When we were trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with my son, Fearless Child (FC), we encountered an absolute arsehole of a physician, a pediatric GI who refused to examine FC or listen to his history, immediately brushing us off as neurotic parents and him as “colicky” (he also gave me crap for stopping breastfeeding, but that’s a whole other tirade in and of itself).
Flash forward two years, to the present. Fearlette began her life as the easiest baby ever, as I told you guys in a previous post. We had made an informed choice to put her on a specific formula recommended by my awesome pediatrician, because recent research had hinted that this particular formula might do the same thing as the more expensive hydrosylates in preventing dairy allergies, at a fraction of the cost (and none of the smell). She seemed to be doing great, until around 3 weeks old we when she started getting really refluxy and colicky (like actual colic – sweet all day but turning into a total monster for about 3-4 hours at the same time every night, which is the definition of colic, as opposed to having bloody, mucousy stools, horrible rashes, never sleeping, and screaming constantly all day long, which were FC’s symptoms when we went to visit that craptastic GI). At this point, we switched her to a hypoallergenic formula; we figured why not go with the gold standard, especially considering her brother’s problems. The formula companies market these as “colic” cures, so we hoped that while she didn’t have a dairy problem, the gentle nature of the formula would soothe whatever was ailing her little belly, if that’s what colic actually was. (There are a lot of theories, but most suspect that colic is related to an immature digestive tract.)
We learned pretty quickly that when a baby doesn’t have a severe protein intolerance, a hypoallergenic is not a miracle cure. And even though she was seriously refluxy (she was aspirating her formula, projectile vomiting, and the whole shebang), her symptoms were nothing compared to what FC dealt with. This goes to show, in my opinion, how little is understood about protein intolerance. Protein intolerant kids are miserable not for 3-5 hours a day, but ALL. DAY. LONG. Alimentum worked for my son because he had a legit problem with dairy which was causing his misery; once we found a formula that was modified to deal with this problem, the symptoms cleared up. Colic does not equal protein intolerance, and vice versa.
It makes me wonder if there are more kids out there who are having trouble with milk-based formulas, who are written off as “colicky”, when going on a hypoallergenic formula like Alimentum or Nutramigen would help them immensely. I would also hypothesize that some of the “formula fed babies are sicker” rumors are due to this same problem. FC was rashy and had major bowel issues until we figured out his MSPI; I don’t doubt that if it had gone undiagnosed, his immune system would have been shot trying to handle the milk proteins. We were lucky enough to figure it out, and instead, he has one of the best immune systems out of his group of friends.
I worry that this illustrates an inherent danger in today’s formula-phobic environment. If the only folks doing research on formula that isn’t trying to prove its inferiority are those working for formula companies, we are gonna be severely limited in what we find out. Wanting us all to live in a breastfeeding culture is not going to make the fact that the majority of moms use formula (even if it’s just as a supplement to breastfeeding) go away. It all seems rather punitive, doesn’t it? If we could improve formula, or give parents better guidance on formula feeding, why wouldn’t we? Maybe there is an underlying fear that finding ways of making formula feeding easier and healthier would be seen as undermining breastfeeding?
I also worry that formula feeders have been essentially left under the auspices of formula companies, who are out for profit (as well they should be, as a corporation) rather than altruism. For example, the best advice I could find on proper amounts/average feedings per day came from the literature accompanying the (dastardly) Similac sample pack I received in the mail. Other than that, all I found online was vague information couched in you-know-you-really-should-be-breastfeeding rhetoric. Some breastfeeding advocates say that they want to police the formula companies to protect us formula feeders as well; it seems ironic that their efforts have also made us rely on these same companies for most of our information.
My own pediatrician, who I adore, and who probably does know more about formula than any other doctor in our practice, still is lacking when it comes to formula knowledge. When discussing how to treat Fearlette’s reflux, she told us that the two types of thickened formulas on the market were interchangeable; that they both were “sensitive” formulations with partially broken down proteins. This is not the case. The Enfamil version, Enfamil AR, is just normal milk-based formula with rice starch; the Similac version is partially hydrolyzed. I know enough about this stuff to know what to look for, but what about the average new mom who doesn’t run a formula feeding blog?
I’m rambling, but being thrown back in the formula trenches, this time with a more critical eye, has got me thinking. I really wonder if we aren’t missing the mark; that maybe in the valiant and necessary effort to get doctors and parents more educated on breastfeeding, we have created a generation of physicians unequipped to handle formula feeding parents, and thus a generation of formula feeders left to fend for themselves. I would posit that the average upwardly mobile, educated mom knows a ton more about breastfeeding than they do about formula – and that’s not saying much in either direction.
I can’t remember who proposed this, or what comment thread it was in, but someone mentioned that there should be “feeding consultants” available, who can advise on breastfeeding, formula feeding, and everything in between. This may be the most genius and timely idea I’ve heard when it comes to infant feeding issues. Someone who is judgment-free, who can approach each nursing or formula feeding dyad as unique entity, someone who is up to date on ALL the research, both on formula and breastmilk, and who can lobby the medical and research community to consider new ideas which would actually help parents and babies rather than stress them out more than they already are… Any volunteers?