Updated: Oct 13
If you're a Mama, it seems that no matter where you turn on social media this week, you're constantly being reminded that it's # WorldBreastfeedingWeek. If you're a Mama who couldn't breastfeed, but tried her damned hardest, like me, a week like this will bring back a steady stream of guilt from the days and nights when you tried your best. You tried to get your baby to latch, you pumped (and pumped), you drank the tea, you drank the milk, you ate the cookies, you even drank the beer, you massaged, you found a quiet place, you tried to meditate, you wished, you hoped, maybe you prayed, you did skin-to-skin, you looked into your baby's eyes and willed your body to please produce more milk. But, you failed. Or, at least that's how it felt. For me, it took a #@&%ing cancerous tumor in my breast to help relieve the guilt of turning to formula.
That's not right. The pressure and shame of not breastfeeding your baby should never be imposed on a vulnerable new mother on top of the fragility of the postpartum Fourth Trimester. It's been hard to come to terms with a lot of things that I thought would happen one way, but took a swift and unexpected detour. Before Sunny was born, I would have sworn to anyone that I was going to have a natural delivery, immediately do skin-to-skin and breastfeed my daughter. Not one of those things happened. Why do these feel like such hard blows as a Mama? I looked everywhere for validation that formula feeding was okay, and kept coming up empty. In hindsight, I know this added a tremendous amount of stress to an already extremely precarious time of my life, one where I kept being judged and pushed to the mental brink.
I write all of this to the Mama who needs to read the validation that I was searching for. You're doing your best, your baby is fed and growing (heck, even thriving!), and your mental health is also a priority. Do you believe that? If not, read it again until you do. If so, good for you Mama. Now that we've accepted formula feeding, let's make it a little easier.
Some tips from my formula-feeding experience
I'm thankful that Sunny took to formula right away. Honestly, it was the only thing that saved us that first night in the hospital. Since I wasn't anticipating formula feeding at all, I had to learn a lot of information in a very short period of time. I created a plan to test different formulas to find the best one for Sunny. The samples I got from the pediatrician during my prenatal tour, which I had planned to donate, were the first experiments. 7 months later, we have a pretty easy rhythm down and I'll share everything from prep to bottles and how to easily clean and sanitize below.
Which formula should you choose?
This is a very personal decision for many reasons which is why I won't share the one we use. There is no "one size fits all." You could try the most expensive, organic, celeb-touted formula and your baby may cry all night with tummy trouble. You don't know what will work best for your baby until you try, maybe even several, and the one that works best may surprise you. I went through three different formulas before I found the one that worked best for Sunny's digestion. Definitely work with your pediatrician on this!
Which bottle should you choose?
I remember standing in front of a wall of bottles at the store when I was scanning items for my registry and distinctly feeling that it was one the most overwhelming moments of my whole pregnancy. While I planned to breastfeed, I also knew I would have to pump when I returned to work and Sunny would need bottles at that point. I closed my eyes, arbitrarily scanned a set of bottles, and walked away. I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I didn't even know bottles were age-specific. Yikes!
Like formula, bottles are also going to be a personal preference both for your baby and for you. During the newborn to three months stage, we used a few different brands with Sunny like Avent, MAM, and Dr. Brown's.
These bottles are super simple which means so is clean-up! That's the #1 reason why I like them. It only breaks down into 3 parts (excluding the cap). Sunny had no issues with taking to the nipple or with her tummy. We still use the Avent bottles today, but for 6 months+. The only con about these bottles is that during the newborn stage, even with using a newborn nipple, I still felt like the flow was too fast for Sunny (and this girl chugged her bottles).
The MAM bottles were my personal all-around favorite during the newborn stage because I felt like Sunny did the best with this nipple. We also transitioned to Stage 2 of this bottle and Sunny still uses them today. However, after 7 months of hand-washing bottles, I will say these take the longest because it breaks down into 5 parts (excluding the cap). Not too terrible, still very manageable.
The Dr. Brown's bottles seem to work incredibly well for babies who have very sensitive tummies and/or colic. Sunny was generally okay as a newborn on this front, however there were times when she would have gas that bothered her. I decided to try these bottles to see if they were the miracle some parents claim them to be. Strangely, I almost feel like these had the adverse effect. Not to mention, they break down into 5 parts (excluding the cap). Compared to the MAM's 5-part bottle, these are a much more tedious-to-clean 5 pieces. The bottle itself also has a smaller opening compared to the MAM and Avent bottles. We phased this one out of the mix.
