Preparing To Feed Your Baby - How To Decide What Feeding Method Is Right For You
Updated: Oct 18, 2021
As I enter into my final few weeks of this pregnancy, I'd love to share about a topic I'm pretty passionate about... All things Infant Feeding.
As a NICU nurse for 7 years, I have gained SO much information about feeding babies. I learned how to help new mamas breastfeed, the amazing benefits of breastmilk, how to properly bottle feed babies of all ages and stages, everything you need to know about pumping, how to prepare and store formula safely, how to store and prepare breastmilk safely, how to choose the right formula for your baby, how to take care of yourself as a lactating mama, how to wean your body and your baby from nursing, how to get through the first week struggle of breastfeeding, and all about how often and how much to feed babies. As a new mother, I also learned so much more than what I knew as a nurse. I want to share a little bit about what I know with you mamas. I want to normalize the struggles experienced by both breast and bottle feeding mamas. And I want to help you feel confident in whatever method you choose to pursue for your baby.
This post is all about making that tough decision... To breastfeed - bottle feed - pump and bottle feed - or formula feed
So I'm just going to say one thing... Any way that you feed your baby will be challenging! Feeding babies is tough, time consuming, exhausting, and confusing at times! It is also amazing, bonding, rewarding, sweet, empowering and really gratifying as a mama. Whether you are feeding your little one formula or breastmilk, breast or bottle, you will find yourself analyzing and agonizing over these thoughts... Is my baby getting enough? Am I producing enough? Am I producing too much? Is this the right formula for my baby? Are they crying because they are not getting enough or getting too much? Are they growing? Are their bellies ok? Is breastfeeding going to feel like this forever? Are these the right bottles? Should I let my baby have a pacifier? Wait why are they demanding to eat more frequently right now? Why are they eating so much? Why is my baby more sleepy suddenly? Why did they only sleep for 1 hour?! Why did they sleep for 5 hours?! Am I doing the right thing for my baby?
So I know these questions all too well... they circulated in my head and literally consumed me during the first few weeks, and even few months of caring for my first baby! I was an experienced NICU nurse. My job was to help mamas breastfeed, or pump, or bottle feed. And yet I still questioned myself. I looked to anywhere/anyone I could find for resources. This may not be you, but if it is I'm here to tell you that it is ok and completely normal to be asking those questions as a mama. It's normal to doubt yourself. It's normal to question. It's normal to worry. Our brains literally change when we become pregnant, and they continue to change during the postpartum period. Why would we not experience every worry/emotion/fear/anxiety related to how our little one is being fed and thriving? Our instinct is just to focus on our babies and their needs. It's normal to experience all of the feelings. It's normal to need more support, and more resources. I'm here to tell you it takes a village. And no matter how you feed your baby, there truly is no easy way. It's all about the best way for you and your family.
I also want to share a quick disclaimer before you read more... I am not here to give you medical advice mamas. I am just sharing my experience and knowledge, but I am not your health care provider. Your nurses, midwife, pediatrician, and lactation consultants can all help guide you in your infant feeding journey.
And one other thing about this decision... it may change once baby arrives, and that is completely ok! I think it's so important to have a plan and feel prepared and secure in your decision before you have your little one. But it's also important to expect the unexpected, and open your heart and mind to your plan being fluid. There may be things you do not want to budge on no matter what, and that's ok! Just try to go into motherhood with an open mind and open heart. It will help you to remain calm when those uncontrollable happen, because when it comes to birth and babies there is a lot that is beyond our control.
So let's chat about some things to consider when making this decision for yourself and your baby, because it's a big decision!
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT BREASTFEEDING
Breastfeeding truly requires preparation and guidance to be successful.
