Formula Feeding 101

Support and advice for bottle-feeding parents

by Suzanne Barston

Nearly half of all new moms are using formula by the time their babies are 6 months old. And yet, in this era of "breast is best," there is very little information on how to feed your baby from a bottle and very little support for moms who do. 

In fact, the only readily available instructions are on the back of the formula can (where you will come across another plug for breastfeeding). I learned this the hard way when my dreams of breastfeeding crashed and burned. I turned to bottle-feeding with great relief, only to discover I knew much more about the breast than the bottle. So I put together this guide to help other formula feeders get the information and support necessary to feed your children with comfort and confidence.

Starting strong
Many hospitals have breastfeeding policies that are wonderful for those planning to nurse exclusively, but can feel intimidating to those who decide to bottle-feed or supplement. If you're concerned that your decision will not be respected, consider the following tips to stop breastfeeding pressure from infringing on your maternity ward experience.

Own your choices. The term "informed choice" means exactly that – you have been informed of the risks and benefits of all your options, and you've made an educated decision based on this information. If you've done your prenatal "homework" and read up on both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, you can feel confident that you're making the best choice for your family, not the family in the room next to yours.

State your intent. Postpartum hormones can make it difficult to stand up for yourself, so ask your partner, your doula, or a friend to be your champion. And if your advocate can't be with you at all times, come up with a calm, respectful way to inform those who may urge you to breastfeed. A written document posted above your bed can express your intentions clearly: "I've made an informed decision to bottle feed and ask that my choice be respected. Thank you for your cooperation."

Be prepared. Some hospitals require that formula be given only with permission and in one "dose" at a time, like medication. Bringing your own supplies can help you avoid the stress of having to wait for a nurse while trying to learn your baby's hunger cues. The safest and easiest way to formula-feed a newborn is to use single-use, ready-to-feed nursettes, available from most commercial formula companies. Bringing your own supplies also allows you to choose the type or brand of formula rather than being limited to whatever the hospital has on hand.

Finding your tribe
Because 75 percent of moms nurse for the first three months after giving birth, many postnatal support groups focus on breastfeeding. Formula-feeding moms may have to get a little creative to find the camaraderie necessary to make it through those sleep-deprived early days.

Remember we're more alike than different. Feeling alienated because you're the only one at Mommy & Me class giving a bottle? Know that most new moms feel insecure about something. And even if someone asks you why you're not breastfeeding, it doesn't mean she's judging you for it. You can simply say that formula was a better choice for you; don't feel obligated to make excuses.

Latch on to the like-minded. If the support group skews heavily toward breastfeeding, remember: You only need to find one or two moms to connect with. And once you forge those bonds, you can always ditch class, grab a cup of sanctimony-free coffee outside of class.

Mobilize your own troops. Consider organizing your own bottle-friendly mom's group – put up flyers at local baby shops, indoor playgrounds, and pediatrician offices.

Go virtual. Online bottle-feeding groups are another great source of peer advice and support. Check out Bottle Babies or Fearless Formula Feeder on Facebook, or the formula-friendly message boards on JustMommies.com.

Get guilt-free information. Formula-feeding isn't always as straightforward as you might think. To find out your options, brush up on the latest research, and learn how to minimize health risks (without getting admonished for your choices), visit MayoClinic.com, Bottle Babies.org, or the Fearless Formula Feeder's Bottle-Feeding Guide.

Bond through bottle-feeding
Just because you're not lactating doesn't mean feeding times can't be special. Lift your shirt and place your baby against your chest when you give her a bottle. Look into her eyes and talk or sing to her. Feed on demand rather than on a schedule. Bottle-feeding can easily be bottle-nursing.

Feeling prepared, respected, and informed is every parent's right, regardless of how you choose to feed your child. Education and support is out there. Don't give up until you find the help you and your family deserve.

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Suzanne Barston

Suzanne Barston

Suzanne Barston is the author of Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood and Why It Shouldn't. You can read more about Suzanne's struggle with breastfeeding and embrace of the bottle on her website Fearless Formula Feeder, where you can also learn more about the #ISupportYou movement.

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