I’ve been asked to become a Similac StrongMoms Ambassador to share formula tips with parents. In fact, they sponsored this post and provided me with some of the research. My opinions, like all moms should choose whatever works for their family (whether it’s breastfeeding OR formula), are completely my own.
Most formula-using parents come to the Cliffs of Doubt at some point.
It’s practically a rite of passage.
They start wondering things like…
- Are we second-class parents for using baby formula in the first place?
- Did we start with the right formula?
- When should I try a new formula?
- If I do need a new formula, which one should I switch to?
Today I’m going to go lay all these itchy fears to a comfortable rest.
A gentle reassuring breeze of self-confidence is about to blow your way…
Are We Second-Class Parents for
Using Formula in the First Place?
Breast is best.
I hate that phrase.
Not because it’s isn’t true. It IS true. Technically.
From a simple nutritional perspective, breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby.
No, my problem with the phrase “Breast is best,” isn’t the phrase, it’s how that phrase is used.
Oftentimes there’s an agenda dangling unspoken from the other side of the period: “Breast is best. (And shame on you if you don’t give THE BEST to your baby…)”
It just feels too simple. Like you’re looking at life as a black-and-white photo where everything can be categorized into “Best” and “Worst”.
But I think life is more like a Picasso: a beautifully complicated mess of colors that can take a while to “get”.
Sometimes breastfeeding fits the life-painting perfectly.
Sometimes it doesn’t…and that’s okay.
If you struggling with feeling guilty or shameful about your feeding choice, I would encourage you to ask yourself:
- Are you feeding your baby on a regular basis?
- Is your doctor comfortable with what you are feeding your baby?
- Are you meeting your baby’s physical and emotional needs?
These are the questions that really matter. If you can answer YES! to all three of those questions, everything else is gravy. 🙂
Did We Start with the Right Formula?
Once you’ve gotten past the emotional hurdles of using baby formula, you’re left with the next obvious question: Did I start with the right one?
After all, there are hundreds. (And I’m not even counting the off-brands!)
As Lewis Carroll advises, the best place to start anything is at the beginning.
This means (if your doctor hasn’t given you specific instructions) it’s usually best to start with a standard formula like Similac Advance.
Use that for about a week, being sure to keep a detailed feeding journal. (Just like the FREE feeding journal included with every Milestone Marker.)
This feeding diary is very important for three reasons:
- Your doctor is going to ask you exactly how much he’s eating every day and trust me, you won’t just “remember”.
- It helps you start to see rhythms and patterns to your day, that can help you answer the “why is he crying” question.
- You can use it to notice how your baby is digesting the formula, helping you know whether you need to switch.
If you start to notice strange poo colors, if your baby starts arching his back, or shows other signs of discomfort, it may be time to take the next step in finding the perfect formula, which translates into our next “problem”.
When Should I Try a New Formula?
Once you’ve chosen the baby formula to try, the very next thought that’s going to flit through your head is inevitably: Would things be better if I switched to a different formula?
Some babies will happily drink anything, with hardly any unpleasant side effects.
Other babies though…
They’re like that food critic in Ratatouille: a Mr. Grumpy Pants who hates 99% of everything. The challenge is to find that mysterious 1% that fits him perfectly!
Here are the signs that a formula switch may be on your horizon:
- Draws legs into the tummy and cries really hard until passes gas.
- Is constantly constipated – the poop is thicker than peanut butter
- Burps or passes gas ALL the time
- Is much fussier than normal
- Spits up after almost every meal
- Projectile vomits (shoots across the room like a hose)
- Is fine after eating, but will wake up screaming or gets really fussy about 20-30 minutes after eating.
If any of these issues are happening to your infant, give your doctor a call and discuss the next problem…which formula you should switch to.
Bubbles or Pebbles? The Lesser of Two Evils
Sometimes, in extreme cases, you have to make a decision between two formulas that aren’t perfect. Perhaps you find that your infant gets really gassy and fussy with Good Start Protect, but gets constipated with Similac Advance.
In that case, determine which of the end results is more treatable, and then choose that formula.
For example, you could add a little prune juice to each bottle (or one bottle a day) to help soften his bowel movements, making the Advance a “perfect” formula for you after all.
Exactly how much prune juice should you add? Depends on your baby’s weight. Give your doctor a call and ask. Giving too much could lead to stomach cramping and diarrhea, so be sure to get his opinion before proceeding!
Which Formulas Should I Switch To?
After starting with one of the standard formulas, your next step on the “Perfect Baby Formula Path” would be to work your way up the brand’s ladder.
For example, if you were using Similac Advance, your next step would be Similac Sensitive.
If things still haven’t improved after a 5-7 days on the”gentle” formula, the next step is to move up the ladder to an ULTRA-sensitive formula.
That would be Similac Total Comfort, or Good Start Soothe. These formulas breakdown the whey protein almost all the way and are the last stop before you get to “pay-through-the-nose-hypoallergenics”.
A Quick Note About Acid Reflux
Babies who have been diagnosed with acid reflux usually have two options when it comes to formula:
- They can use a formula pre-thickened with rice cereal (no clumping) like Similac for Spit Up
- They can use a hypoallergenic formula like Alimentum.
- If that still doesn’t work, the doctor may put you on (what I call) a hyper-hypoallergenic like PureAmino or Neocate.
Unless your baby is violently spitting up and in danger of becoming dehydrated or not growing, it’s usually okay to try the less-expensive pre-mixed formulas first for a week and see if things improve before switching to a hypoallergenic.
A Quick Note About Switching
Usually, if you’re switching from a milk-based formula (like Advance) to another milk-based formula (like Sensitive or Total Comfort) you can switch abruptly without any tummy troubles or extra gas.
However, if you’re going from a milk-based formula to a soy-based formula (like Isomil) or a hypoallergenic you’ll need to slowly adjust the formula to help your baby’s tummy adjust. You can learn how to do that here.
No. More. Shame.
Do you feel like you have to start every baby-feeding conversation with “I didn’t have enough…” or “I know I should…” or find some other acceptable excuse for why you’re not the terrible mother you’re afraid everyone else assumes you are?
The truth is, breastfeeding is a feeding lifestyle. Yes, it’s a great way to love and care for your baby. It’s just not the only way to love and care for your baby.
I encourage moms to give it a try, but all parents have to weigh the pros and cons for that lifestyle by themselves.
You are more than just your feeding choice, whatever that choice is.
Doubt me? Take a look at that sweet slobbery smile.
He thinks you’re doing an awesome job.
What else matters? 🙂
Meet Heather Taylor
Heather is the Chief Encouragement Officer here at Incredible Infant and has been writing and encouraging parents online since 2007. She's certified in baby sleep coaching (yes, that's a real thing), has served as an Expert Parenting Panelist for numerous events, and has been a featured writer on blogs like DaveRamsey.com, SimpleKids.net, My Kid's Adventures, Cafe Mom, and others. If it's 2am and you're desperate to read SOMETHING, click here for all her darkest secrets, including why she really shouldn't be allowed to blog.