Think Pieces

Why Switching Our Baby’s Formula Was a Game Changer

May 31, 2020

Life changes fast with an infant in the house. Just last week I was ready to come to terms with the fact that I had a fussy baby, and then I woke up one morning and decided to change her formula. It was all uphill from there.

This isn’t the first time we changed her formula, but as a new mom I was hesitant to do it again. Insert advice I never asked for here: It’s not good to keep changing your baby’s formula.

Let me start from the beginning of our feeding journey.

I breastfed for about a month, but since Ella was born jaundice it was recommended we supplement with formula. I wasn’t too upset when the pediatrician came in to tell us about the jaundice or the supplementing. I’d gone into breastfeeding with an open mind, just like I did labor. I know breastfeeding has many benefits, but with all of the big life changes that come with a new baby, a healthy, fed baby was my only concern.

With the delivery of the news that Ella had jaundice, the pediatrician also said we’d have to spend an extra night in the hospital. This is the part I wasn’t expecting. Caring for a new life was such a big change and everything felt so fragile at the time.

It was our second day at the hospital, the day we expected to be discharged. Since the jaundice wasn’t going down like nurses expected it to, they wanted us to stay another night to use the biliblanket.

If you’ve never heard of the Biliblanket, it uses a blue light to push out the bilirubin in babies born with jaundice.

Usually, they’d send us home with the biliblanket and have a nurse come by to help, but it was the same day that everything was starting to shutdown because of COVID 19. The hospital went on lockdown and it wasn’t sending nurses to do in-home visits unless absolutely necessary. Since we were already in the hospital they thought we should stay.

Jaundice is common in babies. I’d known a dozen babies born with it… I was even born with it! Friends and family members told me not to worry, but I couldn’t help but stress out over it. Another night in the hospital? It sounded so serious.

Breastfeeding and supplementing only got harder once we got home. I had trouble getting her to latch on my own without a nipple shield. My nipples hurt. I felt like I was constantly feeding or pumping and it was starting to wear on my mood. I needed to pump to keep my supply up. I was pumping about 40 ml every three to four hours, and that was nowhere near how much she was eating. I hung on until I finally felt, for my own health, it was best to stop.

Our First Formula Change
From the beginning Ella spit up a ton. At first I thought it might be the breastmilk. I craved so much sugar while I was pregnant, and it didn’t go away when I was breastfeeding.

I stopped breastfeeding but the spit up continued. It was multiple times after every feeding. We reached out to the pediatrician to see if we should be concerned. She asked if the baby was gaining weight. She definitely was. All of those cute rolls made that obvious. Is the spit up projectile? It rarely was. And is she having wet diapers? Plenty. It sounded like a mild case of reflux to her, but she said we could try switching her formula to something made specifically for babies with reflux.

We noticed less spit up almost immidiately after changing her formula. (we switched from regular Similac to Similac Spit up, by the way). According to the label, the biggest difference was the spit up formula had starch. It wasn’t a complete cure, but it did seem to help her keep more down after feedings.

The Downside
Other Changes Came Along with it. We noticed less bowel movements, but she still had one soiled diaper every day or two. She also started to push more and her stomach seemed tight when she did. We attributed it to less bowel movements, but we didn’t think a little constipation would be so bad.

Over time we noticed changes in her mood too. Although she slept OK at night, she took less naps. She never wanted to be set down. She wouldn’t sit happily in her swing or bouncer, instead she cried and fussed. I cried and fussed.

I just wanted to help her, and I’ve been around enough babies to know something didn’t seem right. It started to wear on me. Different advice came from everyone and it only made me feel worse.

Our Second Formula Change
We’d been on the formula for spit up for a couple weeks, and Ella only seemed to be getting fussier. After a few days of an outright unhappy baby, we decided to change her formula again (This time we switched to Similac Pro Total Comfort, FYI. It uses whey protein and doesn’t contain starch). Within hours she was gassier than before. It wasn’t the constant stomach tightening and trying to push, instead she was actually farting. Hallelujah. With more gas came more bowel movements and more smiles.

I’m not kidding when I say this was an instant fix. It’s been one full week now, and she’s a different baby. She sits in her swing and her bouncer– by herself without fussing. She’s constantly smiling and laughing, and she’s napping like a healthy baby.

Listen to Your Gut, Seriously
I still have a lot of mom guilt for not realizing it sooner. It seems so obvious now.

Switching your baby’s formula once might not be the solution for you, but I wanted to share my story, because deep down I knew all along that something seemed off with the formula. The first couple of months are a huge adjustment when you have a new baby at home. Parents are still learning about their new baby. It’s OK if you don’t know what’s wrong. It’s OK if you don’t know what’s wrong. Yes, I meant to say that twice. Trust your gut despite what others are telling you, even if you’re a first time mom and they have 13 kids. It may take some failures, but you’ll get there.

Of all the advice I received, I had one friend tell me something that stuck.
“You’re a great mom,” she said. “You’re sticking by her side through this. You want to scream, but instead you hold her while she screams. That’s exactly what she needs. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do.”

That’s all we can really do. We hold them while they cry. We expect them to stop crying when we pick them up, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes when you don’t know the answer, the best thing you can do is just be there with them.

I often think about our future as a mother and daughter. We’ll likely have more days and weeks like that. When she can’t communicate to me what she needs. When I’ll desperately want to understand her but can’t. And all I’ll be able to do is hold her in those moments.

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