“Breast is best”. We have all heard it a million times from a million different people. Even in the hospital after just giving birth, several different people came to check to make sure I was planning to breastfeed and to explain the importance of it. However, the reality of the situation is, this is not always a possibility or desire for everyone.
Like so many other women, I had every intention of breastfeeding for the first year of my daughter’s life. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I was told “Breast is best” or how many lactation consultants visited me in the hospital, it was never going to work out. Different plans were in store for me. After breastfeeding for two months, I was diagnosed with a rare, pregnancy related cancer called Choriocarcinoma. Obviously, with toxic chemotherapy pulsing through my body, breastfeeding was no longer going to be an option for me.
With all the emotions that go along with a cancer diagnosis, I also had to deal with the shame that is imposed on so many mothers for formula feeding instead of nursing. Even researching to write this article, it is upsettingly difficult to find positive information online about formula feeding a baby.
For some, formula feeding is not a choice. And for some, formula feeding is the best option of their family. There is no shame in how you feed your baby.
Here is what I have learned about motherhood, sleep, and my baby’s health while formula feeding in a breastfeeding world:
You will still bond with your baby, breastfeeding or not!
One of the main concerns for mothers switching to formula feeding is the potential loss of bonding time with their baby. A research study conducted by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth studied two hundred and seventy one mothers with babies between the ages of one to nine months. The findings showed no significant difference between mother-child bonding and feeding method.
“Breastfeeding was associated with greater daytime fatigue, but not with any other sleep problem, and was not associated with bonding.” Mothers can bond with their babies in many other ways, such as taking a bath together, baby wearing, singing, and making eye contact while holding or bottle feeding their child.
I have breastfed my daughter and I have formula fed my daughter. Frankly, I bonded more over formula feeding. Breastfeeding never came easy for me. It was not as beautiful, magical, or natural as I was told it would be. When I switched to formula feeding, I could focus more on my baby and stress less about if I was producing enough, if her latch was okay, or when I would pump next.
Formula does not positively or negatively affect you baby’s sleep
Many people believe that a bottle of formula before bed will help baby sleep longer or sounder. To my dismay, this is a myth. Research shows no difference in sleep and number of night feedings required when comparing formula and breastfed babies.
Breastfed babies may wake up more frequently than formula fed babies, but the melatonin in the breastmilk help them fall back asleep faster. Providing ample calories and full feedings during the day is the best way to ensure your baby sleeps well at night and does not need to wake up frequently to feed. With my own daughter, in making the switch from breastfeeding to formula, I saw no change in her sleep habits whatsoever.
So why is this myth so widely known and believed? There are three significant reasons behind this thinking:
1. Formula fed babies may be practicing self soothing habits without even knowing it.
When breastfeeding, it is easy to feed baby immediately when you hear them wake up. There is no preparation time– it is on demand! However, formula requires more time and energy to assemble. Baby is forced to wait while their food is heated, mixed, and made. During this time, whether their parents realize it or not, baby is practicing self soothing skills.
My Sweet Sleeper recommends pausing and assessing baby’s cries when they wake up in the middle of the night. This is exactly what is happening during the 5 minutes it takes to make the bottle. In fact, many parents report that their baby often falls back asleep before they even have a chance to give the bottle to their baby. Baby has successfully taught themselves to self soothe without even meaning to!
2. Parents can be more confident when declining a night feed.
By knowing exactly how much your child has eaten throughout the day, you can better know if baby is actually hungry when they wake up or if they just need help falling back asleep.
With breastfeeding, it is always a big guess as to how much baby has eaten that day. With formula, however, parents know whether or not their child needs to eat based on how many ounces they have already consumed that day. From there, they can decide if a feed is necessary or if they should just help their baby fall back asleep using various soothing strategies.
3. Sleep associations are less likely to form with bottle feeding.
When a mother is breastfeeding and baby wakes up in the middle of the night, nursing is often the quickest and easiest way to get baby back to sleep. However, this can very quickly create a sleep association, especially if baby is past 4 months. Baby will learn that in order to go back to sleep, they need mom’s breast every time.
With formula feeding, a bottle is not typically the first step parents take in helping baby back to sleep. Other methods are usually attempted first which helps support baby’s self soothing and self regulation skills more than feeding back to sleep does.
Hearing “Breast is best” gets old…
Repeat after me…”Fed is best!” You are feeding your baby and that is all that matters. No matter the source, you are providing your baby with the nutrients and calories they need.
Stanford Medicine explains, “If you decide not to breastfeed, or are unable to breastfeed, commercial iron-fortified formulas can give your baby the nutrition he or she needs. Infant formulas have the right amounts of protein, calories, fat, vitamins, and minerals for growth.” Formula is a healthy and valid way of keeping your baby fed and healthy.
When formula feeding, you can better track your baby’s food intake and be even more certain that your child is eating healthy amounts. Breastfeeding is a guessing game and is dependent on how long your baby is actively sucking and how full your breasts are at the beginning of the feeding. With formula, you can know exactly how much started in the bottle and how much your baby drank. It is recommended that babies eat 2-2.5 times their body weight in formula in a 24 hour period, capping out at 32 ounces. Your baby will need a bottle every 3-4 hours. Talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant if you are unsure how much or how often your baby needs to eat.
Society’s emphasis on breastfeeding and bottle feeding can cause women to feel frustrated and judged. However, once a child is grown, no one will ever be able to tell what they ate as a baby.
Whether your baby is breastfed, formula fed, or combination fed, your baby will still be healthy, loved, and supported. You are an amazing mama for giving your baby the nutrients they need, regardless of method. Fed is best!
Please visit peacefulpeanutsleep.com for more information about how to gently teach your child to sleep and to get support in your journey. Because your family deserves sleep!
Certified sleep consultant and owner of Peaceful Peanut Infant and Toddler Sleep Consulting, Kelsey Flores is committed to helping families get the restful sleep they need to enjoy parenthood to the fullest. She works with families to prevent, identify, and correct the root cause for sleep disturbances and support you in teaching your little one to sleep using gentle, responsive, and effective methods. Because your family deserves sleep!