Sighted or blind, the decision to breastfeed versus formula-feeding your baby is a personal one. Speak with your OBGYN or mid-wife regarding these options prior to giving birth. While some women may be unable to breastfeed due to health reasons; blindness will not impede your ability to successfully feed your baby using either method.
Most maternity units allow expectant parents to tour their facilities prior to their baby’s arrival. My high risk doctor’s appointments were already located at the hospital where I was planning to deliver via cesarean section. I took advantage of arranging a tour of the maternity ward and connected with hospital staff members who were able to instruct me about infant feeding policies.
To Pump or Not to Pump, That Was the Question
I consulted with my doctors before the birth of my daughter as to whether or not I should attempt breastfeeding. My concern in choosing this method had nothing to do with my visual impairment, rather my prior medical history of breast cancer that had resulted in multiple breast surgeries.
I looked into options for pumping. Breast pumps and supplies can cost several hundreds of dollars if purchased independently. New mothers choosing to breastfeed may have the option of renting a pump at the expense of their health insurance. Advance preauthorization is usually required and your doctor or hospital will be able to review the terms associated with the insurance’s rental agreement.
I was told in the case of blind or visually impaired parents, most insurances grant a waiver or provide expedited authorization. This allows expectant blind mothers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with all the components of their machines. Adhesive bump dots can be utilized to mark switches and buttons that operate the pump’s functions. Bump dots may also be easily removed upon returning the device to your carrier.
After thoroughly discussing this option with my medical team, it was recommended I bottle-feed my baby given my complicated breast health history.
Inquiring What Supplies Your Hospital Provides for Formula-Feeding
Breast milk is considered the gold standard feeding your infant. I quickly learned during my informational tour that many hospitals no longer choose to actively provide formula to new mothers. Since 2011, nearly half of about 2,600 hospitals in a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had stopped giving formula samples to breastfeeding mothers, up from a quarter in 2007. In New York City, where I reside, former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg started the “Latch On NYC” campaign, urging hospitals to stop giveaways and monitor formula like other medical supplies, stored in locked cabinets, and accounted for when mothers have medical needs or request it.
Most formula companies encourage expectant parents to sign up on their websites for coupon options and samples of their products. Some will even provide a free bottle with their initial welcoming package. In addition, OBGYN’s may also have sample boxes of formula and various types of bottles to give to patients.
Once I made the informed decision to formula-feed my baby, I began gathering my supplies. I registered with all the major formula companies to receive what they refer to a “newborn welcome packs.” I also asked my OBGYN for samples of formula and bottles during my prenatal appointment. Having all my supplies helped me feel prepared and alleviated some stress about those impending late night feedings.
Every Blind Parent Knows, Practice Makes Perfect
Unfortunately, no two bottles are the same. Some come with multiple parts to help alleviate colic. While others are just a nipple, cap, and base. Blind parents should be encouraged to practice with their bottles, assembling and disassembling them. Visually impaired parents should also mimic the position of feeding their baby until they can discern which brand of bottle is the most comfortable fit for their hand. In addition, parents should attempt filling bottles with sample formula. This provides a period of evaluation where parents can determine which bottles are easier to fill, without too much spillage of water or expensive powdered formula.
It is also very important to remember just because a parent prefers a certain brand of formula or bottle, does not necessarily mean your newborn will agree. It is quite common for formula fed babies to change formulas to help with common stomach or gas issues. Additionally, infants may prefer certain types of nipples as opposed to others. Hold on to all your samples. I practiced making bottles daily during my last few weeks of pregnancy. Every successful mix and pour made me feel more confident that I could manage this part of motherhood effectively.
Ready to Feed Formula
Infants don’t drink very much milk in the beginning stages of life. A newborn can drink anywhere from two to four ounces during a feeding. For parents who are blind or visually impaired, “ready to feed” disposable formula bottles are available. This option, while slightly more expensive, provides four ounces of prefixed formula with individually wrapped, screw on nipples. The nipples do not need to be sterilized or sanitized and each bottle and nipple is intended for one use only.
My husband and I used this method during the first month of our daughter’s life. We were both nervous new parents. Although he was fully sighted, my husband still looked to me for help with making bottles. This “ready to feed” option worked amazingly well, but we eventually had to stop utilizing these bottles when my daughter began to drink more than four ounces in one sitting. Giving her two bottles during every feeding became much too costly and we switched over to powdered formula.
