I recently posted a question to a Facebook mum’s group about introducing formula to my breastfed baby. The question was about reflux and quantity not about the choice to do so.
I got met with some pretty harsh criticism from ‘breast-is-best’ advocates and it got me thinking. For me it is a choice to wean onto formula so I can eventually go back to work, but for other mums the choice is made for them.
The thought of these other mothers being met with similar criticism made me really uncomfortable. I mean at the end of the day we are all feeding our babies and caring for them the best we can. So why the shaming?
I wanted to raise awareness on the different reasons that mums can’t or won’t breastfeed and so I set out to gather stories from other mum’s non-breastfeeding journeys.
So why the stigma?
Where does the negative connotation with formula come from?
We know that breast milk is better than formula on a molecular level. Formula will never be able to fully imitate breastmilk 100% but as a society we are pretty damn lucky to have this as an option when breast-feeding isn’t one.
Just think about the mothers who could not breastfeed pre-formula (1865), the hard truth is that those babies would not have survived.
International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Amber Oliver from https://lookwhatlovemade.blog explains the muddled interpretation of the “Breast is Best” movement.
I am a breast is best, fed is necessary advocate because that’s just the science of it in regard to the benefits of our milk hence why it’s also on formula cans. That statement doesn’t mean you aren’t a good mom or aren’t giving your child the best but that’s often how its interpreted- sadly it’s how some advocates present it as well. I do feel it gets taken out of context as a shame statement majorly because there ARE tyrants out there making the rest of us who are just as valid in our advocacy look bad.
I just like to give alternative perspectives – because a lot of advocates actually aren’t judgmental.
No one is better or less than motherhood-wise based on how they feed their child. I do honestly also feel moms who don’t nurse internalize those feelings can get offended by certain advocacy and both sides play into this weird competitiveness and opinion about feeding instead of just having your stance as we all are free to have, and STILL being able to support other women.
She goes on to explain the bad wrap Lactation Consultants can get from mothers who are criticized by under-educated “advocates”
I take pride in what I do personally and it sucks some people turn their nose up when they find out what I do because there is a stigma that even LC’s are “mean girls” when we aren’t – we just try to assist and exhaust all options when troubleshooting issues with breastfeeding moms; including assisting when breastfeeding isn’t the option or doesn’t become the choice.
It’s not always possible for some women there are factors that play into many situations and aside from factors the truth is some women just opt out and choose not to nurse. That’s just as fine and they shouldn’t receive judgement for it.
However, I have also witnessed moms stop due to lack of education and support just them same and there is a prevalent breakdown between medical professionals and moms as patients as well – them not being aware of remedies or being told their milk isn’t enough.
So I have seen things from both sides.
It’s also hard to share info when its treated like its false solely due to experiences.
Another point Amber makes is surrounding the mis-direction that some mothers face when struggling to breast-feed:
The conversation of breastfeeding its benefits and hardships needs to happen point blank regardless of what is best or not because the truth is a lot of women aren’t equipped with info and/or supported like they should be – be it they nurse or decide to not nurse.
I can’t count how many distraught moms I have met who were told their babies weren’t gaining properly and they weren’t even using breastfed growth charts, or misdiagnosing lip ties etc.
I think a misconception about Pediatricians is that they are baby gurus but there are many areas they actually aren’t certified in and it has interrupted many moms experiences
Educating the educators seems to be a good place to start.
Pregnant women should be able to trust the information given by their provider but when the information is wrong where do we go from here?
Several mothers I asked, touched on the lack of support from their medical providers, contributing to their breast-feeding experiences being negative ones.
Matti Renee Irvine shared her story with me:
With my oldest I chose to pump while on maternity leave and formula when my reserve ran out. My oldest would latch and play for 20 minutes without eating… I had a doctor yell at me because his blood sugar was too low and ask if I was opposed to formula! My response was feed my child please! So, I pumped for 2 months and feed him booby juice via bottle… I had a lactation consultant use a plastic spoon on my nipple to get him to eat. Horrible experience overall…
I might add my husband almost died because of latching and not eating… with my youngest I told the nurses and doctors that I would pump when I got home and, in the meantime, he would be formula fed… they were so pushy but I stuck to my guns… I ended up having to dry up my supply sooner than planned due to mastitis, the doctor didn’t listen when I told her I was allergic to penicillin and I had a reaction to the Rx…
Why would a mother turn to formula over breastmilk anyway?
