When my firstborn showed up, my wife was incredibly excited to be a mum. She is incredibly maternal, and nearly lost her mind when she got to pick out some tiny newborn clothes. Our son arrived into the world on a balmy March evening and I’d never seen someone so excited to get started with the rest of her life.
Except, it wasn’t quite so simple.
We had no idea that breastfeeding could be such a challenge. We knew there was a knack to helping him find a latch (that word entered my vocabulary in a big way that year), but we thought that once he figured it out, it would be easy sailing from then on. How wrong we were… the next few months are a blur to me, but it could be summarised thusly: Baby screamed. Breastfeeding took hours. Sore nipples. Tears (sometimes from the baby, sometimes from my wife, and often from me). After about 12 weeks of genuine carnage, we’d had enough. We went to the pharmacy and picked up a tub of Aptamil Gold. We’d turned to the formula, and after a few days, we both got a sustained patch of sleep beyond the usual 45 minute intervals. I hardly knew myself the night he first slept through.
What I didn’t anticipate was the barrage of myths we would encounter when discussing formula. Now, don’t get me wrong: In a perfect world, we probably would have breastfeed right on through. Breast milk contains antibodies and other germ fighting bodies that are passed from mum into bub. However, formula is pretty incredible in 2022. Today, I am going to dispel a few myths which people might helpfully lob your way.
Myth #1 – Your baby will struggle to bond with their mother if they have formula
Old studies used to suggest that babies bonded with their parents through immediate skin to skin contact, and that if this did not take place, the child’s connection would be forever severed. Obviously, engaging with your child is extremely important, and they need to feel held and loved. But there is nothing magical about the act of breastfeeding from a scientific point of view. Anyone who has ever bottle fed a baby will know that there are still prolonged periods of time spent cuddling and looking into each other’s eyes. If skin to skin contact is one of your biggest things, you can just whip the shirt off when you’re bottle feeding. Essentially, it is a mythology which needs to be put to bed. We can do it, one bottle of Aptamil Gold at a time.
Myth #2 – Your baby will lack any nutrients if they have formula
This one is again, an echo from a bygone era. There are differences between breast milk and baby formula. But it has more to do with antibodies – which is why if you can breastfeed, it might be a better option. But not everyone can, and we need to do away with any stigma to shame new mothers into thinking that they are incapable or useless. In reality, the level of nutrients is very comparable. When baby formula was in its infancy, there may have been some merit to this. But the reality is, this has been a tightly regulated and scrutinised area of infant health for the last forty years (and then some). The manufacturers aren’t getting away with topping it up with washing detergent. Instead, it is a highly scientific process. Millions of children are formula fed around the world, and there has never been a study linking this to any long term health conditions.
Myth #3 – There is a causal link to obesity with formula fed babies
This is a complex one. There is no causal link, but there might be an incidental one. Sometimes, we can accidentally overfeed our babies on formula if we don’t follow the instructions. Breast milk has a natural cut off point, but many a-weary mothers have worried that their child is still hungry, and double dipped for a second bottle. So the possibility for misuse exists. But that ought not to be a reason to remove it altogether. We can misuse electricity, but that doesn’t mean we should remove it from our homes. Cars are the leading cause of automobile deaths. I still think I will use mine, I will just follow all known rules and guidelines to do so safely. I would suggest that the same applies to formula here.
Myth #4 – You should always be able to breastfeed
The simple truth is, it isn’t this simple. Some people with health concerns like HIV might avoid it to make sure their child isn’t at risk. Some people don’t have the luxury of taking so much time off work to breastfeed their child right up until they are two years old. Some people find it incredibly painful and the stress of this difficulty can cause their milk to deplete. In fact, the more I write about it, the more concerned I become that the stigmatising towards formula is actually an incredibly privileged position. It presupposes your health, wealth and support. We don’t really accept that kind of snobbery towards disadvantage in any other sphere of life, and I think it is time we ended it here. Nobody ought to feel bad for using formula, Aptamil Gold or any of the other quality formulas available on the market.
What is the reality?
Well, you just need to do what works for you and your baby. If you have had a child, you probably already know that everyone else considers themselves to be experts. But the reality is this: Their opinions are often like a baby’s nappy. They’ve all got one, and most of them stink.