The Bottle Feeding Zone
As a new mom with vision loss, I quickly learned I needed to designate “bottle zones” in my home. Ideally, the perfect place to make a bottle would be in your kitchen and near your newborn’s sleeping space. All your supplies should be kept in this location, in the same spot. Remember, any problems you encounter with your visual impairment will be compounded from the lack of sleep caused by your new little bundle of joy. There were times I felt like I was just going through the motions, especially during late night feedings. However, keeping everything organized and in the same location helped me engage in easy bottle prep.
Pictured: Lines of Tommee Tippee Bottles in Rachel Ray Bubble & Brown Dish.
Gone are the days of boiling hot pots full of water to sterilize bottles. Depending on your doctor, you may or may not be told to sterilize your bottles. Some medical professionals now say hand washing bottles with warm, soapy water is sufficient. However, many bottle companies still manufacture sterilizers, including microwavable and plug-in, countertop styles. Parents who are visually impaired need to explore their local retail stores to experience these options first-hand. Due to the heat and steam these devices exude, braille dots and sticker markings (as used with Pen Friends) may not work. More often than not, blind parents must rely on their memory and comfortability using the technology when it comes to their sterilizer.
At the recommendation of my pediatrician, I did sterilize all my children’s bottles. I purchased a countertop sterilizer that was made for the style of bottle I ultimately ended up using. I had no issues working the device and with only one button to push there was really no way I could screw it up. I did, however, remain mindful of the hot steam the machine released which could easily burn anyone near it.
The Art of Blind Bottle Making
Making a bottle while blind or visually impaired requires practice. Using a 10×14 plastic cafeteria tray will help keep your “bottle zone” clean, catching any dropped powder or spilled water. Purchase a countertop water filtration pitcher, like a Brita, to ensure your baby has clean, filtered water. Some parents may choose to skip this option and utilize bottled water or a regular pitcher from which to pour. You will also require a set of measuring cups.
It is best to have all your bottles pre-filled with powdered formula for easy grab and go filling. This goes against the traditional directions of filling the bottles with water first, then adding the formula. After speaking with my pediatrician, she assured me as long as the bottle was well mixed, either way is acceptable.
In my “bottle zone,” I kept a Rachel Ray bubble and brown lasagna pan, lined with paper towels, and neatly packed with pre-filled bottles. I chose to use the Tommee Tippee brand of bottles, which are specifically made to mimic a woman’s breast, and fit neatly inside my pan.
To make an eight ounce bottle, you need four scoops of formula and one cup of water. Grabbing a bottle, I would set it on my tray. I would then pick up my water jug and pour water directly into my one cup measuring cup. Next, I poured the measuring cup’s water into my pre-filled powdered formula bottles, screwing on the caps, and shaking the bottle thoroughly. After repetitiously making so many bottles over several months, there came a time when I was able to audibly hear when the bottle was filled, without the measuring cup, just based on the pouring sound of my pitcher. My ears had gotten so used to hearing it, filling bottles had become like second nature.
Watch my YouTube video, How A Blind Mom Makes A Bottle, for more help on how I used this technique to feed my children.
Pictured: Brita Walter Filter on blue plastic tray with measuring cups and bottle.
Is Your Baby Getting Enough Milk?
Blind parents are unable to see the amount of formula left inside a bottle, indicating how many ounces their baby has drunk. Over time, a visually impaired parent may instinctively know how much their baby has consumed based on feeling the weight of the bottle. Obviously, a heavier bottle will have more milk than an empty one. However, in the beginning days of parenting, precautionary steps are needed.
Counting your babies suckling noises will provide you with an audible cue of how much milk they are ingesting. Newborns should be burped about every half ounce of formula. I would count to ten; then burp my baby. Depending on your style of bottle and the number of ounces put in each serving, a blind parent should be able to calculate how many sucks it is taking your baby to drink their bottle. Additionally, if you find your child is excessively spitting up, you may be providing them with too much milk too quickly. Scaling back on the speed of feeding may ease any tummy troubles.
Pediatrician visits will also reinforce that your baby is getting enough to drink. Your doctor will check your child’s weight during every visit and will help ensure your baby’s nutritional needs are being met.
Blind or visually impaired parents are perfectly capable of nourishing their children by breast or by bottle. Finding the necessary information from your medical team, experimenting with products, and being prepared are key to successful feeding practice.
Editor’s note: This post is part of the new Blind Parenting series on the American Foundation For the Blind’s website, Vision Aware, created to provide visually impaired parents with first-hand accounts of how you can raise a child safely and independently. Whether you’re considering breast feeding or bottle feeding, please visit Vision Aware to find information and support with your parenting journey.