If you ask most parents, the first few weeks of becoming ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ are a blur.
Full of sleepless nights of crying and feeding that leave you feeling equal parts exhausted and overwhelmed with an indescribable joy. For women who choose to give birth, all of these lifestyle changes are also paired with a tremendous shift in their hormones and bodies. Not only are they recovering from the delivery process—whether vaginal or cesarean—but many explore breastfeeding, as well.
The keyword here is ‘many’—and not ‘breast.’ Not all new parents decide to feed their newborns via breastmilk, and this choice sometimes comes with backlash from family members, friends, and even strangers. Though the conversation to normalize breastfeeding has grown in popularity—especially as women push for lactation rooms at work and freely feed in public—formula-feeding parents aren’t always given the same token of activism and support.
That being said, a recent viral hashtag, #FedisBest, is pushing to extend the breastfeeding discussion to all feeding options. After all, a healthy mom and baby make the best pair, no matter what’s in the bottle.
Here, two women who decided not to breastfeed share their experience and wisdom.
Most importantly, baby needs to be fed.
When Olivia Howell, owner and founder of Howell Media House, became a mom more than five years ago, she tried to breastfeed at birth. Her son wasn’t latching correctly and she instantly felt anxiety around the experience. Soon, a (not-so-helpful) lactation consultant invited her to join a breastfeeding class in a general meeting area of the Labor and Delivery floor. Considering she was still bleeding post-birth and was in pain, she didn’t feel comfortable taking her newborn around strangers. For the three days after she returned home with her infant, she continued to breastfeed but found little success.
Right before the pediatrician’s appointment, she noticed her son had crystals in his diaper, which is a sign of dehydration. “The pediatrician told us he had a severe tongue-tie, and if we wanted to get it snipped, it would help, but not necessarily solve all of our breastfeeding issues. He said we needed to start formula ASAP,” she shared. Taking doctor’s orders, she gave her just-born son a formula bottle, and after drinking it, he slept happily for the first time. At that moment, Howell said there was no going back since her child’s health was more important than a desire or recommendation to breastfeed. “I had no emotional attachment to breastfeeding at all. When my second son was born, I knew I was not going to breastfeed, as it just wasn’t for me,” she added.
Sometimes, your body isn’t on team breastfeeding.
Regardless of how many celebrities and pals on Facebook share sweet breastfeeding shots with their babies, it isn’t a seamless experience for everyone. From clogged ducts and engorged nipples to low supply, there are an array of issues that affect many women as they attempt to feed their children. Though many females are encouraged to work through these and keep trying until they find a solution…not everyone’s body will react the same way. And guess what? TV host, entrepreneur, and mom, Christina Nicholson is here to remind you that’s OK. She has two children and is due with her third in October, and all have been (or will be) formula-fed.
After her daughter was born, she tried to breastfeed but she wouldn’t latch on, so they used a formula with the intention to supplement with breast milk via pumping. But once she arrived home, it took her 30 minutes to pump two ounces. She did the math, and considering a newborn eats every two to three hours, she realized that perhaps her body wasn’t made for the process. This was especially true since she returned to work three months later as a TV reporter in the field, which often required her to be stuck outside a crime scene all day, every single day.
“I did not want to pump in a news truck, with a photographer sitting beside me. For me, formula was just easier. I knew my baby was getting the nutrients she needed with formula and could be fed any time, anywhere,” she shared. “It worked so well, I didn’t even try to breastfeed with my second and I will not with my third.”
Be prepared for backlash.
Though Nicholson was happy with her choice to formula feed, she was surprised by the vast amount of judgment she experienced from people in public and on the internet, regardless of whether or not she knew them.
“I’m not one to be mom-shamed no matter how hard people try, and trust me, they will try with just about every decision you make,” she continued. “I think today the problem lies in anyone being able to put anything on the internet and if it helps back up their personal beliefs, they don’t care if it’s true or not. They’ll share it.”
Case in point? A Facebook friend shared a post from a conspiracy theory fan page that suggested formula had ingredients that weren’t healthy for newborns. Curious, Nicholson compared the two and realized the back label portrayed in the image was inaccurate.
“What she shared looked to be the label of a candy bar, not formula. When I pointed this out, I was unfriended,” she shared. “This was more than seven years ago and she still has not reached out to me.”
Her best advice for parents who choose to formula feed is to prepare for the questions and the comments that will inevitably come. Though you do not have to defend yourself, it helps to have scripted responses that cut back on the backlash and will hopefully give you—and your tired new parent self—some peace.
Remember: Stay true to yourself.
Repeat after Howell: You will not feel ‘less than’ by not breastfeeding. Many women worry they won’t bond with their child or perhaps, they aren’t giving everything they can to their baby, but it’s far from the truth. This puts an incredible amount of pressure that will weigh even heavier when you’re sleep-deprived, hormonal, and nervous as a first-time parent.
What’s more important is staying true to yourself and the needs of not only your family but yourself.
“A mother’s mental health has to come first. I knew if I tried to breastfeed my older son, I’d fall into a depression and not be able to enjoy his newborn phase,” she shared. “I picked my mental health over breastfeeding and I’m 100 percent confident in that decision.’