When I became pregnant for the first time, I was shocked by how often the topic of feeding came up. Friends, family members, and healthcare providers were all curious to know how I planned to feed the baby. Frankly, I didn’t understand why. I knew I was personally fed infant formula as a baby—isn’t it as simple as just mixing up a bottle? Oh, how wrong I was.
Having never spent time around babies prior to my pregnancy, I went into full research mode as soon as I knew I was expecting. I immersed myself in books and pamphlets and listened diligently to my provider’s advice during my countless prenatal appointments. It didn’t take long to understand that breastfeeding is the preferred and recommended method for feeding babies. It was also becoming clear that breastfeeding isn’t a simple process. As an outsider looking in, I started to view it as a way of life. My understanding was this: Breastfeeding takes time and commitment, and it often includes a few trials and tribulations along the way (mastitis, difficulty latching, milk-soaked shirts, etc.).
I was apprehensive, but given the benefits I kept reading about and my doctor’s adamancy about the cause, I planned to give it a whirl. And so, I breastfed my children—but not exclusively and not for very long. Here’s why choosing to formula feed was right for me.
Why Choosing to Formula Feed Was Right for Me
Breastfeeding Was Stressful From the Start
I’ll never forget the third night of my firstborn’s life. We were home from the hospital and—unlike the first two days—he was screaming like there was no tomorrow. He had been exclusively breastfed up until that point and my husband and I, at our wit’s end, finally decided to sterilize the bottles we’d received at our baby shower and mix up some formula. Our son was clearly very unhappy, and we were desperate to solve the issue. We offered him the bottle of infant formula and he instantly gulped the two ounces down at an inordinate speed. At that moment it was clear to us: The little guy was hungry. Very hungry.
I realize now, having gone through the infancy stage with two children at this point, that my milk hadn’t yet come in and my son was experiencing what one nurse described as the “no-milk blues.” She explained that this term refers to when the baby is hungry for more than colostrum, but your body hasn’t yet caught up to produce the milk they’re looking for. I could have stayed true to the breastfeeding cause. I could have tried harder. But—and here’s the kicker—I didn’t want to. So I didn’t.
Feeding my son a bottle of infant formula felt magical. He was fed. He was happy. I knew how much he had eaten—for the first time since becoming a mother three days prior, I felt at ease. I did continue to breastfeed and pump for the following two months, but that first bottle marked a shift in my mindset and my breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeeding Was Detrimental to My Mental Health
Every time I breastfed my son, I would be overcome with intense feelings of anxiety and fear. I felt alone, sad, and utterly hopeless. I like to consider myself a fairly critical thinker, so I reasoned with myself that what I was feeling was most likely hormone-related.
After my second child was born, I experienced this sensation again. Taking to the internet this time around, I soon came across a handful of medical articles on Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, otherwise known as D-MER. Long story short, D-MER is a physiological reaction that causes those with the condition to feel symptoms similar to postpartum depression or anxiety while breastfeeding. The symptoms are directly tied to breastfeeding, and for many women, they let up within 10 minutes.
For many moms, breastfeeding can be an effective way to bond with their child. It can even help them feel relaxed. Unfortunately, it made me feel truly awful. And that’s not something anyone needs postpartum, when depression is quick to rear its ugly head.
While I was never officially diagnosed with D-MER, my symptoms matched the condition to a tee. Knowing there was a clear physical cause for the way I was feeling definitely made it easier to breastfeed my second child, but only up until she turned 1 month old. Because D-MER aside, choosing to breastfeed also means choosing to get significantly less sleep than anyone else in the house. I know myself, and I know that sleep deprivation is a catalyst for a whole onslaught of negative emotions. After five weeks of getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby, I was done.
Formula Feeding Allowed Me to Sleep Train Our Children Faster
Probably like a lot of parents, I didn’t realize just how important sleep was until I wasn’t getting any. While I made a more concerted effort to breastfeed my second child, waking up dutifully in the middle of the night, I only made it to the one-month mark before I officially threw in the towel. I couldn’t take another night of constant feedings. And while little babies still need to eat during the night regardless of what they eat, infant formula allowed my husband and I to sleep train both of our children by the age of 6 weeks.
