So here's the thing. Sometimes when we as a culture realize that we're not supporting something as well as we should be, we put so much energy into supporting it, that we forget there are other valid options.
I think that women 100% need support for breastfeeding. Anyone who tries to shame a woman for breastfeeding in public or tries to point them towards a bathroom should be slapped. It's not cool. Mother's need to feed their babies, and there should be nothing shocking about that. Also breastfeeding is hard. Like super hard, and we should have ALL THE SUPPORT for moms figuring that out. That should all be a given.
BUT. If a woman is formula feeding, either because they want to or they have no other choice, that should also be supported! No woman should ever be shamed or lectured for pulling out a bottle. Mothers need to feed their babies, and there should be nothing shocking about that.
When I was pregnant I knew I was going to formula feed, but I had a hard time finding information about how to prepare and what to expect physically in those first few days and weeks. So before I forget it, I've written a summary below. Hopefully it can help someone else in a similar position.
Tips and Tricks for the first few days postpartum
Are you pregnant and planning on not breastfeeding? One of the scariest things to me was what happens in the days after if/when my milk comes in? What do I do - how do I get my milk to dry up? It's not easy to find information here, and depending on your doctor you may be intimidated to ask or they might not be very helpful. So here's the information I pieced together from the depths of the internet, along with things I learned along the way.
This will likely be a bit different for everyone, but here was my experience so you have an idea of what to expect:
My milk came in on day 4. This was good, because we were home from the hospital on day 3, which meant I didn't really need to deal with this in the hospital, and didn't need to pack anything extra to prepare for it.
Day 4 was the only day they hurt. By the next day they were hard and big, but no longer painful. Just annoying.
By 2 weeks postpartum my breasts were back to their normal size, and no longer hard. They were still leaking occasionally, so I just kept wearing a comfortable sports bra/yoga bra with pads in them, but otherwise I didn't pay any attention to them.
By 3 weeks postpartum I was standing under the hot water in the shower and had stopped wearing pads in my bra.
General care and relief to dry up milk
- Showering: This was honestly the worst part for me. I love a hot shower. But you should avoid hot water directly on your chest, since that will only increase the amount of milk that comes out. However, if you're in a lot of pain and feel like you want to express some milk but don't want to pump (or don't have one), this is a good trick. Just be aware that the more that comes out, the more your body might produce. So I avoided hot water on my chest for about 3 weeks. I would either face my back to the water, or turn the temperature way down when I faced the water.
- Sports Bras: This was pretty much the only advice I had received from my doula - to wear a tight sports bra. I grabbed a tight but comfortable sports bra, and wore it 24/7 until my breasts felt completely normal again. (About 3 weeks). I also wore pads in the bra because I was leaking a bit. Besides switching out the pads every once in a while and occasionally washing my sports bra (whatever, I was keeping a human alive..) this one was pretty easy and helpful.
- Medicine: I was already taking Ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) for pain from labor, but I continued to take it for breast pain too. Some people report a lot of pain, but I think sticking to a schedule here (take it as directed on bottle, don't wait until things hurt) helped me avoid a lot of that pain. I also took Sudafed to help "dry me out." Some people take Benadryl instead, and while it does the same thing, I didn't need anything to make me more tired than I was. If you're not breastfeeding at all, I highly recommend you take these - they will help! If you're combo feeding, then ask your doctor about what's safe to take. (I know Benadryl is fine when you're pregnant, but I'm not sure about breastfeeding). I kept this schedule for about a week.
- Ice Packs: This also helped with the pain, and felt SO GOOD. At first I took ziplock bags and filled them with crushed ice and stuck them in my bra. Later I ordered some re-freezable ice packs from Amazon that I would swap out every few hours. Seriously a life changer. I bought both these and these, and while both were fine, for some reason I liked the small round ones better than the Philips AVENT ones. They were a bit more moldable, and I liked sticking one between my breasts, and I liked that there were enough of them I could rotate them in and out. But both did the job. (So did the ziplock baggies - they were just more time consuming). I iced them pretty regularly for about a week, or until they didn't feel so rock hard.
- Cabbage: I didn't do this. It seemed like more work (how much cabbage was I going to need in the fridge? I barely had time to make sure I had real food), possibly smelly, and a bit gross to me. But I know people who swear by it. A few leaves in their bra and then they felt great. From what I can tell it does a similar thing as the ice packs (the cabbage should be cold) and maybe the Sudafed? But this is definitely a trick you can try.
- Tea: Amazon sells a "no more milk" tea that others have tried and say works. I ordered it, smelled it, and never drank any. I'm not really a tea person anyway, but there was no way I was drinking that. But possibly an option for you.
