Survive the Formula Shortage with 10 Tips from a "Breastfeeding Goddess"
Expert advice to help new and expectant mothers survive the formula shortage.
Note from Josh: I bet you’re pretty surprised to see a post about breastfeeding on Unprepared. I know I am! But Amazon and Walmart are warning that the baby formula shortage will last through 2022.
As preppers, we need to be ready for anything, whether it’s the threat of nuclear war or simply keeping our children fed. And for many of us, the entire reason we prep is to protect our children.
Many are asking, “Why don’t mothers just breastfeed?” The reality is that breastfeeding isn’t easy, and many women don’t always get the advice, resources, and support they need to do it. I know: my wife Hannah has been breastfeeding for nine continuous years through three children, each with their own challenges.
Our daughter, born in June of 2021, was our most challenging yet, and Hannah struggled for months to get her to breastfeed. We visited many lactation consultants and other specialists. The lactation consultant we ended up with was so amazed by my wife’s dedication that she called her a “breastfeeding goddess,” so I asked Hannah to write up everything she knows about breastfeeding.
We understand that some mothers are already formula feeding and so telling them to just breastfeed isn’t helpful. This article is for the moms who are struggling with breastfeeding now or who are going to deliver their babies soon and need support to get started.
Hannah has joined our Discord server, so feel free to swing by and let her know if you have questions.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I had my first child. That’s a “no duh” kind of statement to anyone who has children, but it’s absolutely the truth. I didn’t take any breastfeeding classes while I was pregnant. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had no idea where to start, and if not for the patience of a very kind and knowledgeable nurse after the birth of my first child, I might have given up.
I imagine many women have a similar story. It’s hard to prepare for something that is completely new ahead of time. There’s no practice run for breastfeeding. Here’s what I wish I would have known nine years ago.
1. Don’t Give Up!
Breastfeeding is now encouraged as the best way to feed your baby, but doctors, nurses, and relatives often tell new mothers to give up and use formula if the baby doesn’t take to the breast immediately.
In my opinion, there is a gap in the collective knowledge of women that affects the success of breastfeeding in today’s mothers. It’s hard to get help and support when no one in your family has breastfed a baby for the last 50 years.
And the days after birth can be extremely trying. Your body has just performed a miracle. Your hormones are wild. You’re exhausted. Breastfeeding is brand new and you don’t have the brainpower to learn something new.
Be prepared for that reality, and ask for help when you need it. You can do it. I’m a living testimony to that. But you may have to beat the proverbial bushes to find the help you need.
Perseverance and a party on attitude will help you through until it becomes second nature to feed your child from your own body.
2. Insist on Immediate Skin-to-Skin Contact
Babies come out ready to nurse. Babies practice suckling in the womb in the last few months of pregnancy, which can often be seen on ultrasound. Many infants will scoot themselves along their mom’s chest looking for somewhere to latch immediately after birth.
For that reason, establishing a good feeding relationship with your infant early on is crucial. Unless you have a traumatic birth and are otherwise incapacitated (like I was with my first child, who was born by c-section), you should explicitly ask for immediate skin-to-skin contact after the baby is born. The baby needs that to learn that this is where “food” comes from now.
3. Achieving a Good Latch
Even though babies have instinctive suckle reflexes, a good latch can be hard to accomplish at first.
Signs of a good latch include:
Wide, flanged lips.
The baby taking a good amount of areola into its mouth. (Not just the nipple!)
Movement at the ear to indicate deep swallowing. (You may or may not hear gulping sounds. I didn’t with my children in the earliest months.)
Well-intentioned people will tell you that a little pain is normal, which is bad advice that causes many mothers to give up breastfeeding. Breastfeeding should NEVER hurt (at least until they have teeth). If it hurts, that means you don’t have a good latch.
A bad latch can usually be corrected by pushing the baby’s lower lip down so that more of the areola is actually in the child’s mouth. You can also hold your breast flat so that the nipple is very prominent, and then put your child’s mouth to the breast. This will encourage a deep latch. Don’t be afraid to (gently) shove the baby’s mouth onto your nipple.
