Why I decided to create a better baby formula.

visual from NYT piece on our advisor Courtney Jung.

I just assumed I’d breastfeed for a year, or at least 6 months. The messaging is strong and powerful: “Breast is best.” There was breastfeeding classes, breastfeeding teas, recipes for breastfeeding cookies, and lots of literature about breastfeeding. They say it’s the most natural thing you’ll ever do as a mom. “It’s beautiful”. “A wonderful bonding experience”. “The most natural thing in the world”. So, once my daughter was born, I embarked on our breastfeeding journey, assuming it would be all of those things. I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding and encouraging the education and support ..because breastmilk is AMAZING, I don’t dispute the science, which made the next part of my journey an even harder path to accept.

When Mary was born, I quickly learned that breastfeeding was not going to be the most natural thing in the world (for us). I had no idea what to do. In the hospital, nurses came in and showed us all sorts of different holds — the cradle, the cross-cradle, the football, the reverse-football. Remembering the names of the holds was difficult enough, much less remembering how to do them. Not to mention that Mary had trouble latching.

Less than one week after we got home from the hospital, I got mastitis. It’s basically what it sounds like: an infection in your breasts. It quickly led to a fever, chills and finally, blocked ducts. And blocked ducts meant that I couldn’t produce enough milk to feed my baby. Not only was I very sick, but my baby was hungry. She cried after I fed her — and I quickly realized: I don’t have enough milk right now. The support I got from lactation consultants and doctors was so amazing (and needed!), they genuinely cared about my family’s well being — more importantly they were very realistic about how I was going to recover and what that meant for feeding my little one..

I was going to have to do something I never thought I would do: use formula!

Everything I had learned up to this point was that breast is best — and there is no alternative. I found myself standing in the middle aisle of Walgreens five days after having my daughter, crying quietly as I stared at my options. Baby formula seemed terrifying. The packaging had more medical disclaimers than benefits. And it was locked away, requiring me to call for help to retrieve it. When I pushed the button to call for help, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that someone needed help in the formula aisle. When an associate finally came, I wanted to ask questions but felt so guilty buying it that I quickly grabbed one off the shelf to leave as fast as possible.

Once I got home, I stared at the package, trying to understand what I was about to feed my newborn baby. And I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t pronounce half of the words on the label. The only ingredients I understood, I did not like: corn syrup, soy… and more. While I’m not much of a foodie, these were not foods I feed myself. I looked down at Mary’s tiny hands and feet and knew those were not things I wanted to feed my baby either.

Formula is not bad, it’s just disappointing.

While I felt incredibly guilty making Mary’s first bottle of formula, she drank it easily. My guilt slowly turned to relief as I realized that she was no longer hungry — and it was nice to incorporate my husband into the feeding. Not to mention my mom, my sister, our friends — and frankly, the entire village I needed to help me through my first year.

After three days, I started producing milk again with the help of my lactation consultant, but I never did get my supply up 100%. So, I ended up continuing to supplement with formula, assuming I would breastfeed for at least a year.

And then I returned to work after my maternity leave (and realize that I am fortunate — 29% of moms in the US are not able to take any leave). Like all pumping moms, I had to coordinate my schedule every day at 10am and 2pm to ensure that I had forty-five minutes to pump. Despite scheduled pumping, my milk supply started to drop quickly after I started working again. Being faced with the decision to attend an important meeting (that I regularly led) or keeping my supply up was a daily debate.

Needless to say, after six months, my milk supply completely dried up. Working and breastfeeding was no small feat. After trying to work and pump, I realized that I couldn’t do it all — and certainly couldn’t breastfeed exclusively.

And at this point, I was more comfortable with the formula I was feeding her. I had discovered German formula, which contained no soy or syrups — unlike every formula on the US market. Being Irish, I was aware of the European standards, and I wanted them. Grass-fed and organic was the norm, not the exception. And I wondered:

“why is this not the norm for American food — and formula?”

Moment(s) of truth.

Still, I felt guilty. While I was doing what was best for our family’s situation, the strong Breast is Best messaging made me feel like I was not enough. In celebrating exclusive breastfeeding, we forget the impact it can have on those who simply cannot breastfeed — or exclusively breastfeed, for whatever reason led them here. And with lack of judgment for that reason.

Here’s what I did: [My confession]

  • Prepared bottles before leaving the house so I wouldn’t be caught formula feeding in public.
  • Let the bubbles settle so it looked like breast milk.
  • Used my ‘Spectra’ bottles (breast-pump brand) so it looked like pumped milk.
  • Looked for the exit whenever I got into a feeding story with friends.
  • And I definitely went to use the lactation room one last time, knowing I had no supply.

Obsession for answers. Obsession for better.

The next two years became a personal research project. There was so many questions.

Why can a better granola bar come out every week but not a better formula? Why is there a black market for German formula? Why didn’t I produce enough, and was it my fault?

Being a data driven by nature, I needed to see the statistics. Here’s what we learned:

  • 15% of moms may never produce enough supply — no matter what they do.
  • 56g of corn syrup is consumed in a daily feed of an average US formula — more than a can of coke.
  • 70% of new mothers felt pressured to do things a certain way.
  • 100% of regulated formulas in the US have either corn syrup or soy. (based on what we can/can’t find)
  • 83% of parents will provide some formula in the first year. (national wakefield study.)

But also that breast milk is magical! It’s dynamic and personal in a way that formula will never be. Therein lay the dilemma… I wanted her to have the liquid gold and yet I was struggling to do so.

My biggest discovery in this research was that the challenge to exclusively breastfeed doesn’t mean we need to stop BF altogether, every little helps, the wakefield study showed that 70% of breastfeeding parents will supplement with formula — many parents are choosing to do both or need to do both. That’s okay!

In conclusion : Disappointment = expectations — reality. This is one of my favorite equations from a close friend and mentor (Chip Conley) . There was so many expectations for how I would feed and when reality didn’t live up to those expectations, I was left disappointed. I was left with this question…

“If a parent is going to use formula shouldn’t they feel good about it?”

bobbie is born, and so is Colin

As life would have it, I got pregnant the same week I decided to leave my past career and create a better baby formula, bobbie. I was even more determined to bring out the best, as I would have a another little one now to consume it.

Fast forward a year and a half to today, Colin is thriving on bobbie and we are about to launch. None of which would have been possible without the bobbie family.

Our bobbie family comes with many more stories.

While this post is a personal account of my feeding story there’s so many faces and voices behind the bobbie team.

Alongside our incredible team of community builders, scientists, operators, medical professionals and our Mother Board we’re excited to evolve the conversation of parenthood and build bobbie together. Their stories are similar — emotional, uplifting and raw all of the core ingredients to fuel the passion going into this. So grateful we get to do this together.

It has been quite the journey. I will be sharing our developments as we near launch and beyond. Looking forward to sharing more about our baby.

So much more to come! ;)

_________________________________________________________________

Laura Modi is the CEO & Founder of bobbie, a VC backed baby company launching a premium, grass fed baby formula on the US market — and fighting the stigma, one story at a time. bobbie has not yet launched. Documenting from concept to creation, Laura and the team will be sharing the journey behind bobbie.

contact: laura@hibobbie.com insta: @itshibobbie

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