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The Breastfeeding Journey: How Using Formula Made Me a Better Mom

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

baby nursing from mom's breast

Deciding on how to feed your baby is a personal, often complex decision. You may be researching this while pregnant, or could be a parent reflecting on their experiences with feeding your child. How to feed your baby is one of the first experiences you'll have where you get to decide - which can trigger overwhelm, uncertainty, and confusion - and there can be a strong pressure to get it right.

Do you want to breastfeed?

Do you want to use formula?

What is the best formula to use?

Do you get stuck thinking "breast is best," or can you be flexible and think "fed is best"?

How will you recognize your baby is hungry?

What are their cues?

How often will you feed?

Who will you turn to if feeding your baby is a challenge?

All of these questions are common and valid, especially for first-time parents who may have little to no experience feeding a newborn. This post hopes to address some of these questions, plus a personal story of my own journey feeding my little blessing.

baby nursing while holding parent's finger

Research shows that breastfeeding has its benefits. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists five benefits of breastfeeding:

  1. Breastmilk changes to meet baby's nutritional and health needs

  2. Breastmilk can help protect against some illnesses and diseases

  3. Breastmilk carriers antibodies to help babies develop strong immune systems

  4. Breastfeeding can occur anywhere, on demand

  5. Breastfeeding helps reduce mama's risks for certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health conditions

Another study demonstrates that the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding has an anxiolytic effect (it reduces anxiety like an anti-anxiety medication), promoting a sense of calm and well-being in mothers. It triggers the “love hormone,” also known as oxytocin, which helps with bonding between parent and child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released updated recommendations on breastfeeding, including a policy statement and technical report detailing interesting statistics around breastfeeding, disparities, and ways to improve equity for those who wish to breastfeeding their babies.

QUICK PAUSE: It is important to highlight that gender-diverse families "may have less access to human milk because of both social and biological constraints" as noted in the policy. Inclusivity is an important component of high-quality healthcare, so recognize that people chestfeed and may prefer that term. Be accepting and inclusive; also note that this blog tends to use the word breastfeeding predominantly while fully recognizing and acknowledging the validity of chestfeeding.

parent bottle feeding their baby

Whether someone breastfeeds or chestfeeds, what these studies and recommendations fail to recognize is the challenges associated with feeding your baby from your body or with human milk. There are crappy myths such as:

Breastfeeding is so easy!

It's natural & anyone can do it!

It doesn't hurt!

If you don't breastfeed, you won't bond with your baby!

Formula is filled with harmful ingredients!

...k. These are huge misconceptions that shame mothers who struggle with breastfeeding. It's a learned skill, both for the parent and the newborn, and it. isn't. easy. Tongue-, lip-, and cheek-ties can go undiagnosed and contribute to struggles. (DULUTH/LOCAL MAMAS- go see Dr. Camille Zelen at Mount Royal Dental for a *free* consult to assess baby for any of these concerns. She’s excellent!) An improper latch can cause nipple injury. (OUCH!) A "low" or average supply is seen as a disappointment when compared to the social media accounts who boast oversupply (which is also an issue of its own and can put people at risk of infection, pain, and more). Lack of support and difficulties adjusting to the multitude of changes that come with having a newborn are stressful. Lactation consultants take classes and continuing education to maintain their knowledge in order to teach this skill to others. Neither you or your baby just *magically know* how to do this once baby makes their way earth-side. And that not knowing? It doesn't make you a failure, inadequate, or a bad parent. If you choose to breastfeed, you and your baby will need to learn and practice (thankfully (?) babies feed often enough that you'll have plenty of opportunities, and there are supports like lactation consultants who can help!). Fun fact: meeting with a lactation consultant is covered under the Affordable Care Act!

While there are studies showing positive impacts for baby and mama in support of breastfeeding, there are also studies that highlight the negative impacts. This study examines the relationship between breastfeeding difficulties and postnatal psychological distress. It found that mothers who experienced breastfeeding difficulties were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression in the early postpartum period. This study examines the relationship between postpartum anxiety and infant-feeding outcomes, including breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity. It found that postpartum anxiety was associated with lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and shorter breastfeeding duration. It's important to note that these studies highlight potential associations and do not establish a direct causal relationship between breastfeeding and negative mental health outcomes. Breastfeeding difficulties, lack of support, or other confounding factors may contribute to these associations. It is crucial to provide adequate support and resources to breast/chestfeeding parents to address any challenges they may face, promoting positive mental health outcomes.

If you take any message away from this post, let it be this: your baby needs to eat.

Fed Is Best. A mom/parent who is mentally and emotionally well is best.

If feeding your baby human milk is a priority, there are options. It's recommended to consult with your healthcare provider(s) to make an informed decision based on your personal circumstances and needs. Please do try breast/chestfeeding if that is what you value and believe you want to do. And if it doesn't go well- you still have options that don't include only using formula. One idea is to feed combined formula and breastmilk if that's what you choose to do. If your mental health would benefit from less pressure associated with breastfeeding, it's important to recognize and respect your needs. If you choose to go with formula from the beginning and don't want to try to learn how to breastfeed THAT IS OKAY. Do what's best for you, and your baby. You are in charge and get to decide. It doesn't work to get stuck in guilt or shame. When breastfeeding works, it can have positive effects. When it doesn't, it can worsen mental health and contribute to postpartum depression and anxiety. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on working through "mom guilt" and how to become more flexible in your thinking.)

