“Formula is evil. She’s so perfect, why would you mess with that?” Said the well-meaning naturopath. If only she knew how that sentence would haunt me in the coming months. As my daughter Annie approached four months old, she was drooling and reaching for pizza, cookies, chili, anything in reach of her little chubby fingers. Now, we know that this is a sign that your baby is ready to eat age-appropriate foods, but according to the naturopath we were to wait until six months of age to introduce anything but breast milk, and avoid formula at all costs. Annie became dissatisfied with just breast milk- she was fussy, all the time, and waking up more to eat at night, instead of less as we were assured would happen any time now.
By about five months, out of desperation we started supplementing with formula, just one bottle a day, when my husband got home from work. Kid was HUNGRY, and I just wasn’t cutting it. The guilt of giving her formula literally kept me up at night. Looking back, considering that Annie was still waking up twice (or more!) a night to feed, we really didn’t need any other reason to be losing sleep.
At six months, we offered her a spoonful of food and she grabbed Dan’s hand and pulled the whole thing into her mouth. All she wanted was food- demanding two, three, four servings of baby food at a time. Needless to say, her output also increased to epic proportions. Once, Dan was walking out of a BBQ holding her and she was hanging over his shoulder trying to eat a cookie he was carrying, making everyone laugh. The problem was- she no longer wanted milk. Or formula. All she would eat was baby food. It was funny, but I knew something wasn’t right, so I called the nurse hotline at COPA. They said yes, she was too young to wean (for a few days I was basically convinced that was it) and that she needed the fat from breast milk or formula until she was a year old. She was officially on what they call a “nursing strike.”
We began researching how to entice her back to the “breastfeeding relationship.” The bottle of formula was now served cold. We recreated her favorite “nursing scenarios”- snuggling in the rocking chair, singing her a soft little song. She gradually began nursing again, and
we introduced a proper amount of food, mixed with formula or breast milk, to provide the fat her growing body needed. I regret not following my baby’s cues, she is an individual after all, and should be treated as such. Formula isn’t evil for every baby, especially one like Annie who shows no adverse effects from it. And most importantly, she is sleeping through the night, most nights, something my husband and I desperately needed after a year of interrupted sleep.
Now, approaching one year old, Annie truly is weaning, and that’s okay. She is learning to drink milk from a cup. My body seems to be done swinging on the pendulum of production- again, I can tell she really isn’t getting enough milk from me, anymore. I do more research and there are cookies, teas, biscuits, and other rituals I can try to boost my milk output, some of which worked for me before. There are entire forums dedicated to how to keep breastfeeding as long as possible and stay away from the evil formula at all costs. And that’s wonderful, I’m glad that women have support to feed their babies as long as possible. But where’s the support for people like me, who ended up compromising and still have a healthy little girl?
Finally, I start to let it go. I wear bras that don’t have clips and dresses that zip up the back. I breastfeed her when she wakes up every morning, and she takes bottles of formula and food the rest of the day. She sleeps for 12 hours at a time now, most nights. Sometimes I miss her when she sleeps so long.
If I had to give myself one piece of advice in the beginning of the first year of Annie’s life it would be to let go of perfectionism. There are going to be times when you reach for a disposable diaper instead of a cloth one, and not because you are traveling but because you are tired, dammit. There are going to be times when you realize your kid had poop in their hair for the better part of the afternoon. (Fear not, expecting parents- the thing about all those poop horror stories everyone tells you is that they only happen once or twice. They just get retold over and over, because everyone loves a good poop story, deep down. Just ask Freud.)
The other piece of advice I would give myself is to be less afraid, and to ask more questions. Annie had her ten month old check up- weeks ago now- and once again we were gently schooled by the pediatrician, who somewhat rescued us from the clutches of my once-beloved naturopath and her ideas about “evil” formula. If we had offered Annie food when she showed us she was ready for it at 4 months, we could have avoided all that heartache, and actually breastfed longer. Every kid is different, and while I will still visit my naturopath when I need her, I’ve discovered that I just can’t have anyone else who is trying to hold me to some kind of gold standard, because I already do it enough to myself. Just give her the whole Cheerio, the pediatrician urged us, she’s ready for it.
Now, Annie is eating off our plates, confidently gumming up pieces of pulled pork, hamburger, broccoli, zucchini, pancakes, scrambled eggs….all the things we were too scared to offer her. If we had food allergies in our family, the pediatrician said, perhaps we’d be more cautious. But for now, Annie can have almost anything she wants to try. It’s been fun sharing food with Annie. And it’s perfect.
*Disclaimer- I have always been a believer in alternative medicine and this is in no way a stance against Naturopathic practitioners. There have been many times in my life when the very same Naturopathic doctor I am writing about solved problems for me that stumped the regular doctor.
I remain a client and will visit them when it is appropriate for myself and my family. This is just my experience with breastfeeding Annie, and I share it to encourage other parents to, above all, listen to their baby’s cues and to their own intuition. And above all, treat your little one like the individual that they are.*