Maybe a long long long time ago our ancestors had it all a little (a LOT) differently than we do... they lived in villages or small family communities. They were surrounded by other women birthing and caring for babies. Entire families lived and gathered together, supported one another, and worked as a unit. So it makes sense that it was instinctual to our ancestors. They witnessed breastfeeding probably so much more than we do now before we have our babies. It felt more natural because there was no cultural stigma surrounding it. I mean they didn't have any options, so that was the cultural norm! They saw breastfeeding in it's truth and beauty. And sometimes, our current culture in the US views it a little bit... differently. Women are both judged and shamed for breastfeeding, AS WELL AS judged and shamed for formula feeding. Breastfeeding can be considered taboo, every culture shares a different experience and places a different judgment on it, it can be both difficult and easy to do in public depending on your comfort level, your level of modesty, and the community of people in which you are surrounded by. And if I'm being really honest, breastfeeding is not making anyone any money. Formula is advertised, and therefore may be more common in your specific circle of influence or community. Also, breastfeeding in the workplace is still not supported as much as it needs to be (although we've seen huge improvements over the years, so check in with the specifics of your workplace!) So this decision... is NOT EASY for women. We gotta give each other grace and support, no matter how differently we might be feeding our babies. My original purpose to this segment is that we no longer are surrounded by breastfeeding, so it doesn't necessarily come naturally to us. My biggest advice is to prepare ahead of time! Take a breastfeeding course (online or provided by your hospital/midwife/doula) even if you are just considering breastfeeding. Read books, watch videos, ask friends, and gather all of the information you can before having your little one! Even if you are just thinking about keeping it open as an option, it's just so important to go into it with a little bit of info. Look up different positions, practice each position with a baby doll (I'm super serious, it helps), get a breast pump (most insurances will cover this!), check into your workplace's support for pumping/nursing moms, and get to know the lactation support that your hospital or midwife provides. It's a lot of preparation involved, but it's so so worth it.
The benefits of breastfeeding are amazing and so worth knowing prior to having your little one. Breastmilk cannot be replicated. Our bodies are designed to produce specific milk for our specific babies at each stage and circumstance. The first few days to a week, the breastmilk you make for your baby is called colostrum. There isn't much volume, and you may question whether or not your baby is getting enough. But your body knows what to do, as long as you are feeding your baby or pumping often enough (every 2-4 hours) and there are no other medical events or circumstances outside of your control, it is enough! Colostrum is loaded with antibodies. It lines the new baby's gut with antibodies and good bacteria, helping them to develop normal bacterial flora and promote gut health that will last them and impact them for a lifetime. Fun fact - every time you kiss your baby, your body takes in that information of what bacteria and germs they are being exposed to and produces milk to protect them from those specific invaders. Breastmilk and colostrum especially boost and prepare their immune system, set them up with a strong foundation of immunity, protect them from allergies and infections, and give them the perfect nutritional components that they need to grow and thrive as little humans. It is also much easier on their bellies to digest. Often (NOT ALWAYS) breastfed babies have less cases of colic and reflux. There are also many health benefits to mama too... it can prevent breast cancer in some cases, naturally help your body adjust back to it's pre-pregnancy weight or close, helps to regulate your hormones during the postpartum period, and can even provide an element of natural birth control after baby is born. There are truly so many health benefits that breastmilk can provide. My advice is that if you are on the fence at all about either decision, go into it with an open mind to attempt to breastfeed or pump and bottle. And remember - any amount of breastmilk that you can provide for your baby is amazing! If you can just provide a few days of colostrum, a few weeks or months or nursing... your baby will receive those amazing, healing, nourishing benefits.
There is a convenience factor to breastfeeding that is worth considering.
There are less things to buy, less things to pack in the diaper bag, and as long as you are with your baby you can calm, nourish, feed, and soothe your baby in any setting or circumstance. But with that brings a need for mamas to assess their level of comfort with it. Would you be uncomfortable nursing in public places or around other people? Is your family or community comfortable with nursing or are you worried about judgment or others' opinions? I would encourage you to make this decision for you and your baby only. But it is really important to think through all of these scenarios and make sure you feel good about it!
Breastfeeding is significantly less cost financially.
Whether you choose to breastfeed or pump and bottle feed your breastmilk, for however long you provide breastmilk there is essentially no cost to your family. It's definitely something worth considering, and it's important to make the decision as a family so that you know you are supported in whatever decision you make.
It is possible to breast AND bottle feed your baby.
Once you get through the initial few weeks postpartum and establish a good latch, babies are resilient and can typically adjust to doing both. So if you are worried about letting your partner be involved, or going back to work quickly, or wanting others to be involved in feeding so you can rest/work/sleep every once in a while... as long as you continue to pump around those feeding times that you are not nursing, someone else can bottle feed your little one! It's also completely fine to mix breastfeeding and formula bottles, or breastmilk and formula with bottle feeding. Just know that the less often you nurse your baby and pump, the less breastmilk you will make. Our lactating bodies rely on breast emptying and stimulation to continue to make milk. But feeding your baby does not have to be all or nothing, black or white. Your plan can change at any moment based on you and your baby's needs! Another tip - I recommend getting a breast pump before your baby arrives no matter what feeding method you are considering. Typically, your insurance will cover all or a portion of a breast pump, so check with your insurance company ahead of time. Regardless, it's great to have on hand. If you thought you would be strictly breastfeeding your baby, sometimes you need a pump for those times you're away from your baby! Or it comes in handy when you're going through a phase of trying to boost your supply (pumping after feedings is a great way to do this for a short time). Or if you chose to bottle feed, but are considering giving a little bit of breastmilk in the beginning - it's great to have a pump ready to go!
