FFF Friday: When it comes to breastfeeding or formula feeding, it’s not all or nothing

This week, “Biz” explains how she came to be a “combo feeder” – i.e., she breastfeeds, but supplements with formula. Unfortunately, on this blog,  we haven’t heard from too many people with this unique perspective; I’d like that to change, as I worry that combo feeders are neglected by both “sides” of this battle. I’m thrilled Biz was willing to share her thoughts with us – especially as she brings up two points that are so important: the element of choice in this battle; and the importance of REAL bonding – cuddling and happy times spent with children – over perceived bonding through certain feeding practices.


Ok, so I am not as much of a fearless formula feeder as I would like to be.

Over the past few months, however, I have come to see formula feeding as almost a political issue: how can we argue that women have the right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term but don’t have the right to feed our children as we see fit?

I had a c/s, and my recovery was horrible. My milk didn’t come in for seven days, and even when it did I had a low supply. I cried when the ped said I needed to supplement with formula, even though my baby was losing weight. I was so worried about what people would think. My partner finally said, “We are the parents. We can choose what is best for him.”

I did everything–took fenugreek, pumped a bajillion times a day, nursed constantly…and it worked! I only needed to supplement for a few weeks.

Here is where I started to become an “FFF”. I have two other kids, and things are crazy at our house most of the time. And the occasional bottle was just more convenient for us. So I, who once cried when I woke up from a 2 hour nap to find my baby had been given a bottle of Similac, found myself parked in front of a gas station feeding the baby a bottle and sitting in between two fighting children.

I didn’t build up a frozen milk supply in preparation for the inevitable return to work. I hate to pump and get a combined total of 1-2 oz. each time. I chose to enjoy snuggling and bonding with my baby at feeding times. And when he started at the on-site daycare at my work, I decided I would go nurse him twice a day–and he could have formula the rest of the time. He is home with my partner two days a week, and has what little milk I pump, and formula. When he got to be 3.5 months old (just last week) and was still getting up every 1.5 hours, we started giving him 1 bottle at night so I could have at least 3 consecutive hours of sleep a night.

I am not fearless. I am not above hiding the formula when certain friends come over. But I have found a balance that works for my family, and that has helped me enjoy my time with my baby and keep my sanity.


I’m running out of stories, guys. Please share! It’s like confession without the priest. Send me your personal thoughts on formula feeding, breastfeeding, or anything in between (just email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com), and I’ll post it as a future FFF Friday.

What about the next kid?

Fearless Husband and I should be committed. We have decided to try for another kid.  

“Aw, come on now, FFF, that doesn’t sound so crazy,” you might be saying. But hang on there, buckeroo. Have you MET my child? He is one of the friendliest, cutest little creatures you’ll ever see, but behind that sweet facade lies a fire-breathing, screeching dragon, otherwise known as “Dairy Allergy”. If one iota of milk protein  should pass those pouty lips…well, you know those disaster movies that rake in the box office dough every summer? Michael Bay could make a blockbuster out of my child’s dairy reaction.

Needless to say, Fearless Child was not the easiest baby, at least until we figured the allergy out. And even then, his stubborn streak was apparent from day one, making him easily frustrated and prone to passionate, melodramatic outbursts (hmm, I wonder where he gets that…). The memory of those first hellish few months still haunts me; so much so, that the sound of a crying newborn is enough to make my ovaries shrivel up.

Anyway… one of the (many) concerns I have about giving Fearless Child a sibling is this: what the heck are we going to feed the little bugger? Am I going to try breastfeeding again, or stick to what I now know and love? And how does this decision affect what I’ve been fighting to accomplish with my blog?

Months ago, we were having dinner with some dear friends who have a son the exact same age as my little guy. Like everyone else I know, the mom, whom we shall call Jane, exclusively breastfed for a year. We got to talking about the book I was working on, and one thing led to another, leading her to pose the inevitable question: “But you’ll still breastfeed your next one, right? I mean, why wouldn’t you at least try?”

I opened my mouth to respond, and promptly shut it (yeah, I actually do know how to do that, unlikely as it may seem from these ramblings). Because I didn’t know how to answer.  I always say I am pro-breastfeeding; if things had been different, I would’ve nursed from the beginning, so why should I deprive future children of that same opportunity?  Maybe the next kid wouldn’t have all the issues that plagued Fearless Child. Maybe my postpartum depression wouldn’t be as severe, giving me more tolerance to work through the hardships, and eliminating my need for potentially harmful pharmaceuticals.

