Let me start with pointing out that the title of this article states that *I* would never give my child formula, and what *I* would do instead. While I hope to inspire those with nursing struggles, I am not here to tell you what you should do, because I don’t know what it is like to struggle to nurse my baby (so long as blistered and bleeding nipples don’t count as a struggle. Heh.) I am simply here to exterminate the “it’s either breastfeeding or formula feeding” dichotomy. Well, that, and explain why I think we can do better as far as what we offer non-breastfeeding mothers as milk alternatives. Because I believe what we currently carry on the market is doing babies a disservice.
I recognize that the fact that I have chosen to never give my baby formula is largely because I have the privilege to not have to do that based on where I live and the resources I have access to. Not everyone will have the same advantages as me, and I get that. Of course, if I found myself in a situation where the only thing available was infant formula, then obviously I would do what I had to to keep my baby alive. But still, I don’t believe that is saying much, because I would give my child anything if it meant keeping him alive. Those people who lack the resources are not so much who I am writing to here.
I will also add that my recommendations are not meant to replace breastfeeding. I will always promote breast as best. The ultimate agenda here is to provide more breastfeeding support and education to new mothers and less pushing and advertising of formula in hospitals and by formula companies. We need to grow up seeing our mothers, aunts, cousins and community nursing out in the open. It needs to be normalized from the time we are young. All new mothers need free access to a lactation consultant and be supported by educated loved ones who know the importance of breastfeeding for the baby and the mother. Our culture needs a fundamental shift in the way we view feeding and raising babies. This statement might sound harsh to some people, but I believe children have a right to be breastfed, and to carry out the developmental disruption of not nursing comes with inevitable consequences, which are going to look differently from child to child (health problems, attachment issues, etc).
Look, I know that not all women can breastfeed, but in 2011 only 49% of babies were being breastfed at 6 months old in the U.S.! That is less than half. By a year old, only 27% of babies are still breastfeeding. These numbers are too low and raise concern for the public health. Sometimes a woman cannot breastfeed, but 51% of American women are not physically unable. The World Health Organization suggests nursing for at least two years and estimates over 800,000 lives could be saved per year if every (or most) women nursed their babies. With that said, I have seen women struggle and be tortured by the fact that they were having such a hard time nursing their babies. It is part because we lack the education and support, and also because with the way we live our lives these days (unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, sedentary lifestyles, etc etc) has it be that our bodies don’t always function in ways that are biologically normative. But when you are sitting there with a new baby and struggling to feed her, the last thing you need to be doing is figuring out why your body isn’t working as it should. The thing that calls for immediate action is to feed your baby and that is why we have and need alternatives. Healthy alternatives.
Here are the reasons why I would never give my own baby formula and what I would do instead, given the resources I have.
I don’t see formula as the next best thing to breastmilk.
For me, keeping my child as healthy as he can be is very important to me. As I look at the healthiest option for my baby, formula falls so far down the list that it has become a non-option. I know sickness happens, and I welcome the rare times he gets sick because I know it is building his strong immune system to be even stronger. So for me, if I couldn’t breastfeed, I would only and obviously want to give him the next best thing, and formula is not that. It isn’t even the third best, in my opinion. We have a way of thinking that says a baby is healthy so long as baby is alive and more or less hitting their milestones. In my opinion, there are so many other things that indicate true health and vitality that are too much to talk about here (maybe another blog). I believe that because of many of our modern parenting practices, we don’t actually get to often see how truly healthy and vibrant children are meant to be.
2. The ingredients.
What makes it not healthy you say? Let’s take a look: The first few ingredients found in mainstream formula brands, like Similac are Corn Syrup Solids (gmo), Soy Protein (gmo), and Sugar (this is added, processed sugar. Not natural glucose that our bodies and cells require. They are not created equal). It goes on to list a slew of other ingredients I would never give myself, much less my baby. Amongst them are casein (milk protein), choline chloride (first isolated from ox bile, an ammonium salt often used in pet and livestock feed), and synthetic vitamins.
So then what would I do?
1.) Wet nurses and donated milk.
I would have other people nurse my baby and give him donated breastmilk. I know two women who adopted children in my area that were able to feed their babies on pumped breastmilk for a year without supplementing with formula. I truly am blessed to live in a big city full of nursing mamas. Between Facebook groups, community connections and word of mouth, it isn’t impossible to have a freezer full of donated milk. I would post in all the local mom groups, tell my friends and close connections to reach out to everyone they know and rally to get me a good stash. If you live in a city or larger town (or within an hour or so of one) I highly recommend this. Thank God for social media in this day and age. I’ve seen it help so many women in this way.
2.) Milk Banks
Where I live there are milk banks where women can donate their milk for babies in need. Now, typically the milk at milk banks is only prescribed to babies with unique situations like preterm babies, failure to thrive and those with allergies and formula intolerances. This is still a good option for those who find themselves in any of those situations. The only downside is that all the milk is pasteurized, but still a better option than formula.
3.) I would make my own.
I make my own food, my own medicinal remedies and baby bottom spray….why not make my own baby formula? That way I can be the one who is 100% in charge of what I am putting into my child’s body. I suppose no matter what we choose, we are in charge of what goes into their body. I want to empower myself and take responsibility for our health and well-being by choosing the best ingredients for my child. There are so many homemade baby formula ingredients to be found online. Choose the one that works the best for you and your child and DO YOUR RESEARCH. The making of your child’s formula is something to take very seriously and be well educated on how, what they need and how much. I will leave the links to a few reputable ones down below.
A recipe with goat milk
A recipe using coconut milk
Weston A. Price recipe (Honestly, not my favorite. Way too much dairy for me.)
**Please always consult with your doctor before giving your child a homemade formula**
This is not meant to shame formula feeding moms. I get that based on our choices and lifestyles, we all have different priorities in life, and for me, health is a BIG one. It comes before how much money I make, how big my house is and what type of car I drive. Once we know better we can do better and how can that happen if we don’t open an honest dialogue? Like all big industries, the formula industry stays profitable with your business. In order to keep your business, sometimes companies have to sell you information that might not always be in your best interest. Again, I understand that not everyone has access to loads of pumped milk and/or the money to continuously buy fresh, organic ingredients to make formula themselves. Then again, I know people feeding their babies formula that do have those resources, and maybe they would like a better alternative. That is what I am offering here.