To the Mum who is Struggling to Decide Between Breastfeeding and Offering Formula Milk

Since becoming a mother, breastfeeding has been a huge part of my journey. This part of my life will always be one that I hold close to my heart, for the bittersweet memories and challenges it holds.

From the time we were pregnant with Vera, K and I pretty much thought that breastfeeding was a natural option. Without wanting to put undue stress on myself, we subscribed to the idea of “breastfeed if there’s enough; offer formula if there isn’t”, and as first time parents, we weren’t quite sure what to expect about the real deal of breastfeeding.

Saying is easy; but when the situation arose, all hail the influx of mother’s guilt and pressure. Reminiscing the early days with my newborn, this letter is dedicated to mums who are struggling with the decision to breastfeed and/or offer infant formula to their babies. Because I was in that exact spot nearly 4 years ago…

breastfeeding mums in Singapore

Enjoying the closeness with my newborn right after a breastfeeding session.

Dear fellow mum,

From the day you met your new love, a whirlwind of emotions probably hit you. Whether it’s your first child, second, or maybe fifth, to finally carry the baby whom you’ve been carrying in your womb brings a flush of surrealism.

When we finally held Vera, it felt like a relief to see her safe and healthy. At the back of our minds, we knew this was just the beginning of a journey that we were excited yet unsure about, but knew we had to guide and nurture our child as best as we could.

The moment she was placed on my chest, I couldn’t quite believe it. This wet, bloody, purple-looking being was my daughter; my own baby. And then, she latched on naturally, marking the start of our breastfeeding journey.

The start of our mix feeds journey

breastfeeding and formula milk in Singapore

We had our first family photoshoot with our 2-week old baby, and Mummy didn’t know how to nurse you out of the home. Daddy had to dash home to get the infant formula, water and milk bottle…

That was the easy part, apparently. On Day 3 when we headed home and met our confinement nanny, the stress started building up. At closed to midnight, Vera was crying really hard, and the confinement nanny was adamant that we were starving our child. To make matters worse, she shared a horrific story about a case in Malaysia involving stubborn parents and their newborn – totally uncalled for, but it added to our anxiety as first-time parents.

The stuff we read about on how breastmilk was the best food for babies, colostrum would come first before mature breastmilk, and babies had reserves to last them for the first few days and that the size of a newborn’s tummy is really tiny – these theory seemed like tools we had, but we were firing blanks. Soon enough, I realised that my milk was not exactly flowing – engorgement was building up but my child was hungry.

Without any formula at home, K dashed to the nearest 24-hour supermarket to grab a tin. We’ve not exactly discussed about infant formula brands before, thinking they are all the same. But put a frenzied husband alone in the supermarket tasked with the urgency of getting a tin of formula for his crying newborn, what would he do? He came home with the most expensive tin, and it was a Hypoallergenic (H.A.) variant! Price may seem like the quickest way to decide what’s “best”, but it seems like a commonly misunderstood concept about infant formula. Will discuss more about this in the next article!

As they prepared a bottle to feed Vera, I was feeling perplexed and guilty at the same time. Hormones!

When was my breastmilk coming? How do other mums breastfeed so naturally and easily?? Did my newborn just have her first bottle of infant formula? Is she going to have nipple confusion and wouldn’t want to latch again?? Our breastfeeding journey barely started – was it going to end now??

Nutritionally, we knew that breastmilk offers an optimal composition of nutrients which changes according to the growing baby’s needs. Should baby be unwell (e.g. Caught a flu), the saliva from baby would “send messages” to mums body to reconfigure breastmilk’s composition accordingly. Sounds like magic, doesn’t it? No sorcery in there but an irreplaceable component known as antibodies.

Eating well for my breastfed baby

It was important to eat well, especially during confinement since our body has just undergo one of the most life-changing episode. Confinement myths and beliefs are abundant, so trusting yourself to decide is important. Eating nutritiously gives our bodies the nourishment it needs to rebuild and strengthen, and get our well-being back in shape as we embrace the parenting chapters ahead. After all, a breastfeeding mum needs about 500 more calories to fuel her too.

I embrace healthy eating, even though my supply was unable to meet what my baby needs. So, when Vera was diagnosed with eczema at 3 months old, and Paediatricians knowingly pointed my diet and breastmilk as the causes of her skin condition, the blame game opened up another can of guilt. After several rounds of food elimination, a blood test for the little one and seeking second opinions, we soon learned that my breastmilk was not the cause! It isn’t always the breastmilk, mums…

Getting the best of both worlds from breastmilk and formula milk

The initial months were tough, and the umpteen struggles were like hurdles in a marathon. As waves of uncertainty hit me, it made me questioned if what I was doing was right. I didn’t quite know that I was sinking into beating myself up over the stress of wanting to fully breastfeed my daughter. When I looked at my child, she was thriving, happy and active even though she was on mixed feeds. There really wasn’t anything wrong with offering formula milk – they are safely created for babies as nutrition to support their growth – self-inflicted doubt was all in the mind.

breastfeeding and formula milk in Singapore

The new papa fueling up as our child takes a bottle.

Getting family’s encouragement and support from fellow breastfeeding mums made a difference too. The pressure from both internal and external factors can be better managed with the right friends. It’s not a competition about how long a mum breastfeeds – support not judgement, mums. Gaining tips from expert sources and other breastfeeding mums on how to increase breastmilk supply, or give them a nutritional boost, really came in handy. Everyone’s body is different so it’s about discovering what works.

Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding: mum’s love is the best

As a new mother then, I wished I had more confidence about breastfeeding, especially in public. Eventually, I grew a thicker skin and did what I had to – nurse in public without flashing myself! I may not be one of those lucky mums with smooth breastfeeding journeys with both babies (2 babies mean very different stories!), but my breastfeeding memories with Vera set the foundation to what I might expect with Leroy. In fact, when my toddler self-weaned when I was pregnant, it was a bittersweet moment.

breastfeeding and formula milk in Singapore

Growing that confidence to breastfeeding anywhere, gave my jetlagged child comfort and solace as she drifted to sleep….

If you’re struggling with the decision to breastfeed or let your child go on mixed feedings with infant formula, at the end of the day, mums know their own situations best. It shouldn’t be about keeping up with the Joneses, but really just doing what we think is best for the family. Let’s not beat ourselves up too hard, and remember, breastfeeding is only a subset of motherhood. Thankful to persevere in offering whatever amount of breastmilk to my firstborn. Our love for our children is not measured by breastmilk or formula milk. I’m sure we share the same hopes of raising happy, healthy children, so let’s do it the way we think is best! :)

Cheers to happy mums and happy babies!
Dee

For expert advice on baby nutrition and how to breastfeed successfully, visit www.healthhub.sg/earlynutrition for more information.

Did you breastfeed and offer your child infant formula too? Do share your mixed feeding experience and struggles with us!

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