Welcome to Fearless Formula Feeder Fridays, a weekly guest post feature that strives to build a supportive community of parents united through our common experiences, open minds, and frustration with the breast-vs-bottle bullying and bullcrap.
Please note, these stories are for the most part unedited, and do not necessarily represent the FFF’s opinions. They also are not political statements – this is an arena for people to share their thoughts and feelings, and I hope we can all give them the space to do so.
I think Amanda Koppelman-Milstein, the author of the following post, should make a video of her “Formula is Fun” song and put it on YouTube.
Happy Friday, fearless ones (and for once, you might actually feel happy after reading an FFF Friday rather than wanting to stick your head in the oven, thanks to Amanda’s awesome sense of humor),
Formula is Fun
by Amanda Koppelman-Milstein
When it turned out I could not exclusively breastfeed, I felt that I needed to launch a mini-publicity campaign for my son so that he would appreciate the benefits of formula. No sucking on manure-contaminated goat’s teats, being farmed out to wet-nurses, or starving to death for my baby—formula exists! We live in a community saturated with breast-is-best messages, and I didn’t want him to feel inferior. In addition, I wanted to cheer myself up in the face of well-meaning advice about increasing my milk supply that made me sob uncontrollably. As I prepared the bottle of formula for my baby’s three AM feeding, I sang my son one of the pro-formula songs I wrote for him:
Breast is best but formula is fun!
Breast is best but formula is fun!
Formula is made by giant evil corporations
But without the formula, you would face starvation.
I had always imagined myself breastfeeding my kids for years, giving them all possible benefits they could obtain from breast milk regardless of the costs to modesty or sanity. Unsurprisingly, I had never dreamed of singing “Yakety Yak (Similac)” while cleaning bottles and praying for a bigger milk supply. However, when I got ulcerative colitis in my second trimester of pregnancy, it became clear that at some point, post-birth, that I was going to want to take some drugs that neither I nor my doctor thought were compatible with breastfeeding. I thought I’d try and get a few months or weeks in of exclusive breastfeeding in before what I referred to as “bringing in the good drugs,” but it turned out I made next to no milk.
In the weeks after he was born, my dedicated son nursed for up to twenty hours a day. My husband held him to my body as I attempted to sleep. After five consecutive hours of nursing, he was still rocking his head back and forth and screaming in hunger. My mother, who was staying with us, announced that this was actually not how breastfeeding was supposed to go, and called in a lactation consultant who arrived the same day our pediatrician said it was time to start supplementing with formula. The lactation consultant mixed him his first bottle, and told us our first priority should be getting our kid fed, and that I had many risk factors for not making enough milk.
We decided to partially breastfeed and hold off on my treating my colitis properly for a few months. Waiting wasn’t a brilliant decision in terms of my own health, but I found breastfeeding addictive. It made the baby so happy! It was so snuggly! It made him stop crying! It made him go to sleep! It was magic.
Not being able to breastfeed him fully made me feel inadequate. My husband grew entirely bored with the nights when I sat around pumping and crying, saying “We are so fortunate that we have a healthy child (sob). I am so grateful that he is so wonderful and that you are so wonderful, I just wish we didn’t also have to use (sob) formula.”
“WAHHH!” added the baby,cheerfully sucking on whatever was presented to him.
While breastfeeding is magic, formula has a certain amount of magic to it as well. There is a reason public health campaigns need to push breastfeeding in a way they don’t need to push activities that are more compatible with working, sleeping, eating, or running to the subway. Formula is, to some extent, fun. You can give it to the baby anywhere without taking your boobs out, which is endlessly convenient at funerals, police stations, and other places where wearing a shirt is just objectively better.
I didn’t think I was the sort of feminist who thought formula feeding was good for feminism–I always thought that was an extremist point of view that disregarded the health of infants–until I experience the joy of my husband being responsible for half of the night feedings, and saw what being just as good of a food source as I was did for his relationship with our son. This is not to say I don’t support breastfeeding–just that since I couldn’t, I was able to appreciate the upsides.
Eventually, I hit the illness wall and had to start weaning the baby, which he was extremely gracious about. By this point his appetite massively exceeded whatever milk I could make, and he grinned and bounced a bit when I unlatched him to give him the bottle.
His positive attitude about weaning dissipated when we ran out of the milk I had pumped and frozen before starting with my new medicine. The mainstay of his diet is a vile tasting hypoallergenic formula that turned him from a colicky grump into the happiest and most gregarious baby I have ever met. It smells like rancid mac and cheese. Once that was the only thing going into him, he began inspecting visiting females for signs of lactation, and in a moment of misplaced hope, gave my father-in-law a hickey on his arm. Even once we introduced solids, he pulled down the shirts of visiting females and looked at them as if to say, “Please, would you consider being my wet-nurse? I know this is a sensitive issue for my mom,but we could keep it just between the two of us… Have you seen this soy-free lactose-free stuff they’re giving me? Did you know breast milk is best for young babies, such as myself? Wanna give it a go?”
Due to my months of sadness about only partially breastfeeding, I am more than a little defensive about my “choice”—although I don’t really consider not trying to treat my illness in the long term or letting the kid starve to have been reasonable options. The other week a houseguest made a relatively innocent remark (“At least you got to give him colostrum”) and I ran to the other room to cry.
Writing this now, when my son is the happiest baby to ever exist, it’s hard to channel the incredible sadness I felt when I couldn’t make enough milk and when I weaned him. However, recently my doctor suggested switching my medicines, with perhaps a short hiatus between drug-that-has-not-been-shown-