Tips and Tricks for Bottle Feeding
It's harder than you'd think! Especially when you have questions and are either afraid to ask friends and family, or no one around you has any experience with it. Here's what I wished I knew before our baby was here.
Types of Formula
There are a ton of different formulas out there, and they can be super intimating.
There are a lot of formulas that say they reduce gas and fussiness and are for babies with reflux. While some babies do have severe reflux, it's also normal for all babies to have it a bit. Also extremely normal for babies to be super gassy. Once we really learned how to burp our baby, it was a game changer for us. And not just after feedings. I swear I burped that baby all day long.
So knowing that, most babies will do fine on any formula. Generic is super okay - it's the same ingredients and nutritional value. As my doctor says, "it's the exact same thing, just way cheaper." We didn't make the switch until our baby was 4 months old because we were nervous new parents, but when we did he never noticed, and we'll be starting with generic for the next baby.
The biggest thing is to pick one and not switch around. Some babies have an adjustment period of a few days to a few weeks on new formula, so changing too often can mess with them. Your doctor can give you advice if you think your baby should be on a sensitive or soy formula, but I'd plan to start baby on whatever standard formula you want. Don't spend too much time worrying about brand or type, just pick one and tell yourself it's the perfect food for your baby. Also if you get anxiety about buying it in the store and having someone possibly make a comment towards you, we bought all of ours off of Amazon or Target.com and had them delivered on a schedule. Way easier for sleepy parents.
How much to feed
Nothing stressed me out more than wondering if I was feeding my baby enough. I had charts and I asked my doctor and I searched online. At the end of the day, the answer is: every baby is different. But still that drove me nuts. So while I will post some tables of guidelines, I'll also post a warning/our personal story:
Our first pediatrician was very concerned that our baby was back at birth weight so quickly after being born (maybe 3-4 days?) She told us that wasn't normal and we were feeding the baby too much. She sent us home with orders to restrict the amount of food we gave him. The next few days were the worst days we'd ever had. He cried non stop and was so unhappy. Eventually I gave in and just fed him the amount he wanted. Still when we went back to the doctor for a follow up a few days later, he had LOST weight. I felt horrible - I was starving my baby! Still the idiot doctor told us it wasn't because we were restricting food, and we should continue to restrict formula. Well I immediately switched doctors to someone who reassured me that babies wouldn't over eat, and just to feed my baby when he's hungry. And suddenly my baby was happy and not crying! Also I've since learned that a lot of formula babies leave the hospital at their birth weight - that's normal!
So here's my general advice (given to me by our current pediatrician): If your baby finishes a bottle and immediately spits up, you probably fed the baby a bit too much. Try to decrease the size of the next bottle, or stop the baby early and see if that helps. (If your baby spits up an hour later that has nothing to do with bottle size - that's just normal baby behavior).
If after finishing a bottle your baby screams and cries and cannot be calmed down with a pacifier, and you've burped them and they're still crying, they might still be hungry. Try giving them another ounce or half ounce and increasing the next bottle size to see if that helps. Eventually you'll learn the difference between a hungry cry and a gassy cry which will help. As babies grow the amount they need to eat will increase, and there are also periods where they have growth spurts and fussy periods (some people refer to the Wonder Weeks App) where they'll eat more or more frequently. Totally normal.
Remember, if you were exclusively breastfeeding, you would never worry about how much your baby was eating, or try to restrict the amount of milk they were getting. So stop listening to your husband's grandmother or whoever is telling you that you're going to have an obese baby and that you're feeding them too much. Babies don't over eat, and if your baby is hungry, just feed them. Sometimes you have to throw schedules out the window.
That being said, if you still want a chart, here are a few that I found helpful:
I will say that even at 5.5 months, my baby was still taking 7 - 8 bottles a day, and eating more than the max amount that every table said he should eat. I think he was taking 6oz bottles so some days he'd have 48 oz a day. And yet he was in the 45th percentile for weight, and if you tried to feed him less he'd be miserable. So sometimes it's better to listen to your baby than a table.
I knew I'd need bottles ahead of time, but beyond that, I didn't really know what else I'd need or find useful. Since then I've found some things that I think are essential, and some that are just plain helpful. Everyone's process is going to be different, but here's what worked for me. Maybe it will work for you, or at least make you think of something you didn't ahead of time. (None of the links are affiliate links, and I'm not getting paid to recommend these things, they're just what I bought and I liked)
For bottles we used the Dr. Brown bottles. The biggest complaint is all of the pieces, and that can be annoying, but I've never used anything else so it just is what it is to me. They do seem to do a great job at preventing gas and bubbles and our baby likes them, so that works for us. Otherwise you might need to shop around a bit. I will say that once our baby hit 2 months, the level 1 nipples were too slow for our baby and we moved to level 2.
