I was the picture of preparation. I had attended the breastfeeding class at my local hospital, stocked my cupboards with breast pads and lanolin, and met with the on-staff lactation specialist within hours of delivery. Breastfeeding was the obvious way to go—all the books and blogs said so—and I was determined to do it right. But my breastfeeding reality was painful in more ways than one.
I know they say that nursing shouldn’t hurt. (There may be some “discomfort” at first, but pain? Never.) So maybe I was doing it wrong, but yikes! It hurt to get dressed, to shower and definitely to latch my baby on for a feeding. I never really experienced the engorgement so many moms encounter, but the raw nipple pain was excruciating in the beginning. There was blood, and there were tears. However, the pain eventually faded once I made it past the first couple weeks.
My next hurdle in new motherhood was venturing out of the house. With my husband at work all day, I needed to get out and escape the monotony of home for a bit. For my first attempt, I showered and got ready, breastfed my baby and headed to Target. But by the time we pulled into the parking lot—literally two blocks from my home—my daughter was crying to be fed again. I nursed her in the car, strapped her back into her car seat and drove home defeated. It was a lonely existence, spending all day in seclusion with my precious but demanding infant.
To make matters worse, my baby wasn’t growing fast enough. At our early wellness checkups, the doctor was concerned that her weight hadn’t changed much, and she still hadn’t regained her birth weight (a hefty 8 pounds, 5 ounces). When I was spending what felt like all my time nursing, both day and night, this was truly disheartening news. I tried pumping and found that I could only come up with a few ounces at a time—at most. The problem was clear: I simply didn’t produce enough milk. My baby was underfed and ravenous.
While I could have experimented with herbs and supplements or strapped up to a heavy-duty pump several times a day to try to increase my supply, my solution at the time was to supplement with formula. This decision wasn’t easy to come by. I felt guilt, knowing that “breast is best” and feeling as if turning to formula would jeopardize my daughter’s health. I also, for whatever reason, felt that I would be disappointing my own mom. She’s kind of a supermom role model for me, with five children of her own and years of breastfeeding success behind her.
When I called my mom to confess how I was feeling and that I was considering formula, she was anything but let down. “Do what works for you and your baby! There’s nothing wrong with bottle-feeding. Pretty much my whole generation [baby boomers] were bottle-fed, and we grew up to be healthy adults.” Ah, relief. (Didn’t I say she was a supermom?)
The first time I introduced a bottle, my baby gulped it down. No nipple confusion. No objection to the taste of formula compared to breast milk. I continued to breastfeed but supplemented with a bottle once a day, then twice a day, as she demanded more (and probably, as my breast milk supply was further diminished). I saw such a change in baby’s personality when she was well-fed. Her life had been composed of constant feedings or crying to be fed—now, with a full tummy, she became a content, congenial, smiley baby. And I began to enjoy motherhood.
While I did continue to breastfeed at least once a day until baby was about 9 months old, the bottle was my best friend and partner in feeding. I felt like I got my life back when I wasn’t constantly feeding her, hiding out in my bedroom. And it was pretty fun to see the happiness on great-grandma’s face when she got a turn to feed my little one!
Bottle-feeding for beginners
There are many reasons why moms choose to bottle-feed. Some encounter insurmountable difficulties while trying to breastfeed. Others have busy schedules (working full time or taking care of older kids) that make bottle-feeding a sensible choice. And for some, it’s simply a personal preference.
If you have chosen to bottle-feed, here are a few basic guidelines to get you going:
- Try a couple different kinds of bottles to discover which baby prefers. You’ll find many varieties of nipple shapes on the shelves, and some bottles work better than others at preventing leakage and keeping baby from swallowing too much air. For a newborn, start with slow-flow nipples and smaller bottle sizes. Move up to faster-flow and larger bottles as baby grows.
- As with breastfeeding, offer the bottle every two hours or so in the beginning. Let baby drink her fill, and don’t try to force down extra. You’ll likely find that baby will go a bit longer between feedings because formula is slower to digest than breast milk. Stool is often a bit thicker with formula as well, but as long as baby is having regular wet and dirty diapers, it’s nothing to worry about.
- Sanitize! Boil new bottles, rings and nipples for a clean start. Then, hand wash and air dry bottles after each use, or run them through the dishwasher on the top rack. (You may want to buy a dishwasher basket to keep track of the pieces.) Bottles shouldn’t be reused without a thorough washing, and any milk or formula not consumed at a feeding should be dumped rather than saved for later.
- Warm safely or serve cold. There’s nothing wrong with serving cold milk or formula, but if baby won’t take it, heat the full bottle under warm running water or in a bottle warmer. Skip the microwave, which can create hot spots that could burn your little one.
- For baby’s safety and best digestion, cradle her in your arms as you give her a bottle. Hold her head up rather than laying her down flat, and burp regularly to avoid tummy discomfort. Bottle propping is a big no-no. If bottles start to show wear and tear—cracking, discoloration, or ripped or thinned nipples—toss them and buy new.
Breast milk or formula?
Bottle-feeding doesn’t have to mean formula-feeding. If you have a sufficient milk supply and you’re not taking medication that could be harmful to baby, pumping your own milk is a wonderful option. Your breast milk is biologically formulated to best suit your baby, passing necessary antibodies from your body to baby’s. However, if you don’t have the time, patience or ability to pump, formula is the next best alternative, and it’s very healthy for baby. Consult with your doctor about which formula to choose. Standard dairy-based formula works for most infants, but if your baby is dairy-sensitive or experiencing acid reflux, other recommendations could be necessary. Always follow the directions on the formula container, measuring the formula and water carefully to provide optimal nutrition to your baby.