If that doesn’t correct the problem, my next suggestion would be to have the child examined by a lactation consultant for cheek, lip, and tongue ties. Many pediatricians are ignorant about ties and some refuse to acknowledge that they exist.
My daughter had four ties, which prevented a successful latch for her until they were reversed. The ties were corrected by a dentist with a laser. The procedures were short and simple, but we had to do several painful mouth stretches multiple times per day to keep the ties from reattaching.
Another common problem, which my oldest son had, is immediately falling asleep after successfully latching. If your child does that, then you need to wake the baby by wiping their cheek with a wet cloth or tickling their chin. This will also stimulate the suckle reflex. Usually, that problem resolves itself within the first few days.
4. Latch Early, Latch Often
The “experts” will tell you that 15 minutes per side every three hours is the best schedule for feeding your baby. I have also found that to be completely bogus.
Babies need to latch often, especially early on, and cluster feeding — where the baby feeds several times in a short period — is 100 percent real. Cluster feeding establishes a consistent milk supply, and it also comforts the baby.
Cluster feeding can be tedious, so be sure to ask for help when you need it. Let someone else do the chores. Don’t be afraid to let some things go. There were days in the early months of breastfeeding each of my children that most of my day consisted of holding the baby, having Josh bring me snacks, and watching TV or listening to audiobooks. If you’re like me and you like to cross things off your list every day, remind yourself that you are accomplishing something by feeding and establishing a good breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
5. Don’t Fear the Pump
A good pump will be your best friend if you have a baby that has feeding issues. Even if your baby doesn’t have issues, you will want to invest in a good pump. Sometimes you need to pump off extra milk while the baby sleeps or if you’re going to be away from the baby for longer than two hours. A pump can also be helpful in establishing supply early since milk production increases in response to stimuli.
If your baby is nursing and you are pumping, too, your body will take notice and produce more milk. That milk must be removed in some way (otherwise your breasts get painfully swollen), and then the body will make more. Ideally, your baby will remove the milk, but a pump works, too. And trust me, milk is uncomfortable when it is not drained regularly. Imagine a cow that needs to be milked… you get the picture.
I pumped at work for my oldest two children. I never planned to pump for our daughter since I am now a stay-at-home-mother, but that was not the hand we were dealt. Even after her ties were fixed, she did not always have a successful latch because of a very high palate.
The Spectra S2 pump got me through those months. I’ve owned several pumps over the years, and the Spectra is by far the best. I pumped 6-8 times a day when she was almost exclusively bottle-fed in the early months, and most days I had plenty of milk for her.
Obamacare requires health insurance companies to cover the cost of breast pumps. Chances are, you can get a pump for free.
I did keep some formula on hand for days when she drank more than I produced. Enfamil NeuroPro seemed to upset her stomach the least, but here are some homemade options if you can’t find formula in the stores. Many “experts” will tell you to never use homemade formula or will even threaten to call the authorities on you if you do so, but what else are you supposed to, let your baby starve to death instead?
6. Get a Good Lactation Consultant
A good lactation consultant is worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, there are also some bad ones, so don’t be afraid to visit a few until you get results.
If you’re having latching trouble, request a consultant before leaving the hospital. Every hospital should have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) on staff. They will be able to identify potential issues by observing feeding, weight checks, and your baby’s latch. Like breast pumps, lactation consultants should be 100% covered under Obamacare.
In the weeks after birth, pay attention to how your breasts feel after you nurse. If you don’t think your baby is getting enough milk because your breasts don’t feel drained after you feed them for 15-20 minutes per side, or the baby isn’t gaining enough weight, then seek out a lactation consultant.
I saw a lactation consultant at least once in the early months of feeding all three of my children. With my daughter, we traveled to a hospital for the first few visits, and then we found a traveling IBCLC who came to our home.
It helped to alleviate my fears, and I always learned something I didn’t already know. A typical appointment will begin with a hungry baby so that it can be weighed pre-feeding. You will then feed the baby for 15-20 minutes, and the baby will be weighed again. This will put any doubts to rest about your production because you will know exactly how much milk your baby extracted.
