You'll be hard pressed to find a formula feeding guide for the new mother. Moms are inundated with the Breast Is Best campaign from conception. In most circles, moms feel ashamed of supplementing with formula after experiencing breastfeeding difficulties; some women may even hide their formula use from friends and family members.
Does formula really equal failure? A woman may choose to supplement with formula from birth to extend her breastfeeding experience. For another woman, it may be a matter of convenience. Some women are not medically able to breastfeed—after breast reduction surgery, a serious illness, or as a carrier of HIV. Other women choose not to breastfeed as a preference.
For women who turn to formula for one reason or another, where is the formula education? While many women argue that formula moms are "shamed" for their choice or inability to breastfeed, this still does not discount the fact that formula feeding information is scarce for new moms. Formula is seen as a last resort option used to encourage moms to breastfeed. Breastfeeding education is helpful and important for the average mom, but formula feeding education is sorely needed for balance. That's why we created this simple formula feeding guide.
Formula Feeding Research Doesn't Lie
At the very least, research supports formula feeding as a breastfeeding supplement. Offering formula to underweight newborns, along with breast milk, led to a longer duration of breastfeeding in one study. Roughly 80% of the babies fed both breast milk and formula were still breastfeeding at three months compared to 42% of babies exclusively breastfed at three months.1
Breast may be best for the vast majority of women, but it is still a mother's right to determine how to feed her baby. Some formula moms argue that breastfeeding benefits are all hype.2 "Martyr-like" extended breastfeeding may not make a child smarter. It all comes down to personal choice. In a modern world with modern conveniences, mothers should be given adequate education on breastfeeding and formula feeding from day one.
Rather than "feeding" a formula feeding versus breastfeeding mommy war, research can be used to level the playing field. The choice ultimately comes down to the mother. It would be fair to assume that most mothers put painstaking thought into their prenatal and postnatal decisions and how their choices will affect their baby.
Formula feeding versus breastfeeding should not be used as a tool of guilt or destruction. Information should be provided on both sides of the spectrum to allow an educated mother to make her own personal choice to benefit herself as a caretaker, her family, and the health of her child.
There are advocates for the other side of the breastfeeding argument. Joan Wolf, author of Is Breast Best?, directly questions breastfeeding as the "holy grail of health."3 She believes that the Breast Is Best campaign far exceeds the realities of scientific evidence:
You’ll find that it’s not uncommon for scientists to stress the benefits of breastfeeding and at the same time acknowledge that it’s not clear whether some babies are better off because they are or were breastfed or because they have caretakers who are willing and able to promote good health in other ways.
Wolf cites a number of studies published in top medical journals that conclude breastfeeding has "little or no medical benefit." Wolf is not attempting to attack the breastfeeding campaign, as many breastfeeding moms would like to believe. Rather, she is just one woman hoping to balance the feeding equation and provide women with further information about their options.
Mothers who have no choice but to or have willingly chosen to formula feed can take comfort in a recent study highlighted in Time Magazine.4 The research was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, examining longitudinal data from three separate population groups that included 8237 children, 7319 siblings, and 1773 sibling pairs with one breastfed and one formula fed child.
The study reviewed 11 potential outcomes related to breastfeeding, such as BMI, obesity, hyperactivity, asthma, behavioral compliance, parental attachment, and achievement in reading, vocabulary, math, intelligence, and scholastic competence. Across all families, breastfeeding provided better outcomes, but in sibling groups, breastfeeding benefits were not noticeably higher—with one exception:
The exception was that breastfed children were at higher risk for asthma, though it was unclear if those reports were self-generated or actual diagnoses.
Lead researcher of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University Cynthia Colen, states:
I'm not saying breastfeeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns. But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let's also focus on things that can really do that in the long term - like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.
Colen sums up the research nicely by adding that the breastfeeding mandate for the first six months of a baby's life, backed by federal officials, could "stigmatize women" who are not able to easily breastfeed their infants. Once again, a clearer picture with advantages and disadvantages for both feeding options could help women make an educated choice without guilt after giving birth.
Formula Feeding From Birth: Where To Begin
Exclusive formula feeding or supplementation can be advantageous for an exhausted new mother as it allows a partner to share in the duties. As research already pointed out, formula feeding used alongside breastfeeding can help to extend breastfeeding duration.
But where does a new mother begin when supplementing or formula feeding exclusively? Many breastfeeding mothers are able to feed on demand, while others use schedules. Formula feeding affords the opportunity to measure how much a baby eats to ensure that it receives adequate nutrition.
HealthyChildren.org provides the following guidelines to formula feed an infant:6
The general guideline for a formula fed infant is as follows: A baby should eat an estimate of 2.5 ounces (75 mL) of formula a day for every pound of body weight. Similar to on-demand breastfeeding, a formula fed infant must be allowed to regulate his own intake to meet his nutritional needs.
