his wet diapers. My pediatrician was kind and supportive, and at no point did he ever push formula or say anything that made me feel belittled or disrespected. He said, based on the numbers, he wasn’t concerned about supplementing yet. As he scheduled our next weight check, he said that he trusted me and the lactation consultants I was working with.
My baby was hungry. And my body wasn’t feeding him enough. I was desperate to fill his empty little tummy. After weeks of torturing myself to do so with breast milk, I knew that my body just couldn’t do it. I needed something else. I needed formula.
That first formula-filled bottle brought us both relief. Relief that, for the first time in his new life, he felt satiated.
By the time the last time I fed him his last bottle of formula at 12 months, I cried out of gratitude.
I often hear breast milk referred to as “liquid gold.” Well, in our house, formula is considered “liquid silver.” Sure, it lacks some of the benefits of breast milk. But, it exists because, sometimes, breast milk does not. Formula kept our baby alive, full, and thriving for the first year of his life. I will always be grateful for every ounce of formula that filled his tummy. And turned him into the dancing, singing, hugging, laughing, bright, healthy little boy that he is today.
We mothers often hear that we were made for this job. We were made to carry our babies. We were made to birth them. We were made to feed them. As I stood and shook through transition, the thought that my body was made to do this work is what kept me from crying out “I can’t!” I knew I could. So, I know the importance of those words. They get us through the worst. And when our bodies don’t do the job they were meant to do, it is easy to feel as though we have failed. Especially when others can be quick to tell us that we have. But we haven’t. We’ve made the effort. We’ve done our best. We’ve made our choices.
We mothers are made to feed our babies. I was made to feed mine. My body didn’t allow me to feed him the way that I had hoped. But I didn’t fail. I fed him. With formula.