How I Got Over My Formula Fears And Went From Clueless To Connoisseur

What's best for you is best.

Originally Published: 
dads and baby at home

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When my husband and I decided to adopt an infant, we were met with a barrage of decisions most parents don’t face:

What gender do you want?

Will you consider a child with special needs?

How open are you on the issue of race?

How do you feel about potential exposure to substances?

Among the more practical questions was the issue of how we planned to feed the child once it arrived. “Breastmilk is best,” is the wisdom du jour. Should our baby get less than the best just because we don’t have breasts? We weighed our options, looked into breastmilk banks and exchanges on Craigslist, and contemplated which of our nursing friends wouldn’t be too weirded out (or exhausted) if we asked for their extra.

And we considered formula. One Saturday afternoon in January 2016, 2 months before our son came into our lives, my husband and I went to BuyBuyBaby and wandered wide-eyed through the aisles. As newlyweds, we had become able to navigate Bed Bath & Beyond in our sleep. Now, stepping into their baby subsidiary was like walking through the looking glass. The familiar bread makers and accent pillows had been replaced with breast pumps and motion-activated diaper pails. When we got to the formula aisle, my eyes glazed over.

Should our baby get less than the best just because we don’t have breasts?

“How do we know which one?” my husband whispered, trying to discern the differences between labels.

“We need help,” I said as I reached for my phone. Thankfully, my friend Danielle picked up.

“What’s DHA?” I asked, trying not to overplay the desperation in my voice.

“Oh my God, stay where you are. I’m coming to you,” Danielle said. The idea of two gay men blundering around with cans of powdered milk was too much for her liberal, maternal heart.

Twenty minutes later she found us bouncing around the cribs, buzzed on Dreft-scented Boppy pillows. “Come with me,” she commanded, and we trundled after her, obedient as her toddler, Annie, who clearly knew her way around the store better than we.

Danielle talked us through the brands and labels, the basics and the modifications, the acronyms and the arguments. “Against all the worries you’ll have about who the breastmilk is from and what they ate and when it was pumped and whether it’s safe, consider the fact that our parents’ whole generation drank formula almost exclusively, and they turned out fine. Do what makes you feel best,” Danielle counseled. “You’ll have enough to worry about as new parents without wondering whether every batch of Craigslist breastmilk is safe for your baby.”

Yeah, we bought the formula.

In March, when we got the call that the boy who would be our son had been born, we packed up our cans and bottles and brushes and went to welcome him into our family. By that time, he had been on hospital formula for 2 weeks, and I was grateful for the stable transition as we took over feeding him. The nurses advised us on which level nipple to try, and what would signal that he was ready to graduate to the next level.

It wasn’t totally simple. We experimented with organic, soy, and hypoallergenic formulas as we tried to find something that wouldn’t irritate his premature GI system. Yet, where I was once overwhelmed by the varieties of formula, I’m now glad for the options we had as we sought the right fit.

Along the way we learned a few tips and shortcuts:

  • Electronic formula mixers are overkill. You’re preparing milk, not mixing concrete.
  • Make sure your bottle brush has a sponge on the end to hit the corners. (Why do they even make spongeless brushes?)
  • The feeding MVP award goes to the divided food storage pod, which allows you to store and dispense 4 pre-measured servings of formula. Essential for travel, easy for babysitters, and handy for those bleary-eyed midnight feedings. (Later, it’s great for baby cereals.)

Every baby’s needs vary, as do every family’s options. The most important thing we’ve learned is where to look for help when we don’t know what we’re doing. Friends, fellow parents, and trusted online communities can give you ideas of what to try, but if something doesn’t work for you, there is always another strategy or approach. For our family, I was grateful to have the consistent nutrition of formula within arm’s reach. In the unpredictability of parenthood, it’s nice to have at least one thing you don’t have to second guess.

Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge is a writer and a new father. He is the fiction editor at Oyster River Pages and he teaches English at Groton School, where he lives with his husband and their son. Check him out on Twitter @jdcoppadge.

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