There are several reasons as to why a new mother may not breast-feed and rely on formula instead.
While they are all so unique in their own way, for the purpose of this article, they can be categorized into these 7 different categories.
All too often women who formula feed, feel like they have to explain themselves. Formula exists for a reason and I was lucky to hear from several mums who were willing to share their stories.
This is a situation that strong advocates do not consider. How is one to offer breastmilk when the source is removed?
Missy Parlane from www.homeschoolingmykinetickids.com is an adoptive parent. She explains how the “Breast is best” movement discounts her as an adoptive parent:
If you’re like most people that I’ve encountered in our years as foster and adoptive parents, you’re probably thinking “breast is best” and assume that foster babies will be breastfed just like a biological child. Unfortunately, in many US counties, breastfeeding and even pumped breastmilk is illegal for foster babies to consume.
Breastmilk can contain viruses (like HIV), bacteria, and legal or illegal drugs. Safe handling of the breastmilk can also be an issue, whether it’s stored properly, used in a certain amount of time, or transported correctly. Both of these issues are the reason why using liquid gold from a milk bank isn’t permissible as well.
The uniqueness of the situation as one mom raising another mother’s child brings many reasons for the lack of breastfeeding. Foster babies need to be flexible, to be able to take a bottle, and to be able to take that bottle from anyone. The nature of breastfeeding is very exclusive and could make the child reject nurturing or feeding from the birth mother in the case where the foster mom is breastfeeding. Since the goal of foster care is reunification with the biological parents, anything that hinders the birth mom from bonding with her child or maintaining an attachment to him/her is forbidden.
Formula feeding is also just more convenient for everyone involved. The birth parents are able to buy the formula at any grocery store to bring to visits with their child. The social worker can also easily find the correct formula, teach the parents how to make a bottle, or instruct the foster parents on which formula the child prefers. Formula is also covered as part of WIC (a government feeding program for women and children), which makes it cheap and easy for biological and foster parents to obtain.
Occasionally, the State will permit breastfeeding or a judge will rule on a foster child having breastmilk. However, any prospective foster parent should realize that breastfeeding will most likely not be possible.”
If you would like to know more you can read her full article on Feeding Your Foster Baby.
Unfortunately, the production of breast-milk is not as ‘natural’ and copious for every new mum. Some women are simply not able to keep up with the demand of their baby and so they need to resort to formula in order to feed their baby.
Lack of support for moms whose bodies are telling them no is a real issue. These mums opened up about their supply struggles:
I supplemented when my supply decreased with my first baby and I wanted to switch when my second had allergies galore, but he would not take any formula so I am currently pumping and bottle feeding. I get a lot of criticism for that too, but after he bit me with 2 sharp teeth, I made the choice and he now won’t even take the breast if offered!Justine Beauregard
I was never able to produce enough for my son and had to supplement with formula. Then at 7 months I decided for my sanity since I am a working mom outside of my home, that I needed to just go to formula. It’s so frustrating to have people look down on you for the way you choose to feed your child.Anna Nwa
My son was breached, born only 5 pounds, and though the nurses wanted me to breastfeed all the time, my supply wasn’t as endless as I thought it would be! So, I supplement formula, pump at work, and breastfeed when I can. A mother should never have to feel bad about not being able to exclusively breastfeed. We’ve come so far in the medical field that there are many ways to keep our little ones strong and healthyErrol Phalo from http://morenitamommy.com
Some babies come into this world much earlier than planned, or with complications, landing them in the Neonatal Intense Care Unit (NICU). This can make it impossible for breastfeeding to occur ‘naturally’ and force a new mother to have to pump their milk for their baby. While pumping is a good option, it does not work for every nursing mother.