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT FORMULA FEEDING
It's important to consider the cost of formula feeding for your family
Prior to having baby, sit down with your partner or family/support system and check in with your post-baby budget. Look into different formula brands and assess how much volume your baby will be eating at each month. It's good to go into it with at least a general idea of how much your family will be spending on formula. That can help you make the decision about type or brand of formula, if you want to mix breastmilk and formula, seek out donor milk (this is an option for many - either from a donor milk bank or a trusted friend - check with your pediatrician before you decide to go this route!), and it can help you to feel more prepared going into it! Don't forget about bottles, although they can be washed a billion times a day and reused so it's not too much of a cost.
It's great to choose a specific type or brand of formula that you're comfortable with prior to having your baby, but also expect it to change!
It's good to do a little research, ask trusted friends, or your pediatrician what they recommend. And know that it may change! As you begin to feed your baby, you may run into circumstances in which you want to try a different type of formula (if your baby is experiencing gas or colic, constipation, eczema, etc.) Sometimes I like doing the research myself, and other times the internet can just drive me crazy and I need my pediatrician or a trusted friend to just tell me what they recommend! Also a tip - powdered formula is going to be WAY cheaper than already prepared liquid formula. It may require a little more work, but prepping bottles each morning for a 24 hour period can help save a lot of time! And you have to be so careful with hand hygiene and the way you do your formula prep when it comes to powdered formula - there is more risk of bacteria growth and contamination when it comes to powder. But once you get your routine down it isn't as daunting as it seems!
Gathering the supplies ahead of time is a must!
Have some formula stocked and ready to go, bottles, extra nipples for your bottles, coolers and wet bags for when you are on the go with baby, and dish soap. Try not to get too hung up on what specific types of bottles to choose for your baby. Babies are resilient, and pretty much any bottle that you choose to use for your little one will be fine as long as you are consistent and using an appropriate nipple for a newborn. (Typically Newborn nipples or Level 1 nipples in the beginning). I personally used Dr. Browns (glass) bottles because they are slow flow, easy to clean, and I've used them for years in the hospital. Our lactation consultants worked with those bottles the most in the hospital and it was a brand I trusted! But if you are gifted other bottles and want to go with that? That's great! Stay consistent and your little one should adapt just fine. Just check in with the size and flow of the nipple.
There are a few other things to consider that might help your little one as you formula feed.
Something I recommend (that was recommended to me) for both breastmilk and formula fed babies is a probiotic. Typically your pediatrician will recommend vitamin D drops for your infant. After doing a little research and approving it with my pediatrician, I added in an infant probiotic. Breastfed babies are getting antibodies and good gut bacteria from mom's milk. Formula lacks the antibodies and good bacteria, so adding a probiotic in your babies milk (typically once a day) can be really helpful to help them build up a good bacterial flora in their tummies, help their immune system, prevent gas, reflux, colic, constipation, basically ALL the baby tummy struggles. I found it to be helpful with Weston when he went through a phase of eczema. I think probiotics are great support for mamas and babies' overall health! My favorite brand infant probiotic is Klaire Labs there-Biotic For Infant's Powder, but there are tons of brands you can try - just check in with your baby's doctor first! Also, do a little research or prepare for how to bottle feed your little one, and how much volume your little one should be eating during the newborn period. I will go into this more in detail in a later post!
Know deep down that you are supported in your decision, and if your baby is fed and loved you are doing amazing!
Overall, I know that even if we don't talk about it a lot, this decision does weigh on us as mamas. Ultimately it is our decision to choose what's right for our babies, ourselves, and our families. Trust your gut, be open-minded as well as confident with your decision, and know that you will face struggles and joys with any feeding method you choose. And know that there is always support and encouragement around you - don't be afraid to ask for help! It's fine to cry to your pediatrician, friends, moms, partners, etc. about whatever struggle you're going through (I think we've all been there, right?!) I'm here to help you too friend. Trust yourself, lean on your support system, and know that as long as your baby is fed, safe, and loved, you're doing amazing.
I would love to hear from you if you have any questions. Send me a message, find me on social media, and reach out to me if you ever need a mama friend.