Tips for bottle prep
The bottle prep process has had a major evolution in my house in the last 7 months. I started out boiling water for each individual feeding and then waiting for the water to cool down before giving it to Sunny. I cringe at the inefficiency every time I think about that now.
Here's what we do these days:
1. Boil about 1 liter of water in the morning in an electric kettle. It's important to boil water for formula feeding during the early months, and I still prefer to do it because this takes practically no time and puts my mind at ease.
2. Once the water has cooled to a warm temperature, line up several bottles and fill them to the appropriate level of ounces your baby is currently consuming. We usually fill up about 6 bottles that are ready for formula when it's feeding time. Sunny is perfectly fine with a room temperature bottle. If your baby likes a warmer bottle and you don't want to use a bottle warmer, see the next step.
3. Instead of filling bottles directly, this next tip came from a pediatrician. I would recommend getting a Thermos and filling that up with the cooled down, warmer temperature water. The temperature will maintain longer and you won't lose time with waiting for the water to cool or even worse, burning baby's mouth.
4. According to the number of ounces your baby should be drinking at each bottle, you'll have to determine the correct amount of powdered formula. You'll need to increase baby's bottle volume steadily and often in the early months. Honestly, the math drove me crazy and I felt like I was in a chem lab every time I had to scoop out the right amount. To make this process more efficient, I started using a formula dispenser. I fill up 3 of these dispensers (9 servings) every night with the right amount of formula portioned out, so all that has to be done at feeding time is putting the powder in the bottle. Making a bottle takes about 10 seconds - BOOM! The added bonus of these formula dispensers is that they can also be used for snacks as baby gets older. Double BOOM for repurposing!
The best part about this whole process is that if you have to leave the house in a hurry with the baby, you don't have to take the extra time to prep bottles and formula for the trip. Just grab a couple bottles and a formula dispenser that you've already set up and head out.
A couple things to note:
You can always buy pre-made formula, however some babies will flat out refuse to drink this version. Interestingly, that's not the case with Sunny, but I prefer to use the powdered version. One reason why is that an opened container of pre-made formula would need to be stored in the fridge and you have to go through it pretty quickly. If Sunny is picky about one thing, it's that she doesn't like a cold bottle. I realize it can be warmed up in a bottle warmer, but I honestly didn't love the one we had or the whole process of warming up a bottle (think: uneven warming, piping hot bottle).
You shouldn't pre-mix multiple bottles of the powdered formula and water because they'll go bad within an hour. I've seen some parents pre-mix a pitcher of water and formula and keep it in the fridge which should be good for about 24 hours. Again, if your baby doesn't like cold formula, you'll have to warm the bottle.
Tips for bottle cleaning and sterilizing
If there's one thing that truly stinks about formula feeding, it's the bottle cleaning. I know some people will just put bottles in the dishwasher and call it a day, but I was advised not to do that many times, especially with a newborn. While I can't offer advice on making this process any faster, I will tell you what we do to make it slightly more efficient.
1. In the early days, I was hand washing every bottle right after every feeding. If you can keep up with this, you're a superstar. I am not a superstar when it comes to bottle washing. Now, we have a collapsible dish tub that stays in our sink and we add bottles throughout the day to let them soak before washing them all at once in the evening. Be sure to get a baby-specific dish soap. I personally love the Dapple brand.
2. When it's time to scrub the bottles, I use very hot water and a sponge bottle brush. This brush is only for baby bottles and no other dishes.
3. This step may be optional. You're not really "supposed to" transfer wet bottles directly to the sterilizer, but you can and sometimes we do. If you prefer to let the bottles air dry completely before sterilizing, I recommend this drying rack. It's good to have one anyway, we use it all the time.
4. Sterilize! The clean freak in me loves this step. It's a big do not skip step for newborns, and it's still a must in my house. I have had zero issues with the Wabi Baby sterilizer. It's the only one I've ever used, so I can't speak for the other ones out there, but I really like this one. After we wash the bottles, we load up the sterilizer and have it run overnight so the bottles are ready to be prepped in the morning.
Quick note: Be sure to use distilled water only when sanitizing.
Guys. That's it. If it seems like a lot of work, it is. Even with my tips and tricks. So, next time someone makes you feel like formula feeding is the easy way out, show them this and tell them to Namasté-out of your business! With love though, always with love and kindness.
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