My Story

When I gave birth to my daughter I immediately had support from my midwife around breastfeeding. We'd talked about it, I felt it aligned with my values and beliefs, and I wanted to try. I committed, while also giving myself permission to make a different choice if it didn't work out. As a perinatal mental health specialist I have heard all too often about how difficult breastfeeding is, and have supported moms in making decisions that work for them and help improve their mental health. I would switch to formula if needed.

Then my baby was born. We worked hard for a couple of months at breastfeeding, including dealing with engorgement and repeatedly painful latches even when we were supposedly getting a "good latch." We saw lactation consultants. I researched and sought out support. I started to pump after about six weeks. It was hard, and I cried a lot. For me- nursing was kind of sucky. I experienced a bruised and cracked nipple... my GOD. SO painful. After many tears and feeling inadequate I finally decided that I needed to change: feeding my baby breastmilk was still a priority and she didn't need to nurse to get milk from me. Thus, I switched to pumping. We eventually stopped nursing mid-winter and I was able to get a portable breast pump through my insurance (thank you Milk Moms!). It was finicky at times but I've got a good handle on how to get just as much expressed milk from the portable pump I had been using.

Feeding my baby breastmilk from a bottle is still breastfeeding. She's drinking the milk from my breast. Don't let anyone invalidate that as not being breastfed when they mean that you're not nursing. /end rant/

It's been 8 months and things are going well. But I've never produced the "full amount" to satisfy her so we started combo feeding. Thus came some more research to answer my latest postpartum question...

Supplementing with formula, sometimes referred to as combo/combination feeding, means that you are combining breastmilk and formula to meet your baby's nutritional needs. An article by ​​Dr. Lauren Crosby, MD, FAAP (an amazing mama, doctor, and woman) covers important information about combo feeding such as the benefits, some considerations, and commonly asked questions. Check out the ultimate combo feeding guide on Milk Drunk, another excellent resource for parents covering all things feeding, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting, and even has expert insights available to you. So cool!

Families choose to combo feed for a number of reasons- returning to work, low supply, allowing others to help feed, or simply because that's preferred and works best for the family. There's no one right way to feed your baby. Just feed them!

“Combo feeding is a great feeding option for parents looking to share the nourishment of breast milk while supplementing with formula. Combo feeding can be done to extend the breastfeeding journey. It’s even a great way for the partner to take care of night time feedings so that mom can get some extra sleep yet continue to breastfeed during the daytime. Whichever amount of breast milk versus formula works best for you is a win in our parenting book.”- Dr. Crosby

Researching formulas can be a whole other task. I researched “what’s the best tasting formula for babies?” “Clean formula for babies.” “Best baby formula for breastfed babies.” We tried a few brands before discovering Bobbie. I’m pleased to say we found a winner! She spit up WAY less and seemingly had a better ability to digest this formula compared to others. We've gone through a few cans now and my daughter happily drinks her boob juice/Bobbie combo babas with glee. Her triumphant burps after bottles are pretty cute, too.

So, what’s so special about Bobbie you ask? Good question! Cue Bobbie’s own Mallory Whitmore, AKA The Formula Mom (mama of 2 and Bobbie’s Education Lead) to share:

"Bobbie offers what parents want– a clinically-backed infant formula recipe that is modeled after breast milk! Bobbie uses exclusively lactose as the carbohydrate source, just like breast milk, and does not contain any alternative sugars like corn syrup or maltodextrin. Additionally, Bobbie’s protein ratio of 60% whey to 40% casein mirrors the whey:casein ratio found in mature breast milk. Bobbie Organic Formula is USDA and EU certified organic and contains both iron and DHA at levels that meet U.S. and European guidelines. Bobbie is the only mom-founded and mom-led formula company in the U.S., and it shows– this formula has everything that you want (crucial nutrients!) and nothing that you don’t (GMOs, pesticide residues, added sugar, antibiotics or hormones, hexane-extracted oils)."

Thanks, Mallory, for the commentary! It's great to have information backed by science. For more, go check out Mallory's The Formula Mom website and follow @theformulamom on Instagram!I'm a huge supporter of informed decision making and considering the evidence available to ultimately decide what I think is best, for me and my baby, with room to change my mind if new information presents itself.

So whatever you choose- breastfed or formula fed or a combination of the two- there's no one right way except the one that works best for you. There's research supporting the benefits of breastmilk, and research supporting the benefits of prioritizing maternal mental health. Do your research. Listen to others and hear yourself. You'll make the best call, mama.

Sending you love!

PS- Duluth Perinatal is an affiliate partner with Bobbie. This partnership recently happened and we are so stoked to support a women- and mama-founded company.

Bobbie brand formula can with a scoop of formula and baby bottle

You can use this link to check out Bobbie!

NOTE: Purchases made through an affiliate link result in Duluth Perinatal earning a commission, at no cost to you. This helps support reduced fee and pro bono services to local mamas or families in need. Thanks for your support!



DISCLAIMER: The content of Duluth Perinatal’s website, blog, or social media is for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing found here is intended to be a substitute for professional mental health or medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

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