Friday, July 25, 2008

Saving money on formula (when nursing isn't an option...)

It goes without saying- and I doubt there's a single one of you who hasn't heard it a million times- nursing is best. That statement is doubly or even "triply" true for micropreemies. You see, one of the many benefits of breast milk is that it passes on the mother's antibodies to the baby. This is great for any infant. But consider this-- full-term babies receive a healthy dose of their mama's antibodies throughout the third trimester. Not as much as they'll receive if they're also breastfed, but, still, a good start! Even if formula-fed, these babies have some natural protection. Micropreemies don't even HAVE a third trimester. My daughter was born just shy of 24 weeks. This means these babies do not receive any of those great last trimester antibodies while inutero.

However, nursing a teeny tiny NICU baby is not without complications. In the case of these babies, "nursing" really translates to "pumping". And pumping. And pumping. We were fortunate and pumping went well for me and I was able to provide breastmilk for the first seven months. It doesn't always work that way, especially if the reason for the premature birth had to do with a problem with the mother's health.

So, let's just lay it on the line... some babies are going to be formula-fed. That's just the way it is. And these babies can certainly thrive. These children are without a doubt loved. There's simply no reason to be critical...

And there's also no reason to drive yourself into the poor-house paying for expensive specialty formula.

It seems likely lately I've read about so many babies needing specialty formula. Being mom to a preemie who was on Neosure Advance for over a year and NICU neighbor to several babies with allergies and sensitivities, I know how expensive this stuff can get. Furthermore, it certainly doesn't help that they only sell it in those rinky-dink 12 or 13 oz cans. If you don't qualify for WIC's income guidelines, but are not exactly rolling in it either, here are a few things you may want to try in order to ease the expense of specialty formula:

1) Don't be afraid to ask doctors and/or nurses for formula; my preemie would periodically receive a "care package" in the mail from some of our beloved NICU nurses. Each of those packages was probably worth close to $100.

2) While you're at it, ask about formula checks. Our NICU had pads of checks for NeoSure like some pediatrician's offices have for more traditional formulations.

3) Check with your insurance company. In some cases, the insurance company will reimburse the difference between the cost of the specialty formula vs. regular formula. You may still have to cough up the "retail value" of name brand formula, but at least you wouldn't have to shell out $25 or so a can... this could mean saving receipts, but it would still be worth it!

4) Network with parents of children with similar issues. Shortly after my preemie turned one year old (corrected), I was at a family support snack hour for NICU parents and encountered a family whose preemie was just being discharged. I was able to hand off 12 cans of Neosure to them that we would no longer need.

5) Be clear and specific and ask your pediatrician when you can try something else. Obviously, the health of our children is the most important thing... that being said, oftentimes your doctor may not think to suggest you could try switching to something else until YOU bring it up. Some babies can transition to a more "typical" formulation or even some type of milk with a vitamin supplement.

Maybe, just maybe, you can save a little money with one of those. I hope so!
Check out Biblical Womanhood for more frugal ideas!


Suzanne said...

My pediatrician recommended we switch my DD to cow's milk at 10 months (we were going thru a job loss and struggling to pay for formuala--breastfeeding was no longer an option then). I was really surprised that he recommeneded it, but she did just fine. This might be an option for others, too, though probably not for preemies.

Btw, I feel for you with a preemie. I was one myself (born at30 weeks) and though it was almost 30 years ago, my mom still tells me the horror stories. I have some "issues" from it (I can barely use a straw, my lung capacity isn't too great, I have a slight speech impediment, etc.), but I am okay.

BarbaraLee said...

Isn't it something how companies make a fortune on this. They thrive on people being sick.

JessieLeigh said...

I agree, BarbaraLee... I think formula companies are ALREADY making a fortune just because, well, what choice do some people have?

Suzanne- that's a great example of listening to your doctor's advice for your individual child's needs. There is no one answer for every child, but it's important to know that there are alternatives out there!