What do you do?

Last week, one of my fairly regular customers was in the formula aisle, there to pick up a case of one of the liquid, ready-to-feed, hypoallergenic formulas. I had no cases in the back. No more than three bottles left on the shelves. The customer did not buy the last three bottles, preferring to come back at a later date. He didn’t seem at all concerned, but after he left, I kind of was.

Once, I bought a can of formula. Because I stopped pumping my milk when M was one, and the pediatrician suggested it might be an easier transition to whole milk. He didn’t like it, in fact turns out to be sensitive to cow milk, so I gave the rest of the can to a friend. I never had to mix a bottle. I was never left alone in a house with an empty container of liquid or powder and a hungry, screaming baby. My milk was always there, ready, the right temperature, the right amount. I know, lucky me.

Now, I’m guessing that this particular shopper was a man who thought ahead. I’m assuming that his pantry was already stocked with more than a few extra cases of the food his baby needed. But the thought that some other mother or father could be in need of a very specific formula to feed their baby, and not able to find it at the store really had me concerned.

Because what do you do? If you came to my store after those last three bottles were gone, and you were running out of your stock at home, what happens then? Obviously, you try other stores. But if the formula company was slow on their shipping that month for other local stores, too, maybe no one else has it either. I suppose you’re left with the choice between a starving baby or an allergic reaction.

There are a whole lot of reasons I’m really happy to have successfully breastfed my baby into toddlerhood. But this is a new one for me to consider. My husband had to be on the special formula that was prescription only back in the day because he was allergic to everything as a baby. To have to go to the pharmacy and pay the outrageous late-seventies¬† price of 19 cents per can was a huge inconvenience and financial burden on his parents. At almost $30 per can today, for the most common hypoallergenic non-prescription variety, I can’t even imagine what some parents must go through just because mom couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed.

I’m not writing this out just to beat up on the formula feeding or the formula-fed. Far from it. The battle lines are drawn all over the Internet, you don’t need more guilt tripping from me. This was just a situation that really started my mind going, and I write here to work through those kinds of thoughts. I truly find it baffling and sad that some parents, probably more than I even think, might find themselves in a position where their babies’ primary food source could suddenly become unattainable. Not to mention occasionally put themselves in that position intentionally.

To be honest, the bottle-feeding mothers I have known have been among the lucky ones who have not had to seek out special formulas or prescriptions for their babies. When that’s the case, I suppose it’s easy to just pick up whatever can is on the shelves. But what happens to the babies if there’s a recall or contamination? What do you do in a disaster situation?

I was lucky not to ever really have to think about it before with my son, and I’m lucky still that I don’t really even have to be thinking about it now. Though I am curious. Does every bottle-feeding parent plan ahead like the dad that comes into the store to pick up his regular cases? Do they also keep a full supply of bottled water around, too, for emergencies? If the majority of bottle feeding parents are lazy like me, though, I’m guessing not. So what do you do? When you run out of baby milk? When your water main bursts or a hurricane hits?

I’m all for choice. And I understand that in certain situations like adoption, abandonment or with certain medical conditions, infant formula is necessity. And definitely choose whatever way works best for yourself and for your family. But I really don’t know if I’ll ever really “get” this one. The formula choice, to me, if consciously choosing it with the full ability and support available to breastfeed, just seems like adding one or more unnecessary worries to the already worry-filled landscape of parenting. And again, I’m glad I didn’t have to worry about it, myself.

Happy World Breastfeeding Week!

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