Furthermore, when a baby is born pre-mature this can impact the readiness of breast-milk to come in and result in again, formula being the best option.
These real-world mamas all had unique birth stories that led to formula feeding being the best option:
My son had reflux so severely that Zofran, changing my diet multiple times, and supplementing weren’t enough to help him gain weight. He needed an incredibly sensitive formula. He gained weight almost immediately after switching. I did not want to stop breastfeeding. I had guilt for so long because of experiences like yours. But my son is happy and healthy now and I know that’s because I did what he needed.Heather Merook
My daughter had a cleft palate and was medically unable to breastfeed – I pumped and used formula and definitely felt judged and the need to explain why I was bottle feeding (which is ridiculous)Tessica Casavant from www.yxemama.com
I am on formula feed to my twins from day1 as they are premature and I don’t have a single drop of breast milk when they came out of 13 days in NICU. People normally say pity words for my kids as they are small and very thin, they are low birth weight + pre mature, I work hard to let people see formula feeding is not that bad.Arti Yadav
My son was born at 35 weeks… slightly premature and got jaundiced after the vitamin k shot (a side effect apparently) he was under the Billi lights for about 4 days and while under… they HAVE to give them formula as the lights are dehydrating and colostrum (even if you have it) is just not enough. After the four days he’d become “bottle lazy” and just would NOT take the breast. Screamed when I tried. I cried for weeks and continued to try but with him not interested I dried up pretty quick … even with trying to pump. It just never happened for me.Kerriann Kogelmann
I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, but it didn’t happen. My daughter was breach so she was born by c-section. I hemorrhaged and lost 3 units of blood during the procedure. Because of the blood loss, I had to have 2 units of blood. The trauma to my body caused my milk to not fully come in. We had to start supplementing in the hospital because my daughter lost too much weight too quickly. In less than a week, she went from 9 lbs 10 oz to 8 lbs 4 oz. Her pediatrician closely monitored her for the first month to make sure she was gaining weight like she should.
I tried everything to exclusively breastfeed, but it just wasn’t in the stars. I understand encouraging all natural, but it’s not always possible.
All pregnancies and babies are different. Just because you were able to do it, doesn’t mean everyone can. People need to realize that and not be so degrading to people who aren’t able to exclusively breastfeed.JW
Whether it is due to medication that the new mum is taking or due to a condition preventing the act of breast-feeding, every mum is different and should not feel the need to advertise their specific ailment to appease those watching as they mix their formula to feed their baby.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a double mastectomy after having my second baby. So, I obviously wasn’t able to breast feed. Ha!
Shari went on to say that she did not face social struggles when it came to the inevitability of her having to use formula; unfortunately, not all mothers in this or similar situations are that lucky.
Imagine, having beaten cancer and then having to re-live that time as you explain to people the reason you are not breastfeeding.
The human body can do so many amazing things, childbirth and breast-feeding are only two of them. Fighting and beating cancer is another…Shari Harmon McKinney
The pain of breast-feeding is something that all mothers who have attempted to breast-feed can relate to. It is excruciating.
I myself struggled with this in the first 6 weeks post-partum and as a result developed a newfound respect for those mothers who simply cannot continue with the journey.
I was lucky to be able to overcome the pain but I vowed to never judge someone who couldn’t ever again.
The pain can be caused by cracked, bleeding, over worked nipples as well as incorrect latch. Sometimes the nipples bleed and this poses a risk to baby.
Stefanie Gary from stefaniegary.com shares her story about bloody milk which she likens to strawberry milk.
I had a lot of stressful changes beyond my control in the month after my firstborn came. I took a professional certification test, moved long distance, and started a new job to support my growing family. I didn’t have or know where to go to find breastfeeding support in the new location. My child would latch on fine but bite down frequently and moved around enough to stretch my nipples at most feedings. She ate often and for a long time. I grew to resent her and even hid, crying because I felt more violated with each feeding than the time I had been raped. I would imagine harming my child when she hurt me.
