Today I had one of those moments. You know the kind — when a run-of-the-mill task unexpectedly turns into an emotional “mom milestone”? I bought formula for our son for the last time. He hit the magical 12-month mark and is now in the cow’s milk/solid food stage of toddlerhood. Now, this is not a moment I expected to celebrate, and if you had told me a year ago that I would one day feel such genuine love and gratitude for formula, I probably would have laughed out loud… or cried. (Hormones!) But today, as I stood at the checkout with my healthy, giggly 1-year-old, it hit me just how grateful I am for formula and what it did for my son this year.
Like many moms, I planned to breastfeed. I did not plan for marathon nursing sessions at the hospital that left me bleeding and my son hungry.
They told us our son had a pretty severe tongue tie, which interfered with his ability to nurse. Fortunately, he was able to feed from a specialized bottle, so after a quick lesson on pumping, I went home with directions to nurse, then pump, then bottle feed until we could see a pediatric ENT.
It turned out our son had a lip tie, buccal ties, and a tongue tie, which were too severe for the typical in-office procedure. The only option for release would be surgery under general anesthesia, which is not performed on children under 18 months (unless medically necessary). We spent another week visiting lactation consultants and eventually showcased our nurse-pump-feed routine in front of an audience of specialists — the feeding team at Boston Children’s (who by the way, were AMAZING). The verdict was the same: Our little guy needed bottles if he was going to get enough nutrients to grow and thrive.
Before our son arrived, I said it would be fine if we had to use formula. However, when this became our reality, it suddenly didn’t seem so simple.
When I took our little guy in for his one-month appointment, his pediatrician gently asked, “Have you considered formula? He is pretty much the reason it was invented.” I wanted to hug her. Of course it had crossed my mind, but there was that nagging guilt fueled by articles on my newsfeed, as well as the reactions of some other new moms (who I choose to believe really meant well) when the topic of formula was raised.
I 100% believe in the importance of breastfeeding support. Breastfeeding is hard. Exclusively pumping is hard. (Let’s be honest, any amount of pumping is hard!) But the emphatic encouragement can sometimes take on a tone that makes it feel like formula is something to be ashamed of… or at least that’s how it felt to me in those hormonal postpartum days. I went home from that doctor appointment to continue the pumping routine, but her words stuck in my mind. Two weeks later, at my own follow-up appointment, my doctor took one look at me and said, “If you want to keep this up, I support you. But there is a reason formula exists, and he will be fine.” She shared her own experience with using formula and told me to do what I thought was best.
I cried when I left her office.
Because she was right. Of course I wanted the best for my son, but I realized then that “the best” meant more than just the source of his food.
“The best” meant having time with his mom. “The best” meant living in a house filled with laughter and joy, and not a constant underlying sense of stress.
“The best” meant having enough food to keep him healthy and help him grow — something I couldn’t give him from a supply that was constantly trying to keep up.
So that night I went and bought our first carton of formula — and it was the best thing I could have done. Formula helped my son to grow and thrive. It gave him the nutrients I couldn’t. Formula meant I could snuggle him during feedings. Formula meant I could pick him up when he cried instead of frantically trying to pump enough for his feeding. Formula meant I didn’t have to set an alarm to pump every two hours in an attempt to keep up with his needs. Formula enabled my little man to grow and flourish, and it also allowed me to flourish. I was able to regain the confidence I had lost when I felt like I couldn’t give him what he needed.
I was able to enjoy being his mom.
So today, as I open what will likely be his last carton of formula, I feel profoundly grateful — for science, for access to formula, for clean drinking water that makes formula a viable option, and for the various people who supported our family in doing what was best for us. Today, I encourage you to take a moment and be grateful for however your kids are fed. Because whether you breastfeed, pump, formula feed, or some combination of those, you are making sure your baby is fed. And you’re doing it in the way that is best for your family. Keep up the great work, mom. And don’t be afraid to reach out if you’re feeling confused or overwhelmed.