It was the second part of Jane’s question that really got me thinking, though. Why wouldn’t I at least try? Well, that’s the thing… if I believe what I preach here, that formula is a perfectly healthy, perfectly fine choice, one that worked wonders for my family – why would I feel the need to “try”? That implies that something is fundamentally wrong with the alternative; that the option I should attempt is something coveted, something better. This feeds into so many deeper issues, so many philosophical arguments…too complex an issue to hash out over Mexican food and wine.

It is so hard to separate what I actually want, on that pure id kind of level,  from what I stand for. But I need to remind myself that I don’t stand “for” formula feeding, necessarily; I stand for choice. I stand for doing what is best for your family. For my family, I expect that formula feeding will remain the most appropriate option, but who knows? I reserve the right to change my mind. And in the meantime, I’ll keep fighting to protect that right, for myself, and for all of us.

Now that I’ve resolved that concern, I could use some help with the next one. Anyone with two kids under three years old want to explain to me how you go to the supermarket? You can’t put two kids in the shopping cart, right? See? The logistics of this boggle the mind…

FFF Friday: “Formula feeding is becoming a guilty secret”

Fearless formula feeding goes international once again this Friday. FFF Bridget’s experience may have taken place in the UK, but I expect it will feel pretty darn universal to many of us. She tells me that in London, where she lives, “bottle feeding is frowned upon and seen as being something uninformed and uncaring mothers do.” (Just for the record: I’ve read Bridget’s fantastic blog, and it is abundantly clear she is far from uninformed or uncaring.) 

As someone who intended to breast feed but ended up turning to “evil” formula in desperation, I’ve been really pleased to discover blogs like the “Fearless Formula Feeder” out there. It sometimes feels as though formula feeding, despite its prevalence, is becoming a guilty secret, particularly in a place like London where I live.

I think part of the problem is that extremists on either side have created a pitched battle when in fact it doesn’t have to be about the ‘right way’ and the ‘wrong way’ – just whatever works for the mum in question. Though I used formula till my baby turned one (now on cow’s milk), I’m absolutely not anti-breastfeeding (and I resent it when people assume formula feeders are). For me though, it just didn’t work out. There are lots of reasons why – pre-eclampsia, early (tiny) baby, post natal depression, a horrific stay on the post natal ward in hospital – but do they matter? Why do we feel the need to explain our choice – surely such a fundamental part of motherhood as how to feed our child is our business?

I don’t understand why people get so exercised about women who formula feed – you would think we were feeding our babies intravenous McDonalds. Yet something that really stuck with me after I’d made my decision was my doctor reassuring me that formula is designed by top nutritionists. For me, I truly believe it meant the difference between coping and not coping – because it meant I was able to feed my small, hungry baby, and yes, I was able to get help with feeding him too.

I have lots of admiration for women who struggle on with breastfeeding and make it work. But surely all the different stories of motherhood have taught us one thing; that we all deal with this enormous challenge in our own way. People often used to ask me if I was feeding my son ‘myself’. I always hated this question as of course what the person asking it means is ‘are you breastfeeding’. I used to always feel the need to explain that no, I formula fed him, but emphasise that I HAD tried to feed him for two weeks etc. Talking it through with my husband and friends recently, I decided (with a great sense of relief) that I shouldn’t have to say all that anymore! What does it matter what our intentions were, why do we feel we have to show we tried? I feel so strongly about this that I’m now quite open about the fact that if and when I do have another baby, I’m quite prepared to formula feed again as it worked for me – and really, it’s nobody’s business why!

Feel like sharing your story? Email me at formulafeeders@gmail.com.

The best kind of breastfeeding advocacy….

…Is the kind that celebrates ALL choices women make.

In the past few days, I’ve come across two websites worth mentioning. The first is a blog post from the creator of Nummies nursing bras, Alison Kramer. On the surface, she fits the profile of someone who would not be kind to FFFs – she breastfed all of her kids (extended nursing, no less – to like age four) and owns a business focused on breastfeeding women. She also nursed through some severe cases of mastitis and “plugged ducts so bad… that the midwife had to open them with a lance.” (Umm….OUCH?)

But rather than assuming her choices would be right for everyone, Kramer has the intelligence and sensitivity to understand that we all do what is best for OUR families – not someone else’s. She blogs:

I don’t write a lot about breastfeeding because I understand that there are many women who choose not to breastfeed and I don’t think it is any of my business why they do.   I have seen new moms in tears because they are not able to successfully nurse their children for a variety of reasons and my heart goes out to them.  I see women who spend their days pumping and feeding with bottles only to be judged by other breastfeeding women because their milk comes from a bottle.