Since “sleep train” and “sleep through the night” can mean different things to different people, this is what I mean:
- Bedtime at 7:30 p.m.
- Up at 10:30 p.m. for a dream feed.
- Everyone back in bed by 11:30 p.m. to sleep through until 7 a.m.
This is the schedule we followed with both children, starting at 6 weeks of age. At 3 months of age we cut out the dream feed. So by 3 months, both of my children were sleeping through the night from 7:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Maybe this is possible while breastfeeding (I am admittedly far from being a breastfeeding expert), but I found with both my children that longer stretches of sleep were possible when I knew exactly how much food they were getting in their bottles. Having fed them both breastmilk and formula out of bottles, I also found that formula kept them fuller for longer.
Formula Feeding Allowed My Time With My Babies to Be More Productive
In my experience, bottle feeding is a much quicker process than breastfeeding. While this may sound like a silly reason to stop breastfeeding, I found that in the first few months of my children’s lives, it made a big difference in how I was spending time with them.
Newborns sleep a lot. Like, a lot a lot. When I was breastfeeding, much of their time awake was spent eating. Once I switched to exclusively formula feeding, our days became much more interesting. Quicker feedings meant more time to play, read, go for a walk in the stroller, etc. I enjoyed feeling like I was bonding with them beyond just being their food source. And I also liked being able to give them diverse and stimulating days from a very early age.
I also found that when I was breastfeeding, my children would get incredibly fussy whenever I was near them. They could smell me and, even if they were totally full, wanted nothing but to eat if I was in their presence. Stopping breastfeeding allowed me to be near them, cuddle with them, and play with them without them getting upset.
I Didn’t Have Any Bias or Anxiety Regarding Infant Formula
I was exclusively formula-fed as a baby. So was my husband. So were our siblings. And we’re all pretty healthy individuals. Is this the best way to make a decision, considering the small sample size? Perhaps not. But it definitely alleviated any feelings of guilt I had when I was considering switching to formula.
Reflecting on Breastfeeding
I should make it clear that I don’t have an anti-breastfeeding agenda. I did enjoy breastfeeding both my children, even only for a short while. It’s undeniably an empowering experience, knowing your body is capable of producing food for the human it grew and gave life to. I was also surprised the first time around just how much breastfeeding helped me heal from childbirth (a benefit that, frankly, I don’t think is discussed enough). But even though I’m not anti-breastfeeding, I am very much against the pressure that’s put on women to pursue this method of infant feeding and the shame that’s placed on those who prefer to use formula.
During both my pregnancies, I felt profoundly pressured by my healthcare providers to breastfeed my baby. I even had a doctor tell me that I “failed his test” after communicating that I was thinking about feeding my new baby formula. There was a time when comments like this left me spiraling in guilt and insecurity—now they just make me angry. Both my children are happy, healthy, and thriving. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only “test” that matters.
Of course breastfeeding has its benefits. But before you sign yourself up for breastfeeding based strictly on said benefits, know that some new research disputes breastfeeding as being directly responsible for many of the benefits it’s often associated with. For anyone interested in learning more, I encourage you to give the book Cribsheet by Emily Oster a read.
For anyone who’s on the fence about breastfeeding, my own personal advice (for what it’s worth) would be to give it a shot. You might love it. You might be a natural! But also don’t feel bad if you don’t love it. Because here’s the thing so many people are afraid to say: Breastfeeding might not be the best choice for you and your family. And you know what? Speaking as someone who has exclusively formula-fed two healthy, happy, intelligent babies, I say that’s perfectly OK.
Choosing to formula feed didn’t rob me of the bond I have with my children. It didn’t have a negative impact on their health. It didn’t hinder their development or intelligence. Here’s what it did instead: It helped my children skyrocket on their growth charts in every category. It granted me peace, freedom, and sleep-filled nights. It made motherhood more manageable and more enjoyable.
To all the moms out there who feel guilty or less than than for feeding your babies infant formula, please don’t. Whether it’s by choice or by circumstance, you are not alone. Choosing to feed my babies infant formula is one of the best parenting decisions I’ve made to date. Whatever you choose, I hope you can feel the profound sense of happiness and peace that comes with choosing what’s best for your family.