Whether I should breastfeed or use formula is something I thought a lot about when I was pregnant in 2012. Back in the ’70s when I was an infant, formula was more popular and so I was bottle-fed. Nowadays, breastfeeding is back in style, and it’s deemed healthier and more economical. In some cases this is true, but not in all.
When I was pregnant, my husband and I took an intensive childbirth class. It included a session on breastfeeding, where I learned about all of the benefits, how to do it easily (or so I thought), and how to pump. I decided it was what I wanted to do when my child was born.
However, things didn’t go exactly as planned. When I was still in the hospital after my son was born, I met a lactation consultant who tried to show me how to get a proper latch. But it didn’t work so well for my son and me. Every time I tried to get him to latch on, he would scream at the top of his lungs and turn bright red. Even when I left the hospital, he latched on sometimes but wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed. He didn’t seem to like breastfeeding, and because of his reaction, I didn’t like it much either.
At that point, I decided to move to formula. He started with a brand that was provided by the hospital when we were there. My son seemed much happier on that for a while, but soon he started crying a lot during the day and incessantly through the night. I took him to the pediatrician, who thought he had colic, and we changed his formula to a different brand. That changed everything. He stayed on that until he moved to solid food.
Another reason that I decided to use formula, outside of my son’s tummy issues and inability to latch, was that I knew that I wouldn’t have much of a maternity leave because I had started a new job that year. While I could have pumped, formula feeding was just much easier.
The fact is, while I took the less popular route in today’s society, I had a choice between two healthy options. I can’t help thinking about women who currently live in developing countries who don’t or mothers in the past who didn’t. According to a BBC.com article, “Breastfeeding: Was there ever a golden age?,” women who had their milk come in late or were unable to breastfeed at all had limited, and usually unsafe, alternatives. Many hand-fed babies died because of the germs and non-sterilized bottles and accessories. It was the relative instability of these hand-feeding methods, along with an explosion of infant deaths accompanying the immigration and employment booms of the industrial revolution, that led physicians to seek a safer way and to the creation of formula.
I know that some mothers think of themselves as failures because they have to use formula because they couldn’t provide the amount of milk their babies needed. There’s no reason to feel this way because we have another healthy option. Like parenting in general, everything is trial and error. Some things that you thought would work for you change when you actually become a parent—the same goes for the choice between breastfeeding and formula.