I am blessed to know amazing daddies who have been caregivers of little ones full or half time.  I do not think it is a breast that makes a parent or a bond when feeding….

The problem that I see with the breastfeeding debate is that it puts parents against each other in judgment.  I don’t like anything that pits us against each other.  Parents need to build each other up.  I want to talk about breastfeeding, but I am just not sure how to start.

I beg to differ, Allison. I think you of all people, know EXACTLY how to start. And if I ever buy a nursing bra, you better believe I’ll be buying one from you. 🙂

The second interesting site I’ve recently discovered is MOBI Motherhood International. I’ve debated whether to add them as a link in “Factivist Finds”, however. My relationship with this site is fraught with conflict, for two reasons:

A) I found it through Amy Spangler’s site, and her particular stance on the boob vs bottle debate has provoked aggro responses in me one too many times for me to easily accept anything she endorses; and

B) while I appreciate the support and kindness the organization shows women who had trouble nursing, I fear that it is perpetuating the message that formula feeding is something to feel sad and guilty about.

The site is rife with ads for various breastfeeding books (Spangler’s included), endorsements for herbs and other somewhat extreme measures to enhance milk supply or correct latching issues. The benefit of this type of information is that it could help women who desperately want to nurse and are facing seemingly insurmountable odds, and I would certainly want these women to have the opportunity to fulfill their desire to breastfeed. But I also don’t know if that supports the message of my blog – that it is more than okay to formula feed, and that the very fact that we HAVE to “mourn” the loss of the breastfeeding relationship is kind of warped.

Then, I clinked on a tab entitled “Poems by Mothers” and found this:

Love and Nourishment Are One 

By Hilary Jacobson

I still need to hold you near
and feel your dear mouth close
about that tender part of me
where no milk flows.

This sacred thing that should have been,
this rite of every mother,
will not now, nor ever be
a bond, one to the other.

Yet though I feel this utter loss,
a nagging emptiness,
I also smell your warm skin close,
know you don’t need me less.

Song and smile, touch and glance,
we dance our dance until –
scent and hand, hold and clasp,
it’s clear: I love you still.

If love and nourishment are one,
and I love you just the same,
then let me give you love, my love,
that does not bend to shame.

If love and nourishment are one,
perhaps that’s all we need:
to trust our bond is ever here,
regardless how we feed.

As I read these words, I decided that I needed to at least mention MOBI. Because if I forget my larger agenda for a moment, and brush that chip off my shoulder, I can acknowledge that we are products of a society that equates nursing with motherhood. It can hurt when that relationship is taken away, and it is a good thing we have groups like MOBI to alleviate some of that hurt. It may not be my brand of fearless formula feeding, but it is a positive message, all the same.

The skinny on soy: Are soy formulas safe?

Let me preface this post by saying that I am a huge fan of the soybean. Having been a vegetarian (and occasional vegan) for the past 20 years, soy products and I have obviously become BFF.

So when we were trying to figure out my son’s eating issues, I was hoping that soy formula would be the golden ticket. Unfortunately, it turned out that he was allergic to both dairy and soy, and we ended up on hypollergenic formula (Similac Alimemtum). But this had nothing to do with my feelings about soy. Just so we are clear. I still love you, my sweet soybean!

Soy has been in the news a lot lately. Once the golden child of women’s health (it was said to prevent numerous cancers, heart disease, and help alleviate problems associated with menopause), like so many things that have once been exalted for health reasons, the establishment has turned on poor old soy. Now it is being blamed for all sorts of ills, including decreasing metabolism, enlarging thyroids, and killing testicular cells. Yummy.

What does this mean for babies on soy formula? One would think that any problems associated with soy would be exacerbated in its use as an infant formula, since, well, babies are small, and things affect them more strongly than bigger humans (how’s that for a scientific explanation?). In 2008, The AAP came out with a report called “Use of Soy Protein-Based Formulas in Infant Feeding,” which updated it’s 1998 review of soy formulas. Basically, it says the following:

1. Soy formulas have no advantage over cow milk-based formulas.

2. For pre-term infants, soy formulas are not recommended.

3. Soybeans are high in phytoestrogens (estrogen-like compounds found in plant products), but there is no “conclusive evidence” from any study showing that that “eating soy causes problems to human development, reproduction or endocrine function.” (WebMD)

3. If you are vegetarian and do not feel comfortable with milk products (well, actually, the correct term would be “vegan” as vegetarians are fine with dairy products, but hey, semantics…it’s not like the AAP has dieticians on staff or anything….) or your child is lactose intolerant, soy is a safe choice; otherwise stick to milk-based formulas.