7. Supplements for Breastfeeding
If you do have issues with your milk supply, or you want to avoid potential issues, there are a variety of supplements that can increase your output.
Many women use and have great success with fenugreek or fenugreek-based supplements, but I found that fenugreek upset my stomach and did little to increase my supply.
My favorite supplement is Mother Love’s More Milk Moringa. It is fenugreek free, which I appreciated. I was concerned about losing my supply during the months that my daughter wasn’t latching well. On days that I forgot to take More Milk Moringa, I noticed a definite drop in supply. On the flip side, there were a few times I leaked all over my shirt, especially early in the morning after the baby had been sleeping for a few hours.
Note from Josh: Moringa is a powerful herbal medicine that can help with cholesterol, high blood pressure, and many other issues, but that also means it can interact poorly with other medications you may be taking. You can actually grow your own moringa from seed. It’s a perennial tree in the tropics, but it can be grown as an annual elsewhere because it grows quickly.
I also took sunflower lecithin supplements when I was pumping. It decreases the likelihood of clogged ducts, which can lead to mastitis.
8. Breastfeeding is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
The early months of breastfeeding a baby are a marathon. They can be draining, physically and mentally. Ask for help when you need it. Talk to your doctor about any signs of depression, anxiety, or anger you might be feeling. Hormones take time to balance out after giving birth. Each of my postpartum periods has been wildly different, and that is okay. Many women, including myself, are very hard on themselves when breastfeeding isn’t an experience worthy of a Renaissance portrait. Many days are more like a Chevy Chase movie.
9. Take Care of Yourself
I know this sounds cliche, but make sure to take some time for yourself each day. Shower regularly. Eat plenty of calories — you will need them to make more milk. Take your prenatal vitamins and other supplements suggested by your doctor/doula. Rest when you need to, and work when you need to. Do whatever helps you find joy and will give you energy and renewed confidence to breastfeed again. And again. And again.
10. It Doesn’t Last Forever
The days of a baby only drinking mama milk don’t last as long as you think, and many babies can start solids well before six months.
With our middle child, weight gain was a problem from the beginning. It was suspected that he has a very high metabolism, and we fortified his pumped breast milk with formula for additional calories. (After our third child, I learned that it’s possible that he has an undiagnosed tie that could have been contributing to that issue, too.)
Parents in the United States are often told to hold off on solid food until the baby is six months old, but we learned that in many parts of the world, babies start solids at four months. We started our middle child on solids at four months and it quickly fixed his weight problems, so we also started our daughter on solids at four months.
We made as much of his food as possible, but I was still working, so he got commercially produced food as well. A few years ago, safety issues with commercial baby food, including high levels of arsenic, came to light, so I decided that our daughter would get as little commercial baby food as possible.
A lot of people recommend rice cereal as a first food, but it’s a terrible choice full of empty calories. Some nutrient-rich first foods we like:
Lightly cooked egg yolks (from our own chickens)
Pureed sweet potatoes (from our own garden)
Chicken liver cooked in chicken stock
Introduce foods slowly and stick with one at a time to see if it causes any allergic reactions or stomach issues.
After we started our daughter on solids, I found Solid Starts, which teaches about baby-led weaning, in which infants are given real foods in manageable bites from the beginning of their solid food experience. Baby-led weaning is not some kind of new-fangled hippie stuff. It’s actually what people did back in the good old days before industrialized baby food was a thing. Most nights, she eats what we eat for dinner with very little modification, which saves us a lot of time and money.
I am thrilled to say that starting solid foods actually improved our daughter’s ability to latch, and shortly after she began solid foods, I was able to drop pumping and bottles entirely. We didn’t get the perfect breastfeeding relationship I wanted from the start, but she is a nursing champion now.
You may be asking yourself, is all of this really worth it? Well, for me, it is. The nutrition in breast milk cannot be replicated in a factory. And as we have all seen in the last few months, factories and formula companies aren’t always reliable or even safe. If you take the time to establish a good breast milk supply, you have hot and ready milk any time of day, 24 hours a day. Talk about a closed dependency loop.
A note about fenugreek: if you have hypothyroidism, it will drop your milk supply.