To preserve my relationship, and my mental sanity, breastfeeding was not the best for us. I tried primarily pumping, but my nipples were so damaged that weeks after not having her on the breast, I still could only produce bloody milk that resembled strawberry milk. We stopped at 3 months and our relationship began to blossom. So this is the loving gaze between parent and child at feeding time. I had been so busy wincing, crying, and even screaming out in pain to experience locking eyes until we switched to formula.
Stefanie’s story blurs the lines between physical, mental and emotional pain. The physical pain of breastfeeding was a trigger that made her resent her child.
The blossoming relationship she describes when she switched to formula paints a beautiful representation of how women should have the right to trust their bodies without judgement.
Returning to Work
The thing that got this conversation started was my decision to go back to work and also the decision that I do not want to pump breastmilk at work.
This is a decision that I am making about my body.
I am not the only one who decided breastfeeding didn’t work for them once they returned to work:
I breastfed both my babies for a bit over 3 months as I had to go back to work. Initially I pumped but it got to a point where I was either pumping for supply while I am at work or breastfeeding when I am at home and there was little time for anything else. This was very frustrating and I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding anymore.
I stopped and switched over to formula and have no regrets! I had more time and didn’t have to worry about not having pumped enough milk. As babies they were very healthy and I was a happier mom. Both my children to this day (5 and 2) are super healthy and happy. I do agree that breastfeeding should be your first choice but both you and your baby should enjoy it and it should not cause any stress! We are all just trying to do our best and are the best mommies for our babies no matter what your choice! XXCharmé du Toit
The reason I had to stop breastfeeding was because I went back to my full-time job and I wasn’t pumping enough.Nicole Marín from https://scissorsandhotglue.com/
Check out Nicole’s post about mommy guilt and ways to get ahead of it and I also a post about why she chose a formula from Europe instead of one from the U.S.
Some women face a multitude of different reasons mixed in.
Maria Fleener from everydaymomsquad.com explained how working, having 4 children and latching issues all contributed to her turning to formula or her twins:
There are those advocates that might not understand why you would ever want to formula feed- I was one of them… That being said once I became a more experienced mom with 4 boys my perception has changed. My first I fed until 18mo by breast. My second I did until 8 months because I had to work and my company at the time wasn’t super supportive with me pumping (I know illegal).
I didn’t produce much as is; so, with pumping, I barely pumped enough and eventually couldn’t make enough, so he had formula. My twins I tried so hard to breastfeed (I was able to stay home again), but with two boys 2 and 4 at the time it was extremely hard. I was feeding around the clock literally, because tandem feeding was not working out, they wouldn’t latch, everyone would start crying, plus trying to keep an eye on the other two and still bond with them was almost non-existent.
I would beat myself up because I felt like I failed them because I only breastfed them for 3 months. But I learned to except that it was okay, and know that FED IS BEST! 🙂
The topic of women making the decision to reclaim their bodies by stopping breastfeeding cascades into another topic, mental wellbeing.
Breastfeeding is an emotional and mental journey just like it is a physical one. The breastfeeding experience looked at through these viewpoints is not as black and white as “breast is best”
So, what affect does this shaming and infliction of #momguilt have on new mamas? The response to this question is overwhelming.
Kel J Davies from https://anxiouslass.com talks about how formula shaming affected her mental health and when she wasn’t able to continue breastfeeding her twins.
Even after we left the hospital, with our underweight babies and some cartons of pre-made formula, we were told only to top up with small amounts but to still breastfeed.
People kept telling me how they were SO glad I was breastfeeding but I didn’t feel like it was anything to celebrate. In fact, it was the only thing stopping me from enjoying my babies.
I combination fed for 2 weeks before I just couldn’t breastfeed any longer. The strain on my mental health had become enormous. It was clear to me that I was now just trying to breastfeed to ease my formula feeding guilt and to appease other people, not because it was actually best for my babies.
As soon as I stopped breastfeeding and we switched to exclusively formula feeding, the twins absolutely thrived. They gained their birth weight back and more.