4. For kids with food allergies, hypoallergenic formulas are a better bet; many kids who are sensitive to cow’s milk protein are also sensitive to soy. There is no evidence that soy formula confers any protection against the development of allergies over regular formula. (Note: there actually was a recent AAP paper stating that there is possibly an advantage to hydrolysate formulas like Alimentum in this respect; that’s fodder for another post though, so we won’t go into it here.)

Now that we’ve seen what the AAP has to say, let’s look at this from a real-world perspective. Telling a parent that there are “no conclusive studies” on something and then warning him/her to stay away from it isn’t very comforting to that parent. No one wants to be responsible for his/her kid growing breasts at age 8 (especially if that kid is a boy). Why would they warn parents away from soy formula if it were safe?

Here’s one possible answer: the AAP likes to cover it’s bases. These are the same folks who told us to treat peanuts as arsenic for the first few years of a kid’s life; now they are sheepishly (and quietly) admitting that perhaps this policy had a contradictory effect (more kids getting peanut allergies rather than less). Take their statements with a grain of salt – like your mom, they mean well, but can be a little over-dramatic. The truth is that there have simply not been enough studies on the long-term effects of soy formula. I know this won’t put anyone’s mind at ease, but let’s look at it another way – science is discovering new advantages and disadvantages to everything in our world every freaking day. Soy formula has been used for the past 100 years, and while there could obviously be a study that comes out tomorrow saying that it causes all sorts of evils, there could just as easily be a study that proves that potatoes cause cancer. You just never know. All you can do is make an informed decision and weight the pros and cons, and overall, soy formula seems to be a relatively safe choice.

I turned to Dr. Greene, my new favorite pop pediatrician, for some insight. In 2001, he posted the following:

Babies who drink soy formula receive significant amounts of estrogen-like compounds (phytoestrogens) in the form of soy isoflavones. This happens at a developmental time when permanent effects are theoretically possible. Some have speculated that soy formula might be responsible for early puberty in girls or infertility in boys.  The August 15, 2001 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) contains the results of a study of 811 adults, some of who drank soy formula as children and others who drank milk-based formulas. No statistically significant differences were observed between the groups in either women or men. They followed more than 30 different measures of general health or reproductive health. Breast milk is clearly the ideal food for babies, but this study is quite reassuring that soy formulas are a safe alternative. This is good news for babies who do not tolerate cow’s milk formulas well.

Granted, this was nine years ago; the AAP statement came out seven years later. But reading the AAP statement, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, does it?

What I think has changed is the perception of soy in general. The issue with soy is that it is in practically everything. Read any label in your kitchen cupboard – I guarantee you’ll see some terms like soy protein isolate, soy lecithin, soy isoflavens. Even if nary a cube of tofu should ever pass your lips, you’ll still be consuming a fair amount of soy in your lifetime. The problems we are seeing now that are associated with soy are most likely from an overabundance of it in our diets – a real conundrum for vegetarians like me. Once I started looking into it, I realized I was eating soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy milk, tofu, and a myriad of veggie-friendly products all made from soy. Rather than freaking out completely, I opted to switch to almond milk, coconut milk yogurt, and decided to eat dairy cheese or no cheese at all. I still eat tofu and veggie meat (made with soy) nearly every day, but at least it’s not the main ingedient in everything I eat. Moderation, people, moderation.

Back to the babies… If your child can’t tolerate dairy, you basically have two choices in formula – soy or hypoallergenic. It comes down to preference – for those who don’t like the idea of processed, chemical food, then soy formula will probably be a better bet. You can get it in organic variants, and at least you can prononce the majority of the ingredients. The hydrolysate formulas tend to fare better in studies, but they are completely manufactured, not available organic, and extremely cost prohibitive. Plus, a lot of kids won’t drink them, because they taste like crap. Weight the pros and cons and realize that no matter what, you’ll be able to switch them off the stuff in a few short months. (At which point, if you are concerned about an overabundance of soy, I would recommend weaning to regular milk, or a substitute other than soy, like rice, oat or hemp).

Take away message? Go for the soy if it works for your family – my hubbie was raised on the stuff and he doesn’t have boobs. I promise.

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