A baby that is bottle fed is not force fed. A formula fed infant will provide cues to alert a parent to when he is full, similar to a breastfed infant. A full baby may become distracted or fidgety while feeding from a bottle. On the other hand, a baby that drains a bottle and continues rooting or sucking is likely to be hungry for more formula.
While it is easy to create a formula feeding timetable using the guidelines above, it is still recommended to treat each baby individually and learn their feeding cues. During growth spurts, times of illness, and teething, a baby may be hungrier or have a sudden drop in appetite. If a formula fed infant is crying out of hunger, he should be fed, even outside of scheduled feedings.
Formula options are diverse and may vary depending upon a baby's digestive needs. Iron-fortified formula is recommended for most infants for the first 12 months; cow's milk can be introduced after 12 months. However, it is always advised to consult with your pediatrician for a specific formula recommendation to meet your baby's individual needs.
Commercial formula options may include standard iron-fortified, soy, organic, prebiotic, probiotic, lactose-free, hypoallergenic, and more. Commercial infant formula may be sold powdered, concentrated, or in ready-to-use form.
Similar to breastfeeding, parents are urged to watch for signs of digestive discomfort or allergic reaction in an infant. In many cases, a baby may show signs of an allergy or reaction to foods that a mother has eaten after consuming her breast milk. An infant may also show signs of a reaction to a specific brand or type of formula with symptoms including skin irritation, fatigue, diarrhea, or vomiting.
A simple switch to a different brand of formula may be enough to alleviate a reaction. A more serious formula reaction may be the sign of a food allergy and will require a visit to a pediatrician. Notably, crying or fussiness could be related to a different digestive issue outside of the realm of formula or breast milk, such as acid reflux or colic.
The Formula Feeding Response
After a mother makes the decision to supplement or exclusively formula feed her baby, guilt and judgment are often the greatest repercussions. Many women are fortunate in receiving the proper education and support they need to formula feed without backlash. Other women encounter criticism from staunch supporters of the Breast Is Best campaign.
Education is key to alleviate this stigma surrounding formula feeding in parenting communities. Women who experience judgment or criticism can be upfront about their intention to formula feed. A number of women are not able to breastfeed successfully and will supplement with formula. Other women choose to formula feed from birth and should not be criticized for their personal resolution.
The voice of this judgment is far from pleasant. A national survey published in Baby Talk magazine polled 36,000 mothers. The survey discovered that while 75% of breastfeeding mothers support formula feeding, a whopping 66% of breastfeeding women feel sorry for formula fed infants. 33% of breastfeeding mothers consider bottle feeding mothers to be selfish and lazy.7
One formula feeding mother shares her side of the story, "People insinuate that I didn’t try hard enough, that if I were a really good mother I would have gone on the elimination diet. One lady told me that I finally gave in to the evil medical establishment and that I should go back to breastfeeding. I don’t think I have ever felt quite so judged about any other parenting choice."8
Unfortunately, women are judged for how they choose to feed their children. Formula feeding mothers require just as much support as breastfeeding mothers, if not more, in light of this criticism.
Formula Feeding Without Shame
In all reality, the time spent breast or bottle feeding a child is incredibly short in regard to their lifespan. Yet women are made to feel that the choice between breast and bottle is perhaps the most important decision they will ever make and could affect the trajectory of their child's entire life.
To say that the choice to breastfeed or not to breastfeed puts pressure on a new mother is an understatement. While many mothers are given proper education and support about breastfeeding and ultimately have a positive experience, there are just as many mothers who have complaints or even trauma surrounding their early breastfeeding experience.
"Unsuccessful" breastfeeding mothers who slip through the cracks may be made to feel like failures if they aren't able to produce milk or get their infant to latch in the first days after giving birth. These desperate women may be discharged from the hospital without a single clue as to how to successfully feed their infant.
Many breastfeeding proponents blame this increasingly common circumstance on a lack of breastfeeding education, as well as a need for more lactation consultants. In the same vein, however, a new mom could be provided with formula feeding education after birth to afford her the opportunity to review all of her feeding options.
Countless new moms have shamefully and anonymously confessed via Internet comments that they "ran to the drugstore" to buy formula in the first days of their baby's life—fearing that their low milk supply or inability to latch could starve their child.
Clearly, these mothers are not lazy or negligent. There are thousands of women who tried to breastfeed immediately after birth and could not easily find their way. These women may feel afraid to use infant formula as it has been called "poison" by friends, family members, doctors, and websites.
As research has just proved, formula as poison is far from the truth. There should be no shame in using infant formula as a supplement or exclusively, when it is the mother's choice. A mother should be given all the necessary information to feed her child—before and after birth—so that she doesn't find herself backed against a wall when she experiences feeding difficulties. Breast Is Best, and formula comes in a close second.