Breast was not best for us but because it had been pushed so hard, I felt as if it were my duty and to do anything less would make me a failure.
My boys are now 14 months and have been formula fed for 12 months of their life. I don’t feel that guilt anymore because my boys are happy, healthy and I know deep down that formula feeding was best for them.
But for months, formula feeding guilt seriously affected my mental health.
If you want to read Kel’s full experience you can do so HERE
Ashley Houston at www.ashleyhouston.com opens up on her blog about why she quit breastfeeding. She talks about how her mental health suffered due to feeling like a failure when she had to turn to formula for her baby.
Once I realized that Liam was at a great place with his weight, I decided to start trying for more boob time. I spoke with family members, mom friends, and even a couple lactation consultants. Everyone agreed: put to breast often, power pump, lots of water, and lactation supplements would solve everything.
I tried everything suggested and more. And for a while, I could breastfeed all but maybe two or three feedings a day.
But I remained constantly on edge about my supply. I was always stressed, to the point of tears, by trying to make sure I was producing enough for him. But breast is best, right? What did my stress matter when he was getting the best?
It took weeks of nothing but tears until my fiancé made a suggestion he was nervous to even say out loud. “Why are you doing this to yourself? It’s been four months. You did your best. I think you’ll be happier if you let this go.”
Hearing him suggest that was like lifting a giant weight off my shoulders. I realized I had been subconsciously considering it for a while, but had been too scared to bring it up. Trying to solve my supply and exclusively breast feeding was ruining my mental health.
He reminded me that nursing is only okay if both mom and baby are happy.
I am important in this too.
That was it. Once we realized how negatively it was affecting me, we switched to all formula bottle feedings. And I may not be supposed to say this.. but it has been AMAZING for us. I get to sleep through the night sometimes while my fiancé feeds him, I can pack and plan for outings, and the best part: I’m not causing myself undue stress.
Breast is good. Breast is great. But do not judge your worth on if your baby is breastfed or bottle fed.
Simone Clement from Www.simoneclement.com talks about how she struggled with the move to formula after being influenced by the ‘breast-is-best” movement:
Before I became a mother, I was 100% sure that I would breastfeed. In fact, the thought of formula never crossed my mind. I was under the influence of the “breast-is-best” movement, thinking that what is “natural” is “best.”
But like most things in motherhood, my plans went by the wayside when my little one came into the world. He was a terrible nurser, spending 30 seconds on each breast before spitting it out and eventually getting so frustrated that he’d end up in tears, and I shortly followed. And since he wasn’t getting enough at feedings this whole process would repeat about every 30 mins.
I felt like I was going crazy. So, I started covertly searching for formulas…articles about formula…and seeing if there was some online forum to ease the growing guilt of the “formula” thoughts in my head. “Maybe if I bought organic only” and googling “the best formulas for baby.” I even made pro and con lists and sat one afternoon on the dunes overlooking the beach just crying and crying.
In the end it turned out the he had a tongue tie, but as an inexperienced Mom I had no idea what that looked like so I had no way of knowing to correct it.
Now he’s both formula-fed and breastfed as we wait to get the tongue tie fixed. But I can tell you with 100% certainty that introducing formula was the best possible decision for our family. He feeds better, gets a full belly, and is growing well.
The pressure to breastfeed is seriously oppressive, and the word “natural” being thrown about can make moms feel a bit more than a little guilty about feeding formula…but in the end it’s seriously no big deal.
And I’m glad I made the decision to feed him formula, it’s made me happier, him happier, and dad happier too.
The pressure to conform to a pre-conceived idea of what is “best” for babies can have serious ramifications on an already sensitive and vulnerable new mother.
I would be interested to know the relationship between post-natal depression and mothers who struggle with breast-feeding.
If anyone is wanting to weigh in on this topic, don’t forget to leave a comment at the end of this post!
But it seems that even those mothers who can successfully breastfeed are cornered with the opinions and criticisms as well.
Nuria Corbi Carrasco from www.sweetlifeandlemons.com is one mum who faced different facets of criticism. She had different breast-feeding experiences with each of her children but could never manage to conform to what was seemingly expected of her.