We put all our bottles in the dishwasher. Not everyone does, so if you're planning on hand washing this won't be relevant to you. But if you have a dishwasher and plan to wash bottles there, (and especially if you use Dr. Brown bottles with all the pieces!) we found these baskets were amazing. The Dr. Brown baskets weren't big enough for us, and these have two levels to them which were perfect for all our bottle pieces. If you're hand washing, the bottle grass you put on the side of your sink can be helpful. Also keeping a soapy bowl of water near your sink to throw bottles into as you use them is a nice trick.
And I definitely recommend getting a mixing pitcher! I'll talk about more in the next section, but they're cheap and so worth it! We originally had the Munchkin one and LOVED it, but eventually I bought the Dr. Brown one and it was even better. It holds more liquid, the mixer itself works a bit better, and we found it poured easier too. But they're both amazing and either one works well. Some people swear by formula dispensers, but we've never used one.
Actually Making bottles
There are as many ways to make bottles as there are to raise a kid. My advice is to do what works for you, and what you're comfortable with, and then never question it again. Your baby will be fine.
Your options are mostly around the water to use and the temperature to give the bottle at. I'm not a very nervous person and I was looking for as simple as possible, so we use filtered tap water (approved by our doctor), and we serve bottles cold (our baby doesn't care). But depending on what works for you, you can buy bottled water or nursery water, or you can boil your water first. If you don't want to give cold bottles you can get a bottle warmer or throw a bottle in a pot of warm water for a bit (it's not recommended to use the microwave).
As for making the bottles, I'll give you a few general rules: Once a baby starts eating, they should finish it within an hour or you should throw it out. Once you make a bottle up, it's good in the fridge for 24 hours, or at room temperature for 2 hours. Again, guidelines. I've given my baby a bottle they started over an hour ago because they were screaming and it's what I had on hand. He lived.
But assuming you're going to use those general guidelines, you can either make bottles one at a time, or make a batch ahead of time. What worked best for us (especially at night) was to use our pitcher to make up a batch of bottles, and keep them in the fridge. So we'd make maybe 20oz at a time, pour that into however many bottles it made (which was great because we could make a 5.5 oz bottle if that's what baby was eating, without having to figure out partial scoops of formula), and keep all the bottles in the fridge. When baby was hungry, we'd just grab a bottle. We even bought a mini fridge for next to our bed. Super easy.
Going out of the house
I hated leaving the house with a tiny baby, but some people love it! And whether you do or not, you don't always have a choice. At some point you'll have to bring your baby to a doctor's appointment or grocery store, and you need to be prepared. Again, whatever works for you, but easiest for us was to have bottles with pre-measured water in them, and then a separate container with however many scoops of formula we needed. So the bottle might have 4oz of water, the container would have a bunch of compartments with 2 scoops of formula in them, and we'd mix as needed.
I know some people who would put the dry formula in the bottles and carry a bottle of water with them to mix on the spot, or there are also bottles that will store both for you.
Another option is the ready to feed bottles. We took a bunch from the hospital when we went home, and those worked great in the beginning, but they are more expensive if you're going to rely on them a lot. We also found our baby got gassier on them since he does so well with the Dr. Brown bottles.
Tips and tricks for sleep
Okay I know this isn't really related to formula feeding, but it kind of is. And also may be useful.
In my opinion, there are two HUGE benefits for formula feeding: Sleep, and a dad's ability to bond. Both were key to our decision. Dad's bond came quickly and fiercely, and my husband loves to feed our baby. It gave him confidence and the ability to really parent 50/50 with me.
As for sleep, we had different strategies for different ages. In the beginning we pretty much had someone awake with the baby at all times. Mostly because the baby didn't sleep for very long at night and when he did, it was usually in our arms. I'd hand the baby off at 6pm and sleep from then until midnight. Then I'd get up and my husband would go to sleep until 6am. That way we both had an uninterrupted 6 hours of sleep and felt pretty normal. We utilized noise machines to ensure the person sleeping wouldn't be awoken by a crying baby, and usually kept the baby downstairs so whoever was awake could watch TV, and the other parent was upstairs sleeping. As a bonus, when we'd have visitors, they would sometimes offer to take a shift and help us get some extra sleep.
Once the baby was sleeping for longer periods at night, we'd alternate nights. One of us would be "on duty" all night and get up every time the baby cried. The other parent could get an uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep. Then we'd switch the next night. For some reason 2am feedings seemed easier to me knowing that I'd get to sleep the next night. The person on duty usually slept in the guest room with the baby monitor to minimize disruption to the other parent.
Eventually my husband volunteered to be "on" every night, since he needs less sleep than me, and can fall back asleep easier.