When I had my children (two boys and a girl) it was at a time when breast feeding here in the UK wasn’t very popular, in fact it was only just starting to be encouraged. So, my first baby arrived and I breast fed. He was a bit of a cry baby and everybody in the family told me he wasn’t getting enough milk and I should start giving him formula. He was my first baby and I was young so I listened to them and only breast-fed him for two weeks.
With my second baby I wanted everything to be completely different. I had a home birth, my health visitor encouraged to breastfeed and I moved to Spain where my family encouraged me to breastfeed too. I fed him myself until he was 2 and a half years old. Some people thought that was way too long.
My daughter was born in Spain and I breast fed her for 3 months because I had a business to run and my mother was looking after her so it was easier to switch to formula.
To sum up, people criticized me when I breastfed and then others criticized me because I breastfed too long and then they criticized when I stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula.
She has some grounding words of wisdom for mums currently facing the struggle of outside opinions:
I am now older; my children are all grown up and if there was any advice, I would give my younger self from my point of view now it would be to not give a hoot about what other people think. Do what feels best for you at the time and above all be happy and enjoy your baby, whatever way you feed them. Let other people worry about their own lives and you enjoy yours and make your own decisions.
How to deal with the struggle
For many mothers the switch to formula is one of great consideration. When making this decision they are not only lumped with the scientific superiority of breast milk in the back of their mind but also the stigma that modern day society has attached to it.
So how can we make this decision easier for women in these situations? How can we support and encourage the most primal maternal instinct a mother has, which is to feed their baby?
We need to start taking about it. We need to stop the judgement and push each other to do what’s best for our children and I will say it here and now, that is NOT always breastmilk.
Viki de Lieme from www.parentsenlight.com makes a sound and important point regarding existential human needs.
The needs that might disguise the breastfeeding strategy and make it look and feel like a need are the needs to nurture, to feed, to keep safe and warm, to shelter, and of course – to connect, but breastfeeding is only one of the strategies that one can choose to have the needs of her child met.
Viki is refreshingly to the point stating – Don’t Enjoy it? Don’t do it!
As long as we, moms, enjoy breastfeeding and derive pleasure in breastfeeding, this isn’t even a valid discussion. It becomes a needed discussion when we begin suffering from the very thought of breastfeeding, when the pain, the agony, and the feeling of being touched-out overwhelm us, when our needs for autonomy, choice, space, and freedom are buried well under breastfeeding bras – this is when we need to stop and reconsider.
…Breastfeeding is a strategy, and it’s a strategy with countless benefits, but when it starts hurting you, physically or emotionally – it is no longer a beneficial strategy. And when you suffer from doing something – everyone will know. Your baby, too.
Click HERE to read her full post
Fed is best, no matter what, where, when, or how. As a society we are so lucky to have formula as an option for our babies when the above things happen. So why are women bashing each other around about the choice to feed our babies??
And that’s the thing, a lot of mothers out there preaching ‘breast-is-best’ likely had a complication free experience to breastfeeding. As a result, they think it is ok to sit back and cast judgement on those mamas who didn’t have it as smooth and easy as themselves.
Everybody’s journey in motherhood is so different and unique and you will never know the reasons behind their parenting decisions if you sit behind a computer screen with a closed mind.
I eventually got the support and answers I needed about introducing formula to my breast-fed baby and was reassured by some mamas who were willing to stick their neck out and tell me, hey mama you are not a bad mum for using formula!
It would have been easy to wallow in how I was making a bad decision for my baby and how I was being selfish in not wanting to pump milk in my place of employment.
What I learned was that we are stronger if we empower and lift each other up instead of trying to inflict age-old customs and opinions on each other.
Parenting is tough enough without this.
And sometimes we have to do, Whatever Works Mama! – I have adopted this outlook in my Facebook Group designed for mamas who are seeking support in their parenting decisions and want a safe space to ask questions, and to answer them.
Hoping we can help erase the stigma that breast-is-best and encourage the fed-is-best movement.